Europe is a very popular travel destination. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or planning your first trip, there are several important things to keep in mind before calling your travel agent and booking the next vacation:
1. While "Paris in the Springtime" sounds very romantic, the truth is that you're liable to spend many days indoors, because the weather can be cold and rainy. On the other hand, the French Riviera in the springtime boasts warm temperatures, sunshine and beautiful places to visit. If you're not sure of weather patterns, check with your travel agent who can advise you on rainy seasons or other weather-related issues for traveling to a specific spot.
2. Budget: Decide how much you've got to spend, and don't forget to include extras like tourist attractions, getting around, souvenirs and meals (which are typically more expensive in Europe than in the states -- dinner can cost upwards of 50 Euros per person, especially in metropolitan cities). If your budget is smaller, consider visiting Eastern Europe, looking for packaged tours, or, if you're flexible, book a "last-minute" trip, which can often save you 30% or more. Check out the current exchange rate between your currency and that of the country you'll be visiting, to have a better idea of what your vacation is going to actually cost you. Whenever possible, travel during an off-peak season to save even more.
3. Your secret dreams or "someday" wishes: For most of us, taking a vacation is something we get to do only once a year, and often plan and save the whole year for. So if you have always wanted to visit somewhere or do something special -- why wait? Include it in your next vacation plans.
4. Political Climate: While most countries that rely on tourism make every effort to ensure the safety of tourists, these days it's always a good idea to keep up on the current political climate of the country you're planning to visit, especially if there have been problems in the past.
5. Your own "internal clock": If you prefer sleeping in, in the mornings, and "doing your own thing" then a guided tour is probably not for you. Most guided tours start early in the morning, and you're on the go until evening. You may visit several cities in a country or countries within a specified amount of time, and you're required to stay with the group.
On the other hand, if you don't like traveling alone, you enjoy the companionship of others and getting to see as much as possible in the time you've got, a guided tour or cruise may be just the thing for you.
6. How you like to spend your time: Take a little time to think about what you like doing before planning your trip. Do you prefer the water, or the mountains? Lying on the beach, or rock-climbing? Adrenaline rushes or visiting an art museum?
While going outside your comfort zone and trying new things can be a great experience, spending your time doing something that bores you silly or makes you uncomfortable and unhappy just doesn't make sense. Once you know what you want to do, figure out what you'll have time to do. Many times, in an effort to get the "most bang for our buck" we tend to over plan the vacation, and end up needing a vacation from the vacation when we get home! Prioritize your list, and be willing to save some activities or attractions for another trip.
7. Use the resources that are available to make your trip special and save money: Today's travelers have numerous options when planning their vacation. You can use the Internet to find out more about the cities or countries you want to visit, check out prices, even book your flight or hotel room. If you're visiting a place for the first time, check with a travel agent, talk to someone who's "been there, done that" on an Internet Forum, or contact local chambers or commerce or travel councils to get more information about where to go, what to see and what to do.
8. You can use trip-planning software, or your own favorite organizing system to organize and plan your trip. Don't forget things like making sure your passport and picture ID are up-to-date, finding out if travel insurance is something you need, and how and where to exchange your money. The more organized you are in the beginning, the better vacation you'll have.
9. Most of us take too much on a vacation, and end up lugging heavy suitcases and other bags along filled with items that we either don't use or don't need. When planning your trip, look at your wardrobe and pack as lightly as you can. Take only what you'll really need, and remember that if you forget or end up needing something, chances are you can get it once you reach your destination.
10. Have fun! Get organized, make your plans and expect the best. That way, once you're on your way, you'll be able to relax and enjoy yourself. But remember, there are very few "perfect" vacations, so if something does go wrong, try to relax and "go with the flow" as much as possible. Experienced travelers say that sometimes their best vacations have been the ones where the unexpected happened.
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