Europe is usually the first place American and Australian backpackers travel. And with good reason: Modern, sophisticated and filled with English-speaking people, Europe is similar enough to other developed regions not to induce culture shock, but unique enough to captivate your senses. My Europe travel guides provide you with detailed information and advice about things to do in Europe, and personal stories of my own experiences traveling in Europe.
Since my first trip there in 2005, I’ve been to Europe on seven subsequent separate occasions, and consider myself something of a Europe travel expert. Click through the individual country guides on the right, or read on to learn general information about how to plan a trip to Europe.
Passports and Immigration in Europe
Thanks to the establishment of the European Union – and, more specifically, the Schengen agreement – travel within Europe is extremely easy, from an immigration perspective. If you stay within the boundaries of the Schengen area, which encompasses the UK, Ireland and most of continental Europe, you need only present your passport when your plan lands and when it departs, which is convenient, although you won’t have as many passport stamps as you might’ve two decades ago.
It’s important to understand, however, that not every countries technically in Europe is part of this agreement. Most notably, citizens of countries like the US, UK and Australia will need visas to enter Russia and other countries of the former Soviet bloc.
The Euro: Which Countries Use It?
Just as the Schengen Area doesn’t encompass all of Europe, not all countries that are part of the EU use the euro as currency. Presently, European countries which use the euro are as follow (see map):
Notable exceptions to Euro usage include the UK, which still uses the British pound, and Switzerland, which still uses the Swiss franc. Likewise, just as Russia and former Soviet countries have not signed on to the Schengen agreement, they still use their own currencies.
Trains in Europe
Trains dominate ground transport within Europe, although several low-cost airlines – and a number of national “legacy” airlines – operate. Unless you can find a cheap ticket on one of the legacy airlines, I recommend taking the train. Although it usually takes more time than flying, it’s more comfortable, convenient and affordable than flying budget airlines in Europe.
One big advantage of traveling Europe by rail is that you can purchase what’s called a “Eurail” pass, so long as you live reside outside of the E.U. Although Eurail passes don’t necessarily save you money, they are without a doubt the most convenient and flexible way to travel Europe.
The European Economic Crisis for Travelers
The majority of Europe has recently been gripped by economic crisis. While conventional wisdom suggests that this would be good for travelers – i.e. prices would drop – the effect is actually opposite in many cases, as local people in the most stricken countries look to travelers as a source of income.
It’s also important to remain vigilant when traveling in countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. Although most of the protests that have occurred in such countries are anti-government in nature and have little (if anything) to do with foreign travelers, you don’t want to get too involved with any demonstration you come upon in Europe.