Europe the First Time
Ever desired to walk the European continent? Craving an evening in Paris? Well, follow this guide to maximize your enjoyment and minimize your frustration on your first trip to Europe.
To eke the most out of your initial travels to Europe, begin by setting aside anywhere from 7 to 21 days. The best seasons are spring and fall, when weather ranges are more tolerable throughout Europe, and when you won't necessarily hit peak prices. September, just after college students are back in school, and after many Europeans' August holidays are over, can often be the best time.
Consider purchasing a package tour of the '13-cities-over-18 nights' type that are offered by many travel agents across the U.S., Canada, England, France and elsewhere. You can investigate many types and durations of tours via the internet. Packages can include many of Europe's most attractive cities: London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Florence, Zurich, Munich, etc. Such package tours usually provide very good value for the trip duration, and can save you the many hassles of booking airfares, finding decent hotels, making timely connections, understanding local languages and customs, and getting yourself oriented. They can also end up saving you untold wasted time and unnecessary frustration. Tour guides are often quite informative and helpful, and you'll gain insight and entertainment from your varied fellow tourists.
Blend in with Europeans by shunning all those things that might identify you as an obnoxious tourist: overly large cameras, fanny-packs, fluorescent sneakers, sports-team gear, loud colors or patterns, ball caps, color-coordinated sweat suits, bulky maps and guidebooks. In fact, the best attire is multiple light layers of rather nondescript styles and accessories, preferably all in black, navy, gray or khaki. The multiple layers and accessories allow you to suit your attire to the weather, locale and setting. The dark colors don't show dust and dirt as readily, can even appear semi-formal as needed, and blend in with what many Europeans typically wear.
Buy one or more good European guides to the areas you'll visit. Bone up on your destinations before you leave, so you can create a 'hit-list' of your top desired sights and experiences. Ask in advance if your package tour will include any, and whether you'll have sufficient free time from the tour group to see any of the rest. Most package tours have at least several hours (if not several days) of free unstructured time in every destination city.
Try to travel lightly: pack half the clothes and twice the money you think you'll need. Carry a minimum with you on your sojourns; women should always have a handbag with a shoulder strap that can cross the body, to foil purse-snatchers or pickpockets. Ladies would also do well to pack a dark-colored headscarf; it'll come in handy as a head-wrap, around the neck on chillier evenings, and as a slightly dressier accessory. Cut up your guidebooks or maps as needed, so that you are carrying only what's necessary, useful and handy. Mark your maps with anticipated routes to save time and reduce disorientation.
Be adventurous. Don't be afraid to ask your tour guide or locals for recommendations of restaurants, pubs, shops and sights. Often the best memories of Europe are not of the tradition Big Sights, but of those small intimate and unique experiences that you encounter by chance and adventure.
A package tour of Europe can educate and train you quite well, so that you'd be able to return again on your own to savor some particular countries, cities and experiences in greater depth and at leisure.
Before planning any trip, it's wise to contact the U.S. State Department, your travel agency, or other knowledgeable sources to find out all you can about any required vaccinations, health risks, travel restrictions, local unrest, closings of famous sights or destinations, or other obstacles or inconveniences. Bon voyage!
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