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If you’ve spent a while in New Zealand, you might be feeling like it’s time to try somewhere else for a little holiday. Rather than just heading home, or visiting somewhere close by, why not make it a real adventure and trek to the other side of the world – Europe?
Some people chase summer, avoiding the colder months of the year. Other people – mostly skiers and snowboarders – will go anywhere in the world there’s snow. Pick your time of year depending on what kind of traveller you are.
If you’ve learned to snowboard on Mount Ruapehu or down at Cardrona or Coronet Peak, you might be keen to keep practising your new skills. But New Zealand’s snow season is only from June until September at best – and there are only so many times you can go to Snow Planet before you get tired of the indoor environment.
Or if you feel like summer ended too quickly, or you worked all through the Christmas holidays without a chance to enjoy the sun, perhaps you need a mid-winter escape to the Northern Hemisphere, where it’s the height of summer.
But if you just don’t really mind and your schedule is flexible, stick with any time other than the European summer. You’ll save money, since accommodation and travel prices should be lower and it won’t be nearly so full of other tourists, so you can take the time to enjoy yourself – and maybe not have wait behind such a huge crowd to see things like the Mona Lisa if you like visiting galleries!
If you are fairly confident in your English abilities, you will have quite a lot of options wherever you go. Most European cities will have plenty of English language support for tourists, even if the local people don’t speak much of the language. Of course, if you want to guarantee that you’ll be speaking to people who speak English, the United Kingdom is the best place to go – although do remember that some parts of the country do have very strong accents, so be aware of that before you arrive!
In some places like the Netherlands and a lot of Scandinavia, many people will speak fluent English – although everyone will appreciate it if you put some effort into learning a few phrases in the local language. Most of the time they will realise that you aren’t a native speaker and will switch to English. This isn’t always the case in other parts of Europe, where you may need to learn a few extra phrases, or perhaps bring a language guidebook with you. Usually, if you have a guidebook, a friendly person who is willing to help and you both take it slow, you will get the answer you need. Don’t forget to learn how to say thank you in the local language!
CROATIAN – hvala (HVAH-lah)
CZECH – děkuji (Dyekooyih)
DANISH – tak (tahg)
DUTCH – dank u
FINNISH – kiitos (KEE-tohss)
FRENCH – merci
GERMAN – danke
GREEK – ευχαριστώ (ef-hah-rees-TOH)
ICELANDIC – takk (tahk)
ITALIAN – grazie (GRAHT-tsyeh)
NORWEGIAN – takk
POLISH – dziękuję (Jenkoo-yen)
PORTUGUESE – obrigado oh-bree-GAH-doo
RUSSIAN – спасибо (spuh-SEE-buh)
SPANISH – gracias (GRAH-syahs)
SWEDISH – tack
WELSH – diolch (DEE-ol’ch)
What’s your idea of a perfect trip? Visiting museums and galleries? Eating delicious food every day? Climbing mountains? Lying on beaches? We all have different interests when we’re travelling, and different places in Europe will be better than others depending on your interests.
If you’re interested in culture and history, it’s almost hard to find somewhere that won’t be suitable! But classic cities like Paris and Rome will be full of just the kind of magic you’re looking for. You can gaze at priceless paintings and walk through ancient ruins – it’s your high school history textbooks come to life!
If food is your great love, again, there is so much to try! Don’t be afraid to try somewhere a bit different – some of the Balkan states have incredible cuisine, with similarities to food from Greece, Turkey and other parts of the Mediterranean, as well as influences from their northern neighbours in eastern Europe. Or stay with the classics and spend your days eating tapas in Barcelona, pasta in Rome and pastries in Paris… hungry yet?
If it is mountains that interest you – climbing them or skiing down them – the Alps are the place to be, whether you’re in France, Switzerland or Austria. Chamonix is a beautiful resort town in France, while Zermatt sits below the mighty Matterhorn in Switzerland.
If you just want to get to know the beaches of the other side of the world, Spain is going to be a top choice, especially if you’re heading over in the ‘winter’. Winter is a strong word for what you can enjoy on the Costa del Sol or Costa Blanca, where the weather is warm and welcoming all year around.
And if you want to explore as many different places as possible, you’ll want to get a Eurail pass. Depending on how much time you have and how far you’re planning on going, you can choose between a one country pass to, a ‘Select’ pass (where you choose 2,3 or 4 bordering countries to travel around) or if you have plenty of time and a desire to see as much as possible, the ‘Global’ pass will allow you to explore up to 28 different European countries. Could you even name 28 European countries without looking them up?
It can be hard to know who to listen to – the people saying to avoid the ‘tourist traps’ and instead go off the beaten track… or the people saying that you have to see those things!
There’s no reason you can’t manage both. Think about the places that are most famous, that you most want to see – and make sure to allow time for them. That might mean riding the London Eye, or going up the Eiffel Tower or travelling out to Pisa to pretend to hold up the Leaning Tower. But make sure you allow enough time to do other things too – whether that’s having a morning to explore a cool neighbourhood, try the local food, or take some time to go shopping, or just knowing that you’ve got enough time to take a nap between activities!
You’ll have much more fun if you allow yourself some breathing room. Sometimes, that might come at the expense of visiting every single landmark – but you’ll have better, clearer memories of the special places you did visit, rather than a blur of a week where you can’t quite remember what activity came first.
One really useful thing about traveling in Europe is that most countries make it really easy to travel to neighbouring countries. But it can be a bit hard to understand the rules – since not all European countries are members of the EU… and not all EU members are part of the Schengen agreement, which allows free passage between countries with no border checks. Some countries in the Schengen agreement aren’t even part of the EU!
It’s all quite confusing. You can use the euro for payment in: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom are all part of the EU (at present) but don’t accept the euro. Andorra, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican City are not members of the EU, but they do use the euro.
When it comes to the Schengen area, most EU countries are part of it – except for Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, and the UK. And like with the euro, there are some countries that are not part of the EU, but are part of the Schengen area – in this case, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
So make sure you know where you are planning on going beforehand, so you know whether or not you will be okay to just have a Tourist/Visitor Schengen Visa, or if you will require different visas for different countries outside of the agreement area.
Depending on where you’re going and for how long, you might be able to just use a roaming pack on your cellphone – but if you’re going to be away for a while or you’re in a slightly unusual country, it might be worth buying a local sim card to use while you’re away. Be sure to tell people back home that you’ll be changing to a different sim, though – you don’t want people to be unable to contact you in an emergency and not know why their calls aren’t going through. As soon as the new sim is in your phone, send a text to the people who are most likely to get in contact with you so they know how to reach you while you’re away.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun! Not everyone has the budget for a big international trip, so make the most of your time abroad and create some amazing memories for you to think back on and that you can share with friends and family when you get back to New Zealand or to your home country. Now get out there and have an amazing adventure!