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Preparing To Travel To Europe ? Four Important To-Dos

You have your tickets, your hotel or vacation rental reservations, passports are up to date, and you are ready to go. Not yet! Here are four important things to add to your preparation list:

1. Prepare Your Bank

Exchanging money in Europe is usually easiest and least expensive through an automated teller machines in Europe. Be careful to withdraw using your bank ATM card rather than your credit card. If you use your credit card for withdrawing cash, you may find yourself taking out a high interest loan.

Must dos with your bank:

  • Check to see what charges your bank imposes for use of your bank card for currency exchange; there are a few that impose stunningly high charges, so know ahead and prepare or be shocked when you see your statement.
  • Change your PIN to four numbers, some automated tellers, such as those in Italy, accept only four number PINs, not letters (i.e. there are no letters printed on the keypad, so if you think of your PIN in terms of letters, there may be some mental gymnastics when you are coping with a lot of other things, too).
  • Advise your bank that you will be traveling in Europe so when their fraud detection software notes transactions in multiple countries in a short period of time, it doesn't block them waiting for you to respond to a phone call to your home.
  • If you have a withdrawal limit on your card, ensure it is adequate for your travel needs. If you have to make a lot of small withdrawals, you can rack up lots of little per-transaction service and exchange charges.

2. Safeguard Your Documents

Photocopy your passports and airline tickets and stick them in a few places in case something gets lost and you need to recover. Ensure some of those places are in your carry-ons.

A high tech way to keep track of your passport info and other important documents in case of loss is to scan them in and email the scanned document to yourself at an email address you can access from anywhere. For example, one of our guests in an apartment in Florence found herself locked out of her apartment, so she went to a nearby internet point, retrieved the electronic copy of her apartment information from her email and made the call to be let back in.

3. Buy a Good Map

If you are visiting only major cities, your guide books and the inexpensive maps you can obtain at tourist offices will be all you need. But, if you are driving, you need a good, detailed regional map.

If you wait till you get to the region you are visiting, I guarantee that you will waste time looking for your map and the only one you will be able to find for your region will be in Swedish. A map of the whole country is not detailed enough for driving, get a regional map.

4. Buy a New Guidebook

Be sure to take recently published guidebooks with you. Sights open and close, hours change, phone numbers change, and they move things around in museums. You will experience frustration and lose time if you take an old guidebook; take my word for it.

To avoid having to carry a whole book, pull out and take just the pages for the places you will visit. You can do this for the trip and for the day.

Don't count on finding a good guidebook when you arrive. I find the English language guides published in non-English countries are often hard to read and filled with stuffy direct translations from the original language.

Pat Byrne is the president of Excellent Europe (http://www.ExcellentEurope.com) a company that selects exceptional vacation rentals in Italy. She is also the author of the Kids Europe Italy Discovery Journal (http://www.KidsEurope.com) a resource book, journal, and guide just for kids traveling in Italy that has over 500 ideas for free and fun activities in Italy.

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