Ready, set, go to Europe

Now that you are planning to travel to Europe, I have a few suggestions based on dozens of my trips.  These are somewhat random in nature, but will hopefully make your travels a little easier and more enjoyable.

Pack light: 

Plan for 2 main colors and have bottoms in those colors; change it up with tops and accessories. Plan on 3 tops for every pair of pants.  Women will want at least 1 dress and men should have 1 dress shirt and sport coat in case you want to eat at a nice restaurant.  You do not need a different pair of shoes for every outfit.  Have 1 dress pair, and the most important feature is comfortable walking shoesPro tip:  white tennis shoes are an American thing; if you are wearing tennis shoes, try to purchase a color other than white.

Cobblestone street

Layer, layer, layer:

Weather is variable, and no matter what the averages are in your destination, it is subject to change.  Pack accordingly: always include a light-weight sweater, and a jacket.  If the weather takes a surprising turn for the colder, you can layer and stay warm.  In many destinations, the weather may start at a brisk temp in the morning and be toasty by afternoon.  Dress in layers you can peel off or put on as the temperatures change.

Packing light is important for other reasons:

  1. If traveling by train in Europe, you are the porter.  Train stations no longer have porters to handle your bags so expect to handle yourself. 
  2. Trains have limited storage: from one town to another in Italy, or from London to Paris, for example, you don’t check your bags.  You store them in a designated area at the end of your train car and the space is limited. 
Melk Abbey Monastery or Stift Melk is a Benedictine abbey in Melk, Austria.

3. In most cities, if traveling by train, you will be wrestling that luggage to the hotel.  Many cities, like Venice, have steps and cobblestone streets that are difficult to transverse.  Prepare accordingly.

4. If traveling between cities by plane, be aware that most European airlines have much stricter restrictions on luggage allowances.  Some charge for carry-on bags and/or have a weight limit for carry-on in addition to checked luggage.

Electrical converter:

Most of the European continental countries have similar outlet requirements; the United Kingdom and Ireland are a different voltage.  Take note of the photo here; it is of an actual outlet in France and Italy. 

Pro tip: Many of the converters sold in the US are large boxes that will not work; I know from personal experience.  Avoid that hassle by having one that is small and fits inside a recessed outlet like shown.

Electric outlet in France

Also, do not try to go without a converter—your electrical items will be ruined.  Years ago, I had a roommate on a France agent trip who thought “it won’t hurt if I plug it in for a few minutes”.  We watched her curling iron melt in a matter of moments. 


Be aware of the currency in your destination(s).  You can obtain some of that currency prior to travel, but most banks charge a transaction fee to provide foreign currency.  Double check on whether your bank charges a fee.  I have found that the Currency Exchange booths at the airport are about as reliable as other sources. All major cities (and many smaller ones) have ATM machines to obtain cash.  I prefer to obtain cash in installments rather than carry large amounts of cash when traveling. 

Credit cards:

Before departure from the US:

  1. Find out if your credit card charges a transaction fee for international charges.  If they do, you might want to consider a card that waives those fees.
  2. Notify the card you will use that you are traveling, giving the dates and destinations to which you are traveling.  It’s a little embarrassing to have your credit card declined at hotel check-in due to a freeze for security reasons. 
  3. Before making a purchase or eating in a restaurant, if you are using a credit card, ask if it is accepted.  My husband was in Germany last year hosting a group of clients, and was surprised at the end of the meal to discover that they didn’t accept credit cards.  They had a sticker on the door, but said, “that is old. . . we only accept cash now”.  He had to find the nearest ATM to get enough cash in the local currency to cover the meal for 10 people. 

Cell phone:

Before leaving the US, check with your cell phone carrier to determine the coverage in your destination country(ies).  In many cases, you can add a temporary international plan for far less than it will cost you to pay international service fees. Most hotels today have internet service provided.  Use that for your calls home and you may save money as well. 

Be sure to also check our “Before you go” and “Packing Tips” to help further in your planning.