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Time for another Summer adventure post! Yep, it’s been a super duper crazy week between the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, putting our new “Treehouse Wonderland” under contract and then Amazon Prime Day BUT I wanted to stick to my promise of bringing you lots of tips and tricks and details on our Summer travels! As you may know, my husband, two girls and I trekked our way through France and Switzerland for six weeks this Summer and it was more amazing than I could ever put into words. Last week I shared my tips on “How to Plan the Ultimate Long Summer Trip Adventure” so today I am sharing my own personal thoughts on the do’s, don’ts and must bring items for traveling to Europe.
But first, let’s throw out some disclaimers. I know I probably overdo this sometimes but I never like to claim to be a professional at most anything except interior design. This post is based on my own personal experiences in Europe and our three trips overseas in the last twelve years. Most of this was honestly learned this Summer but looking back I think these tips applied ten years ago as well!
My THIRTEEN Travel Tips & Must Haves for Traveling to Europe!
And are you ready for my even crazier advice??? The longer you stay and the more places you visit… the LESS you should pack! As crazy as it sounds, packing light is honestly my NUMBER ONE advice for getting the most out of your next European vacation. For this Summer adventure, I honestly had my heart set on packing just a carry-on for each of us just because I hate checking a bag that much. I didn’t fully realize until we arrived that packing larger bags would have made parts of our trip literally IMPOSSIBLE. Let me explain… Mark, our two daughters (10 & 5) and I visited six countries and rode in everything from trains to Ubers to gondolas to ferries WITH our luggage to get to each destination over our six weeks of adventures. We walked up several stories of winding narrow stairs on numerous occasions to get into our rooms, we maneuvered through busy train terminals, we packed into tiny gondolas to get to two hotels, we walked a mile or two down cobblestone streets to get into several apartments… all WITH our luggage. And although our girls were GREAT with lugging theirs for the most part, there were quite a few times when Mark and I were each holding all of the luggage. So needless to say… packing light was a blessing in disguise! See my packing tip here… “Packing 30+ Outfits into ONE Carry-On Bag for Our Six Weeks in Europe“
Quick Packing Tips…
This Underseat Carry-On was PERFECT for our trip! It allowed me a pretty large “personal item” that rolled under the seat and it stacks easily right on top of your larger carry-on…
Although I did not use these, I have heard RAVE REVIEWS about Packing Cubes! Will definitely be trying them for our next trip!
For toiletries, I used THESE TSA Approved Toiletry Bags for all four of us! And even though the girls really just needed a toothbrush, I filled their bags with more of my stuff!
For the most part, we just purchased toiletries in Europe because for six weeks you end up using almost an entire container of most anything anyways. For the items I cannot live without, I just either purchased smaller versions OR I transferred them into TSA approved containers like THIS.
There is nothing like spending nine hours on a plane and then an hour in an Uber, arriving at your hotel exhausted only to find that you cannot even charge your phone! Although it may seem just as easy to purchase an adaptor in Europe, think again. My advice is to purchase one and pack it now! We found it somewhat difficult to find an extra one once we arrived in France. Plus, that’s probably the last thing you will want to do once you arrive at your destination. Here is the one I used and it worked everywhere we went…
But there’s a catch! And one piece of advice I so wish I had then and it is to MAKE SURE YOU USE AN ADAPTOR CONVERTER WITH HIGH VOLTAGE ITEMS! Yes friends, I blew my very favorite $100+ flat iron by not knowing I needed a converter. The adaptor I shared above worked great for my phone charger and heating pad but NOT for my curling iron and flat iron. Here is one option…
Ditch the “Fancy” Shoes!
If there is one thing that I am REAL stubborn about, it is my shoes. I wear heels A LOT and am usually pretty “cozy-ish” in them too! So for Europe, I packed my heels! Yes, I have been to Europe before and I know it’s a lot of walking but I honestly thought I would maybe wear them to dinner or SOMETHING! But nope! Not even once. This time around we were in Europe way longer than ever before and saw WAY more than ever before and we walked A TON. Like maybe 4+ miles a day! Plus, lots of that was on cobblestone streets. So my advice, pack the coziest shoes!!! Here are my top suggestions…
For Women… Although I did not actually wear these in Europe, I SO wish I had ordered them for our trip! I had posted something on Facebook and everyone suggested these which I think are SO cute! By the time I got around to actually trying order them, they couldn’t arrive in time. Boo!
For Kids… Yes, they are pricey but they are worth every penny! Winter wore them every single day and she could even get them wet at the beach! Plus, I can honestly say that she did not get a single blister the entire time.
Carry Change… And Lots of It!
If there was one thing that I always seemed to need, it was coins. From paying to use the potty to road tolls and even restaurant tips, we used coins and lots of them!
Make Sure Your Booking Has A/C If You Need It…
Well, let’s be honest. Europe really only gets hot-ish for maybe two months if even that depending on the city. Which is likely why MOST (yes, most) places do NOT have air conditioning. Being a “spoiled American” ;-), I did not realize this when booking our travels and quite a few of our apartments (booked them all HERE) AND hotels did NOT have a/c! So here’s the thing though… the lack of a/c was actually usually not a problem. Even in June and July. The problem was when the areas we were staying in were too loud or busy to leave the windows open and then the room got crazy hot and stuffy super fast! So much so that we actually left our Paris apartment one day early because it started getting SO hot and people partied outside until literally 5am every day. I would HIGHLY suggest reading reviews and checking the average temperatures before booking your stay! Looking back I see now that lots of people had written about these very things with several of our apartments/hotels.
Think TWICE Before Renting A Car!
Before you go and cancel your rental car, keep reading… When I was planning our Summer adventure, renting a car and road tripping France and Switzerland sounded like what dreams are made of. I wanted to stay in certain cities and then venture out by car some days to neighboring cities and get “lost” in the South of France. I am pretty adventurous if you haven’t noticed and even thought the girls and I would do so once Mark left for his two weeks back home. BUT… I thought again really quick after just one day with our car. I knew from two previous visit to Paris that driving around Paris sounded like an absolute nightmare so I booked our car rental halfway down to the coast in Lyon, another big French city. Mark drove out of Lyon and it was somewhat stressful but not too bad. We then drove highway to Provence which was beautiful and super easy but honestly maybe not as “dreamy” as I imagined. Granted we didn’t venture off the highway other than to get gas because we were on a mission to just get to Provence. And then we arrived in Provence. Let’s just say that we have done a LOT of crazy things in our 36 years and that just might have been one of the most stressful. The roads were insanely narrow, cobblestone, one-ways without good signage and then parking… IF you could even find a spot, a mile from where you are staying, it is like $50 bucks a day! Long story short, I quickly changed plans and had Mark return the car way early when he flew back home from the Nice airport. The girls and I then used public transit and Uber for the remainder of our stay in France. Switzerland however was a much different story! The big cities were still pretty intimidating but our road trip through the smaller cities was super fun by car!
Whew! Now my overall advice… unless you plan on staying in remote villages and driving around throughout the countryside the entire time, think twice and do your research before you rent a car!
Plan on Using Public Transit!
For basically all of the reasons I stated above, public transit is your bestie in Europe! Although it can be a bit intimidating, it is the easiest mode of transportation by FAR! My advice is to give yourself a lot of extra time to figure it all out at each station so it’s not a crazy stressful experience.
DO NOT Exchange Cash at the Airport!
Unless you want to throw out hundred dollar bills into the wind like you see on music videos, DO NOT exchange cash at the airport! The exchange rates and fees are insane! I would suggest seeing if your local bank can exchange some for you before you leave so you can have some cash in hand and then use ATMs throughout Europe. They have the best exchange rate and are the easiest route to getting quick cash as needed.
Be Brave and Get Lost off of The Beaten Path…
Okay get lost SAFELY and make sure you don’t veer down too many dark alleys. Hehe. Although touristy stuff is great and all and we DEFINITELY did our fair share, some of my favorite places and sites and restaurants were in the most random places. Also, ask locales for their faves! They are almost always right!
Learn Some Language Basics
There is nothing worse than getting to a foreign country and not even knowing how to ask where the bathroom is! Although we found that in most big cities, English was pretty widely spoken, even in Paris we hit some spots where I needed to pull out my French card. Here is what I would suggest studying up on before you head out…
“Where is the bathroom”
Simply “Where is…”
“Please” & “Thank You”
P.S. You must ask for your check at a restaurant in Europe. It’s considered rude and rushed to drop it by the table early.
Book Ahead of Time and Do It Correctly!
I feel like here in the United States, when you’re booking a hotel or renting a car, the details kind of don’t matter so much. Like how many people are staying in your room or what time you want to pick up your rental car… I guess I have just personally never had a problem with that! And then came Europe. I had booked our rental car in Switzerland and just put 12pm on the pick-up time. Our flight landed at 2:30pm and let’s just say that by the time we arrived to pick up the car, they had given the car away. He said they only hold cars for two hours! We ended up getting another car but it had to be a slightly larger one that costed two times as much. Grrrr.
As far as hotels, you actually sometimes (most of the time) pay per person! AND they will actually set your room up based on the number as well. European rooms are generally way smaller so unless you put that you will have more than two people, you won’t have enough beds or bedding or pillows for the third or fourth person.
“Old Towns” Are the PLACE TO BE!
One thing I learned over and over again this Summer is that (at least where we ventured), the “Old Towns” in each city are where you want to stay. Thank goodness my mom had learned this in her recent travels to Italy so I made sure that everything we booked was in each city’s “old town”. This applied a little more on the French leg of our journey but either way, it rang true every single time. These areas are way cuter, typically a little “nicer” in the European experience sense AND have the most “attractions”.
I had kind of stumbled upon information about obtaining an international driver’s license a couple of months prior to our travels and thank goodness I did! Although we only needed it once, you would probaly most definitely need it if you were pulled over. We actually needed it for our rental car in France but not in Switzerland. I am honestly not sure of the exact rules or laws but I say better safe than sorry! We obtained ours through AAA simply by mailing in the required documents. You can find everything you need to know RIGHT HERE.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post with Tips for Traveling with Kids!
XOXO, Brittany Hayes