10 Europe Travel Hacks

I head out in a few days for Europe. And as I pack my bag, I’m also recalibrating my brain for European travel — already thinking strategically about how I can make this trip smoother than ever. Over many years of traveling professionally, I’ve come up with a bag of tricks I rely on to save time, save money, and travel smarter. We used to call these “tips”…but these days, they’re “hacks.” And so, here are my 10 favorite hacks for traveling in Europe.

Research hotels online — but book direct.

When choosing hotels, I do my homework using guidebooks and online review sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor. But once I’ve made my decision, rather than just clicking “Book It!” on a booking site, I send the hotel an email to reserve. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy the personal connection of booking direct — especially at a smaller guesthouse or B&B, where I’ll be personally interacting with the host once I arrive. And booking direct allows me to make special requests clearly — such as asking for a quiet room.

Hotels and B&Bs pay a big commission if you book through a third-party site; with rare exceptions, they appreciate when you book direct — and sometimes offer a better rate or other extras (such as free breakfast). In our Rick Steves guidebooks, we list many hotels that offer a discount to our readers…but only to those who book direct. Finally, while a booking site may show that a hotel is “sold out,” you may find there are actually available rooms if you contact the hotel directly. (Hotels must commit a certain number of rooms to the booking site, but often reserve a few for their own use.)

Yes, booking by email means you have to wait for a response. But hotels are usually very quick to finalize the booking — and for all the reasons noted here, I believe it’s still worth a little patience.

Set yourself up to breeze through airport security.

A few years ago, I signed up for the US Customs Global Entry program — and it was the best $100 I ever spent. This lets me use the speedy Global Entry lane to zip through Immigration when returning home to the US. Even better, Global Entry also comes with five years of TSA PreCheck privileges.

Applying for Global Entry is, let’s be honest, a bureaucratic nightmare: confusing paperwork, sometimes-conflicting instructions, and an in-person interview in a gloomy back room at the airport that feels like an FBI interrogation. But if you’re willing to feel that pain once, it buys you five years of easier airport experiences.

It’s hard to overstate what a game-changer TSA PreCheck is: Not only do you have access to shorter, faster-moving security lines; you don’t even have to remove your shoes, laptop, or liquids from your carry-on.

TSA PreCheck works on domestic flights, and on most flights from the USA to Europe. But once you’re in Europe, it’s meaningless. To make things easier on those intra-European hops, I prepare myself for the security lines: Rather than dumping piles of stuff in the bin, I tuck my wallet, phone, keys, and other items into the pocket of my jacket or vest, then put that in the bin. And I’m never happier to have my noise-cancelling headphones than when I’m 50 people deep in a security line.

Take full advantage of Google Maps…and be aware that GPS works offline, too.

Until the perfect travel app comes along, I find myself relying heavily on the Google Maps app. It’s a digital Swiss army knife for navigating Europe. It’s easy to mistake Google Maps as strictly a navigation app, because its main feature is offering clear and accurate directions by car, by foot, and by public transportation. But if you dig deeper and discover other features, you’ll realize it’s also useful for planning and organizing your trip details.

The “Satellite View” and “Street View” provide a sneak preview of any corner of Europe. (As I was booking my upcoming trip to Ukraine, Street View let me virtually “go for a walk” along the Kiev street my Airbnb is on, to be sure it’s a neighborhood I’ll enjoy.) I also use Google Maps to keep track of places that interest me (restaurants, sights, shops, and so on).

Google Maps is useful even if you’re thrifty about data roaming charges: You can download the maps to your phone (look for “Offline maps” in the menu),  and they work as if you’re online, including navigation. Little-known fact: GPS features (i.e., that little blue dot that tracks your location) still work even when you’re offline.

The more I use Google Maps for trip planning, organization, and navigating, the more uses I find for it. (And don’t get me started on Google Translate…)

Download videos to stay entertained while on the road.

I know, I know — you’re not going to Europe to watch Netflix. But let’s face it: Vacation can be a good time to catch up on your favorite shows. Better yet, bring along entertainment that complements the places you’re traveling: Saving Private Ryan for Normandy, Trapped for Iceland, Game of Thrones for Dubrovnik, Inspector Montalbano or the Godfather trilogy for Sicily, and so on.

Due to country-specific licensing agreements, most US-based streaming services are partially or entirely blocked in Europe. You could use a VPN to falsify your location (pro hack: I use TunnelBear), but increasingly, streaming sites won’t work if they detect one. The best strategy is to download what you want to watch before you leave home. This is possible on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Premium, and apps for many major cable providers. Once downloaded, the videos can be watched offline — whether on a plane or train, or at a hotel with flaky Wi-Fi.

Be warned: Once you get to Europe, these downloads may be blocked (because your device knows you’re outside of the US). Easy fix: Put your device in “Airplane Mode” and turn off Wi-Fi, and it assumes you’re on the plane, not in Europe (and, therefore, perfectly legal) — freeing you up to watch whatever you’ve downloaded.

Find the local hipster neighborhood.

Every city in Europe has a bustling downtown tourist zone: cobbled lanes clogged with tourists, overpriced restaurants with obnoxious hucksters out front, and jaded locals who put up with you juuust long enough to extract their share of your travel budget. But every city in Europe also has an edgy, trendy “hipster” neighborhood, where locals (and savvy travelers) congregate for creative and affordable meals.

“Get off the main drag” is a travel cliché, but I’m talking about something more specific: Find the neighborhood where all the local artists, entrepreneurs, and creative chefs are opening up shop. It ain’t the classic, “ye olde” Europe, but it’s arguably even better: a vital, sometimes gritty slice of the real Europe of today. The more street art, the better.

Examples include Psyrri in Athens (instead of the Plaka), London’s East End (instead of the West End), the Seventh District in Budapest (instead of downtown), Monti in Rome (instead of the Pantheon area), the Design District in Helsinki (instead of the Esplanade), Chiado in Lisbon (instead of Baixa or Alfama), Śródmieście in Warsaw (instead of Nowy Świat and the Old Town), Södermalm in Stockholm (instead of Gamla Stan),  the West End in Glasgow (instead of downtown), Oltrarno in Florence (instead of the historical center), and the Meatpacking District behind Copenhagen’s train station (instead of the Strøget).

Sometimes it’s as specific as finding that one street or square with just the right energy: In Edinburgh, I find wee Forrest Road ( just two blocks long, near the National Museum) a far more enjoyable place to dine than anywhere on the Royal Mile. And Oslo’s Youngstorget square — while not exactly pretty — has better food than the entire run of Karl Johans Gate.

Finding these can be as simple as googling the phrase “Florence hipster neighborhood.” Do a little scouting and figure out where locals are enjoying hanging out this year…and you will, too.

Use the train diagrams at the platform.

Have you ever hopped on the train and discovered that you’re five long, crowded cars away from your assigned seat? As you pull your wheeled bag down aisle after aisle, nudging your way past the beverage cart and stepping over backpackers napping in the aisles, you might think, “If only there were a way to get on the train at the right place!

Well, there is a way: Use the handy train composition diagrams that are posted at the tracks, usually near the arrival and departure schedules. These show where different cars will arrive along the platform — so if you’re in car 7, and the diagram tells you it’ll be pulling in around sector C…well, then, you can just hang out at sector C. Even if you don’t have an assigned seat, the chart tells you which cars are first or second class. This is one of those hacks that seems painfully obvious for those who already know it…but is life-changing for travelers who didn’t.

Take advantage of free communication apps.

My stateside mobile service provider is T-Mobile, which is ideal for people who travel frequently to Europe — since texts and (slower) data are free, and calls are affordable. But other providers — like the almighty Verizon — still charge a pretty penny for international calls and data. To avoid incurring high fees, you can turn off voice and data roaming and rely on local Wi-Fi hotspots at hotels, cafés, and other public places. (For more on this, see our article on data roaming.)

Be creative about using Wi-Fi to keep in touch. If you’re calling between Apple devices, try using FaceTime in “Audio” mode (which is less sensitive to spotty Wi-Fi than “Video” mode). It’s free, and the voice quality is astonishingly better than the cell network. Bonus hack: Even when I’m data-roaming on T-Mobile, I still make calls using FaceTime. Instead of calling my wife over the cell phone network for 25 cents a minute, I can FaceTime her on the free data connection, pay nothing, and enjoy better sound to boot.

Skype also works for voice and video calls, on any kind of device. And my European friends swear by WhatsApp, a free messaging app, and Viber, an app for voice calls. None of these is fully reliable for always-on, 24-7 communication — you have to be on Wi-Fi or the data network. But they’re all free and work great when you need them.

Share snacks on the train.

If you’re in a crowded train compartment where everyone is working hard not to make eye contact, there’s no better icebreaker than offering to share your bag of pretzels, cookies, or candy. Even for introverts, this is a great way to show your fellow travelers that you’re not only friendly, but (let’s face it) a generous, all-around good human being who would be fun to get to know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun a long train ride with 30 minutes of frosty silence, only to kick-start a party for the price of a couple of pretzel sticks. Works every time.

Use your phone’s camera (and photo roll) as a virtual notepad.

We think of our phone’s camera as a way to capture and share memories. But it can also be a practical travel tool — a way to keep track of important information.

At a Welsh B&B, I snapped a photo of the one page I needed from a hiking guidebook, rather than hauling the whole book along with me. (Or I could snap a photo of the map posted at the trailhead.) Out on the trail, if I get turned around, I can pinch-and-zoom my way around the map.

Once you start thinking of your phone’s camera this way, the possibilities are endless: If I show up at a museum and find it unexpectedly closed, I’ll snap a photo of the posted opening hours, so I know just when to swing by again later. If a pub has their handwritten live music schedule taped to the door, I can snap a photo to keep track of which night to return for traditional music. If I find a big, heavy book in a museum gift shop that I’d love to take home — but can’t spare the luggage space — I’ll snap a photo and buy it later online. And I can snap a photo of my passport, so I have those details at my fingertips when I’m checking in for a flight or filling out hotel registry forms…without having to dig around in my money belt for my actual passport.

Also, don’t forget screenshots, which are easy to take on both iPhones and Android phones. If you want to keep track of a webpage — say, a train schedule — but you know you’ll be offline when you need it, take a screenshot. When my parents asked me for tech support while I was in Spain, I took a series of screenshots to walk them through their phone’s menu. All of this stuff lives in my photo roll, always accessible, until I need it…and then I can just delete it.

Mail home dead weight.

Like snowballs get bigger as they roll downhill, travelers accumulate dead weight in their travels: souvenirs, brochures, a book from that museum exhibit that you’ll never look at again, a pair of sandals you packed before you knew it would rain the entire trip, and so on. But the postal system offers redemption to heavy packers. It takes all of 20 minutes and $50 to unburden yourself of several pounds of stuff that’ll only exhaust you more and more as your trip progresses.

One caveat here: It’s best to send things home from a country with a reliable postal system. That translates to “just about anywhere except Italy.” (I have Italian friends who would sooner pack it across the border — or walk it over to Vatican City — than entrust their stuff to the Italian Post.)

European post offices sell handy boxes in different shapes and sizes. When packing my box, I enclose everything in a plastic bag (for weatherproofing), and I ensure my address is written in several places on the box, including on a sheet of paper inside…just in case. (The one time that I sent a package from Italy, I got a call from US Customs in Memphis a few weeks later. The address panel had been torn off, but they found my phone number in one of my little notebooks tucked deep inside the box.) I travel with a very small roll of duct tape that I use to reinforce and weatherproof the box’s seams and corners.

Finally, be prepared to fill out some paperwork when you arrive at the post office — including “your” local address (i.e., your hotel), a list of what’s inside, and its approximate value, for the purposes of assessing duty. There’s no tax for up to $200 of European purchases, and anything you brought with you and are shipping back home is free.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. What are your favorite travel hacks?


Bonus Hacks: Check out my list of 10 Little Things I Won’t Go to Europe Without, and my Five Electronics Essentials.

Whether you call them “hacks” or just “tips,” we’ve got plenty in the Travel Tips section at ricksteves.com. You’ll find all the details on some of the topics mentioned here (using your mobile phone in Europe, for example), plus more: transportation, money, packing light, and so on.

For more tech advice, watch my colleague Kevin Williams’ talk on Traveling with a Mobile Device.

58 Replies to “10 Europe Travel Hacks”

  1. Packing cubes have made things so much easier, and for more than just the obvious reason. Plane seats are designed for people taller than I. A few hours in and my lower back is quite uncomfortable. I used to scrunch up a sweater to place there, but it often shifted. I now stuff a small packing cube with soft clothing I’d be packing anyway then toss it in my backpack. Makes the perfect pillow!
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

  2. Google’s project Fi has excellent coverage all over the EU and has zero extra fees. What you pay in the states is what you pay abroad. It’s been awesome in Iceland (even in the north), the UK and Germany. No complaints.

    1. Project Fi’s coverage is excellent, but you do pay $.20, that’s twenty cents, per minute for calls to European phones. I’m actually in Iceland right now and have been charged 40 cents for the two calls I made to AirBnB hosts here. Texts are free. The best thing is the coverage. My husband can’t seem to get connected to his Verizon service at all, while my coverage is amazing for a country with such wide open spaces.

  3. When venturing into unknown towns via the train in Italy, I always use my iPhone to take a photo of the tourist map posted outside the station. I wish they had a TI in the stations or a place to get local maps. These are the maps that show you where all the points of interest are. I know I can navigate by Google but nothing beats an overall look at the layout of a town for wandering around.

    1. As a geography teacher this is something I always try to teach my students, pull out, look at the big picture, and then you can understand where Google is taking you.

  4. When traveling alone in Italy, I could easily get turned around on all the little winding streets and paths in Florence and Rome. So I always took a photo of the front of my Airbnb’s building, the building across the street from it, and the view of my street from both directions so I could recognize it upon my return.

  5. If you’re looking for a VPN to spoof your location, I’d recommend ExpressVPN. Helped me save a few $ from my trip to Italy last year.

    1. this is a common practice even if you know a little about VPN and how to use it. You can even save $$$ while online purchase.

  6. Variation on the vest tip, I have a small (fit into my pocket) “dump pouch” which serves, among many things, as my airport security organizer. All those objects that I normally have in my pockets (travel paperwork, front pocket wallet, keychain with flashdrive, coins, handi-wipe packet, gum, mini-pen, mini-toothbrush etc) plus my wristwatch go into this little pouch and then into the plastic security bin on the conveyer. Post security, everything goes back to where they usually are. A place for everything and everything in its place helps me quickly notice if something is missing.

    Keep in mind that Europe especially within a city often has many different transport options, and the most popular one may not always be the best/cheapest. Like everyone flocks to airport buses because it seems the most convenient option and very well could be, but there are often also 1) safe, comfortable streetcars/light rail 2) FREE hotel/cruiseship/shopping shuttles to specific attractions, 3) cheaper local city buslines, 4) scenic ferries/water shuttles 5) convenient door to door taxis (sometimes a cheaper option if you have 3+ people going to the same place) and taxidrivers also know local culture and are chatty. 6) rental cars are actually surprisingly reasonable if your plans include touring many regional spots (for about $50 a day for a week rental, we got a small hybrid, and the freedom to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted). It paid for itself with 2 taxi rides.

  7. We are going to try the $50 USD Orange Holiday Europe – Prepaid SIM card – 10GB Internet Data in 4G/LTE on our upcoming three country European trip. As a backup, we will also take our Skyroam which gives us wifi almost everywhere you go. I prefer PIA – Private Internet Access – as a VPN. They do not log your activities and they allow torrents. I don’t know if Tunnelbear logs, but they do not allow torrents. PIA also has servers in 33 countries, so it’s easy to mask your location if you need to.

    1. We bought an orange sim card in France, but it didn’t work in Ireland so we got a new one, but we we got to northern Ireland we had to change iit again. Otherwise it worked great.

  8. Excellent advice about going off the “tourist grid”. Take Amsterdam, for example. The narrow strip from Centraal to Dam Square to Museumplein is an absolute nightmare of stoned and drunk weekender tourists, as is most of the near Jordaan. Go 2 or 3 tram stops past Museumplein and you are in another world. It’s amazing how quickly things quiet down if you just go a little bit off the path.

  9. Thanks for these valuable tips (I still like that word better than hack, which sounds like a bad cough to me). I’m technically challenged but will definitely apply myself to use the phone and wifi tips you mentioned on my upcoming trip!

    1. I’m with you Joan. I do want to try using city maps offline though. And I did actually learn to do a screen shot from this column. Hurrah.

  10. I pack small zip-style sandwich bags. They come in very handy at breakfast. I tuck away a roll or piece of fruit to eat around mid-morning, when it’s too early for lunch and my energy is waning.

  11. Here’s an “un-hack”. We take quite a few electronics that need charging at night – cameras, computers, phones, etc. So we decided to take a serious power strip with surge protector from Best Buy for this summer’s trip to France. We plugged it into the little European adapter, plugged it into our hotel outlet, and BOOM knocked the power out for the hotel room. Fortunately, we were at a big airport hotel that had circuit breakers for each room. The maintenance lady showed us where the hotel had hidden the circuit breakers and it didn’t take long to figure out that our surge protector wasn’t 240w-adaptable. We went back to a couple of short cord power strips made for travel (without surge protection) and threw away the big 110-only power strip. I always think to look at my electronics to see if they’re 110/240-capable but totally forgot to check the power strip.

  12. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are just the best. The agents treat us like real actual humans in security and my stress level associated with airports goes way down.

    I always travel with a small outlet splitter. Outlet space can be hard to come by, especially in airports, but I find that if you can turn one plug into three, people are willing to share and you may make a friend by offering up the third outlet.

    T-Mobile and Google Fi are the future of mobile, but neither are for me at the moment due to spotty local coverage or being locked into a certain model of phone. I cannot wait for the big guys to join in on the worldwide coverage!

  13. I took a picture of a statue when I got off of a tram or subway. Several hours later I couldn’t remember how to get back to that location. Then I remembered the picture. Showed it to a passerby and he pointed me in the right direction. No translation needed. Now I always take pictures, kinda like leaving bread crumbs to find my way back.

  14. Yes! Mail STUFF home! I’ve been doing it for years. DHL now often at the post offices. A suitcase from Italy; their boxes in Germany, Spain, France. In Phnom Penh, Cambodia they gave me a heavy plastic bag, saying it was much cheaper than the box I used! Always professional, patient, pleasant service. And always here in good shape on my return.

  15. A note about hotels. At an Ibis Hotel, which I highly recommend, in Germany recently, I walked in with no reservation. Found out too late that if I had e-mailed before, I would have received a discount…

  16. When we were in Italy over 10 years ago the post cards we sent took over a month to reach their intended recipients. It was cool that they called us when they received them. It reminded us of the wonderful trip and we started reminiscing all over again. I agree that anything of value should be mailed from Vatican City. Anyway, Italy has nice stamps and cool black and white postcards that are vintage looking.

  17. Save some time and use the free Mobile Passport app. It allows you to move quickly through US passport control. It’s in use at most US major airports (but not Detroit).

  18. We enjoy traveling by train, but I hate to wait for the train if we arrive at the station early and I really hate missing the train and not knowing what our options are in advance. When researching our travels I always make note of the earlier train before ours and the next train after ours. This has come in handy numerous times and my husband thinks I’m brilliant when we simply walk up to an earlier train and find a seat. By the way this only works when you do not have to have reservations or you are willing to give up your 1st class seat for an open 2nd class seat.

  19. I love the Mobile Passport app. I just used it in DFW returning from Europe. I scanned my passport & took a selfie before I flew. While in airplane mode, I filled in my trip and purchase info. As soon as I has cellular service when I landed, I sent it in. I had approval almost instantly. I passed everyone working at machines, including Global Entry. With the app, my passport, and an ID card, the immigration agent quickly sent me through. I never stood in line. I’ve used Global Entry, and will keep it for TSA Pre-Check, but Mobile Passport is much faster, easier, and cheaper.

  20. A big THANK YOU to Tom French. We are going to 6 countries in Africa very soon. This is our first trip to Africa, and I was concerned about protecting the expensive cameras, tablets, etc. in these countries, so I bought a small 3-outlet surge protector. When I read your post, I checked and – sure enough – the surge protector is 110V only. Fortunately, I already have a voltage converter for 240v to 110v that goes to up to 1600 watts, plenty for our stuff. But the surge protector has 3-prongs, and the converter has a 2-prong input. So the surge protector has to be plugged into a 3-prong to 2-prong plug. The converter has the two round prong plug typically found in Europe (and it looks like all converters have the two-prong American input and the two-prong European plug output). So the converter must be plugged into the appropriate plug adapter for that country. So it’s a surge protector plugged into a 2-prong adapter plugged into the voltage converter plugged into the appropriate adapter. It’s quite a site, but I hope it will work. Thanks to you we’ll have the set up we need to protect our electronics.

  21. Why do you call these tidbits “hacks”? Briefly, hacking is defined as chopping away at something or an unauthorized entry into a computer network. Here they are common sense pieces of advice. Global Entry for example is a great idea for those who travel abroad even once a year and its hardly a secret or a “hack”.

    From the language curmudgeon

  22. I took photos of all my packed and locked luggage and hand carries at home just before leaving. This came in handy when I was arranging to take an earlier flight on my return. My luggage had already been checked in and the agent asked what my luggage looked like so it could be transferred. I started to describe it when I remembered my photos and pulled out my ‘phone and she busily typed in what the luggage looked like. I also had colored ribbons tied to handles.

  23. My husband and I have traveled extensively by train in Europe.
    I take along an insulated lunch bag which folds flat in my luggage.
    We pack a picnic lunch and drinks in our water bottles to eat
    on the train. The bag fits in our backpacks. When we arrive at our destination we are ready to tour an area without having to take time
    and money for a restaurant meal.
    I’m a nurse and wish the term ” hack” could be eliminated. It brings to mind productive cough! Why not just use ” travel tips”?

  24. Update on my post regarding the surge protector that I wanted to use on our trip to Africa that would need a voltage converter because it is 120V. I’m a bit paranoid around electricity because of two major incidents in our neighborhood that caused damage to appliances, air conditioners, and electronics, so now everything in our house is plugged into surge suppressors. I found the following post on the RS travel forum which explains why voltage converters can’t be used with computers, cameras, phones, etc. So I’m sure a converter can’t be used with a surge protection power strip.

    The warning on the Voltage Converter is correct. This should not be used with electronic products, such as Cell Phone or Camera chargers. These are designed for high wattage appliances like Hair Dryers that consist basically of just a simple resistive heating element.

    Without getting into a technical discussion, most high wattage Voltage Converters are a “Switching Power Supply” (as are many Chargers these days) and these produce a very “noisy” AC waveform. This isn’t a concern with the products they’re designed for, as the output is converted to direct current (USB levels are 5-volts) which is inherently “smooth”. However, connecting two Switching Power Supplies together can have very unphleasant consequences (although this won’t necessarily happen in every case).

    The first thing you need to do is check the Input Voltage ratings for both your Cell Phone and Camera chargers. If these state “Input 100-240 VAC, 50/60 Hz” then you won’t need a Voltage Converter. Just a simple Plug Adapter will suffice.

    If you DO need a Voltage Converter, as Lee mentioned a Transformer model is the appropriate type, and a unit with 50-watt capacity will be sufficient as most Chargers are well within that limit.

    1. I have a power strip from PowerBear that works for 220 and 110. Does AC and USB. Don’t carry a converter anymore as all my electronic are dual voltage.

  25. Verizon offers an international plan for $10 per device, per 24-hour day for each eligible device you use. The add-on uses your plan’s allowance for minutes, texts and data. I find that to be very reasonable, especially considering the convenience of using it. Hack for this is, make sure all of your devices have the data and wifi turned off, or just turning on the device to look at something on the device, or take photos, without trying to access anything online, will trigger the daily charge. I just used it throughout Catalonia and it worked great.

  26. I mailed postcards from Budapest recently, and they took over a month to arrive. Not sure I would trust their post office with any of my belongings to be shipped home. Especially if I needed them in the near future.

  27. I sent my father a postcard from Sumatra in July. When I was visiting him for his birthday the next April, I went to the mailbox to get his mail, and there ii was…just arrived. What service!

  28. Ladies, this one is for you…you know that you buy new undies & PJ’s yearly…and you always refresh your wardrobe with a new white top and a new black top…well, don’t take these new things on your trip..take the old stuff (they probably have a little life in them still)….then toss as you go ! It’s great to feel the suitcase getting lighter as you go ! ps: European hotels aren’t into small washcloths as so many of us are…. so , buy one of those cheap packs of 8 washcloths (Target, Walmart) Toss as you go

  29. I use OsmAnd mapping app. If you download maps before you leave home you can access maps on trip without data. When traveling with our grandkids I always took a picture of them before we’d leave for the day. That way if we had to ask for help finding them I knew what they were wearing.

  30. We love the Maps.me app, which doesn’t use data. Can navigate on foot, in a vehicle, or public transit. We have used it in a forest for hiking trails as well as urban settings.

    1. I completely agree Dianne. I use the app all the time on my Ipad Mini. It’s great for watching your progress along train journeys. The only snag being to first redownload all the map updates for every region you are passing through, prior to actually passing through them, with a strong wifi source.

  31. Be careful about mailing packages home. Someone recommended this to me, so I went crazy with my shopping at the English bookstores. I ended up spending over 100 pounds shipping my books home – probably more than I paid for them. It may not pay to ship a heavy box home.

  32. For those in Washington State, get Nexus rather than Global Entry. It is half the price ($50) and you get Global Re-entry, TSA recheck and fast crossing when driving across Canadian border.

  33. We use a Solis Skyroam global hotspot that we originally bought for use at our cabin in the mountains. Couple this with our Vonage VOIP phone plan and we’ve got a phone on the road. This came in very handy when driving though France when we couldn’t find our B&B in Antibes.

  34. We were driving around France for three weeks last summer and we’re terrible packers. So we spread out our two large suitcases in the trunk and left them there. We then used our carryon bags when we went into hotels and B&Bs. We only had to handle our big bags between the airport baggage claim and the car rental spot.

  35. When leaving my car in long-term parking, I do 2 things: 1) drop a pin in my maps app to remind me where I parked my car, and 2) take a photo of the drop-off/pick-up station where the airport shuttle picks me up in the parking lot so I don’t have to try to keep it in the back of my mind during my whole trip.

  36. Often thought about sending a box of extra cargo back home but I always thought German Post rates would be prohibitively expensive.
    Thanks for the suggestion.

  37. Here’s a hint using off line google maps. Walking directions do nit work when off line. And directions via car are often the long way around the block due to onevways and pedestrian only streets. Here’s option get get around:
    1) if you have WiFi before you set off for you destination. Set walking directions, then as you leave WiFi zone the directions continue to work.
    2) take screen shot of directions in advance while on WiFi (train station to hotel
    3) depending on your cell plan, turn on data, get walking directions, turn off WiFi.

    It’s also been helpful to do street view to find hotel, and look at walking conditions to hotel (are their side walks, busy street, narrow, hilly?)

  38. My phone’s camera was my favorite resource on our trip through Italy. I snapped a picture of city maps before we entered and had one of my kids pose with each map. It was useful and I have great keepsakes for my scrapbook. Also, I took pictures of my Rick Steves tour book pages that I needed for the day and packed away the book.

  39. all good tips. Mine is: when you charge your devices at night in a hotel, turn on google photos on your phone so that your pictures are backed up onto Google Photos overnight. A good way to backup, and since they are sorted by date and place, once you get home you can quickly put together albums you can share and even websites (free) in google.

    If all you are carrying in the way of devices are small phones/ipads etc, consider getting a charger that doesn’t take standard plugs, just usb’s. That only takes up one plug in the hotel. And they’re dual voltage.

  40. Tip 1: Download the DB Navigator app (German train system app). It has the best schedule of trains all over Europe, not just Germany. I use it for planning purposes and as I’m traveling.
    Tip 2: Pack a small, flat backpack as your day bag. I have one from REI that folds up into itself, weighs nothing and has a fairly secure tight closure. It works great for either hiking or city exploring! As a woman I used to carry around a big purse with daily essentials (guidebook, camera, umbrella, water bottle, etc.), which gets really heavy on one shoulder. Two shoulder straps is the way to go!

  41. Note that due to the recent government shutdown, Global Entry interviews are very difficult to schedule now. My GE just expired and I can not schedule a new interview. Global Passport is a great backup.

  42. Another game changer for me. After having an iPhone for many years I discovered that I can set up photo albums! So, when I take those screen shots of bus stop locations, or guide books, or whatever, I can put them in a name photo album and find them more easily than scrolling through my camera roll.

    aMAZing!!! I was so proud of myself when I figure this out!

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