Thursday, 22 April 2021

TOP TIPS: For Europe Travel






PRE-TRAVEL 

PACKING

  1. Invest in good light suitcases that have strong wheels! 
  2. Get some packing cubes! They make packing so much easier and keeps everyone's clothes in separate bags. Even better if they are colour coordinated for each person. Get good quality ones not like the cheap ones we bought that ended up with broken zippers. Get ones that have laundry bags included so you can always have your dirty laundry separate from everything else.
  3. Cable organiser bags are amazing! We took two with us, a big and small one. One for the major cables we were using frequently (and any hard drives or other smaller devices) and one for the lesser used cables. But having them in these cable bags made it so much easier. Instead of in random places in the suitcases, they were always in these bags. 
  4. Buy plug adaptors that can do all the different sockets in one instead of separate ones for each country. They are more pricey but worth it to save space and the hassle of finding the right adaptors. We bought two and then took two power boards so the two adaptors catered for 8 different plugs. We also took with us a USB power board that can be plugged into the regular power board or to a laptop that can charge multiple USB cable charged devices like phones and cameras and power banks.
  5. Power banks are vital! Even if they are the cheap K-mart ones like ours. Keep them charged, keep them in the handbag or backpack because Google maps will always take so much of your battery that you will need these during excursions. Our cheap ones could charge our phones up to about 60% if charging while not in use which is all you need!
  6. Have a USB car charger - just in case. Most rental cars now have them built in but in case they don't, carry one around in your cable organiser bag.
  7. Keep a folder of all your personal documents as well as an electronic copy of them that you can easily access on your phones. If you are planning things in advance, some places need physical copies of tickets so keep them in this folder as well. Accommodation and car rentals don't need physical copies but when you are given receipts from either, keep them altogether in this folder as well. 
  8. Take a small, handheld luggage scale. Handy when you have strict weight restrictions.
  9. Pack a small first aid kit and basic pain medications and any other specific medications that you're used to e.g. chewable pain killers for children during times you may not have water available - like through airport security. You can always buy basic pain medicine at your destination but take some from the get go anyway. If you can, have a specific medicine pouch/small bag that you can carry everywhere with you.
  10. For the ladies - if you have specific sanitary items that you prefer, pack some with you. Sanitary products are different on this side of the world and you want to be comfortable during your travels. If you prefer the cups, take them too. And always, always carry them with you in your handbag/backpack. Same applies with any other important products you want/need.
  11. Carry spare toilet paper. Just because. And toilet seat covers if you want.
  12. Always carry wipes and/or hand sanitiser.
  13. Take good eye masks for your flights and if travelling for longer than a short holiday, don't bother with the big, bulky travel pillows - just take the inflatable ones or else you'll always have to find a place to put the awkward shaped bulky pillows in and around your luggage. I threw our ones away on leg 1 of our trip because we didn't have another flight for months and I couldn't be bothered carrying them around with us.
  14. Always have a pen on you. And if you can, get a passport holder that can hold your passports, pens, small weight scale, eye masks and inflatable pillows - and if you want, ear plugs - all in one place.
  15. Pack plastic cutlery in case you want a spontaneous picnic or are in a hotel that only have teaspoons on offer. We took a combination fork, spoon and knife.
  16. We also packed ponchos but in my frustration, I threw them away. But then we needed them later on so we paid a crazy price for replacements in desperation. Do not do what I did. Just take them and keep them. 
  17. Pack at least one towel. Some places have pretty crap towels.
  18. If you're over 60 or... just old at heart like me, put matching ribbon on your luggage! They work, yo! 
  19. Pack jandals. We did not see much carpet on our travels and sometimes it's just better to have jandals to wear around the house. 

PLANNING

  1. Travel insurance. Nothing more to say. 
  2. If you know the specific dates you'll be somewhere, plan your big ticket items and get them purchased and printed in advance. A lot of places in Europe need physical tickets for entry and sometimes it can be difficult finding somewhere to print tickets in a foreign language country. If you can't buy and print in advance, the best place to search for somewhere to print are internet cafes. 
  3. Before landing at your destinations, check your public transportation options. Research and study. If you know the addresses of your accommodation, use it to study how to get from place to place. Do not just wing it. Google Maps gives you pretty good information for most places but if it's lacking some, try the app Moovit. Also research day passes at your destinations. Some cities have cheaper rates for a full day pass or travel caps like London had. 
  4. This also applies to driving areas. Some places (especially Italy) have no driving zones where you cannot drive into the cities without a permit. Research and study those also. Each area in Italy have different rules for their no driving zones (ZTL) and different ways to get permits. There are apps that work with Google Maps that will warn you when coming close to these zones. 
  5. Along with travel planning, research if there are any park and ride places so you can go directly into the major cities while parked outside of town with one way into the city and one way out. Handy in a lot of countries in Europe! 
  6. Plan to have some change in whatever currency you need to. In the UK it's hardly needed but in some other places in Europe, exact change is needed for some public transport and some food places do not take card. Tolls around Europe mostly take card (well the ones we've been through) but one card of ours was never accepted and it's sometimes just easier to pay by cash. We rarely held cash but if we did, it was about 20 euros/pounds at a time for little things. 
  7. If you can, get a bank card that has free international ATM fees. Our free fees card was a lifesaver! 
  8. If you need medication, get that all sorted before you leave. Get your prescriptions and carry them everywhere. We take it with us on carry on most of the time but have not been asked about them once during our travels. 
  9. Ladies, if you are looking at birth control options, get it all done and tested about 6 months before leaving. Don't do it a month before you leave - trust me.

APPS

  1. Google Maps - or Waze. For your driving needs. 
  2. Moovit is good for public transportation. It's covered all areas we've travelled so far. There are separate public transport apps for separate countries and cities but this one covers a lot in conjunction with Google Maps - check them both against each other to make sure you get the right bus or train. Always though, check for local public transport apps as they would be more accurate and some you can buy your tickets through.
  3. TripLingo - for your basic phrases to use in your various countries.
  4. Airbnb so you are constantly in touch with your hosts. 
  5. Booking.com for the hotel stays if you are using their website. 
  6. XE to covert all your funds into different currencies on the fly.
  7. Uber. Not all countries use Uber yet but it's still always handy to have. 
  8. Warning ZTL for driving around Italy to help avoid the no driving zones (ZTL). 
  9. World Clock app is always handy to keep track of the time zone where your family is especially when you move various time zones throughout Europe. 
  10. Ryanair (or any apps for airlines you are using) if you're flying between European countries. Some flights you can have your boarding pass on the app; some you need to print beforehand.
  11. Skyscanner (or Kayak or any other flight search engine app) to help you find the best and cheapest flights. 
  12. Flixbus if you use their buses to travel between countries. It will hold your tickets on the app and give you up to date information.
  13. Where is Public Toilet. Exactly what it says. We didn't use it but when you're desperate, it may be worth having. 
  14. OPnGo. We used this while in France and it was a great app! It's a carparking app where you can book a space in a carpark closest to wherever you want to go for the duration you want (in our case, it was the Louvre), pay for it on the app and when you get to the parking lot, it lets you in by reading your licence plate number you used in the booking or using a QR code on the app and when you leave, it does the same thing by reading your licence plate number to open the door to let you out. Handy when you're in a busy city. We didn't use it anywhere else but if you find different apps that can do the same thing in other cities, I would definitely look into it! Made our parking experience much, much easier - especially in foreign language countries.

CAR RENTAL

  1. We were advised to have an international driver's licence for hiring a car in European countries. We did not use it once. But it's worth having, just in case
  2. Hiring a car is pretty expensive when it all adds up. You may find a pretty cheap daily rate and your travel insurance should cover the insurance of your car. But, different car companies and different countries hold different amounts as authorisation on your credit card for the duration of your rental. If you have an allocated credit card for just car rental holds, it may be useful. The largest they've asked us to hold is over NZ$2000. We didn't have that to hold for an entire month so we had to pay out extra for insurance even though we had travel insurance to cover it. So be prepared - have spare money on a card for just these purposes.
  3. Always, always take photos of your car as soon as you get it. Go through and take photos or video of every single scratch. If you have the means, get a cheap dash cam as well. These can come in handy if you ever end up in an incident. 

ACCOMMODATION

  1. Airbnbs are not motels or hotels. If you are new to the experience, there are a few things you need to know before starting down your Airbnb journey:
    1. Most Airbnb places are someone's home - whether their main home of living or separate home for renting out short term.
    2. You can book entire places or you can book just rooms inside other people's homes. We have only ever booked entire places so we have access to proper facilities and our own privacy. If you're happy to share your space with others or are travelling solo with a tight budget, booking rooms may be a good option. 
    3. Filters are important. If you want wifi, parking, washing machine or even air con, this is where filters are key. 
    4. Read the listings thoroughly - more than once - including all the facilities, any additional costs and additional information and rules. This will tell you whether you have what you filtered for and whether you have a lift or need to prepare for stairs.
    5. Following on from that, double check the additional costs and any extra information in any part of the listing. Some cities charge a separate city tax for short term stays and these are paid separately to the hosts - and expected in cash - per person, per night. So don't be alarmed if you see it in the listings as it is legit. 
    6. If they are taking a city tax, they will most likely take a photo of your passport so it matches the tax when they pay it to the councils. Don't be alarmed if they take a photo of it. 
    7. Read the reviews, all of them. There is information in those reviews that you won't see in the listing. We have changed our mind on a place based on reviews. 
    8. Do not expect your hosts to be able to speak English if you are not in an English speaking country. We have had hosts who spoke zero English while we understood maybe 10% Italian but we survived and it's all part of the experience! 
    9. Don't always expect to be greeted by your hosts. We have not met quite a few of our hosts with check-in instructions given via the Airbnb website. It's not uncommon. 
    10. There is always a risk that you could book one of those places that give this type of accommodation a bad name. There's nothing you can do to prevent being one of those bad stories except research, research, research! (and then hope for the best)
    11. Pay attention to check-in and check-out time frames and do not show up earlier than you're expected or later than a reasonable time unless you have arranged it with the hosts. Some hosts charge extra after a certain time. They are not motels or hotels who have someone available 24/7 to greet you. 
    12. If you are arriving to your accommodation via public transport, be wise in your booking and find a place that is easily accessible through public transport. Don't choose somewhere in the middle of nowhere with very little to no public transport close by. And if you're flying out from your booked accommodation, make sure you know how to get to the airport.
    13. Treat the house/apartment like your own. Even though there are most likely cleaning fees attached to the accommodation, don't leave the place trashed. Tidy up behind you and leave it the way you received it. 
    14. Take photos of the home when you arrive and when you leave. Just basic photos so if anything comes up in the future, you have evidence of what it looked like when you arrived and how you left it. 
  2. Hotels and motels are good for shorter stays and when you just want a quick stay without having to worry about check-in times. There are also some helpful tips when finding good hotels and motels to stay in:
    1. They most likely do not have washing facilities that are free. 
    2. But they have someone at the desk nearly 24/7 in most places. 
    3. Read every single term, condition, facilities, policy, extra information on your booking. There can also be hidden charges in these. They may also say they have parking only to realise parking is paid or further away from the accommodation. 
    4. Read all the reviews... all of them. Again, we have changed our mind based on reviews. If you aren't going to be comfortable, it's not worth the hassle. 

ARRIVING IN EUROPE

  1. If you didn't know, Europeans drive on the right hand side of the road - except the UK (and also Republic of Ireland). Something to get used to but after a while, you get the hang of it. The hardest are the roundabouts and looking to your left instead of your right. But, your first initial feel of it will be the hardest part. No actual tip here but just know what to expect. Perhaps not aim to go to a busy city as your first stop.
  2. On your first visit to the supermarket, buy some good reuseable shopping bags. No supermarket in Europe give out free plastic bags so invest in some good sturdy ones that won't break easily and carry them with you whenever you're out just in case. 
  3. Buy some rubbish bags in your first shop. They are always handy to have in every situation. 
  4. Buy some laundry pods. They are easy to travel with and easy to use even with foreign language washing machine. 
  5. Be RUTHLESS - except in the UK. Guys, the Europeans are ruthless when it comes to lines. They just push their way through and think nothing of it. To survive and be served and not skipped over, you need to be just as ruthless. Even more so when you are in a high touristy area. 
  6. Get used to turning on water/hot water/heat buttons. Nearly every single place we stayed was monitored by boilers being turned on. Some were stricter than others with their use. Even in the UK we came across this - more so in the countryside. 
  7. In Europe, be prepared to have hand held shower heads - some have somewhere high to place them so it's a proper shower and some do not. It's different, yes but it's normal in a lot of places. In the UK, a lot of people have electric showers which save them power but they are also weak pressure. It's just normal there though.

SAFETY

  1. Have your resting B face. You know what I mean... When on transit to various places via public transport, you need an unapproachable face so no scammers will come to you and no one will want to mess with you. It may mean you get people who hold onto their bags a little tighter around you but at least it may give you some relief from others. 
  2. Also have a security/safety plan. Don't go into high tourist areas knowing there are possibilities of scammers and pick pockets without going in with a plan. Don't wear expensive jewellery. Don't wear expensive clothes that look like you have expensive taste. Don't wear a baseball cap (something we learned is a target). Have an anti-theft type bag. If you are walking towards somewhere together, try and walk single file with the children up the front, the bag carrier in the middle and another adult at the back that doesn't have a bag to carry. That way we all can see anything strange approaching us from any angle. 
  3. Speaking of scammers, be aware that they come in forms of any race, religion, gender and age. Some young children can also be involved.
  4. I know it sounds harsh, but as well as being ruthless with line pushing, be ruthless with strangers approaching you. If anyone approaches you and offers you help, unfortunately you have to see it as a possible scam. I know, they may be genuinely trying to help but the ratio of legit offers to scams is not very equal. You may come across a little rude not taking help from genuine offers but it's better safe than sorry. Even official looking people can be scammers.

HISTORY

  1. With all the points above about safety and how to get around Europe and "survive" the journey, you also need to enjoy the journey!
  2. Use the time you're travelling around Europe to learn of each country's history... they are all so different. 
  3. Go to various museums and monuments in each country and appreciate their people while also appreciating your own country and people. 
  4. Take the opportunity to tick off bucket lists, educate your children and yourselves and open your minds to other people and places! It is the best classroom!


No comments:

Post a comment