If you’re planning a trip to Europe, these international travel tips will help you avoid common pitfalls. I’m not a globetrotter so these recommendations are based on my very rare trips to Europe.
These are the must-know things that will save you from a lot of undue stress and wasted money. If you are preparing for your first visit to Europe from the United States, these tips are for you. If you live outside the U.S. or are a seasoned international travel, you won’t find much useful information here (though I’d love for you to weigh in with your best tips in the comments!).
I just returned from a 2-week visit to Portugal and Spain. I had done some research before hand so I thought I had covered all my bases.
Unfortunately, there were a few things I wasn’t prepared for so I endured a couple of bumps in my otherwise very pleasant vacation. Since I can’t undo my own mistakes, I wanted to share everything I know and learned with others so that hopefully others can benefit from them.
If you’re used to checking in online for your domestic flights, be prepared for the fact that you probably won’t be able to do this for your international flight. Unless you have flown outside the U.S. before with an airline, they probably won’t let you check in online. The good news is, only frequent international fliers will be able to check in online so there should still be plenty of good seats to choose from when you arrive at the airport.
Speaking of arrival times, when should you show up at the airport to check in? The general guideline for international flights is to arrive at the airport three hours before your departure. However, advice from specific airlines and airports varies widely on this timeline. In fact, some airlines won’t allow you to check in that early (that was the case in our return flight to the U.S.).
If you don’t want to risk missing your flight, but also don’t want to spend several hours sitting in an airport waiting area, call the airline ahead of time to find out how early to arrive. Then, add a 30 minute buffer to give yourself some room for minor delays.
If you aren’t already in the habit of bringing an empty water bottle with you when you fly, make sure to pack one for your international flight. You can fill it once you’re through security. This way, you won’t risk dehydration just because you don’t want to shell out $5 for a bottle of water.
If you’re traveling to Europe, you’ve already figured out that you’ll need euros. You’ll get the best exchange rate and lowest fees at your local bank before you leave. I panicked that I didn’t have enough so I got more at the airport which charged me a hefty “convenience” fee.
Make sure you contact your bank and credit card companies BEFORE your trip to let them know you’ll be abroad. Otherwise, your cards might get denied in your banks’ efforts to protect you from fraud.
Find out if your bank is part of an international ATM network. If it does, download your bank’s app so that you can easily locate a network ATM wherever you are during your travels.
Also check with your credit card company to find out if it charges a foreign transaction fee. My preferred credit card when I’m at home charges a 3% fee for each international transaction! Needless to say, that card stayed at home.
One of the other people in our group applied for a credit card that had no transaction fee. If you prefer not to travel with a lot of cash and your credit card company carries a fee, a new no-fee card is a great solution.
This issue was hotly debated during my entire trip abroad. The one thing we all agreed on is that tipping in Europe is NOT the same as tipping in the U.S. In general, it’s just not as common and certainly not as generous.
Many restaurants include a service charge which should take the place of a tip. In most countries a 10% tip at a restaurant is considered quite generous.
At hotels one to two euros per bag is the norm. And in taxis, just round up to the next euro (for short trips) or to the next five euro increment (for longer trips).
If you’re really worried about possibly offending international service staff, look up tipping guidelines for the specific country your visiting.
You probably already know that the outlets in Europe are different than ours so you’ll need an adapter. Different countries have different outlets so it’s good to have a kit that includes several types like these:
To avoid purchasing multiple adapter sets (so you can power multiple devices), buy one adapter but bring a regular power strip to plug into it.
What you MAY not know is that even with an adapter, not all of your devices will work overseas. Since European outlets deliver 200 volts (or more!), there’s a good chance you’ll overpower some of your devices. I learned this lesson the hard way when I fried my flat iron in Germany a few years ago.
Just check the labels on your devices to make sure they don’t caution against high voltage power supplies. This limitation will likely only apply to hair styling tools and electric shavers.
If you want to be able to use your cell phone overseas, contact your provide beforehand to make sure your phone has the capability. Most providers will let you activate an international service plan for just the duration of your trip so you aren’t paying for services you don’t need.
If you plan on using WiFi while you’re abroad, consider getting a VPN (virtual private network) to protect your privacy. There are plenty of free VPNs available so this isn’t an added expense and they’re very easy to use.
I’m intensely private about bathroom matters, but I HAVE to address this because it can be a real inconvenience when you travel abroad. Changes in diet, schedule, and activity all combine to throw off your body’s normal operating procedures.
Here’s a fun fact: If you happen to travel with your mother, she might feel compelled to discuss your bathroom woes with everyone else in your group. PLEASE take my advice so you can avoid this potential embarrassment!
For many people, the problem can be avoided by drinking plenty of water, eating lots of fiber, and being active. Those remedies don’t work for everyone. If that’s you, try a natural laxative which will be gentler on your body than traditional laxatives.
More International Travel Tips
If you’ve traveled to Europe, I’d love for you to share your own tips in the comments. Also, if you’re planning a trip and have a question I didn’t address above, let me know and I’ll be happy to answer!