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Are you traveling to Europe for the first time? Awesome! You must be super duper excited! A first trip to Europe is a big adventure whether you’re with friends or traveling solo.
As for me, I remember my first trip to Europe, a guided tour throughout England, as if it happened yesterday.
I sat in a cab, weaving throughout London’s bustling streets, completely dumbfounded as my brain processed that I was across the Atlantic Ocean, in England of all places.
And guys? There’s nothing quite as magical as your first travel experience to a new continent.
But, personal excitement aside, what about specifics regarding your trip? What should you see? What should you bring? What safety measures should you take?
Never fear! I’m here to help make your first trip to Europe both memorable and easy.
I have two big questions for you, though, before we get into specific suggestions: “Have you decided when you’ll go to Europe? And have you picked where you’ll go?”
Those decisions are very important.
First Time Travel to Europe: Where to Go?
If you’re going to Europe for the first time, it might be difficult to pick a destination.
Honestly, I think most major tourist cities in Europe are great for first time travelers, but some places are “easier” than others.
For example, if you’re a native English speaker, then you might want to consider visiting Scotland for a week or doing a solo trip in Ireland. Both countries have fantastic tourism infrastructure in place, and you wouldn’t need to worry about the language barrier.
Ultimately, though, I implore you to stay “true to your heart” when selecting your first European destination.
Read More: Backpack for 2 Weeks in Europe
Before Your First Trip to Europe
Are you traveling to Europe for the first time and feeling insanely overwhelmed prior to departure?
First, take a deep breath and relax!
Here are some steps to take before your first trip to Europe even happens. Following these suggestions will make hitting the ground much easier on your sanity.
Consider the Seasons (High vs. Low)
Seasons mean everything in Europe.
For example, you going to Croatia in July? Except high temperatures, prices, and tourist numbers. Going in February? You’ll find the reverse regarding heat and crowds, but maybe the best attractions have limited hours or are closed entirely.
Think about what you’re willing to compromise on regarding budgets and weather.
Unblock Credit Cards and Inform Your Bank
Nothing will put a damper on your first Europe trip like being unable to access your money. Ouch.
Call your bank and inform them of your travel plans. You’ll even want to tell them about airport layovers in case your travel plans are disrupted.
Do these tasks in advance.
Book High Demand Tickets Ahead of Time
Ugh, I hate to share this bad news, but you gotta expect long lines and timed tickets at Europe’s most popular attractions.
Some sights will even require reservations months in advance. For instance, I almost didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, because I waited way too long to make reservations.
Personally, I think it’s worth it to buy tickets ahead of your vacation. The less time you spend whining in the (endlessss) line, the better your first European vacation will be.
Purchase Quality Travel Insurance
You’re probably sick of hearing me saying it, but there’s no point denying the truth. If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel.
I use World Nomads with all my trips. Buying a policy is easy and affordable, and you’ll have peace of mind on your first trip to Europe.
Upgrade to adventure insurance if you plan to do crazy outdoor activities like paragliding in Slovenia. Not speaking from experience, of course. Cough.
Register with the Embassy
Are you extra nervous about traveling to Europe for the first time? It’s understandable. I still have that “fish out of water” feeling when I’m far away from home in New Jersey.
In my opinion, enrolling with your country’s embassy is one way to feel calmer about your first trip to Europe.
For American citizens, take advantage of STEP.
STEP (Smart Traveller Enrollment Program) is a free service that allows you to enroll with local embassies. You’ll receive texts in case of an emergency in your destination. It’s great for peace of mind.
Don’t Ignore Good Guidebooks
While travel blogs are awesome (duh), at the same time, don’t ignore quality guidebooks to take with you to Europe.
Lonely Planet has a great Europe guidebook if you’re traveling to multiple countries.
Take notes on attractions, accommodation, and restaurants. I don’t believe in itineraries that are too restrictive, but at the same time, having highlighted suggestions will reduce travel stress. The idea of a plan goes a long way.
Learn Phrases in a New Language
Are you a native English speaker? Then you’re in luck, because you’ll probably encounter fluent English in all European countries, especially at major tourist attractions.
Still, speaking a couple words of the country’s native language will earn friends.
Download the Duolingo app, and practice some phrases in the weeks and days leading up to your big European trip.
Don’t Fear Traveling Alone to Europe
Are you planning on visiting Europe alone? Awesome! 99% of my international travels have been done solo. I’ve always had a great time, too.
I give you a lot of props for your courage.
However, don’t sweat too much about personal safety. You’ll be perfectly safe traveling alone to Europe especially if you utilize normal street smarts. For instance, limit your alcohol intake, stay alert at night, keep a close of your personal belongings, etc.
I have an entire separate post on the best tips for solo female travel in Europe that I sincerely hope reassures you about your upcoming trip.
Bring Packing Cubes for Long Trips
Want to keep all your clothes, wires, shoes, everything organized on an epic backpacking trip around Europe?
Then you, my friend, need to invest in high quality packing cubes. Packing cubes will keep all your items neatly together.
Not to mention, by using packing cubes, you’ll save space in your luggage. Who doesn’t love more shopping opportunities?
Use the Right Electrical Outlet
Warning alert. Europe uses different electrical outlets than the United States and Canada. And I wouldn’t rely on your accommodation to have USB outlets either.
So don’t forget your international/universal adapter! You won’t have to worry about your phone and camera dying for the duration of your adventure.
During Your First Trip to Europe
Whew! That was a lot, huh?
Now that you’re done prepping for your first trip to Europe, let’s talk about some suggestions to follow once you’re actually on the road.
Don’t Underestimate Jet Lag
Ugh, jet lag is a beast. Don’t brush aside the symptoms.
Stay hydrated and move around in the sunlight to combat jet lag. Use melatonin if you need help sleeping through the night.
In my experience, I force myself to stay active my first full day in Europe and sleep like the dead that night. By the next morning, my jet lag symptoms are long gone. Your mileage may vary!
Embrace Europe’s Small Towns and Cities
One of the biggest suggestions that I can give you for your first trip to Europe is not to skip over the smaller towns and cities.
Sure, Paris and London are fantastic, but what about Cesky Krumlov? Obidos in Portugal? These little gems are so lovely and make for beautiful photos and memories.
In my personal opinion, the perfect European itinerary has a solid combination of cities and towns. European small towns are even great for solo travel, please don’t ignore them and only visit large capital cities. Where’s your sense of adventure?
Eat Outside of Main Tourist Hot Spots
I love eating. All the time. Especially traveling Europe.
I mean, hello, have you seen some of the food that I’ve eaten in Parma? To die for, right?
However, try and prioritize restaurants located outside the touristy areas. You’ll pay less money for better food, and eat with locals rather than mobs of travelers.
Like I said, use a trusty guidebook or travel blogs to find great places to enjoy a high quality meal.
Use Public Transportation Often
Unlike the United States (har har), Europe has a pretty solid public transportation system, especially trains.
Don’t spend too much money on cabs in Europe. Take the trains and buses between cities.
For larger cities, you need to get used to traveling on their metro systems to save money.
A word of warning, though. Just make sure to always validate your tickets at the designated machines. Travelers have received big fines for not stamping their tickets ahead of time. You don’t want to get in trouble and fork over your hard earned cash for something as silly as a metro fine.
Learn an Appreciation for History & Art
Eeeee, I have a confession to make. I’m a huge museum nerd, which is a big reason why I love traveling to Europe so much.
Europe’s complex history means you’ll learn a lot about the past, and also see plenty of high quality art. Embrace your inner student.
Be Aware of the Exchange Rate
A lot of European countries are on the Euro. Check the exchange rate to avoid spending too much money.
However, this tip is even more important in countries like Iceland that aren’t on the Euro at all. Don’t guess amounts here. Know the exchange rate and have a rough idea of what you’re spending. Or else you might be in for a nasty shock upon checking your credit card bill.
Trust me. I know…
Take. Your. Time.
I understand you want to see everything in Europe. But don’t try and zip around an entire continent.
You’ll see soooo much more if you limit yourself to, say, one big country (like France) in a week than two (squeezing in France and Spain).
Just remind yourself that you didn’t fly this distance to see the inside of train cars. Less is more on a first trip to Europe.
Enjoy Each & Every Moment
On your first trip to Europe, spend some time with your phone and camera away. Take in the scenes around you. You don’t want to view your destination through a camera lens only.
A good way to combat this bad habit is to shut off your cell phone’s data. Instagram can wait until you’re back at your accommodation.
Enjoy the moment!
Keep a Travel Journal
I always ramble on about the importance of writing a travel journal on your adventures.
Why do I believe in setting aside the time to write? Well… You might think you’ve the world’s best memory, but a travel journal will stop you from forgetting the small details.
This tip is especially important if you eventually want to break into the travel writing space. Use that time on the train to make memories.
If you need to buy a travel journal, I personally have a special fondness for Moleskine’s pocket-sized notebooks! They fit into practically any bag, so it’s easy to write stories while you’re exploring a new city. Win/win situation if you ask me.
After Your First Trip to Europe
Alright, we’re almost at the end.
I have two more suggestions for after you return home from Europe. I mean. After you sleep for a million hours, of course.
Let’s do this.
Plan Your Next European Adventure
Haha, I’m so guilty of beating post-travel depression by sitting at my laptop and planning my next awesome vacation.
Log onto the great internet and see what flight deals are in your area.
Proudly Display Your Souvenirs
I always buy cute little souvenirs to display in my apartment. Whether they are small paintings or magnets, I like the idea of turning my living space into a traveler’s dream.
While photos are the best souvenirs, bring a small gift back from your first European trip. This item will make you smile on hard days. I promise.
What are your tips for traveling to Europe for the first time? Leave all your suggestions and ideas in the comments section!