Europe Trains, Planes and Euro Exchanges (Tips)

This tips list may help you before your trip to Europe and solely based on my experiences.  There are also some tips for saving money while traveling abroad which I try to do, read on...

The Herculaneum ruins station (left) and Orvieto station in Italy

  • Most airports get you through customs as fast as possible.  You will have to take off shoes, belts, take out cell phones, electronics etc. to go through security.  Use travel size grooming supplies and any sharp items such as nail scissors must be in the luggage and not in a carry on.
  • They're really trying to limit carry on luggage.  I always travel with one 24" suitcase on wheels (check it into the luggage compartment) and one carry-on.  I bring an extra empty,  folding bag in my carry-on just case I purchase something while traveling.  You want to travel light!
  • There are some great duty free shops inside the airports where you can purchase last minute gifts. 
  • Several times I've had to meet my travel partners in Europe due to various reasons such as weather delays, different airline flight mileage programs, etc..  If you're meeting others, make sure you have their flight information in case of delays.  Plan on a meeting outside the terminal or at the bus/train area that takes you from the airport to the city or hotel.  I've met my travel partners at airports in Rome, Milan and Pisa at different times and it was very easy.
  • Make a copy of your passport & keep a copy in your suitcase.  At most of the hotels in Europe, they keep your passport during your stay.
  • All hotels will ask to see and may keep your Passport for a day, this is standard procedure.
Euro Exchange
  • The foreign banks in my experiences have been stingy about exchanging Euros and those Euro Exchange shops and kiosks are expensive (5% or more fees).  
  • You will get your best Euro exchange rate using your ATM or Credit Cards.  Increase your ATM transaction limit amounts to at least $500 per day before you go.   Notify your card companies and bank of your trip dates.  
  • The ATM machines in the airports may not be in English but it's still easy to choose your Euro withdrawl amount up to about 240 euros.
  • I found all of the ATM machines in the cities were in English as well as other languages.
  • If you use your credit card, there'll be a foreign transaction fee such as 2.7% - 3% fee for every charge.   Credit Unions may charge a 1% fee for a transaction.  The foreign bank will also charge a transaction fee.  But if you only use the ATM card once or twice to get Euros, it might be cheaper than using a credit card.  
  • Avoid holding large amounts of cash and use hotel safes if available for large sums.  
  • Keep your ATM and Credit card phone numbers with you just in case they are stolen.
  • Its' cheap to purchase travel or global insurance with your airline ticket.  It's about $25 to $40 for the very basic policy for about coverage of $20,000 for emergency medical, $100 for baggage delay and $1,000 for trip cancellation. 
International Phone Calls
  • If you're planning on using your own cell phones, the fees are expensive.  Not all cell phones are international capable.  If you do use your cell phone,  sign up for an International Plan just before you go so you have access to your phone/internet while in Europe at a cheaper rate.  Naturally phone plans vary however, AT&T will charge about $5,99 a month for an International Plan.  Additionally,  you're charged a rate per minute per phone call including any messages are downloaded while there.   Any voice mail messages you retrieve or any calls you initiate can cost approximately .99 per minute.  If you don't purchase an International Plan for the time you're there, your charges will be approximately 1.39 per minute.  There's a little savings getting the Plan.
  • To avoid additional charges, turn off your cellular data in your General Settings before you board the plane to Europe.  Then use the hotel's free Wi-Fi to retrieve data.    Once you're on land, you can purchase phone cards very reasonably or use your cell phone on the International Plan.  Not all of the hotels offer free Wi-Fi however most at least offer it in the lobby area if you're staying there.
  • Once you return to the USA, continue the International Plan until all phone calls and data retrieval are accounted for.  
  • The major cell phone companies may have an International Phone you can purchase (like my sister did) so you don't even have to take your own phone.
Trains are crowded in the summer so you should purchase a day or longer ahead if traveling within a country.  If you go other than summer, you should be fine purchasing the day of your travel.  They will oversell the train and sometimes you may have to stand if you haven't reserved a seat.

Above is a typical train ticket or biglietto for the Trenitalia trains in Italy.  
I underlined in yellow the following information:
The Treno or train number is 588, the Carrozza  or coach/car  is 001 and the Posti  or seats are 65 and 66.  The car numbers are posted on the windows or train.
The binario (not printed on the ticket) is the platform number that will be posted on the visual monitors.                                                                                                                  Ticket Machine
  • The train schedules may be accurate but the binario or platform number of your train may change at the last minute so always check the visual prompters or monitors in the station while waiting for your train.  I sat on a train for 30 minutes waiting for it to leave then realized my train had changed to a different platform.  They now have monitors on the platforms which is very helpful.
  • Sometimes, you must punch your ticket prior to getting on the train or bus at the punch stands.  Look for these stands on or near the train platform  and punch the ticket prior to boarding if necessary.  If you don't punch it, you can be fined by the conductor on the train if he checks.  You only have to punch the ticket if you see a machine on the platform or enter a turn style that you put your ticket through.   
     Near the train platform

  • Validate on the bus
  • Many of the European railway stations and airport  "restrooms" aren't up to American standards but they've improved greatly over the years.  Some are even nice.  Take some paper just in case.
  • The good news is you can now purchase tickets directly from a machine instead of a ticket agent in large stations.
  • Sometimes you must change trains from a Regional to a Local such as traveling to past Naples to Sorrento.
  • Trenitalia train schedules in Italy (very accurate).  This is the Regional train.
  • Circumvesuviana train line is the local train south of Naples.
  • Raileurope for Europe trains
The Metro in Paris and the Underground in London are perfect for traveling around those large cities.  You can even take the Underground all the way from Heathrow Airport into London.  These take you to many of the historical sites or you can transfer to separate trains from them.  Personally, I prefer to take the buses and above ground trains in Rome.  I don't feel quite as safe in the Rome metro.

Boats are also a great way to travel while in Europe...see my Capri or Sorrento post for boat info...

Lastly,  I've never had any trouble traveling in Europe, however I've known people that have had things stolen.  Just be aware of your surroundings same as in the USA.  I always have my hands free while walking and avoid strangers coming directly up to me.

Happy Travels!

See also my "Euro Transportation" here


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