I got a question from a fellow female traveler recently about how to manage traveling in Europe for four months. Or should she spend two months in Europe and two months in Southeast Asia? Well, those are excellent questions, and I have some strong opinions about that! So I’ve written up this guide to long-term travel in Europe, including input from my sweet husband who lived and worked in Europe for two years!
Here is your ultimate guide to long-term travel in Europe!
What is Long-term Travel?
I consider long-term travel any amount of time over a month. A traditional “Eurotrip” between semesters in college is anywhere from 1-4 months, depending on how long the school break lasts. Some things to consider about long-term travel are climates (try to visit during one season so you only have to pack one wardrobe), modes of transportation (flying? trains? car? ferry? is luggage weight a factor?), and visa issues. The rest can be worked out as needed, but these things need to be planned for in advance!
The first thing to consider (and the thing that might already be driving your plans) is timing. What time of year will you be visiting? This will effect your budget (high season versus low season, holidays, etc.), your packing (heavy sweaters and boots or sundresses and sandals?), daylight (winter in Europe has far fewer hours of sunlight than summer), and crowds—major European cities like Paris, Rome, and London can be unbearably crowded and lines can get very long!
So consider what you value:
- Do crowds matter to you? The more the merrier, right?
- Do you like the cold? Do you prefer the heat? Or would you rather strategize for milder temperatures?
- Do you want to pack light? Carry on only, anyone?
- Working with a tight budget? Europe can be as expensive or affordable as you make it. There are plenty of strategic ways to make the absolute most of your trip on a shoestring budget!
Passports, Schengen, and the Eurozone
What is Schengen anyway? According to the Schengen Area website, this is the definition:
“Schengen Area, signifies a zone where 26 European countries, abolished their internal borders, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation.”
So basically, you can travel among the countries in the Schengen Area as if it’s all one country—no stopping to get your passport stamped, no individual visa processes, no worries when crossing a border. You can just go!
First of all, I’m writing this from an American’s perspective because I cannot presume to write from another nationality’s. It’s very important to understand your country’s relationship to the countries you want to visit in Europe, and the visa process. Not sure if you need a Schengen visa or where to start? Check out the Schengen Website.
For Americans, we can visit any country within the Schengen zone for three months (90 days) within a six month period (180 days) as a tourist without a special visa. If your plan is to stay 91 days or more within a 180-day period, you must get a visa.
Read on: Ultimate Guie to Passports
Getting a Schengen Tourist Visa
Because rules can change so quickly according to political whims, dangerous situations, or any other reason, I won’t attempt to explain the process at the time of writing. I’ll just direct you to the source! For Americans (again, I cannot presume to write from another nationality’s perspective), visit the State Department website for the latest processes and restrictions.
Read on: How to Get a Tourist Visa
Cash and Money
Many European countries are on the Euro, but not all, so make sure you know before you go! But just about every place in every country accepts a credit card. Get one with no international fees and a good rewards system, and you’ll be earning rewards as you go!
You will, however, need some cash on hand in just about every country (Iceland is a notable exception—we spent four days exploring south and west Iceland with only credit cards). For cash, I always recommend getting money out of an ATM inside a bank, or inside security after landing at your destination’s airport.
Picking and Choosing
There are 50 European countries. Fifty! That’s kind of a lot. You probably have a few in mind—maybe France, probably Germany, the United Kingdom is also quite popular. But I would urge you to check out some of the less-visited, just as magical European countries, since you’ll be in Europe longer than your average vacationer.
Some of my favorite underrated gems include Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (home of the 2018 “Best Christmas Market in Europe”)! Some of the countries at the top of my Europe must-visit-soon list are Luxembourg, Romania, San Marino, and Croatia. When considering which countries to visit, do a little extra research to discover somewhere you maybe didn’t even know existed! Take the time to create an opportunity to explore Europe and really savor your experience!
My best recommendation is to make a tentative plan, but be flexible. To make it fairly easy to keep up with (for you and whoever back home needs to know where you are in the world), plan to base yourself somewhere each week and make your day trips from there. For instance, stay a week in Heidelberg, Germany, and explore the town for a couple of days, then maybe make a day trip from there to Mannheim, another day trip to Frankfurt, another day trip to another town or village that interests you. The next week, base yourself in Frieburg to explore the black forest and take day trips to Basel, Colmar, Stuttgart, etc.
As for where to stay, that can be a real budget-buster! The best way to afford long-term travel accommodations is to live like a local. If hostels are your thing, Europe has some good ones (and some bad ones—I’ve stayed in a couple of those). But now you have more options than ever with VRBO, Air BnB, HomeAway, and more! For the full scope, definitely check out Your Ultimate Guide to Accommodations and Your Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rentals.
My biggest recommendation about long-term travel and accommodations: stay in an actual hotel for a night or two at the end of your trip. Not a crappy one, an actual, nice, even luxurious, hotel or Bed and Breakfast. Reserve your room in advance, look forward to it, and have something to look forward to on that night you end up staying in a smelly, shared hostel!
Europe is far and away superior to the United States in its transportation availability. Europe is so compact, you can simply take a train almost anywhere you need to go! But don’t forget about ferries, rental cars, cruise ships, cheap flights (buyer beware, but check it out anyway!), and more.
But before you make any decisions, do this one thing: use the Rome2Rio app! It will show you all available options from Point A to Point B, along with travel times, cost, and direct links to where you can buy your tickets, if necessary. Steve and I were trying to figure out the best way to travel among the Baltic capitals, and it never occurred to us to take a luxury bus (complete with snacks, water, bathroom, movies, and wi-fi) until I happened to see the option on Rome2Rio!
There may be modes of transportation you don’t know about, and they just might be the best!
Ah, packing. It’s no one’s favorite! I have tons of packing strategies and packing lists on my blog, but it ultimately depends on your trip’s weather, the activities you want to do, and your personal style preferences. I can really only give good advice for women, but men can definitely benefit from my packing posts, too!
In general, I recommend packing enough for a maximum of one week. You will surely be moving around a lot during your trip, so who cares if you wear the same things every week or every few days? Just make sure everything you pack goes with everything else so you have the maximum number of outfit choices for your trip!
Here are some key summer packing guidelines, geared toward women:
- One versatile black dress (check out my post on Clothes that Pull Their Own Weight for the ultimate guide to choosing the best clothes)
- One other dress or skirt
- Three bottoms: leggings, capris, jeans, shorts, etc. (I suggest one pair of leggings that can be worn as pants or capris during the spring and summer so you get two in one!)
- Three tops that go with all three bottoms (and the skirt if you chose a skirt over a second dress)
- Two bathing suits (I recommend two bathing suit bottoms and two tankini tops; the bottoms can double as underwear in a pinch, and a tankini top can double as a regular top if necessary)
- One bathing suit cover-up—bonus points if something else on this list can double as a cover-up
- Maxiumum 7 pair of socks and 7 pair of underwear (four of each is ideal for packing light; just make sure you bring mesh or moisture wicking materials that wash and dry quickly)
- Maximum three pair of shoes (I recommend one good walking or running shoe, one supportive sandal and one pair of water shoes if you will be including a beach on your trip)
- One light jacket
- One scarf
- Refillable water bottle
Now that you have your packing list, choose a complete outfit from what you plan to pack and wear it on the flight to Europe!
Read on: Check Out My Packing Page
Are you ready for your own Eurotrip? Am I forgetting something? Comment below!
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