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Get my top tips for traveling to Europe for the first time here. This post helps you maximize your time abroad and prepare to avoid “worst-case scenarios.” You’ll also become organized and learn how to save money! Take advantage of my research and experiences below, and be sure to print your free checklist to help you plan.

travel wallet and passport.

Quick Tips for Traveling to Europe for the First Time (By Yourself or With Others)

  1. Contact your cellphone carrier to make sure you have proper international coverage.
  2. Contact your credit card companies and advise them of your travel plans.
  3. Buy travel insurance.
  4. Save money with the VAT tax.
  5. Get local currency.
  6. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six more months.
  7. Stock up on medication.
  8. Have your mail held by the Post Office.
  9. Register your trip with the U.S. Embassy.
  10. Download Google Translate.
  11. Book transportation ahead if you can.
  12. Research the rules for tipping in the country you are visiting.
  13. Buy international travel adapters.
  14. Buy dual-voltage electronics.
  15. Buy a travel wallet.

More Details About Traveling to European Attractions and Destinations for the First Time

1. Contact your cellphone carrier to make sure you have proper international coverage.

When I went on my Italian honeymoon, I contacted my cellphone provider (AT&T) and arranged for an international plan for the time period during which we would be traveling abroad for the first time.

It wasn’t too expensive, and it worked perfectly! You definitely don’t want to be hit with unexpected extra charges.

Get information about your cellphone carrier:


2. Contact your credit card companies and advise them of your travel plans.

You will undoubtedly need your credit cards to work when you are in a foreign country! If you don’t advise your credit card company of your travel prior to your trip, they may deem charges to be fraudulent and decline them.

However, many banks no longer require such notification thanks to ongoing security efforts.

You should also ask if there are any added fees for international purchases.


3. Buy travel insurance.

My mother-in-law, who frequently travels abroad, advised me to buy travel insurance to cover both travel and medical expenses.

She told me that some medical insurers actually don’t cover medical expenses abroad. She knew someone who experienced this when she broke her leg in Spain.

We purchased this insurance through our travel agent and enjoyed the peace of mind.


4. Save money with the VAT tax.

Since I’m not a numbers gal, I’ll rely on The Points Guy to explain the VAT tax to you:

If you bought something overseas, especially in Europe, you likely paid a value added tax, or VAT. The good news is that visitors to the European Union (EU) may be able to get a refund on that tax.

It’s similar to an American sales tax, but it is much higher. In the EU, the VAT tax is included in the sales price. 

The Points Guy describes the rules for getting a VAT refund this way:

There are quite a few requirements. For instance, you must take your new item or items home with you within three months of the purchase. You can’t get VAT refunds for large goods like cars. If you’re an EU visitor, you can’t get a VAT refund for services like hotel stays and meals.

In some countries, your purchase must exceed a certain amount to be eligible for a VAT refund. […]

Also, the goods must be new and in their packaging when you leave Europe. They can’t be unpacked, consumed or worn. So wait until you get back home to rock that shiny new European outfit.

When you make a purchase that exceeds the minimum eligibility requirements for the country you are visiting, you can ask the retailer for VAT tax paperwork at the time of your purchase. It only takes them a few minutes to give this to you.

Note: You will likely need to show your passport in the store.

Then, you can obtain the refund at a special station at the airport.

This may sound complicated, but it really isn’t, and it can be well worth it! For example, I purchased a Gucci purse and a Prada wallet in Florence, Italy, and after about 20 minutes of effort at the airport, I was refunded a couple hundred dollars.

Just make sure you research the VAT tax rules for the country you are visiting before you travel abroad for the first time.


5. Get local currency.

Before we went to Italy, we obtained some Euros from our local bank. This was cheap and easy.

While we also used ATMs in Europe to obtain Euros, the fees were more expensive abroad.

Note that I have also heard that the fees for getting Euros at the airport tend to be the highest.


6. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six more months.

Go check your passport now.

No, really. Don’t be THAT person! You may really regret it.


7. Stock up on medication.

Before we went to Italy, I asked my pharmacy for extra medication due to long-term international travel. They quickly and easily obliged.

This is another task that just gives you peace of mind.


8. Have your mail held by the post office.

You can apply for a mail hold with the United States Post Office so that your mail doesn’t pile up while you are abroad.

It worked perfectly for us!


9. Register your trip with U.S. Embassy.

According to the U.S. State Department:

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The benefits of enrollment are these:

  • Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
  • Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, such as a natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
  • Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

There is no harm in acting on this tip. You simply can’t go wrong in taking a few minutes to register your trip with the U.S. State Department.


10. Download Google Translate.

Google Translate is such a helpful app!

One of the coolest features is that you can hold your camera lens over something in a different language, and it translates the words for you right on the screen instantly! How cool is that?!

We used it several times, especially when reading menus. And sometimes just for fun.

Note that, if you have an iPhone, Apple’s “Translate” app is now automatically installed on your cell phone. It works similarly.


11. Book transportation ahead if you can.

Our travel agent suggested that we book our travel transportation, especially train rides, ahead of time, as they can sell out.

She did it for us, and it was an absolute breeze for us to board at otherwise hectic train stations.


12. Research the rules for tipping in the country you are visiting.

Prior to visiting Italy, we learned that tipping (e.g., at restaurants, in cabs) was generally not customary.

By not tipping, we saved a lot of money (and didn’t look as much like American tourists).


13. Buy international travel adapters.

You absolutely must bring international travel adapters to Europe from the United States. Look at the prongs — they are different!

I brought this specific international travel adaptor to Italy (a popular choice).


14. Buy dual-voltage electronics.

When it comes to electronics, you may also choose to go one more step beyond adapters and bring dual-voltage products with you to Europe.

Why? Well, let me tell you our experience. We blew out our travel steamer on its first use and were forced to hang our clothes in a hot bathroom to steam them for the rest of our trip. For the next ten days, we could not find a replacement ANYWHERE.

The voltage there is different. This was one of the biggest hassles we experienced abroad.

I now own this specific dual voltage travel steamer (and use it all the time in the U.S.A. as well).

Personally, I have not experienced any other issues with electronics abroad, as long as I was using the travel adaptor. But it’s up to you how much you want to leave it to chance.


15. Buy a travel wallet.

Before I traveled abroad for the first time, a friend suggested I purchase this specific international travel wallet. It’s really well designed for quick access and it holds EVERYTHING you need when traveling overseas all in one space: passport, boarding passes, phone, credit cards, keys, SIM cards, ID, a pen, money, and more.

It comes in 30+ colors.

Printable European Trip Planner Checklist

Free European travel checklist instant download.

Methodology

First, you should know that my personality is an Enneagram 6, which basically means I am motivated by fear, and I calm those fears by being as prepared as possible.

I first traveled abroad in 2019, and I did a ton of research beforehand. Then, as we traversed Italy and learned the ropes ourselves, I maintained this list of tips for traveling to Europe for the first time, which I am now sharing with you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prepare for a trip to Europe?

Prepare for your trip to Europe by researching destinations, obtaining necessary travel documents, arranging accommodations and transportation, packing appropriately for the weather and activities, informing your bank of your travel plans, and learning basic phrases in the local language.

What is the best country to go to first time in Europe?

For a first-time visit to Europe, consider starting with Italy. Its rich history, stunning art, delicious cuisine, and diverse lands offer a great introduction to European culture. Explore iconic cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice, which are all tourist-friendly.

Do and don’ts in Europe?

Do: Respect local customs, use public transportation, carry cash in small denominations, and learn basic phrases in the local language. Don’t: Over-tip, ignore dress codes, speak loudly in public, or litter. Always be mindful of cultural differences.

What is the best way to travel to Europe for the first time?

First-time travelers to Europe should consider a mix of easy train rides and budget flights to major cities. Research flexible rail passes for multiple countries and plan ahead for cheaper airfare. Stay centrally to explore easily.

Where should I go on my first trip to Europe?

For a memorable first trip to Europe, start with iconic destinations like Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. There, you can explore historic landmarks, savor local cuisine, and immerse yourself in different cultures. These well-connected cities also offer ease of travel.

Conclusion

These tips for traveling to Europe for the first time helped you maximize your time abroad, stay organized, avoid potential pitfalls, and save money on your first trip to Europe.

I recommend you do all the recommended items, but if you are overwhelmed, start with the most important ones, such as checking your passport and alerting your credit card companies.

If you’re traveling for business, check out my business travel essentials for even more international travel tips.

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