Europe Travel Basics

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Europe: How the West Is One

Of Europe's numerous countries, there are only about a dozen that outsiders regularly think of as potential vacation spots. In this guide to European travel we will use the Web to explore travel opportunities to the continent and illuminate some methods of travel that will make navigating Europe easier. This guide will help you acquire the basic tools to book your vacation, and position you to get the most out of your trip to Europe.

Europe Travel Basics

The continent of Europe, although often considered small, is actually comprised of 45 countries. Over half of these are members of the economic organization called the European Union, one-quarter use the euro as their currency, a handful share the same languages, and each one has a unique history and culture. In this section are sites that will provide an informative background to the countries that comprise Europe, lending inspiration even to the seasoned Euro-traveler.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • For a list of the countries that comprise Europe, consult Aneki, an online almanac, which provides a simple list along with brief facts on each country.
  • On many travel sites, Europe is sometimes designated as either Eastern Europe or Western Europe, though politically speaking these terms are increasingly passé. They were used primarily during the Cold War to describe the "Iron Curtain" separating the Soviet-controlled "East," including the countries now referred to as the Balkans, from the "West," which includes nations such as France, Spain, and Germany. It's just as easy to divide Europe into western, northern, central, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean, but in truth many of these designations overlap.
  • The European Union is primarily an economic partnership between, as of January, 2008, 27 European countries. Other candidates are currently in negotiation. The EU application process requires adherence to the Copenhagen criteria, a set of rules that essentially requires a secular and democratic government, among other stipulations. Explore Europa (a "portal to the EU") for a simple list and map that profiles EU countries and current candidates.
  • The Euro currency, which was another step toward integrating EU members, began in 2002. But not all EU countries use the Euro. Those who do are: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain. Three other countries-England, Sweden, and Denmark-still use their own currency but also accept the Euro. [current as of January, 2008]
  • The links accompanying the travel guidebooks we recommend in this section will take you to each book's page on Amazon.com, where you'll be able to read professional and customer reviews and purchase the book. All of these books can, of course, be purchased from other bookstores online and off.

Dulcinea's Picks

For a background on 20th century European history ...
For printed travel guidebooks ...
For travel articles in newspapers, magazines, and blogs ...
For resources on tourist attractions ...
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Europe Travel Requirements

It's good to be well informed about the history and culture of the countries you'll be visiting in Europe, but it's also wise to take note of the general technicalities of travel abroad, including safety and security, entry requirements, and practical tips pertaining to your destinations. Below are a handful of sites that will guide you through the process, providing tools, resources, and documents to cover the logistical aspects of your trip to Europe.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Before reading this section, consult the findingDulcinea Travel Web Guide for general information directed at United States travelers going overseas. You'll find sites with information on visas, passports, security and safety, as well as other general resource sites to help you prepare for your journey, whether you're looking for packing tips or insurance comparison sites like InsureMyTrip.
  • As with any overseas trip, whether for study, business or pleasure, U.S. residents should utilize the Department of State and its Bureau of Consular Affairs prior to a European trip. At this site (included below for security, customs, and visa information) you will find very comprehensive information about your travel destinations, including travel warnings and requirements specific to each country.
  • You can also register your trip using the department's free service, allowing you to be easily contacted in the case of a family emergency back home or a crisis where you are traveling.
  • Fortunately, the countries listed in the Department of State's travel warning list seldom include any in Europe. But with heightened terrorism concerns, you are advised to check this oft-updated list regardless of your destination.
  • Be advised that August is a national month of vacation for most every country in Europe. While July will also be quieter, in August cities are particularly changed, with businesses closed for at least a week and most workers vacationing in the country or abroad. Therefore, the best destinations in early summer are cities, whereas mountain, beach, and generally more remote resorts are popular later in the summer.

Dulcinea's Picks

For security, customs, and visa information ...
For practical tips ...
For other travelers' advice and stories ...
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Getting to Europe

This section highlights sites to get you from here to there, specific to the type of vacation you’re planning. Whether you want to book transportation and accommodation in one step, or find an inexpensive flight, the Web can help.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Europe is known for playing host to some of the cheapest airlines in the world, including RyanAir, BMI, and easyJet. Consulting with the official sites of such airlines will get you in touch with great deals and a wide range of destination choices.
  • Try a flight meta search engine, such as one of our Picks, which search multiple airlines' Web sites and a slew of other flight-search sites.
  • Take special note of transportation deals that allow you the most flexibility with the fewest penalties.
  • Even if you're not a backpacker, it can be useful to leave yourself more time to roam than you originally intended. Explore the possibility of an open-ended ticket on the flight or cruise sites you visit.
  • Talk to customer service representatives of the sites you are using to ensure you know all your options, and as an added confirmation of your itinerary. Reps can often fill in the information that is not on the Web site or not easy to find.

Dulcinea's Picks

For one-stop travel planning ...
For flight search engines ...
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Europe Hotels

Accommodation choices in Europe are vast and varied, from high-class hotels to quick and easy hostel offerings. This section includes a series of sites that will get you started on booking your accommodation.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • In light of the weak dollar, consider combining modes of accommodation while in Europe: a pricey hotel with several hostel stays, or camping combined with hotels.
  • European countries are rarely as hot or humid as parts of the United States, so A/C is not customary.
  • While many accommodation sites now have adequate photography of hotel rooms, try to supplement your research by reading user reviews of hotels on sites like EuroTrip and Sleep and Tell. You can also likely find the homepage of the individual hotels by doing a simple search of their name in Google or another search engine, and the official sites, more often than not, will have photographs or tours of their rooms.
  • Buy an alarm clock in the airport or bring one from home, as most European hotels do not have them.

Dulcinea's Picks

For hotel and hostel accommodation ...
For camping resources ...
For reviews and tours of accommodation ...
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Getting Around in Europe

Although the romance behind European travel is traditionally linked to the locomotive, the continent does boast some of the most affordable air travel in the world, as well as bicycle-friendly roads throughout much of the continent. Below are some general sites that will aid every stage of your journey. If you are planning to rent a car, purchase a Eurail pass, buy affordable airfare, or simply find subway maps, the sites below will get you on your way.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Upon first glance, many flight search engines might seem the same. However, if you have a look at a site's specific offerings (usually listed on the homepage or in an "About Us" section) you'll discover what each individual search engine is best equipped for. For example, you might consider how many airlines or other search engines are included in a site's search tool.
  • Take note of independent sites that explain transportation or general travel issues for you, because they are less biased and are often created by seasoned travelers or residents of a particular place. They are generally doing a service, not trying to sell a product.
  • As with any online transaction it's wise to get in touch with a representative from the site, either by phone or e-mail, especially in the case of intra-European travel, where flexibility and open-endedness are often important aspects of the transportation experience. Learn what restrictions your tickets have and ask about special offers, which are often available for students, children, seniors, and groups.

Dulcinea's Picks

For information on the Eurail and other rail services ...
For a database of European subway and tram maps ...
For air travel ...
For bus travel ...
For bicycle travel ...
For cruises ...
For car rental ...
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