I announced last week that I’m moving to Europe for a few months at the beginning of August. A common response I've heard (many) people ask is: “How do you even begin to plan that?"
The short answer is that it involves a lot of preparation. I've spent way more time and energy into planning than I ever anticipated. But as a result, there's been so much I've learned about this process already.
It goes without saying that the trip I plan will look different than the one anyone else does- because everyone is going to have different interests in mind, time frames that they plan to be gone, and budgets to work with. But there a few “one size fits all” tips I’ve learned so far that I believe everyone planning a trip to Europe can benefit from.
1. You Can Stay For A While Without A Visa
Depending on where you want to go, you can stay in most parts of Europe for up to 90 days without needing any sort of visa (the only exception I’ve come across is needing to submit a $20 electronic authorization form for my trip to Turkey- found here). Those 90 days only apply to your time in the Schengen Zone. If you’re like I was, you’re wondering what the #@*! the Schengen zone is, so let me break it down for you.
Separate from the EU, the Schengen zone has no political or economic affiliation and is strictly a geographical term. The area is comprised of 25 European countries who have done away with border control.
So in a nutshell, as long as you don’t spend more than 90 days (within a 180 day period) you can hop around as freely as you wish in this area without any kind of visa. If you’d like to stay in Europe a little longer, spend some time in non-Schengen countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom (to name a few). But it’s very important to note that the 90 day clock doesn’t start back every time you re-enter the zone within that same 90 day period. It only starts back 180 days after your first entry.
Confusing as it may be, knowing this helpful trick allows you to strategically move through Europe for extended periods of time without ever needing to hassle with any visa details.
2. You Can Avoid Outrageous International Phone Plans.
In today’s world of having our phones practically glued to our hands, feeling limited to when we have data or service can feel suffocating. And while that comment may make me sound like a millennial you want roll your eyes at, I’m not just talking about being able to post on Instagram or Snapchat. You try navigating a foreign country without maps or Google, and then let’s talk.
While most restaurants and public establishments overseas have wi-fi, it’s leaps and bounds easier to have international data on your phone whenever you need it. Depending on your phone plan and provider, these rates can be astronomical- but there are other options. Check to see if your device is unlocked (aka- able to read other SIM cards). T-mobile offers pay-as-you-go plans (assuming you pass their credit check) for as low as $50 a month that include unlimited data and texting (if you bring your own device). Simply purchase the sim card (~$20) and pay for each month you’ll be abroad. Voila.
3. Bank Smart
No matter how long you’ll be abroad, take the time to educate yourself on the best banking strategy for you.
I highly recommend bringing a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (I am a huge fan of my United Mileage Plus Explorer Card). Even if it they are teeny-tiny little baby fees, they will add up.
If you’re going longer than a few weeks, it may even be worth opening a bank account with no ATM or conversion fees (I went with Charles Schwab). This way, you can take cash out as often as you like without paying individual fees each time or needing to carry more cash than you feel comfortable with.
Regardless of which cards (credit or debit) you bring, be sure to make a note in your phone or with your travel documents that has the 1-800 number on the back of each card (just in case any are lost or stolen). And speaking of that number, be sure to call prior to your trip to notify your bank or credit establishment of your upcoming travel dates (nothing like having your card frozen due to suspicious activity and having to make international phone calls to sort it out).
4. Invest In Electronics.
While it’s easy to buy an international converter for your electronics (like these), I’ve experience my fair share of epic fails in this department (for example, when my converter made my curling iron 100x hotter than usual and burned a huge chunk of my friends hair off in Paris… yikes). While a converter will usually get the job done just fine, it’s worth investing in a few essentials (like a curling iron or your iPhone charger) with European plugs to simplify and eliminate any mishaps. This also frees up your converter for any other devices (e-readers, laptops, etc.)
5. Plan For More.
It’s been my experience that everything usually ends up being more than you think it will: more money than you budgeted for, more time to take that train from Seville to Granada, more flights of stairs you have to climb with your suitcase to get to your Airbnb (elevators are scarce)… the list goes on. So be sure to leave room for margin in all of your planning, because chances are you'll need it.
But with that said, I believe that you'll also experience more than you anticipate in all of the best ways: more strokes of luck like stumbling upon the best gelato stand in Rome you didn't even mean to find. Or more people you end up befriending and staying in touch with. That croissant in Paris will be even more delicious than everyone says it will. And that sunset in Cinque Terre will make you way more sappy and emo than you even knew was possible.
This process has already taught me so much, and I haven’t even left the states yet. I'm so excited to see what else I learn... I'll be sure to share it with you as I do!