These are the things I have learned over the last three years of travel. Keep in mind that I am slightly high maintenance and I don’t like crowds so my suggestions might not be the best for everyone. I look forward to hearing other people’s tips and tricks!
Plan trip and book tickets:
Many options exist for booking airline tickets. To travel around Europe, my favorite is Skyscanner, because it aggregates the major brand airlines as well as several of the budget ones. There are many smaller brand airlines that do not show up on searches, so if you really want to figure out every option, go to the airport website directly to see what airlines fly in and out. Skyscanner also has an “everywhere” option, so if you have a random four day and want to see what options exist, it will give you some great choices.
For intercontinental flights, Google Flights is the easiest to use and gives the best information. It filters flights based on criteria such as total flight time and layover length. In comparison with Expedia, for example, Google Flights will not show you a flight that is twenty dollars cheaper if it has a longer layover. I like that Google assumes I would prefer to spend twenty dollars and not make my trip longer and therefore more terrible.
While booking, be aware of carry-on bag limits on the budget airlines. RyanAir allows a carry-on and a purse/laptop bag, but EasyJet only permits ONE bag- you must be able to fit your purse into your carry-on to get on the plane. If you plan to check a bag, it is cheaper to do it online at the time of booking. Get creative! When my best travel buddy and I went to Morocco, knowing we planned on shopping till we dropped, we put her empty suitcase into mine, so we only had to check one bag on the way down. Another friend of mine brought gently used clothing to donate on the way there and then filled up with Moroccan swag on the way home.
Don’t forget to print your tickets if you fly RyanAir.
Random tip: You can buy fresh bufala mozzarella after security in the Napoli airport. It is sealed and packed for the airplane, just make sure you have room in your bag if you are flying EasyJet.
When you are buying tickets, I strongly recommend booking your airport parking at the same time. I have been caught twice without parking available (once at Treviso and once at Marco Polo) and that is a situation I would definitely wish upon my worst enemy 😉 At Bergamo, book your parking at P2 so you do not end up having to park in the far lot (P3) and take a shuttle. For all Milan airports, use http://www.viamilanoparking.eu/ There are also off airport parking lots, but I have not used any of them. Venice Marco Polo is marcopolopark.it. There are some off-airport locations here that will apparently clean and detail your car while you are gone which sounds pretty awesome and something to check out. FYI, if you book parking through RyanAir (an option as you are buying your flight) it is the same price as on the parking website.
Trains are allegedly another great way to get around Europe. I, however, have barely taken them (except the fast train to Venezia) because I can usually find plane tickets for way cheaper and even with driving to airport and parking it is usually quicker.
Planning on driving? Treat yo self and get a Telepass from your bank. Seriously, who wants to wait in the super long queue to pay tolls when you can fly through the Telepass lane? It costs less than five euro every three months for the privilege of having it, and they auto-debit from your bank account quarterly. Too easy. Also get the list of AGIP/Eni gas stations before the Italian borders from someone so you know where to stop and fill up (I got mine from an FRG meeting). Don’t forget to get your vignettes for Switzerland and Slovenia!
As far as hotels, my must haves are breakfast, wifi, and a central location. There is nothing worse than being hungry and caffeine deprived trying to find your way to the central part of the city in the morning. Always book a refundable hotel room. It may cost a few euro extra but you will thank me later when there is an Army “emergency” and your husband’s trip gets canceled. AirBnb- I use it sometimes but I prefer hotels in general. Definitely personal preference here.
Pack for your trip:
This part is easy- get a backpack that fits a ton of stuff but can still be considered a carry-on and use it. Don’t be that person dragging a roller suitcase over cobblestones through every medieval city in Europe.
Bring a hat, scarf, and gloves if there is a chance it is going to be cold where you are going. It will always feel a little colder than the actual temperature and then you end up buying gear in every city you visit and then you get home and are like “Why do I have so many pairs of gloves that I don’t even like?”
Get packing cubes and airtight space spacer bags. Not only will this help you be more organized, you can also fit a surprising amount into a backpack. I have one for all of my electronics to ensure I always have my chargers and adapters, as well as a small ziplock with a couple days worth of random medications (Advil, cold meds, stomach meds, etc) that I toss into my backpack every trip
I have a toiletries bag that is exclusively for travel, so I am not switching things back and forth between my bathroom cabinets and the bag. Just refill the liquids and off I go.
Survive the Italian Plane experience:
Ok, so you’ve been in Italy a while and you know that Italians and lines are not really a thing. As in, lines don’t exist here, so don’t bother. Boarding and deplaning a flight in Italy is the equivalent of Black Friday at Best Buy EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Everyone has a seat assignment, but even people with no carry-ons to shove in the overhead bin will straight up trample you to get on that plane first.
Trying to get your stuff out of the overhead once the plane lands? Don’t for a minute think that anyone else on the plane is going to let the rows in front deplane in any sort of order- the old nonna in the back is going to hold her purse like QB1 just threw it 70 yards down the field and she is almost at the end zone…. Watch out, she’s coming through. Sometimes a stern, well timed “Aspetta!” can at least catch someone off guard enough to pause and give you a second to get out into the aisle. Stand your ground, box out your elbows, and be prepared to be knocked around a bit.
You have arrived! If you are me, you have already researched how to get to your hotel or starting point for the day when you land. I love doing free walking tours when I get to a new city. It is a good way to get the lay of the land, learn a few things, and maybe meet some cool people. Do you have any other travel tips for newcomers to Europe?