Eiffel Tower

How to prepare for your trip to Europe

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower in Paris draws millions of visitors a year to France. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Advice from Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist

Warm places, historic buildings, and walking in the hills? Yes, please. At this time of the year, Canadians’ thoughts tend to wander toward the vacation season — the warm vacation season, that is. And Europe is traditionally one of the more popular destinations, with Canadians making about 4 million trips to the continent each year.

But crossing the Atlantic isn’t as easy as crossing the border — and many of us are familiar with how difficult a journey that can be these days. Flying over an ocean means you’re in for some paperwork.

Are your passports expired? Did you renew your travel insurance? Do you have the right visas? And … oh dear. There’s so much to consider.

Life can seem like one big pile of paperwork when you’re getting ready for a trip. In the last few years, my solo travels to Iceland, England, France, and Italy with a small child and intriguing medical equipment have made me a paper-chaser extraordinaire. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my paper-gathering adventures and misadventures.

Essential Travel Tips for Visiting Europe

1. Keep your hotel information handy. And by handy I mean on your person or very close by. I haven’t lost my luggage yet, but I have had that agonizing wait to see it come in, after several connections over a number of hours. If you do lose your luggage, the last thing you need to do is to forget where you’re sleeping that night. I always travel with a list of my hotels, with the name, address, and phone number of my lodging and any transportation that I need to get there. It’s even handy to bring this info when you head out for the day, just in case you need to take a taxi back and you’ve forgotten the address of your hotel, or don’t speak the language well enough.

2. Know your flight, train, or bus schedules, and check them twice. Checking my flight schedules and the connecting buses helped me get a connecting flight in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport last year — in less than an hour. Paris hosts many marvels of architecture, and the airport is one of them. It’s a warren of check-in terminals, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. On a less enchanting note, I also showed up nice and early to meet my train from Milan to Paris, only to discover that I was at the entirely incorrect train station. We made it to the right one with five minutes to spare, but it would have been a much more restful morning had I simply checked the train ticket again.

3. Ease through customs and immigration queues with your paperwork in order. Are you travelling with children? I always travel with a notarized letter from my spouse, saying that it’s all right to travel alone with my daughter. I’ve been asked for it a number of times. I also carry medical equipment and medications, and I carry a note from my doctor outlining exactly what I am bringing, and why. I’ve had the most questions about these notes at Canadian and US customs stops, but it’s best to bring them along whenever you travel, whether it’s within North America or to another continent.

4. Carry different types of payment options, from cash to credit cards to travellers’ cheques. If you’re stepping off the plane into a taxi, or you just need cash for snacks on the plane, you’ll be glad to have a few euros in hand. This is especially important if you’re heading to small towns, as we were. I enjoyed perusing the local wines in Alsace, but it was a challenge to find something to eat in the first couple of days, as we arrived on a Sunday afternoon when only the street market was open. Thankfully, I had cash on hand, and we had delicious local yogurt, vegetables, fruit, and bread from the market, feasting on these foods until everything opened on Tuesday morning. Get euros in smaller denominations, bring a debit and credit card, and bring travellers’ cheques if you’re worried about losing your wallet. Budget sensibly and with exchange rates in mind: $1 Canadian equals about 0.77 euros, and the cost of living varies significantly between countries on the continent.

7 Tips for Wrangling Your Travel Documents

Going to Europe? Here’s a shortlist of what you’ll need to bring:

1. Passport: This most essential of travel documents must be good for at least six months past your expected return date, or you may not be allowed to board the plane. Children also need a passport. It can take up to a month to get a new passport, although you can place a rush order for $70 and your passport will be ready in 24 hours. If you have a little more than a week, an express order is $30 and can take up to nine days. Canadians don’t need a visa to travel to Europe if they are going for three months or less.

2. Travel Medical Insurance: Make sure that you have access to great health-care when you travel. Get an insurance policy that covers your medical needs when you’re away from your home province.

3. International Driving Permit: If you’re renting a car in Europe, you may be able to get by on your Canadian driver’s licence. Then again, companies in smaller towns may require the international version of a driver’s licence: the international driving permit. It’s good to have on hand, and it’s only $25.

4. Medical Notes: Make sure that your medicine is clearly labelled and in its original container, and get a note from your doctor with a statement saying what the medicines are for.

5. Travelling With Children: It’s best to have a notarized letter from your partner or former partner stating that you have permission to bring your child abroad. The Canadian government has an excellent customizable letter that you can use for this purpose.

6. Travel itineraries and tickets: If you’ve pre-booked for museums and travel plans, keep your receipt information easily retrievable on your smartphone or in paper format. Somewhere where they are handy.

7. Keep a copy of your documents in a different location, just in case you do lose them. You could even keep them with a friend or family member at home. That way, if the worst happens and you lose your travel documents, you have a copy of these important papers that you can access.

The rolling hills, the glorious architecture, the boundless paperwork. Going to Europe for the first time (or the first time in a long time) can seem like you’re wading through reams of paper, but the end result is worth it: A trip where the only bumps in the road are the potholes on the way to see some intriguing local sights.

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