First Time to Europe Tips

Mar 22nd, 2007, 03:57 PM
  #1  
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First Time to Europe Tips

I have been reading your posts and am thinking of taking a trip to Rome or London on the cheap/spur of the moment this fall. For my first trip to Europe, I was planning on taking an escorted tour but you have convinced me otherwise. I have an automatic notifier from Orbitz to let me know when a reasonable airfare is available. I plan to try Priceline for a hotel.

However, besides my passport, what is essential to pack for Europe, e.g., what is best for money exchange - credit card, ATM card???? What kind of cell phone is best?? Can I even take a cell phone (I have Verizon)? What kind of outlet converters do I need? Do I need train/tour reservations in advance? I don't have a laptop to make reservations while there. I have a few tourbooks and I would try your dining recommendations. I don't plan on renting a car. I want to be spontaneous but I don't want to be unprepared. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
RaleighGirl is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 04:05 PM
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For myself, I book the plane ticket and make a hotel reservation. I wait and do anything else after I arrive (train tickets, tour reservations, etc.).

I take my passport, 1 ATM card, $300USD, $300 currency of the country I'm headed to, and 1-2 charge cards.

I don't travel with a cell phone or a laptop or any electrical devices that require converters. I don't rent a car and walk or use public transportation.

I think London (or Paris or Amsterdam) would be an easier first trip than Rome.
suze is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 04:09 PM
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Resources i usually alert folks asking novice questions like this to: www.ricksteves.com for lots on rail travel, railpasses and cheap flights you may want to mix in with train travel. (By ways trains are IMO a GREAT way for first-time European travelers to go - zillions of trains and easy to use. Speaking of trains, another great resource is at www.budgeteuropetravel.com where you can request the free European Planning & Rail Guide - a superb primer not only on rail travel and passes but lots of suggested itineraries, packing tips, changing money, etc. But by far the best resource i've seen in Fodorites - pose any questions and you'll get a lot of great info from seasoned grounded-to-the-earth Euro travelers.
ATMs and changing money for instance have often been discussed here many times...ditto for your other questions.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 04:25 PM
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Sounds like you're going to be well prepared.
I use T-Mobile and it works fine in Europe for the few minutes it takes to find out that everything is fine at home. It's 99 cents per minute. Call Verizon and ask about international charges.
Your outlets will depend upon where you go.
If you're planning to go solo it might be a good idea to limit yourself to one or two cities. If you plan on staying in only one or two cities won't have to worry about having train reservations in advance. Usually, the transportation systems (metros, undergrounds) are easy to use.
You will find a wealth of info here on Fodor's by using the search box.
L84SKY is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 04:27 PM
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I always try to keep in mind that europe is not the states so slow down and enjoy its pace.
brando is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 04:41 PM
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I would think twice about London, since you mention "cheap". It can be a pretty expensive city. Even my friends who live in Switzerland complain about that!
suze is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 08:54 PM
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I agree with others that Rome might a bit difficult for a first trip (especially for a female travelling solot) and London is very expensive.

If you give us more information about your interests, we could probably give you better feedback as to which might be the best place/s for you to consider for a first trip. Also, it would help for us to know the amount of time you are considering.

I make plane and hotel reservations before leaving, travel with one ATM card and 2 credit cards and around $300 cash. In some cases, I make special reservations prior to leaving, such as if there's a ballet or opera we want to see or when we go to Alhambra (in Spain), but otherwise, try to be somewhat spontaneous.

We don't travel with laptops or cellphones, but purchase phonecards and use internet cafes (or some hotels have internet access).
artlover is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 10:25 PM
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Forget the cellphone if you want to save money. Phone cards you can buy in most European countries bring the cost of phone calls to North America to $0.01 per minute -- that is 30 to 40 times less than the best cell phone deal.
More and more hotels have free internet use, so you don't really need to bring a laptop either.
kerouac is online now  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 10:36 PM
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First, get and read recent guidebooks. The $20 for an up to date book will save you hundreds, plus lots of time you might waste hunting for a restautant that has disappeared, or going to a museum on the wrong day.

Another thing for a first timer, in most European cities (certainly Rome) people do not dress as casually as we typically do here while traveling. If you don't want to stick out as a tourist (for safety's sake as well as your pleasure in mixing) take clothes that you feel are on the stylish side. You don't need ten outfits, just things that look good and that you look good in. You don't need fancy duds for dining etc, but you'll want attractive wear, so you don't feel like you were the only one who didn't get the dress code ... And if you go to Rome, this is especially wise, as women will be turned away from the great REligious venues (churches, St. Peter's and the Vatican museums, etc) if wearing a remotely skimpy top or miniskirt. No shorts or tank tops on men or women in these places of worship.

You can now find an ATM almost anywhere in Italy, including small towns. The exchange rate is almost always more favorable at an ATM than in an exchange bank.

Rome is fairly expensive, and the dollar is weak against the Euro, but even weaker against the pound, and London is one of the priciest places in Europe.

There are many great lodging options in Rome. Will be happy to suggest some, but a woman alone might actually want to look into one of the convents that takes guests. They are excellent values, usually well-located, and the only caveat is that you must be in fairly early, around 10:00 PM I think - if that suits you, look into it. You won't feel safer anywhere else, and I hear they are very welcoming (and, as you'd expect, clean!)
tomassocroccante is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 01:38 AM
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"I always try to keep in mind that europe is not the states so slow down and enjoy its pace."

LOL, have you ever been to London or Rome, Brando?
Kate is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 04:02 AM
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sjj
 
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Your Verizon phone won't work in Europe, so if you want to use a cell phone on your trip you'll have to buy an unlocked GSM phone of the right type and a SIM card that works in Western Europe. This involves a lot of trouble and expense, and I think you're better off using a calling card. Re money, my wife and I travel with two credit cards and two debit cards, and we start our trips with about 100 euros in cash. To be on the safe side, write down your card and passport numbers and the phone numbers of your card companies and the local American embassy and keep them in a safe place, separate from the cards and your passport. Remember to call the card companies to tell them you're going to Europe before you leave. Continuing on, you'll need really comfortable shoes, preferably waterproof, a good raincoat, an umbrella, and a big, waterproof purse. You may also want to buy trip insurance.
This all sounds pretty grim, but I think you'll like your advance planning and you'll love your trip. Good luck!
sjj is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 04:10 AM
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For how long are you thinking of going?

I wouldn't recommend booking a tour, unless it's some kind of active, adventure tour (e.g. walking combined with city visits). If you're planning to visit only one or two places, then you can just as easily book a half-day or day tour on arrival, rather than locking yourself into an itinerary (and a group of quite possibly irritating travellers) on a tour.

A flight + hotel package is a different story, though. You might find a good deal that way.

Depending on your interests, another budget option you might consider, if you're planning to stay in one place for at least a week, is a language holiday. I've done these in France and Spain and found them a great way to learn about a country, meet like-minded people who were interested in sightseeing with me after class or going out for meals or drinks and provide a little structure to my day (so I don't sleep in until noon and waste the trip). Language schools often have budget accommodation options (homestays, dormitories, special deals with inexpensive hotels), so the cost of the trip including the language lessons isn't much more expensive (and possibly cheaper) than a regular holiday. Language schools tend to make learning the language a lot more interesting than your high school language teacher ever did. They often offer sightseeing excursions, cooking and dance classes, movie nights, etc. I have a friend who took Italian in Italy and had a wonderful time.

As a bonus, you will have learned something on your trip - and that can be a credential to put on your cv.

Languagesabroad.com and Cactus Languages are two agencies that book language holidays. For my Spanish courses, I booked directly with Don Quijote (the school, not the man). I also booked my French classes directly.

As an alternative to London (given the high cost), I would recommend Spain.
Kate_W is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 04:25 AM
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Your Verizon phone will not work in Europe. Verizon may have some arrangement with a GSM operation in Europe...I think I saw a post recently about some arrangement that Verizon or Sprint ? made for people traveling in Europe.

If you want to call back to the US, get an international calling card. If you want to call inside Italy, buy a Telecom Italia phone card for the public phones.

If you think you need a cell phone, you can get one on e-bay and buy a SIM card for the UK if you go to London, or a SIM card for Italy if you go there.

Fibonacci2358 is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 04:44 AM
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Even tho London is expensive, I'd still start there as its your first time abroad. Why not take the Eurostar to Paris? Paris is an easy city to get around in, and it has so much history. People are much friendlier than their reputations, and the young people speak more and more English. We did not find that in Rome. I love Rome and Italy, but it might be a little too much for a first time visitor traveling alone.
Don't get money here, get Euro's at the airport ATM when you land.(pounds in London)
kleroux is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 06:53 AM
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And for Eurostar tickets London-Paris you can save often tons of money by buying the cheapest ones far in advance - in London itself on the site you could pay literally $100 or more than advance purchase tickets, the cheapest ones which are sold in strict allotments and are often sold out weeks early.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 07:06 AM
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I probabaly need to clarify my statement that I wanted to travel to Rome or London on the "cheap", I really just meant to get the best possible deal for what I want to do. I usually don't travel in the peak season, although I don't want to go to London in the dead of winter. In the off season (spring - late fall), you can travel to London from RDU for $600 per person and to Rome for $800 - not exactly "cheap" but reasonable considering the normal fares. My husband will be traveling with me but he doesn't like to do any of the planning - prefers to go along for the ride. It's alot of pressure when one person has to do all the planning, especially when you don't speak the language (Rome). I guess it would be best to go to London first. I'd love to see London but my husband prefers Italy.
RaleighGirl is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 09:03 AM
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RaleighGirl ~

In the end, where you "should" go on your first trip depends on what you want to see and do. Have you dreamt of seeing the jewels in the Tower of London and shopping at Harrods? Is the Louvre on your must-see list? Have you had a life-long dream of a pilgrimmage to the Vatican? Do you prefer: a) tea and scones b) cafe au lait and a croissant or c) espresso or cappuccino and a cornetto [see croissant]

London, Paris, Rome - all international capitals, each with its own character. If you and your husband enjoy being at the center of things and cope easily with a busy populace going about their lives, there is nothing better than a week or two in any of them. Each offers too much to take in in any one trip, so you pick a few things you "must" do, then fill in the rest after you get the lay of the land.

You said your husband wants to go to Italy, and Rome is, of course, very Italian! At the same time, Rome = Italy sort of the way New York = the USA. You can have a fantastically full yet relaxing trip to Rome, though to get a fuller picture, you'd need to get outside for a couple of days: for instance, take a train to Siena or Orvieto.

Where you stay in any city will contribute a lot to your pleasure. I very much recommend the San Anselmo group of hotels in Rome. Situated on the Aventine, an elegant, mostly residential area, you will start and end the day to the sound of birds and neighborhood dogs, enjoy light and air, etc. (They have 3 hotels in the neighborhood: the 4th is near the train station, so don't mistake it for the Aventine locations.) From the Aventine you are an easy taxi ride to anything in central Rome, public transportation is near, and, frankly, you can walk to the Forum, etc in 15 minutes, enjoy Trastevere, show for food and wine or find local restaurants in adjacent Testaccio area.

As always, the best route to a great trip begins with reading up on the destination. You'll dicscover that there are things you never knew of but really would enjoy. And you'll have a sense of "where things are" when you get there, like having a version of the map in your head.

Speaking of guidebooks, a great one to have in hand is CITY SECRETS: Rome (there's also a CITY SECRETS: London - I think not a Paris version yet) Whatever neighborhood you're in, you check the map and then discover you're close to the best gelateria, or most overlooked treasure of a church. All the recommendations come from artists, chefs, writers, architects, mostly American, who are steering you to their personal favorites, many of them not included in other guidebooks. City Secrets is a great companion!
tomassocroccante is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 09:51 AM
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People weren't talking about the airfare, but about costs once you are there (when they mention London being a fairly expensive destination).

There shouldn't be anything intimidating about booking Rome without speaking Italian. You can use the internet for plane ticket and hotel reservations.
suze is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 10:45 AM
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By the way, how you like to eat when you travel is a factor, too. London has everything now, but good restaurants are pricey even to those who spend freeliy in the US.

In Rome you can find very stylish, expensive restaurants. You can also eat fabulous food in neighborhood places for much less money. The only place where the food tends to be disappointing are those on the "tourist group" itineraries. Basically, avoid places where the menu is in english!
tomassocroccante is offline  
Mar 24th, 2007, 12:38 PM
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Well Kate, yes I have, and both are very peaceful depending on the time of the day. Rome for instance can be crazy, insane, lound, noisey most of the day, but go to vatican city-spend time in the forum and your away from all of that. Sit at a cafe at 1 am in a plaza and it's quite. You can find what your looking for. Number one mistake of all europe travels is overbooking and not slowing down to enjoy what europe is. Look at the locals they slow down.
brando is offline  

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