Next Tuesday I’m flying off to Europe for my latest Viking river cruise. This year’s voyage will take me from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with stops in France and Germany along the way. And I’ll be adding a few days in and around London before heading home. That means I’ll be visiting multiple countries – which brings up a few unique challenges.
Taking a trip to a foreign country requires you to make a few accommodations: maybe a different language, a different currency. But travelling through several countries on one trip compounds the difficulties; it’s like resetting your life every few days, with technical hurdles to overcome.
So as I prepare for this trip, I thought I’d list some of the challenges visiting multiple countries creates, and some suggestions for how to cope with them. Here’s my list:
Handling your money in Europe is simple because everybody uses the euro, right? Not so fast. Not all countries use the euro, and on this trip I’ll be visiting two that don’t: Switzerland and the United Kingdom. That means I’ll have to deal with three currencies. What to do?
I could go to Europe with a big bundle of euros, Swiss francs and British pounds. Or I could take the opposite course: just take a credit card and debit card, then use ATMs to get local currency. But I’ve been in places where my debit card didn’t work, so that’s still a bit risky. In the end, I did a compromise. I bought some euros and pounds in Toronto. Then I’ll use my euros for the first few hours in Switzerland (at a bad exchange rate), and get some francs as soon as I find an ATM. And just to be safe, I’m also bringing some Canadian dollars to change if needed — always good to have several options.
Keeping in touch
I always bring my handy HP Stream laptop with me when I travel. That lets me run this website, find information I need on the internet, and stay connected through e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. I can even Skype with it, if I want. But the world runs on cellphones these days, and on this trip I’m going to use mine to keep in touch.
I could get a roaming package from my cellphone provider. That would cost $8 a month, and give me low rates for some — but not all — the countries I’m visiting. But there’s another solution: many people now buy a SIM card when they get to Europe, put it in their phone and use it like a local. The cards are sold at electronics stores, news stands, even from airport vending machines. A typical card might include 500 minutes of calling time over 30 days, with texts; some also include data services. (If you want more information on SIM cards, Rick Steves has written a good primer.)
That’s a lot to think about. But it gets more complicated. Since I’m visiting multiple countries on this trip, I’ll probably need an international SIM card. And the next question is, where should I buy it? My first stop is Switzerland, but it’s the most expensive country in Europe. Should I wait and buy a card in Germany, or pick one up at Schiphol Airport on the way in? Stay tuned.
It’s always wise to check for visa requirements, and especially when you’re visiting multiple countries. It’s easy to overlook an entry restriction when you’re planning a big trip. Happily, because of the Schengen treaty, most of Europe has no borders: get your passport stamped once and you’re in.
However, as with the currencies, it’s not quite that simple. Switzerland is not part of the European Union: do I need a visa? The answer is no. The country is included in the Schengen zone, so no problem. The U.K., on the other hand, is a member of the EU — at least for now. But it’s not in the Schengen zone. However, as a Canadian, I don’t need a visa there either. Still, I’m glad I checked: if you’re concerned about the visa requirements of any countries you’re visiting, this post offers some useful resources.
The language issue
One of the amazing things about Europe is how many languages you hear spoken over a limited stretch of land. This trip is taking me through two foreign language zones: French and German (Switzerland counts as both, since French and German are commonly spoken there). Luckily, I speak a little of both languages, and even a few words of British (how’s about a nice cuppa?). But even if you don’t, it’s not a big issue in most of Europe. English is widely spoken in tourist areas, and it’s the language in use on Viking river cruises. Still, if you’re anticipating some language challenges, it’s a good idea to have Google Translate on your phone, tablet or computer.
That’s a quick look at the challenges you’re likely to find when you’re visiting multiple countries, at least in Europe. Of course, there are cultural differences too, which can lead to all sorts of interesting problems: leave a comment if you’ve encountered any that have given you pause.
So, I’m off Tuesday for what promises to be a spectacular tour of Europe, crossing many borders and using many currencies. You’ll be seeing posts on every country, and of course, a good look at my time on the Viking Hlin river ship. I hope you enjoy it as much as I will.