6 Tips for Traveling Around Europe

December 17, 2017

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.

Train Station Switzerland
A crowded train platform in Switzerland
Train Switzerland
A typical train in Switzerland
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.

Flying Window Europe
View from our European Flight
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.

On the Road in Germany
On the Road in Germany
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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11 Comments
    1. All of these tips are SO spot on, for the holidays or any other time of year. Backpacks and smaller bags are definitely the way to go on trains, and carry-on only is our preference for flying. It just un-complicates things so nicely! We’ve also had enough struggles with rental cars that we never go anywhere without prebooking anymore. All great tips!! 🙂

    1. We did 3 threes in Europe with carry on only luggage and we think it is the best way to go. All you need to do is schedule a laundromat day or two. It ended up being one of our best days…. doing washing… I know that sounds crazy, but trust us.

      Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    1. Great tips – It’s so much easier to travel with carry-ons.I can’t imagine lugging around big suitcases all over Europe!

    1. Thank goodness for being a lazy traveller who doesn’t like bringing excessive things. Don’t think I could ever survive train travel if I had a giant luggage! Number 6 is such a great reminder. Not gonna lie, I definitely rely on GPS a little way too much. It’s good to prepare in advance and familiarize yourself with the routes. Just in case right? You never know!

    1. I have yet to travel around Europe, but I will definitely be keeping this in mind if I ever get the chance to do so! Also, those trains look freakin’ luxurious in comparison to those in Southeast Asia.

    1. Absolutely wonderful tips. I learned how to travel light in Europe!

    1. These are great tips. I remember arriving in Europe to study abroad many moons ago with two large suitcases. It was a challenge handling them even before the train broke down…. We’ve also had lost luggage a few times. Packing lightly is key as is generally being flexible. Can’t wait for my next trip!

    1. Flight redirection takes place everywhere. It happened to me in Canada. What was supposed to be a direct flight from Vancouver to Regina required a layover in Calgary because of terrible weather. In Europe, at least, there are plenty of options like trains and buses.

    1. I’ve traveled throughout Europe via various modes of transportation too and your recs are right on, especially as a single traveler. Much more challenging though with a kid(s) in tow and having to worry about more baggage.

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