While European travel may not be a bargain, Americans still are making plans to travel abroad. If you have been considering a trip, hesitate no longer. You'll have a great time!
Advance planning is crucial, particularly if you plan to travel with youngsters.
Passports, Money, and Telephones
For travel outside the United States, you need a passport. Plan well ahead of time -- at least three months -- to renew yours or secure a new one. The post office has the necessary forms and information.
If the need arises, for a fee, you can get a passport in a few weeks, or in an emergency, days.
Before you leave, call your credit card company and secure a PIN to use in the convenient cash machines all over Europe. These offer up-to-the-minute rates of exchange and have made travelers' checks almost unnecessary -- although a few are still a good idea.
Most European restaurants, hotels, museums, and shops accept major credit cards as readily as American establishments. Make sure you carry a card with a good credit line in case of an emergency.
Call the company that holds your telephone calling card and make sure it's valid for overseas calls. You may have to update the PIN or be assigned a code.
Don't expect your cell phone to work abroad. If you must have one with you, make inquiries with your cell company. You may be able to upgrade yours temporarily or rent one here or overseas.
The airways between the United States and Europe are the most traveled intercontinental routes, and both domestic and European carriers fly full planes, particularly in the summer.
It pays to book ahead of time. If you have young children, request a bulkhead seat and be sure to ask about special kids' meals.
It's advisable to pay the extra fee for paper tickets. These are easier to negotiate than electronic tickets if you have to cancel or you are bumped.
Hotels, Trains, and Automobiles
If your memories of Europe include backpacks and youth hostels, revise your thinking. Nowadays, particularly if you plan to visit major cities with children in tow, advance hotel reservations are important.
Work with a good Web site or a travel agent to secure rooms. Ask for written confirmation. Some hotels still include breakfast in the cost of the rooms, others offer it as an option.
The tourist bureaus for specific countries are usually very helpful. Log onto them for more help with lodging and plans.
European train travel is an excellent way to see the countryside and avoid traffic. No train tickets in Europe are cheap and the renown fast trains are downright pricey. If you plan to take advantage of the trains, look into rail passes. If you want to take the fast train, book through a travel agent ahead of time.
Nearly all European countries accept American drivers' licenses. Renting a car is more expensive than it is here, but you will save money if you book in advance through a travel agent or travel Web site.
Cars in Europe generally are smaller than they are here and so most Americans prefer mid-sized rental cars. Request automatic transmissions if standard transmissions are a problem. And be prepared to pay at least twice as much for gas.
Europeans welcome families - and you will have a glorious time taking your children to see the sights and experience the culture. You will have an even better time if you arrive fully prepared.