0EU MapTravelling Europe

I have already writ­ten twice about plan­ing a driv­ing trip around Europe, but since those art­icles I have also done a non-driv­ing European trav­el­ling hol­i­day, and am cur­rently plan­ning anoth­er trip. This post is inten­ded as a com­pre­hens­ive start­ing point for plan­ning any trip around Europe.

Travelling by car

Documents, paperwork, equipment & regulations

There are a range of travel doc­u­ments that you should take with you if you are driv­ing in Europe.  You must of course take your drivers license in case you are required to prove you are entitled to drive the car.  You may also be asked for proof of own­er­ship of the vehicle so take your V05 doc­u­ment.  An insur­ance cer­ti­fic­ate is also often reques­ted at the bor­der of some coun­tries so it is advis­able to take a copy of this, includ­ing a “green card” if you can obtain one from your insurer.  Finally, an “inter­na­tion­al driv­ing per­mit” is advis­able and only costs £5 from the post office.  The AA has more inform­a­tion about IDP’s.  Anoth­er form­al doc­u­ment I always take is a European acci­dent report form — these can be used in the event of an acci­dent with anoth­er party where neither of you speak the lan­guage of the oth­er.  Hope­fully this isn’t some­thing you’ll ever need to use, but the peace of mind is valu­able.  These forms can be down­loaded for free.  The last paper thing I advise tak­ing is an up-to-date European road atlas, just in case you get lost and your tech­no­logy fails.

A range of safety equip­ment is also required when driv­ing in many European coun­tries.  Since most of it is fairly small and none is too expens­ive it isn’t a bad idea to get a full set and keep it in your car even in the UK.  These include 2 breath­alys­ers, a warn­ing tri­angle, a first aid kit, a reflect­ive vest, head­light con­vert­ers, a GB stick­er, a fire extin­guish­er, a set of spare bulbs, and a set of spare fuses.  I also like to take a small torch.  It goes without say­ing that you should take a spare wheel and the tools to change a wheel in the event of a flat tyre.  Some coun­tries actu­ally require that you carry a “full size” spare, but in all hon­esty we have ignored this and taken whatever spare came with the car.

The last offi­cial inform­a­tion you should make your­self aware of are the driv­ing reg­u­la­tions for each coun­try you plan to pass through.  These include speed lim­its, the mean­ings of signs, and oth­er spe­cif­ics, for example the use of head­lights is required even in day­light in some coun­tries, whilst speed cam­era data­bases are banned in oth­ers.  The AA has a good list of all the vari­ous reg­u­la­tions for each coun­try.

Tax and Tolls

If you are used to driv­ing in the UK you prob­ably aren’t used to pay­ing tolls to drive on the roads.  Many European coun­tries do how­ever have sig­ni­fic­ant road tolls, includ­ing our nearest neigh­bour France.  Oth­ers, for example Ger­many, have free roads like the UK.  Hav­ing an idea of these costs is import­ant so that you can take into the account the cost of vari­ous routes, and so that you have the appro­pri­ate cur­rency avail­able.  Some coun­tries also require you to pur­chase road tax with either an elec­tron­ic num­ber-plate recog­ni­tion sys­tem, or with vis­ibly dis­played tax discs inside the car.  The route-plan­ning web­site ViaMich­elin provides pretty accur­ate inform­a­tion about the costs of any route.  For spe­cif­ic inform­a­tion about the taxes and tolls in each coun­try I recom­mend Tolls.eu.  Many of the tax discs can be paid for in advance, the most com­pre­hens­ive site I have found is TollTickets.com, although it isn’t always quite as cheap as offi­cial out­lets.

Fuel

Fuel has dif­fer­ent names in Europe — it is worth mak­ing a note of these in advance to ensure you don’t end up put­ting the wrong fuel in your car.  “Dies­el” is a fairly wide­spread term for Dies­el fuel, but it is also some­times called “gazole”.  Pet­rol is usu­ally iden­ti­fi­able by the 95 or 98 after the name, with 95 being reg­u­lar unleaded and 98 being premi­um unleaded.  Pet­rol is also often called “super” or “euro” or a com­bin­a­tion of the 2.

Typ­ic­al fuel prices can be found on fuel-prices-europe.info.  The prices there are kept up-to-date and tend to be reas­on­ably accur­ate. As in the UK the cheapest fore­courts are often at super­mar­kets, whilst motor­way ser­vice sta­tions often have a premi­um price.  Prices do vary by coun­try so it is worth think­ing about where you will fill up.

It is some­times pos­sible to buy fuel from gar­ages in “no mans land” between bor­ders.  The prices at such sta­tions are often very cheap, but I have nev­er taken the chance as these gar­ages are effect­ively oper­at­ing out­side any clear leg­al jur­is­dic­tion.

Eating on route

On some jour­neys you might want to eat on route near the road without divert­ing espe­cially for food.  There are of course ser­vice sta­tions along most major European routes just like there are along UK motor­ways.  Heston Blu­menth­al wrote an art­icle for the Guard­i­an news­pa­per a few years ago identi­fy­ing a few of the best.  Oth­er than these I under­stand the Itali­an AutoGrill chain are regarded as bet­ter than most, and the Ger­man Nord­see chain appar­ently do good qual­ity fish and sea­food which is cer­tainly a step up from the stand­ard UK offer­ings of fried chick­en, bur­gers and chips.

If you aren’t trav­el­ling a major route with ser­vice sta­tions, or don’t want to stop at all, you might want to take a range of car snacks.  This is gen­er­ally a good idea any­way, espe­cially if tak­ing chil­dren.  There are lots of web­sites out there offer­ing car friendly recipes, but a lot of them are clearly designed with cool boxes and stop­ping at pic­nic spots in mind, where­as “car snacks” to me means food you eat inside the car whilst mov­ing.  The key dif­fer­ence is that messy foods aren’t suit­able for eat­ing in a car that you might be spend­ing many hours in.  There are still foods which make sat­is­fy­ing snacks, make little mess, and will last for more than 1 day without refri­ger­a­tion.  A list of snacks I recom­mend is below

  • Seed­less bagels
  • Bana­nas
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cher­ries
  • Bottles of water
  • Sweets / mints
  • Sug­ar snap peas
  • Flour tor­til­las
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit (e.g. apricots, cran­ber­ries, rais­ins, banana)
  • Beef / pork jerky
  • Cer­eal bars (not chocol­ate)
  • Cherry toma­toes
  • Crisps
  • Small crack­ers (e.g. ritz bis­cuits)
  • Cheese strings / baby­bels
  • Dry cer­eals

Travelling by public transport

Finding trains

You can vis­it almost any­where in Europe by train, and usu­ally at good speed and in good com­fort.  If there are sev­er­al people the train does seem to work out a little more expens­ive than driv­ing (your own car), but you can do oth­er things whilst on the train, and it gets you dir­ectly from city centre to city centre much faster than the car.  This has the obvi­ous advant­ages that the major­ity of inter­est­ing sights, hotels, and res­taur­ants are in city centres.

stand­ard fares are often over­prices, just as they usu­ally are in the UK.  Much bet­ter value fares are avail­able if you know where to look.  The site for plan­ning rail travel in Europe is undoubtedly ‘The Man in Seat Sixty-One’ which has everything you could pos­sibly want to know about how to get between major European cit­ies in the fast­est, most scen­ic and best value ways.  The Ger­man rail site bahn.com is an excel­lent back-up for find­ing jour­ney times, routes, and some­times prices, for just about any route you can ima­gine.

Booking ferries

Fer­ries are prob­ably the trick­i­est thing to suc­cess­fully book in Europe.  Many routes don’t run every day, most have very dif­fer­ent sched­ules in dif­fer­ent sea­sons, and a lot don’t pub­lish their timetables more than a few months in advance on the Eng­lish lan­guage parts of their sites.  In gen­er­al it is best to book dir­ectly via the oper­at­or if pos­sible as I have exper­i­enced instances of travel agents selling tick­ets for a route that the oper­at­or stops sail­ing.  This last sum­mer we arrived at Pir­aeus to col­lect our tick­ets on the day of travel, only to be told the tick­ets had been can­celled and that I had been refun­ded.  Of course when I double checked I hadn’t been either noti­fied or refun­ded.  We were lucky that we found an altern­at­ive ferry com­pany on the day that had spaces avail­able.  To find the oper­at­ors of the routes you need it is usu­ally easi­est to start with a site like Dir­ect Fer­ries, but I still recom­mend book­ing dir­ectly with the oper­at­or if pos­sible.

Anoth­er tip with regard to fer­ries is not to be unduly wor­ried by stor­ies or reviews online claim­ing that fer­ries are unpleas­ant, dirty, etc.  I have sailed on a good num­ber of fer­ries in the Medi­ter­ranean, oper­ated by French, Itali­ans, and Greeks, and in all cases the boats have been very sim­il­ar the the sort of boats encountered when cross­ing the chan­nel.

Getting cheap flights

If you want to include flights on your travels, by far the best cheap-flight web­site I have found is Sky­Scan­ner.  Fares in peak sea­son to and from the UK are still pricey, but flights with­in Europe can be found very cheaply.

Where to go and what to see

The obvi­ous place to start for places to vis­it is the mighty Trip Advisor.  You can eas­ily get reviews and rat­ings for the major­ity of vis­it­or attrac­tions any­where in Europe.  How­ever, trip advisor does act like a pop­ular­ity con­test — the things the almost every­one liked will be at the top, but if you want to exper­i­ence the best places that aren’t swamped with tour­ists they’re unlikely to be on trip advisor!  Find­ing “off the beaten track” places online is obvi­ously dif­fi­cult because once someone has writ­ten about them they gradu­ally stop being “off the beaten track”.  At the time of writ­ing the best coun­tries for escap­ing the tour­ists are the former com­mun­ist states and new EU mem­bers Romania and Albania (and to some extent Bul­garia).  By the time you read this they may well be the new darling of the tour­ist world — let’s hope they don’t get spoiled by their own suc­cess.

Regard­less of what coun­try you vis­it, it is always pos­sible to find places that are less vis­ited, but find­ing them requires more research and ideally some spe­cial­ist loc­al know­ledge.  To get star­ted, the European Par­lia­ment has a yearly list of places to see that are little-known, with one in each mem­ber state.  So far they have pub­lished lists in 2013, and 2014, but sadly there hasn’t been an edi­tion for 2015.  If you are mainly plan­ning to vis­it major European cit­ies then Spot­ted by Loc­als has some use­ful city guides.  The guides unfor­tu­nately aren’t free, but for only $2-$3 per city they are afford­able on all but the tight­est budgets.

The best way to find less vis­ited places to vis­it is by fol­low­ing loc­al know­ledge.  Real­ist­ic­ally this means find­ing spe­cial­ist web­sites for each coun­try, or even region.  Below I have lis­ted sites that I can recom­mend. The list is cur­rently very lim­ited but I will keep it updated with any oth­er sites I find and will also add any good sites that are recom­men­ded in the com­ments.  If you have any recom­mend­a­tions please let us know.

Western Europe

Bel­gi­um

France

Ire­land

Neth­er­lands

Ger­many

Switzer­land

Scandinavia

Den­mark

Fin­land

Sweden

Nor­way

Central Europe

Aus­tria

Czech Repub­lic

Slov­e­nia

Hun­gary

Slov­akia

Southern Europe

Italy

Spain

Por­tugal

Greece, Greek Islands, Cyprus

Malta

Balkans

Albania

Ser­bia

Bos­nia

Croa­tia

Mace­do­nia

Montenegro

Eastern Europe

Poland

Romania

  • https://romaniadacia.wordpress.com/
  • http://www.wonderful-romania.com/

Esto­nia, Latvia, Lithuania

Bul­garia

Belarus

Ukraine

Where to stay

Choos­ing places to stay is a very per­son­al thing so I wont be recom­mend­ing spe­cif­ic hotels, or even types of accom­mod­a­tion.  Each trip I’ve booked I’ve been look­ing for slightly dif­fer­ent com­bin­a­tions of facil­it­ies and prices myself, and find­ing the most suit­able accom­mod­a­tion is prob­ably the most sig­ni­fic­ant part of the plan­ning of a trip for me.  I’ve used lots of sites over the years, but have settled on a com­bin­a­tion that has worked well for the last few years.

Start by mak­ing a list of “must haves” and “good to haves” and a tar­get price point.  Also think care­fully about the loc­a­tion — if you are using trains to get around most cit­ies have a cent­ral sta­tion so city centre hotels make the most sense.  If you are driv­ing then I recom­mend look­ing at accom­mod­a­tion on the out­skirts of town so you don’t have to drive into city centres which is stress­ful and time con­sum­ing.  I have always man­aged to find good accom­mod­a­tion on the edges of cit­ies and by check­ing metro / under­ground routes and ser­vices, it is usu­ally pos­sible to stay near the motor­way and near rap­id trans­port via which you can vis­it the city

Once you have an idea of the price, facil­it­ies, and loc­a­tion it is time to start find­ing pos­sible prop­er­ties.  I always start with booking.com because their search allows the selec­tion of lots of facil­it­ies and options, and they have a lot of accom­mod­a­tion in every city.  If you select “busi­ness” as your travel pur­pose, you can select “free can­cel­la­tion” as an option which is some­thing that I have found really use­ful in the past.  If like me you have sev­er­al cri­ter­ia (a score of at least 7/10, air con­di­tion­ing, free park­ing, WiFi, free can­cel­la­tion) and an approx­im­ate loc­a­tion in mind you will be able to nar­row down your options to a man­age­able list.  I then search for each of these options on Trip Advisor to see what the gen­er­al review score is like.  Don’t let the odd poor review put you off, espe­cially if the author has a small num­ber of reviews — trip advisor doesn’t veri­fy reviews.  If you input your dates Trip Advisor will also find the price to book on a range of sites includ­ing booking.com so you can check that the price on booking.com is com­pet­it­ive.  It usu­ally is, but not always!

A couple of final things to check before you book are the check-in and check-out times, and the bed con­fig­ur­a­tion.  If you are trav­el­ling with friends you prob­ably want twin rooms with two single beds, rather than double rooms with one double bed.  This is the one thing I always for­get and usu­ally only real­ise just as I’m about to book.  This is frus­trat­ing, because if the accom­mod­a­tion only offers double beds and you want singles you have no choice but to go back to your ori­gin­al list and start look­ing again

If you are unable to find suit­able accom­mod­a­tion this way then you can widen your search by going back to trip advisor and search­ing there.  The search options are not as power­ful and you will have to spend longer check­ing each option to see if it meets all the cri­ter­ia you are look­ing for.  If trip advisor also fails to turn up suit­able accom­mod­a­tion I recom­mend try­ing Hostel Book­ers, Hostel World and Expe­dia

If all of the above fail you can try your luck with some of the hotel com­par­is­on sites but you will prob­ably have to reduce the num­ber of facil­it­ies you require, increase your budget, or vis­it some­where else!

Foreign money

The intro­duc­tion of the Euro has made travel money in Europe quite a bit sim­pler, but there are still a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of coun­tries that don’t use the Euro.  It is easy to find both cur­ren­cies and exchange rates via google so I wont cov­er those here, instead, I think more use­ful advice is the best way to get and change money.

Cards

Cred­it and deb­it cards have sev­er­al advant­ages over cash, and for some hotel and almost all car rent­als a card is required.  Almost all busi­nesses in major European cit­ies accept Visa and Mas­ter­card cards, and cards are now accep­ted even in many more rur­al parts of south­ern and east­ern Europe.  Most work with the chip and pin sys­tem, but don’t be sur­prised if you are also asked to sign.

It is a good idea to noti­fy your card issuer that you are trav­el­ling as some may block trans­ac­tions from abroad unless they have been noti­fied that you are trav­el­ling.  I have nev­er had this hap­pen to me, but I know oth­er people who have, it seems to depend on your card issuer.  I travel reg­u­larly, so my card issuers are used to for­eign card use.  It is also highly advis­able to take more than 1 card.  I once watched as a fuel sta­tion attend­ant idly flexed my fath­ers cred­it card in his hand whilst filling the tank with pet­rol, and without warn­ing the card snapped in half, if we hadn’t had oth­er cards it could have made the hol­i­day very dif­fi­cult.

The best way to spend money abroad in gen­er­al is on a cred­it card, espe­cially if you can get one that gives you the true exchange rate without any fees.  At the time of writ­ing there is a Mas­ter­card offered by the post office which has no fees and uses the Mas­ter­card daily rate which I used suc­cess­fully for sev­er­al years.  There are also a few oth­er cards cur­rently which offer equally good deals.  Money Sav­ing Expert always has an up-to-date guide, so take a look there.

Deb­it cards are gen­er­ally not as good, and cash with­draw­als almost always entail being charged a fee some­where in the chain.  Always with­draw cash in the loc­al cur­rency — not in pounds.  Many cash machines will offer to do the con­ver­sion for you — the rates for doing this are very poor — you will be bet­ter off let­ting your bank do the con­ver­sion.

Cash

If you want to take a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of cash with you, you will want to get the best rate pos­sible in the UK.  Money Sav­ing Expert again has the best tool for com­par­ing a large range of online bur­eaux ser­vices.  The range of deals avail­able is com­plex but by using the tool and put­ting in how much you want to exchange it will find the best over­all deal.  Deals tend to be bet­ter the more cash you get, so if sev­er­al of your travel party need cash it might be worth club­bing togeth­er and doing a single order.  Pay with deb­it card, as a cred­it card will treat the trans­ac­tion as a cash with­draw­al which will usu­ally come with fees or charges.

Security

Secur­ity is under­stand­ably one of the biggest con­cerns for many trav­el­lers, with many European cit­ies being notori­ous for pick pock­et­ing, theft and petty scams.  On the pos­it­ive side, European cit­ies are gen­er­ally much safer than most oth­er parts of the world in terms of viol­ent crime, so once you’ve taken reas­on­able steps to secure your pos­ses­sions you shouldn’t have too many oth­er con­cerns.

As a gen­er­al rule thieves tar­get­ing tour­ists are creatures of oppor­tun­ity — you job is to reduce the oppor­tun­it­ies that you present.  My favour­ite ana­logy is the life tip “you don’t have to run faster than a bear, you just have to run faster than the per­son next to you”.  A typ­ic­al thief will identi­fy the easi­est high value tar­gets — so take steps to avoid being one of them.  The most import­ant thing is being alert and aware all the time — you don’t want to be bumped, brushed or dis­trac­ted, so try to anti­cip­ate these kind of things and steer clear of them.  Of course, in major cit­ies, espe­cially on pub­lic trans­port, this is often easi­er said than done, so any oth­er ways your can con­vince thieves that you’re a poor tar­get are worth con­sid­er­ing.

Small items: Cash, cards, phones, etc

Try to avoid car­ry­ing large sums of cash.  If you use the cards recom­men­ded in the “money” sec­tion it is quite pos­sible to tour around Europe without ever hav­ing more than €100 or so on your per­son.  Keep your valu­ables some­where secure — either in a good sized wal­let in a tight pock­et (e.g. your front jeans pock­et), or in a money belt, worn around your waist under your clothes.  A good pick­pock­et may still be able to get at these, but you’re not try­ing to out­run the bear!  If there aren’t many people about it is easy to keep space between you and poten­tial pick­pock­ets, if you’re in a busy space then there will be easi­er pick­ings!

Reduce your apparent value

If you choose to stroll around covered in gold and dia­monds, don’t be sur­prised if you attract unwanted atten­tion.  Think about your appear­ance and try to avoid look­ing too flashy.  The same goes for using cash — don’t flash a wal­let full of €100 notes to a crowd of people — stick with €5, €10, and €20 notes like the ones you’d use at home.

Electronics

Record the seri­al num­bers of valu­able elec­tron­ic items (phones, cam­er­as, laptops, etc) and register them (for free) with Immob­il­ise, a data­base used by the police when they recov­er stolen prop­erty.  Immob­il­ise also sell secur­ity stick­ers which are small but eas­ily catch the eye.  A thief may well be able to get the stick­er off, but it’s extra work, and if you’ve bothered with a stick­er you might have taken oth­er steps (e.g. record­ing the IMEI num­ber of your phone and get­ting it blocked if stolen) that could make any­thing stolen worth­less.  Like many of the oth­er tips here, it’s no guar­an­tee, but you just made your­self a lower value tar­get

Cameras

Digit­al cam­er­as, espe­cially digit­al SLR’s, are very com­mon pos­ses­sions for a tour­ists.  They’re also valu­able and eas­ily resellable on the black mar­ket.  Of course, if you have the strap well secured (e.g. diag­on­ally across your chest) they’re harder to steal.  Thieves will gen­er­ally only tar­get unse­cured ones so don’t leave it on the table of the road-side cafe whilst you have a drink!  If you have a high value cam­era how­ever, some thieves are will­ing to try oth­er ways to take it, for example slash­ing the strap with a knife and then zoom­ing off on a motor­bike.  You can address both your risk of being tar­geted and the chance that the thief will suc­ceed by repla­cing the strap on your cam­era.  Many cam­er­as print the make and mod­el of the cam­era on the strap — a huge “steal me” flag to thieves who know which mod­els are valu­able.  I can per­son­ally recom­mend the Pac­Safe Carry Safe straps which are avail­able for around £30.  This strap gives no clue as to the make and mod­el of the cam­era, and even if a thief did try a slash and run, it con­tains steel wire which would pre­vent the strap from being cut.

Bags

It is unusu­al to get bags or pos­ses­sions stolen from private rooms in hotels, because any hotel where this happened could expect it’s repu­ta­tion on sites like Trip Advisor to take a sig­ni­fic­ant hit.  Your bags are much more likely to be tar­geted whilst on your back, or if you sleep on trans­port (e.g. fer­ries or night trains).  A small lock on the zip­per of a bag is enough to dis­cour­age most oppor­tun­ist­ic thieves when you have the bag on you.

The most com­mon attempts to steal from a bag on trains and boats seems to be an attempt to quietly take the whole bag whilst you are sleep­ing.  Secure your bag with a lock to a sol­id object like the leg of a bed, a radi­at­or, or sim­il­ar.

Packing list

Below is my stand­ard start­ing-point pack­ing list for a European hol­i­day.

  • Pass­port
  • Tick­ets / book­ing ref­er­ences
  • Music Play­er & head­phones
  • Cam­era & accessor­ies
  • Spare memory card
  • Card Read­er
  • Spare Bat­ter­ies
  • Bat­tery Char­gers
  • Mobile Phone and Char­ger
  • For­eign Sim Cards
  • House keys
  • Books / Magazines / Kindle
  • Swim­wear / Goggles / snor­kelling gear
  • San­dals / Flip-flops
  • Anti-moz­zie spray
  • Sunglasses
  • Plasters
  • Euro Health Card
  • Travel Insur­ance Docs
  • Addresses for post­card send­ing
  • Sun cream (check use-by-date)
  • Driv­ing license
  • Watch
  • Inter­na­tion­al driv­ing per­mit
  • Ankle socks
  • Pen / Paper
  • Small mag­net & dis­count card (to turn on hotel room power without key)
  • Beach Towel(s)
  • Tea bags
  • Sports fix­ture list
  • Anti­sep­tic cream
  • Tooth­brush / paste
  • Anti­per­spir­ant
  • After­shave
  • Shav­ing Foam
  • Shaver / Blades
  • Facial Scrub
  • Shower Gel
  • Light-trousers
  • 7-days of under­wear
  • Play­ing Cards
  • Anti-itch cream (fen­istil)
  • Any med­ic­a­tion required
  • Cur­rency (for­eign and UK)
  • Travel Sick Bands / Ginger pills
  • Second bank card (cred­it card ideally)
  • Beach toys

Internet access & communication

A major­ity of accom­mod­a­tion across Europe now offers WiFi, usu­ally for free.  This is great for whilst you are at your hotel, but I find I mainly use inter­net access for google maps nav­ig­a­tion, and for trip advisor for places to eat when out and about and so anoth­er option is needed

Free WiFi

There are often free WiFi hot­spots in cafe’s etc, which can work when out and about.  If you are a BT broad­band cus­tom­er then you will have access to their large net­work of “FON” hot­spots which can be very use­ful.  Many pub­lic build­ings, for example museums, often also offer free WiFi.  Some people may be able to get by just using WiFi in this way

Mobile phone roaming

All mobile phone net­works in the UK now offer some kind of roam­ing deal for Europe.  “Three” is best known for its “feel at home” deals which extend to some European coun­tries, but by no means all.  European legis­la­tion will (hope­fully) even­tu­ally make roam­ing free across the EU (June 2017 is appar­ently the date for this), but until then the offers con­tin­ue to change on a reg­u­lar basis, so I advise look­ing at Money Sav­ing Expert for an up-to-date guide.  One option I can sug­gest con­sid­er­ing is iD Mobile from carphone ware­house.  This net­work “piggy-backs” on Three, and with their “TakeAway” pack­ages offers free roam­ing in all EU coun­tries.  A warn­ing though — not all of the plans are “TakeAway” plans, so check care­fully what plans you’re look­ing at.  I used roam­ing data without restrict­ing myself for 2 weeks in sum­mer 2015 and used around 1Gb in a 2 week peri­od.

Information to pre-prepare

I usu­ally pro­duce a “travel doc­u­ment” with a page for each day that con­tains the key inform­a­tion.  This havs proven really handy over the years as a quick ref­er­ence in the morn­ing.  Below is an example image

planning-travel

As well as the above daily plan­ning doc­u­ment I usu­ally take a range of oth­er inform­a­tion includ­ing a sports fix­ture list, metro maps, and detailed inform­a­tion about trans­port links in cit­ies — e.g. what metro line do I need, what is the ter­minus sta­tion in the dir­ec­tion I’m going (because they’re always labelled in the dir­ec­tion of the ter­minus they are trav­el­ling towards), what stop do I want to get off, and how many stops is that from where I get on.

Photography tips

The fol­low­ing is a gen­er­ic “start­ing point” list of cam­era set­tings for a range of scenes you might want to pho­to­graph on hol­i­day.  It is aimed at people using DSLR or sim­il­arly cus­tom­is­able cam­er­as

Mountains, the big outdoors

  • Wide angle lens – around 15mm ideal
  • Tri­pod
  • Use the built-in “spir­it level” sys­tem
  • ND grad fil­ter – to address the sky being much bright­er than the ground
  • Small aper­ture – ideally around f/16 – f/22
  • Eval­u­at­ive meter­ing – accounts for the whole scene
  • Check his­to­gram – if it doesn’t reach the right hand end the fil­ter is too dark

People

  • AF point on the eyes
  • Use a 50–100mm lens a bit of dis­tance away to avoid dis­tor­tion
  • Use A/V mode and use a large aper­ture, e.g. f/1.8
  • Burst mode – take mul­tiple shots
  • For mul­tiple people use smal­ler aper­tures – around f/8
  • Try avoid flash at night, but DO use it in the day!
  • Shoot into the sun with the sub­ject block­ing it
  • Facial shad­ows are tricky at mid­day

Buildings

  • Use small aper­ture – f/13 – f/16
  • ISO 100–200
  • Use a polar­iser
  • Use dis­tance and a medi­um focal length to avoid dis­tor­tion
  • Zoom in on details
  • Sun behind you usu­ally best

Coast

  • Make sure hori­zon is hori­zont­al – could use tri­pod and built in “spir­it level”
  • Use wide angle – 10–24mm
  • Use an inter­est­ing fore­ground
  • Use ND8 fil­ter with long expos­ures – around 0.5sec for waves
  • Use 30sec expos­ure to blur the sea
  • For wave crash­ing use burst mode
  • Long night expos­ures also work
  • For bright sand con­sider using +1 expos­ure com­pens­a­tion to stop it look­ing grey rather than white
  • Sun behind you usu­ally best

From moving car

  • Use Shut­ter pri­or­ity – TV mode
  • Use a fast shut­ter – 11000 min­im­um
  • Use a wide aper­ture – f/2.8 — f/5.6 to blur win­dow stains and get plenty of light in des­pite the fast shut­ter
  • Get the cam­era as close to the win­dow as pos­sible
  • Use ISO to get more light if needed, up to 2000
  • Servo focus mode as dis­tances will change
  • Use burst mode
  • Could put ISO on auto and use the “lim­it” set­ting to pre­vent it going too high

Night Stars

  • Tri­pod essen­tial
  • Expos­ure 15 – 30 seconds. Longer will show “star trails”
  • Largest pos­sible aper­ture – e.g. f/2.8
  • ISO max­im­um without noise – around 2000 or so
  • Widest pos­sible angle lens – fisheye great
  • Use mir­ror lock-up to reduce cam­era shake
  • Use RAW so post-pro­cessing can improve the col­ours

Moon

  • Max­im­um zoom – 400mm ideally
  • Tri­pod
  • Mir­ror lockup
  • Low ISO – 100–200
  • Medi­um aper­ture for max­im­um cla­ri­fy – around f/8
  • Plenty of light so fast expos­ure should work – around 1/125sec
  • Auto white bal­ance often works best, if it’s too orange, use tung­sten or cloudy

People at night

  • Stick to 1/60sec or faster
  • Use lenses which can get to f/2.8 or bet­ter
  • Use ISO 1600–3200

City skylines at night

  • Use aper­ture pri­or­ity with medi­um aper­ture around f/8
  • Keep the ISO low 100–200
  • Use long expos­ure – up to 30sec
  • Use brack­eted mul­tiple expos­ures – basic­ally the auto HDR mode
  • Post pro­cess using lumin­os­ity masks
  • Take mul­tiple expos­ures for car trails
  • Post-pro­cess for bar­rel dis­tor­tion in wide angle

General night scenes without movement blur

  • Use -1 expos­ure com­pens­a­tion to keep back­ground dark
  • Use fairly high ISO – 1600

Moving light sources

  • g. fire­works, fair­ground rides, traffic, light­ning
  • f/11 or so
  • Long expos­ure 15–30secs

Sunsets

  • Low ISO – 100
  • Use day­light white bal­ance
  • Con­sider an ND fil­ter
  • Use a small aper­ture – f/13 or so
  • Use a fast expos­ure
  • Rule of 2 thirds

Food (evening)

  • Angled back­light­ing needed
  • Use the white bal­ance set­tings in the even­ing
  • No flash
  • 1/60sec expos­ure or faster
  • Highish aper­ture – around f/2.8 – f/5.6
  • Keep under ISO 1600

Travel Reading

I have a sep­ar­ate post with sug­ges­tions and brief reviews of a range of travel books.

 

Maps

Digital Maps

See my sep­ar­ate post with lots of google maps of Europe and European cit­ies.

Paper maps

Whilst digit­al maps, like those above, are great, it is often handy to have a paper map avail­able.  Sev­er­al pub­lish­ers pro­duce “pop-up” map books which eas­ily fit into a pock­et and con­tain detailed maps of city centres along with oth­er use­ful inform­a­tion.

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