Travel to Europe, made simple: a comprehensive guide

Europe has it all: natural wonders, architectural landmarks, and an incredible mix of art, food, and nightlife. Read up on budgeting tips, visa requirements, and all the need-to-know info.
8 min read
Planning a trip to Europe? Whether it’s your first time or you’re an experienced continental traveler, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Europe has it all: natural wonders, architectural landmarks, and an incredible mix of art, food, and nightlife.  But hang on! Before you go, there are a few things you need to know to make sure your European adventure goes smoothly. Our comprehensive guide covers everything from transportation options and visa requirements to practical tips for creating your budget — so you can relax and enjoy the journey.

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Planning your trip to Europe

In preparation for your European trip, the first step is to choose where to go and what you need in order to get there. Let’s start with practical matters: what kind of visa you need to travel to Europe.

Visa requirements

Visa requirements for traveling to Europe are different depending on your nationality and on the specific countries you're visiting. Many European countries are part of the Schengen Agreement, which allows people to travel freely without any border or passport controls. People with certain nationalities can enter and travel within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period and don’t need to apply for a visa.However, depending on your passport and the length of your stay, you may need to apply for a Schengen visa before traveling to Europe for tourism, business, or other purposes. The European Commission has more information about who needs to apply for Schengen visas. The application process typically involves providing documentation, such as a valid passport, proof of travel insurance, flight itineraries, accommodation details, and proof of enough funds to cover your planned stay.Also, bear in mind that some countries in Europe are not part of the Schengen Area, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. These countries might have their own visa requirements, and the application processes can vary. For the most up-to-date information, check the government websites of the countries you want to visit.

How to budget for your trip to Europe

Having financial peace of mind while you travel is a great feeling. We’ve got a few tips to help you get financially prepared for your trip to Europe:
  • Do your research. Look up the costs of accommodation, transportation, entertainment, and food in your chosen destination(s). 
  • Decide who’s going. Traveling solo, as a couple, or with friends or the whole family will determine important things about your trip and how pricey it will be. What kind of accommodation makes sense for you or your group? Can you share transportation costs? 
  • Figure out how extravagant you want to be. Think about your habits and preferences to help you gauge how much you might spend while on vacation. Are you fine with light snacks, or do you like to splurge on fancy meals? Do you prefer to walk everywhere, or will you be taking taxis? And how much are you likely to spend on activities or shopping?
Once you have an approximate savings goal, review your bank statements from the past three months or more to understand your income and expenses. Look for areas where you can reduce your spending, especially on non-essentials like shopping, eating out, and membership fees or entertainment. Then, set these extra amounts aside and save them for your European holiday.If budgeting feels overwhelming, try the 50/30/20 method. It’s a straightforward way of getting a handle on your money so that you can feel empowered to make good financial decisions.

Managing your money when traveling to Europe

Before you travel to Europe, make sure you know how to use your debit card and withdraw money — and what to do in case of an emergency.

Using your debit card in Europe

Most European countries widely accept foreign debit cards, so it’s convenient to withdraw cash from ATMs or pay with your card in shops and restaurants. However, it's a good idea to notify your bank in advance about your travel plans to prevent any misunderstandings. If your card is suddenly being used in a different country, some banks will block your account as a security measure to prevent any fraudulent activity.

Foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad 

Even if your card works abroad, you may want to think twice before using it too often. You could wind up paying foreign transaction fees and currency conversion fees, so it’s a good idea to check with your bank beforehand to clarify what fees might apply.

Losing your debit card while traveling

Losing your debit card while traveling can be extremely stressful, but keep calm — the important thing is to act quickly. Contact your bank immediately to cancel the card and prevent any potential fraud. It’s also a good idea to bring multiple payment methods on your trip so that you’re not stuck if one card goes missing. A little preparation goes a long way and will help you have financial peace of mind during your travels.

What’s the best way to travel around Europe?

The best way to travel around Europe depends on a whole range of factors, like your preferences, budget, time constraints, and the specific countries or regions you plan to visit. Here are some transportation options to consider:
  • Trains: Europe has an extensive and efficient train network. Train travel offers flexibility, easy access to major cities and smaller towns, and plenty of picturesque landscapes along the way. Consider purchasing a Eurail pass for unlimited train travel within a specified period.
  • Budget airlines: Low-cost airlines offer affordable flights between major and mid-size cities. This option is ideal for covering long distances quickly and can be cost-effective if you find a good deal or book in advance.
  • Buses: Bus travel is another economical option for exploring Europe. Companies like FlixBus and Eurolines offer a wide network of bus routes between various destinations.
  • Car rentals: Renting a car gives you flexibility and the freedom to explore remote areas at your own pace. This option is particularly useful if you plan to visit more rural or off-the-beaten-path spots. However, remember to factor in traffic delays when making your plans and include parking, tolls, and fuel costs in your budget.
  • Public transportation: Most European cities have efficient public transportation systems, including buses, trams, and metros — perfect for short distances or exploring urban areas.
  • Cycling and walking: Europe is known for its cycling-friendly cities (think Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin) and picturesque walking routes. Consider renting bicycles or exploring on foot — you’ll get to experience the local charm and take in the sights at a leisurely pace.
And one more tip: Remember to budget for your transportation costs and always check the latest travel updates, schedules, and restrictions.

Where to go and what to do in Europe? 

Whether you’re dreaming of tapas, the Arc de Triomphe, Titian, or the Tyrolean Mountains, Europe won’t disappoint. From food and history to architecture and art, there’s something for everyone. Need help choosing? Read on for destination ideas to point you in the right direction.

History and iconic landmarks: Paris, Rome, Barcelona

Start in Paris, with breathtaking views from the Eiffel Tower and timeless art at the Louvre Museums. Next, head to Rome to witness the grandeur of the Colosseum and the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum. Lastly, make your way to Barcelona to see the architectural marvels of Antoni Gaudí, including the famous La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. The perfect blend of history, culture, and iconic landmarks in these cities will guarantee an unforgettable trip.

The great outdoors: Swiss Alps, Croatia, Scottish Highlands

For nature lovers, there’s another side of the continent to explore. Take in the breathtaking landscapes of the Swiss Alps in Switzerland, with towering peaks, crystal-clear lakes, and picturesque valleys. Head to the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia for a paradise of cascading waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and lush forests. Or marvel at the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, from the dramatic peaks of Ben Nevis to the serenity of Loch Ness. These areas offer endless opportunities for hiking, wildlife spotting, and immersing yourself in Europe’s natural wonders.

Art and nightlife: Berlin, Budapest, London

Berlin, Budapest, and London are three vibrant cities with an incredible mixture of creativity and thriving cultural life. Dive into the iconic street art scene and the legendary nightlife in Berlin, with buzzing clubs and underground venues that cater to all musical tastes. In Budapest, check out contemporary art galleries like the Ludwig Museum and Budapest Gallery and jump into the vibrant party scene along the Danube River. And in London, visit renowned art institutions such as the Tate Modern and the National Gallery before exploring the city after dark, from chic cocktail bars in Soho to live music in Camden Town.

Culinary delights: Lisbon, Florence, Athens

For foodies, European cities like Lisbon, Florence, and Athens won’t disappoint. In Lisbon, indulge in delectable seafood dishes while exploring lively food markets like Mercado da Ribeira. Savor authentic Tuscan cuisine in Florence, including homemade pasta and local wines — like a nice Chianti, perhaps. And in Athens, experience rich Mediterranean flavors with dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, and fresh Greek salads drizzled with olive oil. 

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