10 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Europe
Planning a big trip across the pond this summer? Crafting a kick-ass itinerary is time consuming enough, never mind having to Google search travel bans, security alerts, and visa requirements. Here, 10 essential facts and tips that'll ensure your getaway goes off without a hitch.
The U.S. State Department has issued a Travel Alert for all of Europe (but don’t be scared)
On May 1, the U.S. State Department issued a Europe-wide travel alert due to terrorist attacks and threats in France, Russia, Sweden, and the UK. While the alert extends to September 1st, its purpose is not to deter Americans from trips abroad, but simply to to urge them to be extra cautious, especially in areas with large crowds. The State Department also encourages travelers to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive security messages and make themselves easier to locate in the event of an emergency.
As a U.S. citizen, you won’t need a visa
For a while this spring, it looked like Americans might have to start securing visas before their trips across the pond. Why now, though? In short: reciprocity—because the European Parliament is upset that E.U. members from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyrus, Poland, and Romania still have to secure American visas despite a 2014 E.U. request to lift such requirements. Luckily, even in the face of the European Parliament’s vote to start a U.S. visa waiver program, the European Commission announced that they wouldn’t go through with it as such measures would actually be counterproductive, costing the EU millions of dollars in American-tourist-driven revenue. So for now, U.S. nationals are still good to travel throughout Europe sans visa for up to 90 days.
Make sure you have a valid passport (and check your expiration carefully)
This one seems like a no brainer, right? But it’s important that your passport’s expiration date extend far beyond the last day of your trip. All European countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement (that’d be 26 of them, including biggies like Italy, Greece, France, Germany, etc.) require your passport be valid for three months following the day of your departure. Passport policies in countries that aren’t part of the agreement can vary widely, so make sure you read up on your destination ahead of time, otherwise, you could be turned away at the airport.
Visiting the UK just got a whole lot cheaper
Following Brexit this past June—you know, that little vote that removed the United Kingdom from the European Union—the value of the British pound has taken a nosedive. Even though the UK and UN aren’t set to fully consciously uncouple until 2019, travelers are already reaping the benefits of discounted travel as the currency has crashed—more than 15 percent post-referendum—to its lowest worth in the last three decades.
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You’ll likely find fewer tourists than usual
Following a number of devastating high-profile terrorist attacks across the continent, European tourism lost a bit of its steady footing in 2016. Though tourists still came out in droves last year, numbers in countries like France, Belgium, and Turkey were markedly down. According to Skift, in a January to June comparison of 2015 and 2016 tourism, Paris saw more than a million less visitors. With the continuously weakening pound to euro exchange rate, and the uncertainty about the logistics of inter-EU travel following Brexit, domestic travel among EU members could also take a hit.
Check TSA’s website for up-to-date carry-on restrictions
Back in May, the Department of Homeland Security was rumored to have initiated a ban on laptops and other large electronic devices in carry-ons traveling from the U.S. to Europe. Since meeting with the EU later in the month to discuss air travel threats, the ban was effectively banished, but for this reason, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what is and isn’t allowed in the air. Pre-trip, it’s always smart to check the Transportation Security Administration’s website so you can properly pack and avoid pesky additional airport screenings.
If you’re a student, consider getting an ISIC card pre-trip
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) —the only internationally-recognized student ID—scores full-time students hundreds of thousands of discounts at hostels, hotels, museums, restaurants, attractions, and more around the globe. Students twelve years and older can apply online and secure their ID for only $20.00. If you’re not a student but are thirty or under, you can opt for an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) which delivers similar discounts and benefits.
Download apps like Google Translate, Viber, and XE Currency
There’s nothing worse (ok there is, but bear with us) than trying to download an app WiFi-less, especially if you’re paying an arm and a leg for international data usage. To avoid all this, download essential apps pre-trip; we’re talking Google Translate so you’ll always know how to ask where the bathroom is, Viber or WhatsApp so you can stay in touch with friends and family anytime you access to WiFi, and XE Currency so you can use real-time exchange rates to track your vacation-induced overspending.
RELATED: 10 Best Travel Apps for 2017
Inform your bank and credit card company ahead of time
Call your bank to give them a heads up about your across-the-pond travels; otherwise, you might find yourself cut off from your funds when a security teams flags your account for possible fraud. While you’ve got them on the phone, it’s also smart to get the low-down on ATM fees and check if there’s an emergency number (other than their 800 number) to call if you run into any issues. Phone call phobic? It’s likely you can set your travel alerts right through your banking app.
Understand your cellphone plan
If you plan on using your smartphone abroad, call up your service provider and check out your options. Europe has plenty of free WiFi, so you can totally get away with staying in touch via iMessage or a free texting app, but if you plan on making regular calls or posting to IG, you’ll want to get all the deets on voice- and data-roaming capabilities and fees.
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