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Travel & Holiday

Steps to a wonderful time in Europe!

Soak in the old-world charms of Europe with these useful tips
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - May 26, 2010
By: Sheila Lim
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Steps to a wonderful time in Europe!

Have you been longing to feast your eyes on the world-renowned art exhibits at the Louvre Museum in Paris, experience the most romantic time of your life in the Renaissance city of Venice or get high on the breathtaking beauty of the Swiss Alps?

Now that spring is in the air and the euro is in the doldrums, it’s a great time to make that dream holiday in Europe come true. But going by the price of a bottle of mineral water in Paris and the scarcity of English-speaking folk you would be able to seek help from in this cultural melting pot, your dream holiday could very well turn out to be a costly and logistical nightmare if you do not plan your trip properly.

If you decide to make a go of your dream trip in Europe, the following tips will help you get the best from it.

Planning your trip

Find the focal points

With such a mindboggling variety of things to see and do, just picking out the places to visit can put you in a quandary. It’s impossible to cover much of one country in a single trip, let alone the whole continent – unless your holiday is several months long!

I would recommend that first-time visitors join a tour which covers different parts of the continent. Treat it as an introductory tour of Europe. Except for being herded around like sheep, a packaged holiday is a more economical and relatively painless way to get a sense of what each country has to offer. Once you’ve seen the different facets of Europe, you could go for a more comprehensive tour of your favourite country/countries the next time.

It might be wise to check the tourism websites of selected destinations for festivals, events or local holidays (which you may want to either avoid or participate in). I first visited the Louvre on a tour and planned to enjoy a more leisurely viewing of the exhibits on my return trip. However, I made the mistake of not checking the holiday schedule beforehand and arrived only to find it closed for a public holiday!

Map the best route

Next, draw up a rough itinerary and plan your holiday around it. Never be too ambitious – allow enough time to find your bearings in each place and discover its charms before moving on to the next destination.

There’s a fair bit of research to do before you book your flight. The rail system in Europe is excellent, and the best way to get around; but you’ll have to gather loads of information about the train networks and routes in each country, selecting and purchasing Eurail passes, deciphering train timetables, making seat/sleeper reservations and other rail travel tips from websites like www.eurorailways.com. After finalising your destinations, work out the most economical routes to take and fit the cost of your rail pass into your total holiday budget.

Reducing stress and saving money

If you want to know what your new-found love is really like, going backpacking together in Europe would be the acid test. Nothing brings out a person’s true colours better than being faced with the realities of life. And believe me, nothing could be more stressful than being in dire straits and not being able to obtain help from anyone because of language problems, the worry of missing your train and being left stranded, and having to fork out an amount many times what you are accustomed to at home just for a drink or simple meal.

Here’s how you can minimise the pain:

* If you plan to travel by train, purchase your rail pass before you leave home as the price of a single-trip ticket is highly prohibitive. Also, give yourself ample time to locate the train station prior to departure time to avoid a mad rush.

* I compiled a list of basic French and Italian terms before I arrived in France and Italy, and found them particularly useful when boarding trains. It isn’t easy finding people who can assist you, and most of the conductors aren’t conversant in English; so it’s really up to you to make sure that you’ve gotten onto the right train!

* Take advantage of freebies. Check out local newspapers or tourism/entertainment brochures for free concerts or performances in local parks and other public venues.

Most major cities offer special privilege cards that include discounts or free admission for museums, attractions, tours and public transport. But evaluate if they are worth getting – these are only great value if you have the opportunities to use them; otherwise you might be better off paying the usual ticket rates.

* Don’t expect a decent meal for less than S$10. If you’re on a tight budget, you could save money by purchasing convenience food from the supermarket and fixing your own meals.

* If you are taking a long trip, you’ll do well to get cash from ATMs or use your credit cards. You’ll likely be charged a transaction fee by your bank/s (typically one to two per cent), but that’s better than facing the risks of carrying a huge amount of cash around.

To avoid excessive fees, don’t withdraw small amounts of cash at frequent intervals. Use an ATM from reputable banks (if possible, use your own bank to avoid fees from other institutions) and check their websites for branch locations in the places you’ll be visiting.

Also check that the establishments where you intend to use your credit cards do not charge additional fees for transactions.

* If you need to use the services of a currency exchange kiosk, avoid those at airports and train station kiosks where you are likely to get the most unattractive rates.

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