We know how much you love your summer job scooping ice cream at the snack bar, but if you want a little adventure once school is out this year, it might be time to plan a summer Eurotrip. That may sound like a distant dream, but with a little work, plenty of planning and the financial backing behind it, you can make a trip to your favorite European destination happen. Fear not, collegiette — your passport won’t be blank for long.
Tip 1: Find a friend or two
As fun and fearless as you may be, planning a trip to Europe can be complicated, especially if it’s your first time traveling internationally. Find someone who is willing to go on the summer trip of a lifetime, but make sure you can get along with them for longer than a few hours.
Traveling brings out the best and worst in people, and you might be surprised to find that you and your best friend aren’t exactly chummy after you miss your train, your carry-on gets stolen and she loses her passport. The best way to plan for travel is to expect the unexpected, and that means choosing someone who bounces back from disappointments easily and can keep calm in crazy situations.
And don’t be afraid to travel solo, either! A trip on your own can be a great chance to get to know a country and expand your horizons on your own terms. If you’re looking to meet new people, a tour can be a great option. We love Contiki, which organizes tons of tours all over the world for people 18-35.
If you’re worried your options will be limited by a company that gives guided tours, don’t be. There are Contiki trips available in 46 countries, from Greek Island Hopping to European Whirl, a tour that includes France, Switzerland, Germany, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.
If you’re outdoorsy and especially adventurous, Vy Truong, PR marketing specialist at Contiki, suggests taking the European Horizon tour. You’ll get to see seven countries within 10 days!
Tip 2: Choose your countries
Now that you have a traveling buddy, a tour group, or a solo travel plan, figure out where exactly you want to go. It’s fairly easy to go from one country to the next in Europe using Eurorail but you’ll want to have a basic itinerary in place and set realistic goals.
Sarah Kauffman, a sophomore at James Madison University, will be spending three and a half weeks trekking across Europe this summer with a close friend.
“I am backpacking through Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany,” she says. “We first determined what countries we would like to visit based on common interests. We chose countries in close proximity to one another to decrease the amount of time spent traveling.”
Hannah Shariatmadari is a fourth-year student at the University of Leeds, and has lived in the UK her entire life. She recommends a few British cities for starters.
“While in the UK, London is an obvious must, and also Edinburgh (my hometown!) — two very different capital cities with their own character and history,” she says.
Tip 3: Do your homework
What are the customs of the country or countries you’re visiting? What is the exchange rate? What are the best places to visit? Which places might you want to avoid after dark? What is the food like? Know the answers to these questions and more before you go.
Visit Europe and Lonely Planet both offer a wealth of information on European countries including when, where and how to visit them. Check out Visit Europe’s currency converter to start planning your budget, or head over to their flight search page to find the cheapest flights and the fastest routes to your dream destination.
While these sites are helpful, the best way to learn about a country is by talking to someone who has been there. As she planned her backpacking trip, Sarah turned to family and friends to ask which European cities they thought were worth seeing. She then bought a four-country unlimited travel pass from Eurorail so she and her friend can jump around to several cities without having to worry about buying extra tickets. If you want to keep your trip to just a country or two, try a different pass.
“There was a slightly less expensive option for an 11-city Eurorail pass which would be optimal for people visiting only one or two countries,” she says.
If you’re going to a country where you don’t speak the language, brush up on the basics before you go. We’re not asking you to be fluent, but learning a few simple phrases will make your trip more fun, easier and safer.
“In an effort to not be branded the obnoxious tourist, make an effort to learn a few simple words in the language of each country you visit,” Hannah says. “Knowing how to say 'hello' and 'thank you' is the least you can manage and could earn you a few more friends along the way!”
What about the climate in your country of choice? The month of July in the northeast U.S. is usually hot but manageable, for example, while July in Italy can be unbearably humid. Find out what the weather is like in the area ahead of time so you can plan and pack accordingly.