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Thoughts Traveling Around Europe for the First Time? (Part 2)

This is my second post on the subject of traveling around Europe (especially if you’ve never been there). My first post talked mostly about transportation, but in this one, I’ll talk about how to find a place to stay and where to find ideas about what to do.

Where to stay:

If you’re going the hostel route, then you might want to invest in a Hostellers International card (as it can pay itself off pretty quickly) and check out these sites:

These two sites compete against each other, so looking at the same hostel on both can give you different vacancies and pricing. Take note of the refund policy though (they’re different on each site).

airbnb is another option and can be hit or miss. What I’ve found while looking for places to stay in various cities is that, airbnb places are priced worse than a hostel if you’re travelling alone, but the places can be swankier. Personally, I would go the hostel route as you’ll meet more people that way. If you’re travelling with friends, then I can see the appeal of your own apartment for cheaper than a hotel room.

I’ve only used it once before, for a wedding in New York. I was sharing it with 3 others and the price came in at about half of what it would have cost to stay in a decent hotel. Other friends have used it a bit more often with good success.

CouchSurfing is also something that I’ve tried once, while in Switzerland a few years ago. I had never heard of it before, but a friend recommended it, so 5 of us ended up crashing at someone’s place in Geneva. I really like the concept and reciprocity of it, but this is something that doesn’t appeal to everyone. It was a great experience, but I guess I grew out of it and haven’t done it since.

What to do:

Hopefully by now you’ve found your way to Europe, are able to travel around easily, and even have a place to stay… Great!

Next up is what to do when you’re in any of these cities. I won’t even bother giving examples of what to do in various cities, as this post would never end. Instead, I’ll redirect you to this awesome website: Wikitravel

I don’t travel anywhere without taking a look on Wikitravel for specific places to stay, things to do, places to eat, transportation instructions, etc… It’s generally the best resource for answering city-specific questions.

Then, there are the ever-standard Lonely Planet books. I haven’t decided if they’re worth the money yet. I think they bring more value if you’re staying in a country for a long period of time. I’ve been given a couple as gifts, and they have been helpful, but I don’t think I would have ever gone out and purchased them myself.

As it stands right now, I use Wikitravel, Google, and worth-of-mouth for all my travel information.

I have one last piece of ‘what to do’ information, but it only applies to certain cities. At the time of this writing, if you’re in: London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Prague, Paris, Madrid, Jerusalem, or Copenhagen - you MUST check out NewEurope Tours.

These are free (tip-based), 3-hour walking tours, and they’re a fantastic way to city-cram (learn a lot about a city in a very short time). I’ve taken them (or similar) in about 6-7 cities and they have never let me down (I typically give 5-10 euros as a tip at the end - enough for a decent lunch, I say). I’ve taken fare-based guided tours, and tip-based tours beat them out, hands down.

How to pay:

The last topic that might be handy to get some information about is currency.

Take note of the currencies you need in the countries you visit. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are all places where you should can use Euros because you might get hooped on currency exchanges (or not, it’s hard to say) if you pay in cash.

I tend to stick with using my VISA all the time when I travel (even now going from England to anywhere). Rates are extremely reasonable and comparable with most of the other things you’ll find, all the fees are built into the exchange rate, and it’s just extremely convenient. I might lose a couple of bucks here and there, but I save myself the hassle of exchanging money, and then re-exchanging it later (meaning I would get hit twice on exchange fees).

In some places, you will DEFINITELY need cash. Oddly enough, London. And it’s not even when I’m trying to barter something at a market, but rather, in cabs. If you plan to take a taxi anywhere, bring cash, or be ready to be yelled at by cab drivers who don’t like the pain and suffering involved in swiping a card. I’m sure there is some reason the cabbies are so against people using credit cards (maybe because they swallow the transaction fee?), but seriously. It’s 2012 and you’re not letting me use a card… Ridiculous.

Anyways, reading up on this site, they have other advice about paying with credit cards overseas, and what you should try instead. Maybe that is something to try, but I’ve been pretty happy with using my credit card plan and enjoying the travel plan perks that come with it. I also recently found NBC’s traveler tips on this site, and they have a nice ‘Rip Off Meter’ idea. As expected, credit cards are a pretty good option.

And that concludes the 20% of things I have to say on the topic of traveling around Europe, and I think it will suffice for about 80% of the situations you run into. Fantastic.

If you have any thoughts or comments on the subject, if I missed anything, what else I should include, etc…  I’d love to hear about them!