For Indian Passport holders travelling to most places in the world can feel like quite a daunting experience primarily because of the all the paperwork involved. For first time visitors to Europe the Schengen Visa especially and all the bookings required to obtain it can feel quite overwhelming. Here are a couple of tips to make your first trip to Europe a bit more smooth sailing; things I wish I had known before I travelled there for the first time.
Don’t Fear The Schengen Visa: For first time applicants the Schengen Visa can sound quite complicated and annoying but remember the more you travel the more you’ll just learn to take these visas in your stride. As long as you have return tickets, bank statements and hotel bookings you’re ticking all the boxes. If you’d like your travels to be less planned to the T, you can always make tentative bookings for the visa process and cancel them once your visa is in your hand. We can’t be expected to plan every single day now can we? There are lots of travel agents in India who’ll do this for you if it all feels too overwhelming. Soon enough, you’ll be a pro and won’t even need the agents. If you plan to go to more than one country then apply either in your first country of landing or the one that you’re spending most time in. I’ve found France to be one of the easiest and most hassle free countries for a Schengen Visa.
Don’t Overplan: I know it goes contrary to visa expectations but like I mentioned earlier you can always book and then cancel your bookings with enough days to spare. Remember to read the cancellation policies of the hotels you book for your visa applications. A lot of places don’t charge anything if you cancel 72 hours in advance. Basically they just want to know you have enough money for accommodation and don’t plan to illegally immigrate. As long as you make the bookings, it’s perfectly okay to change and alter them after you get your visa.
Europe is best enjoyed on a whim and overplanning each and every single day really ruins it. You want to be in a position where if you fall in love with the alleys of Paris, the beaches of Spain or the villages of Italy you can decide spontaneously to stay an extra two days instead of being forced to move on because everything is paid for at your next destination.
Don’t Jump Straight To The Euro Rail Pass: I know a lot of people recommend the Euro Rail pass but flights and buses in Europe are VERY cheap and when I say cheap I mean as low as $20 USD one way for a flight and even lower for buses. They are also mega sales around Spring and Autumn. Euro Rail passes limits you to a certain time frame and again are not very whim and spontaneity friendly. The budget airlines in Europe are Ryan Air, Easy Jet, Monarch and Budget Air. I recommend http://www.skyscanner.net for a fantastic comparative search.
Local Tourism Offices are the Bomb: Every city in Europe including even little villages have their own tourist offices which are patient enough to answer all your questions and give you plenty of advice on whatever it is you want to do. Often they also offer discounts to star attractions. When you reach your destination head to these local tourism centers to get a couple of maps and an idea of what’s going on during your stay.
|Backpacks will make your Euro Trip a lot more convenient and comfortable|
Europe Is Made For Backpacks: Europe is made for walking and the cobbled lanes, narrow staircases and long walks are not suitcase friendly. Trust me when you’re dragging your suitcase about town, you’ll wish you’d carried a backpack. It just makes more sense. It leaves your legs and hands-free and you’re a lot more mobile than you’d be with a big fat suitcase. Remember to get a backpack that’s back-friendly though. A bad backpack will not only ruin your holiday but also your back.
Leave Your Baggage In Hostels: Most hotels and hostels in Europe will be more than willing to keep your bags even after you check out (at least for that day). Say your train from Paris to Amsterdam is at night and if you check out at 11:00 AM, it doesn’t mean you have to lug your bags around Paris. You can just leave it behind the counter and spend your last day exploring bag free. When the time comes to leave simply head back to the hostel and grab your bags. Easy peasy.
Hostel Dorms And Hotels Aren’t Your Only Options: If you’re on a budget and are uncomfortable about hostel dormitories then a lot of European hostels have excellent private rooms too at reasonable prices. If not hostels then instead of staying in staid and mundane hotels try using AirBnB or Roomorama where you can stay in a variety of accommodation from castles to studios to wilderness retreats. I use Airbnb all the time and it always ends up being more than just a place to sleep. It adds an altogether extra special dimension to my travel experience.
On a side note, a lot of us tend to be dubious about websites like Couchsurfing, I’ve used the site extensively for the past 7 years now and not only is it a great site for staying with locals it’s also a great site for meeting people and checking out local events.
Hire A Car: In my opinion, the best way to see Europe is by driving through it. Carry an emergency tent in case you discover an oceanside campsite like the one in France pictured at the end of this post. You’ll see great views through a train or a plane but nothing beats the thrill of seeing a great view, pulling your car over and just having an impromptu picnic. Make sure you’ve gotten your International Drivers License beforehand though.
Don’t be afraid to explore: Europe’s charm lies in its little villages, little heard of towns and secret suburbs. Don’t be overly cautious by sticking to an itinerary all the time. Speak to locals and if you’re invited don’t say no unless every inch of your body is saying “he/she appears to be completely psychotic and murderous”. At the end of the day, you’re not going to remember every painting you saw at the Lourve but you will remember all the times you got lost, discovered a little restaurant or an empty nameless beach.