I just returned from a 10-day trip to England and Norway with my husband and two teenagers. Although we’ve been to Europe many times, during our most recent trip I became acutely aware of how much time and hassle we were able to save by applying a few travel strategies that we now see as travel best practices.
13 Ways to Simplify Your Next Trip to Europe
- TSA Precheck and Global Entry – We’ve had TSA Precheck and Global Entry for several years and it is one of the best travel decisions we’ve made. In most cases, TSA Precheck allows you to go through US airport security much faster than standard security because precheckers do not have to remove shoes, liquids or laptops/other electronics. You also have a dedicated line to use within security that is considerably shorter than standard security (usually!) With Global Entry, this program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. Let me tell you, when we returned from Europe this time, the standard customs line at Chicago O’Hare was crazy long (maybe more than an hour wait), but with Global Entry, our return into the US took about 10 minutes. TSA Precheck and Global Entry are extra costs but last for 5 years – very worth it if you travel more than a couple times a year!
- Upgraded Seats – We don’t normally upgrade airline seats when traveling within the US because flights are normally shorter as is the length of our trips. For this trip to Europe, we had a total of 4 flights on 4 different airlines, two of which we had never flown on before. We opted to upgrade all of our seats to at least one level up in order to get priority check-in which allowed us to board the plane earlier, have seats closer to the front of the plane and to increase our baggage allowance (mainly for the weight of the bags). Priority check-in nearly guaranteed that we could store our carry-on suitcases in the overhead bin and not have to check them (saving us time by not having to wait at baggage claim), while sitting at the front of the plane allowed us to exit the plane faster.
- Mobile Data Plan – This is the third European trip where we’ve purchased some type of internet data plan to use internationally. To keep within our data limit, we would do our best to use Wi-Fi whenever we could, but having data gave us easy access to the internet anywhere, anytime while traveling in Europe. This was a huge help and relief especially when it came to finding directions, restaurants and communicating with family back home.
- Carry-ons Only – Most of you know that I’m a huge advocate for traveling with carry-on luggage only, whenever possible. This was by far the longest trip we’ve taken using only carry-on suitcases and a backpack each. This trip was also the most complicated for 2 reasons: 1) we traveled between 2 countries, on 4 airlines in 4 airports, and we 2) had to pack for contrasting weather situations. For all of these reasons, we were a little nervous about only packing carry-ons, but it ended up working out really well and saved us a ton of time by not having to wait at baggage claim at each airport.
- Packing Cubes – Without question, packing with packing cubes is like having a super power. Packing cubes come in many sizes and colors, depending on the brand, but most are square or rectangle pouches with a zipper that goes around 3 sides. The multi-size, deep-set cubes allow you to fit folded or rolled clothes snuggly in each cube and then put each cube neatly into your suitcase, which helps to prevent clothes from moving around while in flight or randomly falling out of your suitcase. It also allows you to easily remove packing cubes at security if needed. Whether you pack each cube with 2 or 3 outfits or pack all shirts/pants in their separate cubes – once you have this super power, it’s hard to give up. I’ve used a few brands of packing cubes in my day, but I recommend either those from ebags or Away.
- Travel Apps – Downloading travel apps in advance was a big timesaver for us. Hotel apps allowed us to connect with hotel staff easily via app messaging vs. having to buy an international phone plan. Transportation apps, for longer distance trains and metro/subway trains, allowed us to plan out our point-to-point directions and to stay aware of train delays. Translation apps (with specific languages downloaded in advance), allowed us to easily translate signs, menus, etc. Car hire apps allowed us to locate and communicate with our drivers in route and museum apps gave us access to all museum information, including free tours in English.
- Potential Restaurants – We did our best to find 2 or 3 restaurants options for lunch and dinner in each city that we stayed. This helped to save time in having to find an acceptable restaurant on the fly and getting “hangry” while we waited.
- Loose Plan of Activities – While we tend to avoid being too strict with plans, we did identify 3 or 4 activities we could do each day, including museums, parks, and cultural sites. This helped us plan out the general area of the city we’d be in each day and group activities close together to maximize time and transportation costs.
- Airport Transfers – Prior to starting our trip, we had a clear plan for getting to/from the airport and our hotels. Sometimes we pre-hired a car service (Blacklane is great in many cities in Europe), other times we used public transport or even walked. The key point is that we had a transportation plan which saved time and worry by avoiding having to figure out how to get from place to place last-minute, which is not fun after you’ve been traveling all day.
- Entertainment Prep – I can’t stress enough how important it is to download your entertainment (movies, podcasts, books, music) in advance of leaving your trip, when you have clear and strong access to Wi-Fi. This will not only save time, but it will reserved your data for when you really need it (like finding your way back to the hotel after a run!). It’s also a good idea to download any airline apps which allow you to view movies/shows/music while in the air.
- Contactless Payment – Apple/Android pay was everywhere on our most recent trip to Europe. From the London Underground to restaurant payments to using the restroom in a train station (no joke!), contactless payment was used for just about every purchase you could think of. In fact, it was so common, we ended up loading our credit card onto our teens’ phones so that they had access to payment for the subway and other necessities.
- Two Bathrooms – When our kids were younger, we would often stay in a larger family room or suite when traveling to keep us all together. However, now that the kids are older, we’ve opted to get two standard rooms (or one level above standard) in order to have two bathrooms. Yes, the rooms are definitely smaller than what we are used to, but having two bathrooms was a time-saver for sure.
- Hotel Concierge Assistance – Not all hotel concierge’s are great, but we’ve been fortunate to have some great ones in our last few years of travel, including on our most recent trip. For this trip, we leveraged the hotel concierge to make phone calls on our behalf – such as to book a taxi to the airport or to make/change restaurant reservations – because we are not able to make phone calls from our mobile phones while abroad. But we’ve also leveraged our concierge for directions, running paths, and advice on site-seeing.
While I can’t guarantee your next trip to Europe will be stress-free (ours sure wasn’t!), adding even one of these simple strategies will make your travels a little easier, and who wouldn’t want that? Let the planning begin!