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 junior 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.
Tip 4: Pack light
As much as you may think you need 10 pairs of shoes and six pairs of your favorite earrings, you don’t. Overpacking will only weigh you down in the long run, and you want to be able to move quickly if you’re rushing to catch a train. Leave your expensive electronics behind and keep security in mind.
“A close friend recommended that we bring a lock so we can secure our backpacks in storage units while we tour the city,” Sarah says. “To minimize the amount of clothing we are carrying, we bought inexpensive Hanes tank tops that we can throw away after wearing instead carrying around three and half weeks worth of clothing around.”
Also, plan outfits with the weather in mind and don’t worry about being a fashionista for the entire trip. Being comfortable and casual while you travel is more important than looking like a travel diva, and you can still look and feel fabulous by packing lightly and wisely. Bring light layers in fun colors, a sturdy pair of sandals or flats that go with everything, and a cute, comfortable trenchcoat or all-weather jacket for windy or rainy days.
“Go for a more natural, easy look while you are abroad so that you can spend more time seeing the city than fussing in the mirror,” says Alexandra Court, a freshman at The College of William and Mary.
So you have your outfits planned out and your accessories pared down, but what about electronics? If you find you truly can’t live without your hair dryer or phone charger while you’re abroad this summer, remember that European countries use different outlets and a higher electrical currency.
You’ll need an adapter for your computer and camera charger, for example, and a converter for appliances such as hair dryers and straighteners. Watch this video to discover the difference.
If you’re planning on staying in a hostel, check out HostelWorld first. Sarah suggests buying a cheap set of sheets or a compact sleeping bag because hostels don’t always provide bedding — and when they do, it may be less than sleepworthy.
“For a pillow, just stuff some clothes into a pillow case and you’re good to go!”
Tip 5: Embrace the unfamiliar
With or without a friend, traveling in a foreign country can be totally unfamiliar—and, if you’re not prepared, even a little scary. Make sure you only walk in well-lit areas at night (with a non-dead, working cell phone) if you can help it, and always keep your valuables and passport in a safe place. If you’re into taking a tour, Contiki’s got you covered:
“For young women who are looking to travel solo or with a friend, Contiki manages all the logistics and planning,” Truong says. “Since it is a group tour, travelers feel safe and don’t have to worry about where they are storing their luggage and everything is laid out for them.”
Another option is to plan your trip entirely solo. This is daring, but if you do your research and stay smart and savvy, it could be the adventure of a lifetime. See these travel tips for women for helpful reminders.
We hope you’re ready to plan your own European getaway. Have you been across the pond before, or are you going to Europe for the first time this summer? What other tips do you haves? Let us know below!