Forget everything you’ve read about planning a European trip: It’s not practical to cram every museum, landmark and eatery into your weeklong vacation. It’s better to have a routine and only hit two big things a day, suggests the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown.
“Always overprepare,” Brown says, “but never over-schedule.”
Sure, you should hit famous European museums — such as The Louvre in Paris and London’s British Museum — but “don’t spend all your time in the past,” Brown says.
“You’re there to enjoy what’s happening now. Don’t feel like you have to go to every museum,” she says. “It’s perfectly acceptable to spend an hour in the Louvre. Waiting in line is not the French experience.”
Also, curb Instagramming or Facebooking every aspect of your trip, she advises, and slow down.
“Let your own sense of discovery take you places,” Brown adds. “Sit down at a cafe because you want to be there.”
And take an hour or so to walk the neighborhoods each day. Have a glass of wine at a cafe you just stumble upon. It’s important to not only feel like you’re on vacation, but to feel like you belong.
Start researching your trip about six months out and book it a month after that, Brown suggests. Set up alerts through travel websites on when fares change. Book a red-eye flight; you can get that first night’s sleep on the plane. Go during “shoulder seasons” — the time between high and low season.
Take notes on what you want to do and what you’d like to see, but be OK with throwing it all out the window.
“When I get to a destination,” Brown says, “after the first day, I sit down with my maps and research and look at my trip from a realistic standpoint. Now you’re in reality; that’s going to change a lot. You can still be spontaneous with your research.”
What to pack, where to stay
Make sure you pack for the weather, but don’t go overboard. Comfortable shoes and layers are a must, but Brown advises against dressing like a tourist. “You can wear sneakers, you can wear jeans — just not at the same time.”
You want to dress as Europeans dress, Brown says. If you stand out as an American, that might attract pickpockets.
1. Exchange money when you get to Europe. Always carry cash.
2. Always know how to say “hello,” “please” and “thank you” in the native language. Don’t ask someone, “Do you speak English?” If you’re in Spain and need to ask a question, simply say “No hablo espanol — ingles?”
3. Go for a walk in the morning. Get coffee at the same place each day, Brown says, to establish a routine to make you feel like a local. “You get a great idea of what life is like there.”
The technical stuff
1. Make sure your passport is up to date and not nearing expiration.
2. Consider travel insurance for big trips, and check with your health-care provider to ensure you’re covered in Europe.
3. Check carry-on and luggage weights so you don’t incur extra fees overseas.
These are Brown’s favorite parts of some top European destinations.
1. Paris: Check out a small museum called The Musee de l’Orangerie, an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Here, you’ll find works by Monet, Picasso and more. You can tour it in about an hour.
2. London: Stop by cabmen’s huts when in England. They are small green huts that cab drivers used to stop at, park their cabs and get something to eat and drink. “It’s a slice of life,” Brown says.
3.Berlin: Kunsthaus Tacheles houses graffiti-style murals and art sculptures. “It’s a great place to see current local art.”
See Samantha Brown
Brown will join celebrities like Laura Bush, Whoopi Goldberg and Jay Leno this weekend at the biannual Life@50+ National Event & Expo at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
On Saturday, she will talk about the new AARP Travel Experience and give advice on places to see, trip ideas and of course, travel tips. Admission for AARP members is $25, $35 for non-members. The entry fee includes admission for all three days of workshops, which also features session on service, lifestyle and more. Visit www.aarp.org/events or call 1-800-650-6839 for more information.