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Why leaving the US to visit Europe for the first time is easier than you think

spain and portugal with Contiki

Dreaming of that Euro Summer but scared of taking the leap across the pond? What if we told you it’s actually not as hard as you think. Sure you may dread flying for 6+ hours and we all get that TSA anxiety: “what if I’ve accidentally packed scissors in my carry-on?!”. Trust us, you haven’t, and you’ll be fine.

Everything is scary the first time you do it, but are you really going to let fear bar you from experiencing the sheer awesomeness of Europe, of an entire continent? No! Fear is the mind killer, so don’t let it rule you. With the help of some fellow Americans who have recently been to Spain and Portugal with Contiki, we’ve created a handy dandy guide for you to show you just how easy leaving the US to visit Europe for the first time actually is (especially if you do it with Contiki).

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Flights

Right, so unless you want to spend a week on a boat crossing the Atlantic you’re going to have to hop on a flight to get to Europe. Flights to Europe are sooo incredibly common that you’ll basically be able to get one any day of the week you need (provided you’re flying to a major city).

Flight time

Flight time varies depending on where you’re flying from and to, but you can count on AT LEAST 6 hours if you’re departing from the east coast and 9 hours if you’re departing from the west coast. Here are a few examples:

You should keep in mind that connecting flights and layovers (where you stop over at an airport in between your departing and arriving locations, either to refuel the plane or switch to a different one) will take longer. A layover will generally take around 1-2 hours, though they can be longer or shorter depending on the airline you choose to fly with. All this information will be given to you ahead of time.

“The flight from the US isn’t REALLY that long. Grab a good pair of headphones and a pillow, and next thing you know, you will be in Europe!” says Marissa Meizz, and we second that. “Plus, no matter how tired you are, you don’t have to worry about the rest of your vacation since it’s already set and planned with Contiki…”

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When is the best time to fly?

The best and cheapest times to fly to Europe can depend, but we recommend booking your flights at least 2 months ahead of your trip so you can have some extra peace of mind when it comes to that planning stage. Summer will inevitably be a busier time for Europe flights, and they’ll also be slightly more expensive, so that’s something to keep in mind. 

What about jet lag?

Don’t worry about jet lag too much, it’s honestly not that bad and there are loads of ways to combat it! But once you arrive in Europe you’ll be so excited to explore that you’ll be desperate to stay awake anyway. 

Here’s some advice from Vinny Mui: “It’s not too bad, but as a seasoned traveller I would recommend trying to sleep on the plane to set you up for the local time in Europe. For example if you land at 8AM, try to sleep on the flight so you’ll wake up in the morning and take a nap during the day if you need to. But if you land at 11PM in Europe then you should try not to sleep on the flight at all, and instead sleep at your hotel when you get there.”

spain and portugal with Contiki

Image source:Contiki

Any flying tips?

“Choose an aisle seat for easy bathroom access, use a neck pillow or fluffy jacket for sleep, and stretch every 2-3 hours. If you want a gold star, wear compression socks.” Thanks, Cy!

Apart from that, relax. Your pilot knows what they’re doing, and you’ll be given meals (though, let’s be honest, aeroplane food really isn’t that great, so get some snacks) and plenty of entertainment along the way. 

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The airport

Navigating an airport for the first time? No worries, it’s not as daunting as it seems. We’ve broken it down into easy steps:

Departures

Arrivals

Documents

Travelling on the whole is quite easy: “once you get your first trip out of the way, you’ll feel like an absolute expert,” says Marissa, but there are a few crucial documents you need to be able to leave the country.

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Getting around Europe

The great thing about Europe is that once you’re there, it’s soooo easy to travel elsewhere. From in-continent flights to train travel, you’re fully covered when it comes to moving from country to country. And most major European cities are fitted with super easy-to-use and convenient public transport options like trams, underground trains, and buses, so you won’t have to rely on expensive Ubers all the time. 

No matter where you want to go, there’s an easy route waiting for you. To make it even better, your Contiki coach will take you for you!

How far in advance should I plan my trip?

Vinny has an answer for you! “It’s really up to you and when you can make it work, sometimes the flights are cheaper when booked within a certain timeframe. Depending on when you’re able to travel you could either look at flight costs first, or book your Contiki trip first and figure out the flights later.”

If you’re the anxious type then planning flights and time off ahead of time will be to your advantage. If you like to go with the flow then do just that. This is your holiday and it’s not meant to be a stressful experience, so however far in advance you think you need to prepare so you’re not chomping at your nail beds the night before is the right time to plan!

And like Vinny said, if you’re travelling with Contiki then there’s nothing to worry about ‘cos we’ve got it sorted for you.

spain and portugal with Contiki

Image source:Contiki

Travel people are happy people

If at any point during your travels you need a helping hand, just ask! We get that travelling out of the country for the first time can be a stressful experience, whether you’re going solo or not, but we’ve all been there, and people are kinder than you think.

There will be plenty of help at the airport should you need it, whether you ask a fellow traveller or someone from the airport staff. And once you arrive at your destination you can ask for help as well! One of the biggest perks of travelling with Contiki is that you’re outfitted with a friendly and knowledgeable Trip Manager right from the get-go!

Marissa shares your concerns, but has this to say: “Trying to navigate a new country alone can be stressful, especially if you don’t speak the language. But Contiki plans everything for you and equips you with a Trip Manager who will act as your expert guide! They’ll know the best spots around the city and they can take care of everything for you.”

And Cy adds: “During my trip, I got lost (I’m extremely directionally challenged) multiple times, but a quick message to my Trip Manager set me on the right path (and once they personally came to find me)! I’m typically super stressed out on trips but found that I was able to completely chill and turn my brain off for the first time ever while travelling. It was a true delight!”

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Should I go solo or with friends?

This depends entirely on your level of comfort, and both solo travel and traveling with friends have their benefits. If you’re ready to step out of your comfort and seize the day (and the world), then we definitely recommend going solo! “I think there’s something so special about solo travel, it forces you to step out of your comfort zone. You get to experience new things on your own and really get to know who you are.”

If you’re desperate for a travel buddy though, you’ll make plenty of new friends with Contiki! From the many world-wide travellers hopping on the trip with you to your roomie, you’ll never be bored. “Solo travelling with Contiki is the best of both worlds in my opinion: I joined my trip alone, not knowing anyone, but I came out of it with some new friends for life all around the world.” It seems Vinny’s become our biggest advocate…

And Cy, too! “I think it’s the most fun to have a combination of both, which is one of my favourite things about travelling with Contiki. They give you free time if you want to wander off and chill alone, but there are also so many built-in activities that you’ll definitely make friends no matter what!” 

spain and portugal with Contiki

Image source:Contiki

If I’ve never left the US before, what are 3 things I should know?

Great question! Here’s some advice from our 3 American travellers.

Cy:

Vinny:

First off, congratulations! I’m so proud you’ve decided to visit a different country for the first time – travelling has been the best thing to ever happen to me, and I hope it will be for you too. 

Marissa:

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