One of the many reasons I always wanted to live in Europe is
because of all the travel opportunities available. It amazes me that I can hop
from one unique country to the next in a matter of hours. From Paris, Brussels
is an 80 minute train ride, London is a 2 hour flight away, and cities in
Germany and Switzerland are close by. As fun as it is to constantly be on the
go, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which places to visit and how to get
there cheaply. Now that I have been here for four months, I’ve learned some
of the tricks and different customs to travel in Europe.
It is really nice to travel to countries within
the Schengen area because these countries have an open and free travel
agreement so visitors do not have to go through customs (unfortunately that
means no cool stamps to add to your passport).
SkyScanner is a great website to use because it
is similar to Orbitz and Travelocity. It allows users to search for flights to
a particular city and it has a cool feature where you can search to go anywhere
so you can see which countries and cities are the cheapest to go to. For
example, sometimes I search for flights leaving from any airport in Paris to
I am surprised that it is cheaper to travel
abroad then domestically. I don’t know if this is the case everywhere, but in
France it is pretty inexpensive to fly to Italy and Spain, yet it is twice as
much to fly or take a train to southern France. This can be a challenge because
I want to immerse myself more by visiting other French cities but it may be
easier to go somewhere else.
Some airports are super nice with fancy jewelry,
clothing, electronics stores. Sometimes it feels like I am walking through a
ritzy mall instead of an airport.
The budget airlines I have used are Ryan Air and
Easy Jet. When it comes to these companies, you definitely get what you paid
Outlets to charge your phone or computer are non-existent.
Rather than going through security immediately
like in the US, some airports have small security lines at each gate. It is
nice to not have to wait in long lines.
Most of the time, your gate is not known until
the plane lands at the airport with the passengers from the flight before. I have spent plenty of time waiting by the “Departure” screens waiting
for the gate to be announced so I can make sure I am in the right place. There was
a time (or two) where I realized I was in the wrong terminal!
Budget airlines will nail you for having a
carry-on bag that is slightly larger than the allowed size – I was charged 45
pounds in Scotland (about 75 dollars) to check mine under the plane at the gate
Check where your destination airport is because some
airlines like to advertise their airports as being in the city but sometimes
there are not even close! The Paris Beauvais Airport where Ryan Air, Easy Jet
and Wizz Air fly from is over an hour away and when I visited Sweden, the
“Gothenburg City Airport” was in the middle of farmland about 30 minutes from
the city center.
Some countries have no mercy and charge you to
use the public bathrooms (some are even co-ed).
There are smoking areas inside the building.
Don’t purchase souvenirs at the airport unless
it is something you love and can’t find anywhere else because they are usually
much more expensive there.
Avoid going to a Currency exchange at the
airport if possible because the conversion rates are less in your favor than
somewhere else. Of course they like to charge more.
Some budget airlines require you to print your
boarding pass BEFORE arriving at the airport – I guess the paper expense is too
much to bear.
Plan ahead if possible – It is the best way to
find cheap prices!
Taxis can be pricey and you can get ripped off.
When I left the US for Paris, three students in my group arrived separately a
few days after because flights were canceled due to the snowstorms. When they arrived
at our apartments, we asked how much they paid for a cab and each of
them said different amounts…
Public transportation can be your friend if you
take the time to research how it works before you arrive at your destination.
Thankfully, I did before arriving in Sweden so I knew to find the airport bus
and the two tram numbers I needed to get to my hostel. I didn’t do this before
going to Barcelona or the UK so it was more stressful to get around.
Be prepared to spend most of your travel day sitting and waiting – things here don’t move quite as quickly or easily as in
If you take the time to narrow down the places you are
interested in seeing prior to coming to Europe and research, research,
research, the process will be incredibly less chaotic! In the end it is more than worth it! When things go as planned, it's great. When they don't, it sometimes turns into the best stories :)