Whether your European dream vacation includes sampling Sangria in Barcelona or chasing the northern lights through Finland, it will be unforgettable. Across the old continent, you can explore delicious cuisine steeped in local traditions, rich histories, and amazing sights.
But there can be tons of research involved when it comes to a European vacation. Planning a trip can be overwhelming, from figuring out how to get around to making sure you have everything you need. If you’re unsure where to start, Patricia Marques, Managing Director of Travel at CAA North & Eastern Ontario, answers. Here is what you need to consider when planning a trip to Europe.
Picking the perfect destination is an art, and Europe has many options. So, where are Canadians travelling to?
“Big cities like London, Paris and Rome are still popular with many Canadian tourists,” explains Marques. However, Canadians are also exploring beyond the big cities. “European coastal cities are becoming more and more popular.” Travellers are adding destinations like Italy’s Amalfi coast, the Greek islands, and the south of France to their itineraries.
River cruises are also gaining popularity for those looking to visit multiple places during their trip. “River cruising allows travellers to have a more intimate cruising experience,” Marques says. Most ships carry under 200 passengers, bringing you to smaller, less-travelled ports. These intimate and engaging trips allow you to explore off the beaten path.
With a river cruise, you’ll explore the rich cultures and traditions that line the banks of Europe’s waterways, like the Danube River or the Rhine. Plus, most cruises sail at night, meaning “there are more daylight hours to spend visiting ports of call.”
Thinking about currency for your trip is an essential part of the planning. First, plan your trip’s length and how much money you need. Then, double-check the currency of the country you are visiting. Remember that only some areas in Europe use the Euro. Depending on your itinerary, you might need to purchase multiple types of currency.
“Currency rates are always fluctuating, so it’s best to go into the process with an idea of how much money you’ll need and what rate you are getting,” Marques says. While airports also offer currency exchange, you’ll often pay a higher fee, so it’s best to plan ahead. Consider using a currency exchange office like International Currency Exchange (ICE). With ICE, you can pre-order your currency ahead of time, and you’ll get the best rates with no extra fees.
While you can use your credit card while travelling, you’ll get a better value buying currency. “Most credit cards are accepted worldwide, but you won’t get the best rate when paying with your credit card abroad,” Marques says. You’ll pay the conversion rate plus any bank fees when using your card. More spending often means more fees.
There are a few things to remember when it comes to paying by credit card. “You’ll have the choice to pay in Canadian or local currency,” Marques says. “You’ll usually get the best rate when you choose the local currency.”
European Travel Visas
Travel visas can be confusing. The new European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS) is no exception. But it doesn’t have to be confusing.
ETIAS is “a new requirement for Canadian travellers visiting certain European countries,” Marques explains. It is a visa waiver that screens European-bound travellers for security risks.
The new requirement will go into effect in 2025 and covers some European Union countries, including Spain, Italy and Germany. You’ll need an ETIAS for short trips of up to 90 days. Once approved, the permit is valid for three years from the approval date and can be used for multiple trips.
The entire process of applying takes around 20 minutes. You will need a Canadian passport, email address and a credit or debit card to pay the fee. A separate application is required for each person you travel with, including children.
The best way to get around
“In Europe, the transportation methods are endless,” Marques says. “You can rent a car, take a cheap flight, hop on a train, or take a cruise!”
With countless transportation options, there are a few things to consider. European cruises offer intimate and immersive experiences. “If you opt for a cruise, you will see several countries, taste different cuisines, and experience different cultures—all on the same trip!” Between onboard activities, food, and onshore adventures, cruises allow you to enjoy local cultures and traditions.
If you rent a car, remember the insurance. You can book rental car insurance through your bank, the rental company or auto insurance providers. While researching rental car agencies, spend some time looking into the best rates for rental car insurance.
Then, spend some extra time getting to know the rules of the road in the countries you plan on driving through. While your Canadian driver’s license allows you to drive abroad, some countries require an International Driving Permit (IDP).
An IDP is an official translation of your driver’s license into 20 languages and will cost $25. CAA is the only place you can get an IDP, and the permit is valid for one year from the issue date or when your license expires.
Regarding budget-friendly travel, Europe is a great option to fit as many countries and cities into your itinerary. Marques explains, “Europe offers several low-cost airlines and train transportation, so there’s a way to get around no matter your budget.”
Everything else you need to know before your trip
“There are a few things travellers should keep in mind before setting off to Europe,” Marques says, “First, ensure all your documents are up to date and double check your passport expiry—make sure it isn’t expiring within six months of your trip.”
Once your travel documents are all set, and your passport is up to date, it is time to consider your travel insurance policy. Depending on your policy and needs, your travel insurance can cover everything from trip interruptions or cancellations to medical emergencies and even baggage loss. In addition, a good travel insurance policy gives you peace of mind while visiting Europe.
“Another major step is to check current travel advisories for each country you are visiting and what is required to go there,” Marques explains.
Consult the experts
Planning a vacation is a stressful process, and it can be a lot of work. Using a travel consultant ensures you take the stress out of your holiday. A trusted consultant can help at every step along the way. They have your back, helping with everything from picking the right destination to the right insurance policy. Plus, your travel consultant can help with any emergencies or interruptions along the way.
Make an appointment today with a CAA Travel Consultant, and enjoy peace of mind and expert advice as you plan your dream European Vacation.