Taking a holiday in Europe is an endeavour best planned early and well. The sheer distance of the destination all but guarantees a trip lasting at least a week – anything shorter just won’t cut it.
Unlike, say, an impromptu weekend getaway, a Europe holiday spanning several days requires a greater degree of care and preparation – and we don’t just mean getting your passport renewed on time for the year-end period.
Being thorough in mapping out your holiday will help you make the most out of those oh-so-fleeting holiday hours. This goes double for first-timers!
As an added bonus, it will also help you save money by avoiding unnecessary expenses and trouble. To that end, here are ten things to know or do before embarking on your trip to Europe.
1. Draw up an itinerary
Look, Europe is a huge geographical area, and unless you’re a seasoned visitor and already have a mental map of where to go, it’s best to resist the temptation to just “get there and wing it”.
Instead, draw up a rough itinerary that outlines the regions you want to visit, and the main attractions or highlights for each place. More detailed-oriented travellers may even want to put in tentative time slots for each day.
It sounds suspiciously like work (spoiler: it is) but once you get started you’ll see that planning is half the fun on a holiday like this.
Whatever you do, try not to cram too much into your itinerary. Having to constantly be on the go will get real old, real fast, and won’t give you the time and space to take it all in.
Additionally, having an itinerary will also give you better visibility of your budget, helping you avoid unexpected expenses.
2. Print copies of everything
While we are increasingly able to travel using e-documents, not having Wifi, losing your phone or having it break down, or even just forgetting your login password can create delays and frustration.
To ensure smoother check-ins, print out a copy of all your tickets, bookings, vouchers and other documents required for verification and entry. While Singaporeans do not need a visa for Europe travel, it may still be helpful to make a copy of your passport and identification documents.
These printouts can provide a backup in case something goes wrong or you need to submit a travel claim. They can also be used as a convenient substitute for situations (such as when registering for a tourist SIM card) where you prefer not to expose your originals.
3. Shop early for flights accommodation
Plane tickets (and hotel bookings – more on that later) will make up a significant chunk of your holiday expenses, so the more you can save on flights, the better off you’ll be. This means shopping around early and frequently on various flight trackers booking sites.
Being willing to be flexible here can help you unlock savings. For flights, the key is to book early, as prices will almost always increase the nearer it gets to your departure date.
Also, while direct flights are generally regarded as the most convenient, flights with stopovers can make getting there more bearable by breaking up a long flight into two shorter ones, giving you a chance to stretch your legs in between.
4. And also for accommodation
As for accommodations, note that hotels offered with a “free cancellation policy” may offer a safety net against unexpected developments, these commonly come with a higher price.
Hence, if your travel plans are confirmed, booking the lower, non-refundable rate is recommended. (You can use a travel insurance plan to cover against emergency cancellations, such as due to COVID-19.)
Also, consider booking your room without breakfast. While hotel breakfast buffets are undoubtedly convenient, how much bacon, hash brown and omelette do you want to scarf down before starting your day of sightseeing?
It’s almost always better to venture out early for a true-blue local breakfast. And besides, you can always have the hotel breakfast on a day you feel like it, instead of marching yourself to the restaurant just because you’ve already paid for it in your booking.
5. Research options for transport
Between trains, ferries, coaches and budget airlines, there are myriad ways to get around Europe. However, paying for transportation can quickly add up and eat into your precious travel budget.
Avoid overspending on transport by researching your options, including timing and cost. Sometimes, the most direct route may not be the most cost-effective, or enjoyable.
It is also a good idea to plan some alternative transport options that you can fall back on, which can save you from inadvertently wasting event tickets or restaurant bookings.
Additionally, it may also be useful to only purchase your transport tickets the day prior, in case of any unexpected disruptions.
Also, apparently bus and train tickets in Europe have to be validated at the counter before you get on board. Failing to do so can stick you with a fine. When in doubt, ask.
6. Avoid forex fees
For this last tip, there are two areas to pay attention to.
One, always pay in the local currency, not Singapore dollar. This will help you avoid having to eat a vastly unfavourable exchange rate (due to the fee added on Dynamic Currency Conversion) and any other fees payment networks may see fit to pile on.
Two, find out which ATMs have the lowest fees (or better yet, none). It may not be practical or safe to lug around an entire brick of Euros while traipsing around Europe, which means you may need to withdraw money from an ATM.
However, it is common practice for banks to charge withdrawal fees, especially when using a foreign card. As these fees are usually charged on a “per-transaction” basis, you should try to make fewer withdrawals involving larger sums, instead of multiple small withdrawals.
Try to prioritise ATMs operated by and located just outside the banks for greater safety. Plus, you can run inside and ask for help should you need it.
Another source of forex charges is the foreign exchange fee charged by your card provider. Credit cards such as Mastercard, Visa and Amex may have higher fees compared to debit cards, such as Revolut or YouTrip.
Hence, you might want to get a debit card for your Europe trip, while reserving your credit card for emergencies.
Unless you have absolutely no choice, do not withdraw cash using your credit card. That will count as a cash advance which comes with an exorbitant fee.
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