On a daily basis, I get calls from clients wanting to travel to Europe. The question usually isn’t where to go, or what to see. It’s “what package fits me?” Some people like fully guided tours. On fully guided tours you cover a lot of ground, but you have a very busy schedule and not much free time. Not everyone wants to be around the same group from start to finish, and not everyone wants to visit that many cities.
Recently I wrote a handout to give to people for whom we arrange trips to Europe. I thought I’d share it with you here!
As you prepare for your trip to Europe, please allow us to share with you some tips that we’ve learned from prior trips. These are all just suggestions. You might not find each of these items or suggestions useful, and there may be something else that you find to be vital. We’d love to hear your feedback.
Basic medicines – In a foreign country your familiar brand of cold medicine won’t be available. Even if something similar is available, you may not know it because the label may not be in English.
Travel Insurance - Your health insurance may or may not cover you overseas. Even if it does, you will have to pay out of pocket for anything that happens and hope to be reimbursed (at the out of network rate) upon your return.
Safety / Security:
Make color copies of your passport prior to your departure. Put a set in your suitcase and leave another set with a trusted friend at home. (Having these copies will speed the process of replacing your passport in the event you lose yours.)
European touring doesn’t lend itself to carrying a purse. Instead, bring a daypack or travel bag of some kind. When choosing this bag, keep in mind body mechanics and security. You can find bags that are reinforced with metal cables so that they can’t be quickly cut from your body by a thief on the move. I’ve never had anyone even try to cut a purse off my body..but you never know.
Consider a money belt. Wearing your extra credit card, your big money and your passport in a money belt under your clothes. It will be with you at all times and protected from pick pocketers.
You may save some dollars if you bring a water bottle with you and refill it along the way.
Beware when you rent a car. Only take additional coverages if you actually intend to. Car rental counter people tend to rush through the rental process and have been known to trick you into buying coverages that you don’t need. Find out what your own car insurance covers before you leave and make yourself familiar with the laws of the country to which you are traveling.
Get your cash from ATMs rather than “Cambio” booths. (Talk to your bank to find out what they charge for international transactions. Also, warn them and your credit card companies that you’re going to be out of town so they don’t fraud alert your card.
We’ve tried to arrange for perfect weather during your trip, but you might want to pack an umbrella or a rain poncho.
Depending on the type of place you’re staying, don’t count on the little travel sized toiletries that you find at the hotels here. Take a small bottle of shampoo, lotion, etc to make sure you’re covered.
Wash cloths are primarily an American phenomenon. You won’t find them even at very nice hotels in Europe.
Remember sunscreen and sunglasses.
In cool weather, dress in layers. Layers are easier to pack, and easier to take off and put on as your comfort requires.
Pack Ziploc bags of varying sizes. You will find them handy for all sorts of things.
Be sure the shoes you take to wear while touring are nice and broken in. New shoes may cause blisters.
Speaking of blisters, pack a supply of band-aids. We especially like the band-aid brand blister bandages. They are magical when you have a fresh blister and are looking at getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow.
Call your cell provider before you go. Find out what your particular situation is with regard to voice calls and data. Add an international data plan if you need / want to. Turn off data roaming if you don’t want to use it.
If you don’t want to use your cell phone at all, http://www.lonelyplanet.ekit.com/ekit/home is a good way to keep in touch with home.
Your camera and cell phone will continue to need power (probably more than usual!) while you’re on the road. Look at the power supply and see if it will accept European voltage. If you’re unsure, ask the manufacturer. If it will accept European voltage, you’ll only need an adapter to physically make the cord fit into the power outlet. If it does not, you’ll also need a converter to convert European voltage to US voltage.
Be especially careful with hair appliances. More than one client has burned hair from an overheated hair appliance, even one plugged into a converter. I’m not saying that every hotel room will have a hair dryer, but every hotel room in Europe I’ve ever been with has had a hair dryer. If you absolutely must use a straightener, I would recommend investing in one with dual voltage.
Bring a journal. You’d be amazed out how quickly you can forget the details! Writing down the name of the hotels where you stayed, the restaurants you enjoyed or the name of your gondolier, as well as other details, can help you recollect your trip more completely later. It also helps when you’re documenting your pictures later.
A laminated foldable city map is great to have. Most of them have a map of the subway system as well.
Finally, a small compass (even a small cheap one) can be a lifesaver when navigating around a city where you’re not sure which way is north.
I sailed on the October 31st, 2011 sailing of the Avalon Scenery on the “Burgundy and Provence” itinerary. Since this was the last sailing of the season, this was a wine themed cruise. The Avalon sailings are usually booked as a cruisetour that includes a few days of land touring along with the 7 night cruise. We took just the 7 night sailing.
I have done independent touring in Europe several times. River cruising is superior to land touring in several ways. River cruising is a much more relaxing way to see several destinations during a week. Being on the ship means that all of the hassle of moving all of your stuff between cities is eliminated. I found that I was able to enjoy each destination more because I wasn’t worn out from the mechanics of moving around. While the captain is navigating the river between destinations you are blissfully watching the beauty go by. Or, maybe you’re taking a nap. Maybe you’re playing cards or another board game with some of your shipmates. But, what you are most certainly not doing is dragging luggage and trying to lift it onto a luggage rack on a train. You are not checking in and out of hotels. You’re not wondering about directions. You’re not lost. You’re enjoying yourself.
River cruising is also superior to ocean cruising in several ways. The size of the vessel, for one thing. The Avalon Scenery has a maximum capacity of 138 guests. Our sailing had almost that many people. This means that you’re never waiting in a line of any size. When you call on a port there isn’t a small army descending on the town. This also means that, by the end of the week, you know most of the people on board. The staff on board certainly knows everyone. You’re not anonymous from the moment you walk on board. You’re on a first name basis with the front desk people and the cruise director. You are truly a welcomed guest. You’re never lost. You don’t need a map to get anywhere on the ship. You can always pop back to your cabin for a forgotten item because it isn’t far from anywhere.
Another difference is the itineraries that are possible on river cruising as opposed to cruising on a river. On a river cruise, you usually see smaller cities for most of your itinerary. A river cruising ship just pulls right up to the town and parks. There isn’t a cruise ship terminal needed, and you never have to worry about if you’re going to have to tender in. You just step off, and there you are. Depending on how many ships are in town on a given day, they may stack them two deep, so you may have to walk through a ship parked next to yours and then out on to the street.
I was quite pleased with river cruising in Europe. I will do it again. Where to next?
We’re back from France. It was an amazing trip, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more in another blog post.. What I want to write about today are the lessons we learned along the way. Before the trip I wrote about the process of packing, and I’ll also write about how that all worked out. Today, though, it’s all about lessons. Maybe some of them can translate to every day life lessons too.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Learn the basics of the native language. We didn’t do this. I wish we had. If you learn the niceties of the language as well as a few useful things (perhaps having to do with food and things like the bathroom) people will perceive you less as an intruder and more as a guest. Go ahead, make some flash cards. You can do it.
2) Eat when you can. One day we were in a beautiful small town, but only for three hours. Because we wanted to digest all of our surroundings and record them in photographs, we elected to skip eating in the dining room on board and head straight for town. Our thought was that we would pick up one of the wonderful sandwiches that are at little shops everywhere and maybe a diet coke, and eat them while walking around. Sadly, the three hours we were there were the three hours in the middle of the day that everyone in small town France takes off in the middle of the day to go home and eat with their families. This means that every single thing is closed with the exception of the sit down cafes where you can expect it to take 90 minutes to eat.
Nice tradition, but it sure didn’t fit our schedule that day. We were starving. We did, however, find the worlds most legendary cream puff that day. There was one solitary bakery that was open straight through instead of closing. Probably not very popular with the locals to be open straight through, but were we ever thankful for those cream puffs.
3) Pee when you can. I always made sure I went right before leaving the ship. Even so, sometimes we were caught having to locate acceptable facilities. We usually found them, but even so, it took away from touring time and interuupted the enjoyment of the amazing beauty we were there to see. I will admit it was an interesting cultural experience to stand in line for the potty, pay a Euro and get a receipt indicating that we’d paid to go to the bathroom. It was also fun to put the Euro coin in the other bathroom later in the trip to gain access to the stall. Multicultural lessons abound.
This also leads to a related lesson which is, Have Change for the Bathroom.
4) Be aware of national holidays. The day we took the train from Paris to Arles (pronounced “Ar-La”) was All Saints Day. This meant that the tourist information desk at the train station was closed which meant we couldn’t ask about how to get from the train station to the ship. This also meant that everything was closed. When I say every thing I mean every.single.thing. Even the supermarkets and the pharmacies. Fortunately for us on this trip we overnighted in Arles so we got to fully enjoy the town the next day.
5) Be careful of standing in the street. We primarily visited small towns where the roads were so narrow that to most Americans it looks more like a pedestrian district than an actually street where automobiles would dare to roam. With fair regularity, cars would come by and the drivers would be quite frustrated that the tourists were standing in the street. This isn’t a problem in a major city. I don’t think anyone would make a mistake in thinking a Paris street was anything but a busy major metropolitan throughfare.
6) A photo will look better back at the hotel than it does while you’re standing in front of the actual object. My traveling companion and I both have intimidating cameras with which we digest our surroundings. (She is a much much more skilled photographer than I am. I just have the big camera and try hard.) One thing I noticed is that I would be standing in near this impossibly beautiful thing and would take the best picture I could frame up. I would look at the screen on the back of the camera at the picture I’d taken and see a poor represenation of the magnificience before which I was standing. Many times I hit the delete key on the camera. (Thank goodness for digital photography.)
Then I noticed that when I got back to the hotel and uploaded the pictures to my iPad with a bigger screen, and I was away from the actual object of the picture, I was much more impressed with the picture. So, save those pictures and delete them later while looking at a bigger screen. (Now this doesn’t apply if it’s clearly a picture of the back of the person who stepped into your shot, or if it’s blurry, or something obvious like that.)
7) Remember rush hour. Even though you are on vacation, there are many people around you who are simply moving through their normal lives. People around you are going to work, getting groceries for their familes and trying to survive.
At the end of our trip we had to get clear through Paris on the RER train and it happened to be at 5:30pm. We endured a crush of people surrounding us on the train for the two hour journey. Between really popular stops I had to close my eyes, breathe, and try not to have a panic attack. (I don’t have panic attacks, but I was seriously considering an exception.) If I’d been thinking, I would have stowed our luggage and had dinner in Paris and had a much more enjoyable trip later in the evening.
8) Remember electricity. I always travel with a power strip. This keeps me from having to crawl around a night stand to switch out my cell phone charger to my iPad charger, to my laptop cord. I have plenty of accessible places in which to plug things. My favorite purchase on this trip was a European power strip. I plugged it in and stuck my US adapters in the slots. This essentially gave me my normal power strip (at least for those things that didn’t need a converter – refer to my blog post about Electricity while traveling for more details.)
What lessons did you learn last time you took a trip? Share them in the comments.
On this trip, we’ll be nine and a half hours in flight going over and almost eleven hours coming back. That’s a lot of time to try to be comfortable and entertained.
I’m carrying a lot more on board than I would if I were on a 2.5 hour trip to Cancun. Here’s a list:
Scottevest: This is more to carry things IN than an item itself
iPad 2: Movies are downloaded and ready to go. I also bought a headphone splitter so my traveling companion can be entertained too.
Larabars: Healthy snacks in case my hunger schedule doesn’t match the schedule on board. Plus..airplane food….
Stand and External Keyboard for iPad2: To stand the iPad up for easier viewing, or for typing blog posts if inspiration hits.
Paperback book and Photography Magazines: Reading material is very important. I also have books downloaded to the iPad, but you still need paper for before and after you’re allowed electronics.
Fold Up Blanket
Travel Pillow: (I have high hopes for this new pillow I bought.)
In Flight Kit: I put together this kit a few trips ago and it has served me well.
- Chap Stick
- Shout Wipes
- Pair of Fuzzy Socks
- Mini Mag Light (so you can find stuff when the cabin lights are down)
- Cloth Hanky
- Hand Lotion
- Cough Drops
- Sleeping Mask
- Bleach Wipes
Of course, I’m hoping to sleep quite a bit too. Between sleep, what I’ve brought, and the two meals that will be served on board, I should be to Paris in no time. Right?
Do you have any more tips for me? Tell me in the comments.
This is the part of packing that I really don’t like. I’m not that into clothes even at home, so deciding what to take a trip is something that I can find myself procrastinating until the last minute. Nevertheless, I felt it was important to force myself to think through everything and get it ready.
On this trip, I’ll need a set of clothes for each day. Daytime activities on this trip will be mostly walking around exploring and taking pictures. I’ll keep it pretty simple. I bought some new turtlenecks and fleece tops from Lands End in bright colors. I’ll wear them each day with a pair of jeans. Pretty simple.
It gets more complicated in the evening. Since we’re on a river cruise we’ll have to go to dinner each night and there are only 136 other people on the boat, so it’s harder to fade into the background. I don’t want to embarrass myself. On an independent trip, if you wear the same thing to dinner several times, no one but your traveling companion would notice. Depending on who your traveling companion is they might not notice either.
I’m a big fan of Chico’s Traveler Collection. I have a good assortment of the basic pieces, then a different way every night to make it seem different. Either a blouse, or a scarf or a jacket can make a big difference. Jewelry plays a big role too.
So, what I did was sit down and create seven different outfits (one for each night of the cruise). I took a picture with my iPhone of each outfit. By going ahead and assembling each outfit I was able to make sure I had everything I needed.
As far as the actual physical packing of the clothes, there are many places where you can read about techniques for putting clothes in suitcases. What I did with my evening clothes was make a big stack of them and roll them all together. Nothing I brought wrinkles badly, so I feel confident that this will do the job until I unpack in the cruise cabin.
For my daytime exploring clothes, I used an Eagle Creek Pack-it Folder. Incidentally, I always use Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes for underwear and socks. Rather than having individual pairs drifting around my suitcase, There are all together and organized.
What is your favorite tip for organizing your clothing for a trip? Tell me in the comments.
To do a good job at packing your toiletries and not end up on your trip longing for a forgotten item requires forethought and planning. Here are a few tips that will help.
1) Pick the right toiletry kit. Since this series of posts is about packing for a trip to France, one consideration is lack of counter space. European hotel rooms rarely have any at all, and our cabin on our river cruise will certainly not have much, if any. So, it is important to have a toiletry kit with a hook so that it will hang on the wall. You can hang it from a doorknob, the top of the mirror, a light fixture or maybe even a hook. Another great asset in a toiletry kit is lot of pockets or dividers so that you can keep everything in the right place rather than rummaging around a big open bag. The toiletry kit I picked for this trip is the REI Ultimate Shower Kit. I recently retired my Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Wallaby. I would have just replaced it with another Wallaby since it served me so well for so long, but I just wanted to try something new.
2) Small Containers. I hope it is already obvious that it isn’t good packing technique to carry around full size containers of most things. For this trip, I’m using GoToob Silicone Travel Bottles. They are great and squishy and even have suction cups so you can easily affix them to the wall in the bathroom or the shower.
Or, if you want to purchase small sizes of your favorite items and you can’t find them in that section at Target, take a look at http://www.3floz.com/ or http://www.minimus.biz/
3) Planning. I tend to do better if I pack well ahead of actually leaving for the trip. This gives me longer to remember things I’ve forgotten. It also gives me time to really evaluate each choice to see if I really need to bring it or not.
When it actually comes time to fill the toiletry kit I sit and actually imagine the process of showering and getting ready in the morning. As I come to each step in the process I pack the appropriate item. If it is an item that I will still need to use in the days leading up to departure, I put it on a “last minute packing items” list.
I also keep a “need to buy” list so that I can jot down things I still need to pick up (usually at Target).
Unless you’re packing a separate medication / first aid kit, you might also consider including those items in your toiletry kit. Think through some of the ailments that you commonly get either at home or while traveling and bring items to treat them.
Here is a list of the items currently in my toiletry kit:
Enough makeup to make me minimally presentable
Blister Band Aids
One dose of cold medicine (enough until I can find somewhere to buy it if I need it.)
Small Bottle of Advil
Small Bottle of Benedryl
What toiletry item can you not do without? Tell us in the comments.
Ten days from today I am going on the Avalon Scenery for a river cruise through Burgundy and Provence.
I do travel alot. Usually, though, it is to a beach destination. I can pack for a trip like that in my sleep. Packing for a trip like this will require a bit more thought and planning.
So, I thought I would write a few articles about the process of planning and packing for this trip. Maybe you can learn from my experience.
There are a few primary considerations when starting to think about what clothing to pack. Temperature and activities planned are two important ones.
I checked weather.com and it looks like right now in Paris the highs are in the mid 50′s and night time lows are in the mid 40′s. Now, to this Texan, mid 40′s are pretty chilly. For that matter, mid 50′s are sweatshirt and fleece weather.
The dear friend accompanying me shares my enthusiasm for photography. (Although she is actually talented, as opposed to my hit and miss methods.) I’m assuming much of our daytimes will be spent wandering around taking photographs. That means that I’ll need comfortable warm clothes for daytime. I’ll need seven dress up outfits for eating dinner on the boat. That will be the real challenge.
Another challenge to consider is that if I forget something, it won’t be very easy to replace it. When I recently traveled to Oregon for my nieces wedding I was able to just take my rental car over to the local Target store. Along the river in Southern France there may not be a Target store nearby.
So, how will I solve these challenges? First of all, I will start packing today. In fact, there is already an open suitcase in my bedroom where I place things I think about as I think about them. I find that the more in advance I pack, the less I pack. If I pack at the last minute, I feel less sure of my choices, so I tend to bring everything possible.
So, it’s time to start making lists. Do you have any tips for me? Add them in the comments.
People call us all the time wanting help with an independent itinerary.
Some of them are truly unique. Like, for instance, the pastry chef who wanted an itinerary that included a certain chocolate factory in Italy. Or the times we’ve sent people to special events like the Running of the Bulls or Octoberfest.
Many of them are fairly similar though. Take for instance the standard Rome, Venice, Florence itinerary that is pretty normal for a first time trip to Italy. Or, a week in London and Paris. These are itineraries that lots and lots of people do.
Globus Tours has put together these itineraries and many more that are all set up and ready to go. They aren’t motorcoach tours where you’re with the same group of people the entire week. On these itineraries they have already chosen great well located hotels and added the most popular sightseeing tours in each city. You’re on your own, but with a framework to build on.
With a Monograms tour you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, they’ve done all of the work for you. Give us a call and let’s check out which Monograms Tour you’d like to take next.