Just admit it, you want to go to Europe. If you’ve already been, you want to go back. Am I right?
The only kicker is that a flight will run about $800 on the low side and $2,000 on the high side. Seems like it might be a while, but there is hope!
Step One: Get your Passport Book. It will cost you $110 plus a $25 execution fee (whatever that is), and is good for ten years. Routine turn-around time is 6 weeks so don’t push it. You will not be able to board your international flight without your passport book. Another thing to note is that many countries will not allow you to step foot in if your passport is set to expire within 6 months. A passport card will not work for international air travel. If you have the card you can send it in with a $110 check and a current photo to receive a passport book, no second interview required. You can hold both the book and the card. Almost every European country will allow you to visit visa-free for 90 days.
Step Two: Figure out when and where you want to visit. Some of the popular cities to consider are London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome. There are about 25 US cities that fly non-stop to at least one of these four cities. Summer is by far the most popular time for European travel. This means that flights will usually be priced higher and award availability (if you are using points) will be slim pickin’s during the warm months. September and October is great for Oktoberfest in Munich. If you like snow you can always visit Switzerland in January to see some sweet ice-carving. Warmer southern countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain should all be fine with a light jacket in the winter.
Step Three: Pick your airline. You can fly across the pond on Delta, American, or United from most of their US hubs. Points can be used on any of the big three airlines and is typically going to run you 60,000 points plus the customs fees. There are always variations to the number of points required, such as winter versus summer months. I would avoid using British Airways ‘Avios’ points due to their insane fuel surcharges. Customs fees are determined on the country you return from, and yes, you can book multi-city reservations with points. If you booked a Delta flight from New York to Amsterdam with your return flight from Paris, you would only pay about $90 in fees. You would just have to figure out how to get from Amsterdam to Paris, train or airfare will run under $60 one-way. If you return from London, UK you will pay about $200 in customs fees. Customs fees are built into the ticket price if you are paying cash, if using points the customs fees are in addition to the points required.
If you are intent on visiting London using points it is best to catch your inbound flight to London and return from another country like Spain, The Netherlands, or Portugal, saving you $150 in customs fees. Flights within Europe are relatively cheap, $30-$80, if booked in advance. You can also take high-speed rail for about the same cost as plane ticket. Be sure to check out Norwegian Airlines since they offer very low fares from the US to Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, London, and Paris (with connections to a ton of other cities). They are a little more strict on baggage compared to the big airlines, so make sure to read their terms upfront. You might even be able to score an error fare if you subscribe to Secret Flying and move quickly when you see a deal.
Step Four: Learn a second language. Yea, that might take a bit. Fortunately, almost all major tourist cities in Western Europe have a large population of English speakers. Taxis drivers, the hotel concierge, and waiters will likely speak some English. You can use Google Translate on your phone to help with ordering food or reading signs. It will use your camera to view text and convert the text in real-time, super cool! You will need mobile data to use this app feature, just keep that in mind.
Step Five: Figure out how you are going to get around once you land. All large cities in Europe will have a public transportation system. Many people in Europe opt to bike or walk due to the congestion and traffic. A typical one-way fare on a bus or subway is going to run you about $3-6 USD. Taxis are NOT cheap in most cities so do make sure you download the Uber app and have cell service (w/ mobile data) when you are ready to order an Uber. If you plan on taking the public transportation, it would be best to download something like the City Mapper app, it will help immensely with navigating your way through the metropolises.
Step Six: This is the most important thing to remember, be aware of your surroundings. Like any new city you visit, don’t be oblivious to the world around you. Make a copy of your passport and keep it in a separate bag. Print out important documents such as hotel and flight itineraries, you don’t know if you are going to have access to the web and a printer. Pickpockets are a known issue in cities like Paris so keep valuables in your front pockets and don’t get caught in large crowds. You will be fine if you use common sense and stay alert, in fact, you will have the time of your life!
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