Travelling to Europe can be one of the most fulfilling dreams of a lifetime. Still, it can be costly and tedious, especially when the American dollar doesn’t hold particularly well to the Euro in terms of trade value. There are, however, a few insider tips to make traveling par avion to Europe much easier, more comfortable and more economic.
Seeing as no invented car or train can cross the Atlantic, one of the most important parts of a trip to Europe is the flight itself-and booking flights requires a great deal of pre-planning and mental work, besides the searching on the Internet. Set your travel dates early-at least six months ahead-and be flexible at first. Many times, both hotels and airfare will be cheaper when you choose the “flexible traveling dates” option. Simply put, flights need to be filled. Vacant seats lose air companies a great deal of money when the profit margin that they make per flight is extremely small. The same is true of hotels. Also, while many times it is a good idea to book flights early (and it’s indeed a mental relief), it can sometimes be more advantageous to wait closer to your departure time to actually book (not investigate) flights for the same reason-airplanes need all their seats filled, and if it means offering lower rates, the companies will do whatever is necessary to put customers in their seats. For instance, when I recently was traveling to Europe, the first time I checked airfare for my trip (about 5 months prior), a roundtrip ticket was over $1000. One month away from my departure date, airfare had gone down to a little over $600 for the same flight. Keep in mind though, it is still important to be constantly investigating websites like Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and CheapAirfare-and also to be mindful of their policies. Many times companies will run specials where they offer no booking fees, a factor which will save you a good $20 or more at times. Be mindful also of the companies’ refund policies; some, such as Orbitz, offer a credit sent back to you if another customer books your same flight at a lower rate. Still other times, these companies will offer travel packages that can be truly advantageous to the wallet and which provide you with accommodations and a flight.
When you do decide to book your flights, sign up for the frequent flier program offered by your airline. Generally, it’s free, and why not acquire miles on a transatlantic trip? Also, most if not all companies offer benefits to their frequent fliers, including priority pick on seats. More seasoned veterans of the air know how important seating arrangements can be on a transatlantic flight, and, no matter your age, this is a true statement. Many travel search engines allow you to pick your seats-if you have the opportunity to do so, choose exit row seats-always, and beyond a shadow of doubt. It’s always better to sit closer to the front of the plane, and exit row seats are always clearly marked on the plan of a plan, and they are the first to go. Especially on transatlantic flights, when you are airborne for nine or more hours, leg room is critical for the best of us, and exit row seats can certainly make a flight much much more comfortable with twice the leg room as normal seating. If you find yourself unable to book exit row seats at first, call the airline company closer to your departure (which is necessary to confirm your flight anyways), tell them that you are a member of their frequent flier program, and ask if there are any exit row seats available. It is not uncommon that airlines will reserve exit row seating for frequent fliers upon request, and that such seating will come up as booked or taken on travel companies’ availability. Likely this is because the airlines don’t sell these seats online, but on upon request, exit seats are relatively easy to get. The only requirements are that the customer is aged over 15, can lift 52 pounds, can speak and understand English, and does not require extended seating (for those with heavier and bigger builds).
Be aware of the policies of the airline on which you are booked prior to departure. Flights booked after mid-April 2009 now charge extra fees for a second bag, even on transatlantic flights. Thus, be informed of your specific airline’s policies so as not to be unpleasantly surprised. Buy sturdy but light luggage, and be sure to put a clear form of identification and locks on it. A neon colored ribbon or a brightly colored tape helps you to easily spot your bag, which, among the hundreds of black pieces of luggage out there for purchase, can be a definite issue. If at all possible, bring only one checked bag to the airport, that is, only one piece of luggage which will be stored in the belly of the plane. These bags generally cannot exceed 50 pounds-so pack light! And remember that bottles of hairspray and such can be packed in checked bags-just not in carry-on items. Bring a large backpack as your carry-on item so as to avoid any extra charges associated with checked bags. Be sure that any valuables you have with you are in your carry-on bag, and even though it will be with you the majority of the flight, still take the time to lock your backpack or carry-on item. It’s certainly no way to begin a vacation finding out that your money has been stolen.
All in all, traveling can be made relatively easy and not so heavy on the pocketchange if a few steps are taken to ensure it. Airfare is a costly expense, but cutting corners and getting the most for your money will undoubtedly give you a better journey and the peace of mind knowing that you have stretched your dollar to its utmost.