Europe, the First Time--Planning your first trip to "The Continent"

The best way to see Europe is at your own pace. Learn how to plan a low-cost, memorable trip to Europe as a couple, a family or alone. Save time and money as you do the booking, cooking and looking in Europe's most beautiful destinations. As currency values change with breaking economic values.

 

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If you're at this website, you've started considering a trip to Europe. If you've never been, it is likely to be an amazing experience. You will be surprised, as I was when we flew over northern France, to discover how beautiful it is. I expected to see old buildings and houses sprawling for miles and thought of Europe as a place you went to see great art and pieces of ancient history. What I discovered was cities and villages that are alive and friendly; where history mixes with modern life and puts your own existence into perspective. I was surprised at how much of the land is planted with flowers and vegetables and how fresh the food is.

If you are starting to think about the trip, I will encourage you to make a trip to Europe a goal. It took seven years from the time I started planning to finally reach Paris, but it only happened because I made getting there a priority in my life. No espressos, new clothes only when I absolutely needed them, and a willingness to eat only bread and cheese as we toured the continent if that was what it would take to make the trip possible.

Fortunately, camping and preparing many of our own picnics made it possible to spend six weeks in Europe for much less than we had planned. It also made us eager to return, to explore new places and spend more time with people who generously invited us into the communities, told us their stories and made us feel welcome in their countries.

My first trip to Europe ended four weeks before terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. A trip that had taken me to Oradour where the French remembered the tragedies of World War II with a town preserved as it had been the day German soldiers invaded it and slaughtered everyone in the village, including its children, and past battlefields and cemeteries from too many wars, helped me find hope in a Europe that had was reuniting and recognizing their shared interests as they moved to a common currency and easier travel across their borders; within months of that trip, most of western Europe was going to start using the Euro and most of the guard stations that prevented foreigners from entering without proper documentation were going to be closed. When the planes crashed into the twin towers of New York, the sadness of Oradour was put in a new perspective: just as a small group of soldiers had wiped out the village, a small group of angry men brought the towers crashing to the ground, killing thousands while destroying the lives of so many who survived, and forever robbing Americans of our naive sense of security from global threats.

Since that trip, there have been terrorist attacks throughout Europe, and many here at home, and it would be easy to look at what seems like escalating violence as a reason to stay home and possibly isolated from the threats that seem to happening more frequently "over there". But to do so would let the terrorists win and might steal from you some of the richest experiences of your life. Since 9/11, I've been back to Venice four times, and each time reconnected with a place that has captured my soul; I've spent a day hiking around the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes, Croatia, celebrating the endless beauty of its rocks and water as it rejuvenated my heart while knowing it was where the Croatian war of independence began; I was serenaded by four Austrian folk singers as we shared wine and laughter at a small agriturismo outside San Gimiagno, and I have had the chance to play a round of golf where the game was born, and while doing so, found a moment to "be" with an old golf buddy who had been gone for more than 8 years.

There have been too many terrorist attacks and, despite all the efforts to prevent them, there will be more. Your odds of being a victim, however, are incredibly slim. The number of people who have died at the hands of terrorists from the start of the century through the horrible Bastille Day attack in Nice in 2016, has been 246. In one year, 2014, California buried more than 6 times as many murder victims, and 19 other states had more murders that year than France has had terrorist deaths so far this century. Another 12 states each had more murders in 2014 than the number of victims in the Nice attack.

There are risks in life, and traveling changes the risks you face; you leave some of the ones you have at home and face new ones on your journey. So the key is to plan well; pay attention to the warnings from the US State Department and other governments as you plan, and then design the trip so the rewards you will get exceed the risks you are taking. Think about the experiences that bring you joy and create an agenda that maximizes those experiences. There is an energy in Paris and London that is positively infectious, but if you'd rather be hiking in canyons and over streams, then put those kinds of destinations on YOUR itinerary. Identify the weekend pleasures you find at home, and then look for them in the country you want to visit. And understand, that often, Europeans have developed efficient ways to enjoy their tourist attractions, including great public transportation, networks of cable cars and gondolas to access alpine vistas and trails, golf courses at reasonable prices, and all sorts of "extreme" sports that are hard to find in the United States. You can buy a trip that appeals to the average American/Canadian/fill-in-the-blank traveler, and it will probably take you to "the sights", to a capital or two, to the places that are so famous that you are more likely to meet other travelers than the people who live in the country. Read our Privacy Policy

For the latest updates, go to the Eurfirst Blog on Travel News which is updated frequently.

 

Last revised October 19, 2010

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