There has never been a better time to visit Europe!

By Steven Wright

I have been traveling to Europe for a number of years now. Almost immediately I have a European pastry and cappucino in hand, as soon as I land – there is nothing better! The news of late has been a bit dire with the tragedy on the Costa Concordia, the EuroZone financial crisis with austerity measures, public strikes and protests. That being said, the CDN dollar is the strongest it has ever been against the Euro making it cheaper to visit Europe than it has been in the past few years, to the tune of almost 20 cents on the dollar!

It is much easier to get from destination to destination throughout Europe than it is in Canada and the USA. Eurorail is a network of regional train services for each EU country, they give you the opportunity to buy country passes and multiple country passes that give you a certain number of days on the train for one price within a certain time period. There are two service levels 1st and 2nd Class. In 1st Class you have a reserved seat on a scheduled train, generally the items on the concession cart are complimentary, the seats are wider and leave more leg room. Some trains offer private sections within the rail car and some offer bunks for overnight hauls. In 2nd Class your ticket is a little more flexible giving you the opportunity to catch the next train, however seats are not guaranteed, you may find yourself sitting on your suitcase in the stairwell. The concession services are offered at a fee, and on busy routes the train can be quite crowded throughout the summer. I often opt for 1st Class seats on longer or very busy routes and 2nd Class for shorter distances. Chat with a travel agent about what tickets work best for you.

Europe is also the home of many discount airline carriers, some offer the opportunity to get 1 Euro flights, that’s right a plane ticket for 1 Euro (plus the fuel surcharge). On one of our trips to Europe, Michael and I planned to start our trip in Poland and decided to meet my sister and friends later in Berlin. We started exploring options to get from Warsaw to Berlin and snagged a flight on Easy Jet from Warsaw to Paris Orly for 1 Euro and then from Paris to Berlin for 10 Euro a couple of days later. Having flexibility in our schedule and early planning afforded us a less than $50 CDN voyage from Warsaw to Berlin and the option of a short stop over in Paris! Some of my favorite of these discount airlines include Easy Jet, Ryan Air, Air Berlin, Vueling and Transavia.

Now let me make a quick note about these discount airlines as they are not for everyone. These planes are equipped to carry as many passengers as possible, so if you are looking for extra legroom or wide seats I would suggest looking elsewhere. Often there are no seats assigned, which leads to passengers jockeying for pole position through the gate hoping get the best seats on the plane.  Often past the gate there is a bus loading the passengers for a transfer across the tarmac to the stairs onto the plane. Once aboard you can grab a seat and get ready for departure, everything on board is an additional charge including food and beverage. Some offer other items and gifts from their on board magazine. My tips for taking these discount carriers include, arriving early for your flight, having patience with other passengers, and bring something to read as there are no video terminals here. Relax, you are on vacation and saved a bundle on this flight.

Many of the major airlines feature regional airlines that provide a more traditional experience with business and economy class seats. These seats are confirmed and assigned. Your travel agent can assist you in booking these inter Europe flights as part of your package or as stopovers on your overseas return flights.

Car rentals are another way to get around Europe and it can be a great experience to drive a luxury sports car on the Autobahn, but here are a few things to consider when renting a vehicle in Europe. Unlike the US and Canada, the cities, towns and villages were around long before the automobile, this can make traveling a little more difficult. There may only be one road between point A and B, and construction, accidents and traffic can extend your travel time. The cars are generally much more compact than offerings in North America, and many of the rentals are standard versus automatic transmission. Parking can be another issue for rentals as parking is at a premium in many cities and not all hotels offer parking. One way rentals, dropping the car off in another location, can carry additional charges, especially if you are returning a rental to another country. I would suggest taking all of the insurance coverages, as the employee that gave you the keys may have a different opinion than the person who completes the rental on the other end, that scratch on the bumper that was not a concern at pick up can mean additional charges at drop off. Chat with a travel agent about what rental and insurance will work best for you.

One of the reasons Europe is a favorite destination for travelers is the proximity to other attractions, cultures and languages, you can see London, Paris and Rome in one trip. If you are flexible or trying to keep on a budget, the proximity of countries is also a huge advantage, you can mix in the more expensive destinations with ones that are more cost effective, for example in Warsaw you can get a 3 course meal for 2 people for about $15 CDN, a similar meal in Paris would cost at least 50 Euro. These bits of information can also help you in planning your accommodation, you may opt for a 3 or 4 star hotel in Amsterdam and a luxury 5 star hotel in Barcelona for the same room rate.

When I plan a personal trip to Europe I apply cappuccino economics in my planning. What you ask is cappuccino economics?

Well for example the price of a cappuccino in:
Barcelona is 1,50 Euro
Berlin is 2,50 Euro
Amsterdam is 2,50 Euro
Warsaw is 1.50 Euro
Paris is 5,00 Euro

These cappuccino prices help me to determine the cost of the destination and to balance my expenditures, so with this information I may choose to stay in Paris for less time than in Berlin or Amsterdam. When planning your trip I would suggest working with a travel agent who has knowledge of the destinations that you are looking to visit and can make suggestions to help you make decisions on what will create your ideal vacation.

Speaking of cappuccino, Coffee CompanyCoffee Heaven and Kamps are some of my favorite coffee chains in Europe.


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