Over the years I have traveled in Europe by train, by plane and by car. Each mode of transportation offers its own joys and potential difficulties. Here are a few tips that I have compiled that I hope make your European travels easier and much more enjoyable!
1. Large luggage and train travel are not the best companions
Most long distance trains in Europe have a small section at the front and back of each car for luggage. During busy periods when the train is full, these areas will be overflowing with luggage. I have boarded trains where bag after bag was piled up from floor to ceiling and luggage was spilling out into the door areas as well. With the trains stopping frequently the luggage area can become chaotic as people try to shift others’ luggage to get to their own. It is also very unlikely that your seat will be in sight of the luggage area. You will end up spending your journey either worried or constantly getting up to check your luggage is still there. Not the best way to pass the time! I would much rather relax and enjoy the view. When traveling by train, if at all possible, leave the large luggage behind.
2. Pay attention to Train connection times when booking online
When purchasing train tickets online it is very likely that you will have to change trains at least once. What is not always obvious is just how short the connection time is. I cannot count the number of times I have had to transfer trains with a ten minute connection involving going over or under multiple tracks. During the high season you will likely be running with a herd of other passengers all trying to make the same connection! This is especially the case when the route you are on does not offer assigned seating. While adventurous, this can also be very stressful if your train is running late or you are traveling with younger or older family members. Double check the connections and look for route options that either avoid connections or offer longer connection times.
3. When Flying Be prepared for late luggage
All you need to do is look at the piles of luggage in the baggage area of any airport in Europe during the holiday season and you will understand why this is my number three tip. Poor weather and an excessive number of travelers put a huge strain on the airports in Europe every year. It is very common for your luggage to not arrive with your flight. While I have never lost any luggage – it has always arrived one or two days later depending on my destination – it can be a huge inconvenience. Make sure to carry a change of clothes and other essentials in your carry-on so that your trip doesn’t have to come to a standstill while you wait.
4. Be prepared for Flight redirection During Bad Weather
Another very likely possibility during the winter is that your original flight will be cancelled or redirected due to bad weather. If your flight is redirected you will find yourself landing in a completely different airport from the one you were expecting. I once boarded a flight for Berlin and ended up in Riga. If this happens or your flight is cancelled talk to the airline to discuss your options. They have to get you to your paid destination eventually, but you might not want to wait for the weather to clear and an available flight to come available.
I am not a fan of hanging out in an airport waiting for the weather to improve. So I have developed a flexible approach to travel this time of year. When we couldn’t get to Berlin, it was possible to get to Munich. When my flight to Florence got cancelled I got a flight to Milan and a voucher for a rental car instead. Be flexible when traveling in Europe during the winter and cancellations and delays will become an adventure.
5. Pre-book your rental car
During the high season rental car companies will sell out. Even if you do manage to find a company with one car available, remember that this is the last vehicle they are renting. Ask yourself why this particular car was not rented sooner. Chances are it is the oldest car in their fleet or the smallest. Either way, you don’t want to have a great road trip planned and no car to drive it. That time we flew to Milan instead of Florence? We quite literally got the last car at the airport.
6. Don’t depend too heavily on GPS
These days it is far to easy to key in your destination on the GPS and follow the instructions straight there. While this is incredibly convenient there are times when relying on your GPS can stop you from having a really special experience. Sometimes it is nice to get a little lost, make an unexpected turn, or just head down a road to see where it goes. Many of my most memorable travel moments happened when I turned off the GPS and just drove. You can always turn it back on when you are ready to head back.
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