A trip to Europe is great anytime you can swing it, but for a typical American-style vacation of only 1-2 weeks, the ideal time to go – for reasons of lower airfare, optimal weather and fewer fellow vacationers – is in the May/June and September/October time frames.
Credit cards provide the best rate of exchange, so bring your preferred card and a couple of different ones for backup. Not many places take American Express. Also, call your credit card companies and let them know your travel dates and destinations. Otherwise, they will see international use and may suspend your card out of fraud concerns to protect both you and them. Parking ramps and toll booths take credit cards, which is very convenient. However, you will need some Euro. So, especially if you arrive very early in the morning, exchange some money at the airport before leaving because banks will not be open at that time.
Most package vacation tours suck. Go with 1, 2 or, at most, a small group of like-minded people.
Car or van rental is ideal for controlling your own destiny. Make sure you get a newer model GPS and full insurance. In the USA, personal coverage typically only covers vehicle rentals in the USA. Your coverage usually does not extend to rental contracts abroad, but double check with your agent. With all the narrow roads and tight driving spaces, it’s almost a guarantee that you will at least ding the car and have to pay for repairs that exceed the cost of insurance. The real payoff is in the peace of mind you will have when you back into those small steel poles that protect trees along boulevard parking stalls that you simply cannot see through the back window nor in any mirror. Not to mention all the other factors that negatively impact your driving abilities: fatigue, literally hundreds of roundabouts, unfamiliarity with the routes, European road sign symbols that seem to make no sense (in fact, review them online before you leave, and practice a few roundabouts, too), etc. A driver has enough to worry about, and the insurance will help make for a more pleasurable trip.
Bring your “A” game, 5-speed driving skills (automatics are hard to come and are more expensive), and the front passenger should serve as navigator – even with a GPS, which are never perfect. Should you miss a turn – even with a GPS and navigator, it does happen – just relax because the GPS will re-calculate. Also, stay out of the far left driving lane unless you’re going 120mph or very quickly passing someone in the middle lanes(s).
Americans get hung up on Europeans, especially the French, and worse still the Parisians, being mean or not liking them. Firstly, it’s not all you. They typically treat everyone the same even fellow French. Relax and realize that there are many frustrations that can occur on a European trip. It’s all part of the fun and adventure.
No obnoxious American behavior or clothing. It’s amazing how many tourists – afterall, that’s what we are – openly fulfill the ugly American stereotype! The goal is not to necessarily blend in, but to not stand out. So, as patriotic and proud as we both are, no American flag emblems nor symbols that reveal our nationality. Also falling into that category: shorts, baseball caps, fanny packs, loudness, calling unwanted attention to yourself, etc.
A rule of thumb is that the center of most village and cities is that the centre ville (town center) presents the best options for lodging, restaurants, sightseeing, etc. Set the GPS accordingly.
Cuban cigars in Europe are authentic when purchased at any tabac. There is no embargo of Cuba in Europe, so there is no market for fakes. Unlike in the USA and Mexico, where most all Cubans are fake. However, Cuban cigar quality has suffered in recent years and quality varies from cigar-to-cigar within each box. So, if possible, light up in the store or in close proximity to the shop at which you purchased them, in the event you need to return one or two.