Travel | Travel Tips

General Travel FAQ

Luggage size guidelines: 9 x 22 x 14 inches or similar.

While the 9 x 22 x 14 is a good guideline, don't panic if your bag is a little larger. The main point is that you are able to comfortably handle all your luggage by yourself. You should be able to carry it up stairs (a lot of stairs) and have it fit in the car. Soft-sided bags made of rugged Cordura fabric work well. Backpack straps are also handy, as you may need to walk several blocks from the car or bus to the hotel. Wheeled bags have been successfully used, but make sure you are able to carry it up several flights of stairs and/or over rough ground and uneven cobblestones. (Some wheeled bags also come with backpack straps.)

This will also insure that your luggage will fit in the car/mini-van for transport with the group.

Should I carry on my luggage or check it through?

Always carry your camera gear and film on the plane. I recommend that you also carry a  few personal items (change of clothes, medication, glasses/contacts) in case your luggage gets detoured and does not arrive when you do.

When you can carry your luggage on the plane, it's less likely to get lost, damaged or stolen. You don't have to worry about it when you arrive, you can leave the airport immediately. Keep in mind that most airlines limit your carry-on size and weight. Most airlines allow a height, length, and width combined of 45 inches and a weight limit ranging from 13 to 70 pounds for international flights or 50 pounds for domestic flights. Check with your airline for their specific restrictions. If you check your bag, make sure you keep certain essentials with you on board the plane: all valuables such as money, passport, tickets, etc. (which should be in your money belt under your clothes); all medications; cameras and film; glasses and contact lenses, etc. It's also a good idea to carry on your toiletries kit and a change of clothes in case your bag is delayed or lost. Finally, don't forget to label your bag inside and out with your name as well as the name, address, and phone of your first hotel. Many people find it helpful to tie a colored ribbon on their bag or have some unique way to distinguish it from other look-alike bags.

Tripods should go in the checked luggage or inside the carry-on. Tripods attached to the outside of carry-on bags are not allowed on airlines - you will be required to check it and it will most likely be lost!!!

How strenuous are the trips?

The trips are physically active with a lot of walking (2 to 10 miles a day), standing while sightseeing, carrying camera gear and stair climbing. Age is not a concern as long as you are physically fit and a strong walker. You must be able to carry all of your own luggage and camera gear all of the time. The ground transportation (bus, taxi, subway, etc.) is not always able to park directly in front of the hotel so be prepared to walk up to 15 minutes with your luggage. In some cases, we leave our bus and use other public transportation to reach the hotel. Whether you are 20 or 80, before you leave for Europe, get in shape. Walk at least an hour every day and hike up lots of stairs.

Do you have age restrictions for your trips?

There are no official age restrictions for the trips, but we do have some guidelines. All travelers must be at least 18 years of age to travel unaccompanied by an adult. The trips are heavy on education and adult activities (photography, art, history, architecture, museums, dining, shopping, etc.) and very photo-centric, things non-photographer companions find boring. (photo field trips, discussions, etc.)

How much money should I bring?

This is largely determined by which trip you take, your pre- and post-trip plans.

Trips include group sightseeing admissions, most meals, most transportation (airfare is often separate, because some people like to use air miles or upgrade tickets), all hotel or lodging expenses, etc. as detailed in the itineraries.

You will need to bring enough money to pay for your extra meals, beverages at meal times, snacks, souvenirs, additional transportation costs and entrance fees during your free time, shopping, etc.

On a typical two to three week trip, the average person spends between $35 and $70 per day. On longer trips the cost drops to $15-$25 per day, because most of the expenses are paid for in the trip costs.

Guide and driver tips are extra and will be collected on the trip. A tip is normally $3 a day for guides and $1.50 a day for drivers. We do not have guides and/or drivers every day of every trip, but the tips need to be paid upon receipt of service.

An ATM card or Credit Card with cash advance - with a 4 digit (number) PIN is the best choice for getting additional money. Arrange this one month before the start date of the trip.

The AMEX - traveler's card (replaces traveler's checks - no one wants to take these anymore), works like an ATM or credit card. Cash and travellor's checks are discouraged - it can be difficult or time consuming to have cash exchanged, and the exchange rates are not favorable. The group is not required to wait for anyone needing to find an exchange office - you will be left behind.

Do I need to have a Visa, Shots, or an International Driving Permit?

U.S. & Canadian citizens do not need visas for Western Europe, except for Turkey.

No shots are currently required for travel in Western Europe or Turkey. You should, however, check with your doctor to see if you're up to date with regular immunizations such as tetanus, hepatitis, tuberculosis, etc.

If you're renting a car, truck or scooter before or after a trip, an International Driving Permit is not required in most countries, just your regular U.S. driver's license. Some exceptions are Austria, Spain, and Hungary (you can get an International Driving Permit from AAA for $10). Check with any car rental agency for other country-specific requirements such as highway-use windshield stickers or theft insurance.

Do I need to speak a foreign language?

While it's not necessary to be fluent, it is nice to master a few basic courtesies such as “Hello”, "Please", "Thank you", "Where is the restroom or toilet?", etc.  Language Phrase Books are available at most bookstores and online from $8 and up depending on length and complexity. Language CDs and tapes are also available.

Safety precautions!

  • Have a photocopy or Xerox copy or two of your passport and airline tickets, (do not carry your passport & tickets around with you, keep them in the hotel safe).
  • Never use an unmetered taxi from any airport or train station.
  • Beware of pickpockets and gypsies in airports, train stations, and tourist areas - you can easily lose everything. (pickpockets can be anyone from10-year-olds in groups, teen-agers, and cleanly dressed adults, beware; keep your money and other valuables closely guarded (possibly in a money belt or in your front pants pocket, lock/secure all bags and backpacks).
  • Bag snatching is also popular - use a simple backpack, or a bag that can be worn across your body (not a shoulder bag). Backpacks are more comfortable for an entire day of photography and site-seeing. When in crowds, airports, train stations, etc. wear backpacks and bags on your front to keep people from cutting the bottom of the bag or pockets and reaching in.
  • Do not leave your baggage, backpacks and camera bags alone for any reason - ever, do not let a kind stranger watch them for you. You may not see them again.
  • Make a list of your camera gear and serial numbers, give one copy to your insurance agency before you leave, bring 2 copies with you.
  • Europe is relatively safe, petty theft and pickpockets are the biggest hassle.

What should I pack?

You will definitely want to pack light. Each person is allowed to bring one airline carry-on-size bag or wheeled bag of approximately 9" x 22" x 14" that weighs 70 lbs or less for international flights or 50 lbs. or less for domestic flights, plus a day bag/backpack and your camera bag. Remember that you will always carry your own luggage. Some hotels and most villas do not have elevators.

Camera Equipment

Bring what you want, but make careful consideration of what you will use, an extra camera body is optional, but will help if you have an equipment failure. Put in new batteries before you go and bring another set of batteries along. Serious photographers will want to bring a protective and polarizing filters, wide-angle lens, mid-range zoom lens or normal lens, telephoto or long range zoom lens, mini-tripod or light weight tripod, and lens cleaning cloth. (Clean and check your camera thoroughly before leaving for any trip.)

Plan on shooting 100-200 images per day when not in class - plan a trip's worth of film or memory cards. Digital fans will need plenty of memory storage (or a digital wallet for downloading memory cards or a portable computer) or a plan for e-mailing / FTPing images or burning CDs/DVDs abroad, plus adequate batteries, chargers, voltage and/or plug converters.

Film: 3 to 6 rolls of 36 exposure / 35mm film per day
Film: 25 to 40 rolls of film for 1 week

Digital: 1GB memory card or equivalent per day (based on 10MB file size, plan accordingly). Some days will be heavier shooting days, some days will be lighter depending on the planned activities. You can download to digital storage device or portable computer daily.
Digital: 2 to 4 one GB memory cards or the equivalent (minimum of 2 memory cards) per week, 2-4 rechargeable batteries, charger and converter plug.

Store everything in a low-profile backpack or roll-on, not an expensive-looking camera bag. Label your gear with your travel e-mail address in case a good Samaritan finds it before a thief.

On a daily basis, take only that which you can carry comfortably. As a test, put everything you want to carry daily in a backpack (or other camera bag), go for a good 30 minute to 1 hour walk. Make adjustments to your gear and/or bag as necessary to make sure it will be comfortable, because you will be carrying it all day every day.  

Tripods should go in the checked luggage or inside the carry-on. Tripods attached to the outside of carry-on bags are not allowed on airlines - you will be required to check it and it will most likely be lost!! If you have not purchased a tripod, make sure to get one that is lightweight, yet sturdy and will fit into your checked baggage or suitcase.

Clothing and Personal Items

  • SHIRTS. Bring up to five short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirts in a cotton/polyester blend. Arrange mix according to season.
  • SWEATER. Warm and dark is best for layering and dressing up. It never looks wrinkled and is always dark, no matter how dirty it is. Some people prefer fleece jackets or cardigans with buttons or zippers.
  • PANTS. Bring two pair: one lightweight cotton and another super-lightweight for hot and muggy big cities, and churches with modest dress codes. Jeans can be too hot for summer travel. Non-wrinkling linen or tencel is great. Many like lightweight pants/shorts with zip-off legs. Front pockets or buttoned pockets are safest for your small, daily stash of cash.
  • SHORTS. Take a pair with plenty of pockets – can double as a swimsuit for men.
  • SWIMSUIT. For women, who probably won't be comfortable in just shorts.
  • UNDERWEAR AND SOCKS. Bring several sets (lighter dries quicker).
  • SHOES. Take one well-used, light pair, with Vibram-type soles or soft soles and good traction. I like shoes by Rockport, Ecco, Easy Spirit, Sketchers, any good comfortable walking shoe. Sturdy, low-profile-colored tennis shoes with a good tread are fine, too. (If you bring a second pair, make them light, such as sandals.)  Do not bring new shoes, they will only hurt your feet. A trip is not the time to break in new shoes.
  • JACKET. Bring a light and water-resistant jacket with a hood. Gore-Tex is good if you expect rain. For summer travel, I wing it without rain gear, but always pack for rain in Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. I have needed a large coat in Scotland and northern England in July, a medium coat in Paris in July, and only a sweater or fleece in Italy in the winter - it is difficult to predict.
  • TIE OR SCARF. For instant respectability, bring anything lightweight that can break the monotony and make you look snazzy.
  • MONEY BELT. It's essential for the peace of mind it brings. You could lose everything except your money belt, and the trip could still go on. Lightweight and low-profile beige is best.
  • MONEY. Bring your preferred mix of a credit or debit card, an ATM cash card, an optional emergency stash of traveler's checks (I do not recommend traveler’s checks, they are difficult to use), a couple of personal checks, and cash. Bring American dollars for situations when you want to change only a few bucks. I rely on an ATM card with a credit card and cash as a backup. Make sure your ATM or CASH ADVANCE CREDIT CARD has a 4 number PIN. Informing your Credit Card company you are traveling outside the U.S. can be helpful and avoid your card being temporarily put on hold. 2 credit cards are helpful in this case. Most European establishments prefer VISA or MasterCard.
  • DOCUMENTS AND PHOTOCOPIES. Bring your passport, airline ticket, rail pass or car rental voucher, driver's license, student I.D., hostel card, and so on. Photocopies and a couple of passport-type photos can help you get replacements if the originals are lost or stolen. Carry photocopies separately in your luggage and keep the originals in your money belt.
  • RESERVATIONS. You'll want a careful record of all reservations (bring the hotels' written confirmations) along with a trip calendar page to keep things up-to-date as your trip evolves. We take care of this for you if you have booked through us or our tour operator.
  • SMALL DAYPACK/Backpack. A small daypack is great for carrying your sweater, camera gear, literature, and picnic goodies while you leave your large bag at the hotel or train station. Fanny packs (small bags with thief-friendly zippers on a belt) are a popular alternative but should not be used as money belts. I know people that use a regular backpack as a daypack/backpack/camera bag. I highly recommend any type of backpack over a shoulder style camera bag, easier on the body and helps prevent back/shoulder pain.
  • ZIP-LOCK BAGGIES. Get a variety of sizes. They're great for packing leftover picnic food, containing wetness, and bagging potential leaks before they happen. The two-gallon jumbo size is handy for packing clothing.
  • WATER BOTTLE. The plastic half-liter mineral water bottles sold throughout Europe are reusable and work great.
  • WRISTWATCH. A built-in alarm is handy. Otherwise pack a small travel alarm clock. Wake-up calls are not always reliable.
  • EARPLUGS. If night noises bother you, you'll love a good set of plugs such as those made by Sleep-well.
  • FIRST-AID KIT. A small kit with Band-Aids, blister kit, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, thermometer in a hard case, Tylenol or equivalent, cold and diarrhea remedies, etc.
  • MEDICINE and VITAMINS. Keep in original containers, if possible, with legible prescriptions using generic drug names.
  • EXTRA EYE GLASSES, CONTACT LENSES, AND PRESCRIPTIONS. Many find their otherwise-comfortable contacts aren't practical while traveling. Bring your glasses and lens prescription just in case. Contact solutions are widely available in Europe.
  • TOILETRIES KIT. Sinks in hotels come with meager countertop space and anonymous hairs. If you have a toiletries kit that can hang on a hook or a towel bar, this is no problem. Put all squeeze bottles in zip-lock baggies, since pressure changes in flight cause even good bottles to leak. Consider a vacation from cosmetics and perfume. Bring a small roll of toilet paper or tissue packets (also sold at European newsstands).
  • SOAP. Not all hotels provide soap. A plastic squeeze bottle of concentrated, multipurpose, biodegradable liquid soap is handy for laundry and more.
  • CLOTHESLINE. Hang it up in your hotel room to dry your clothes. The handy twist kind needs no clothespins.
  • TOWEL. You'll find bath towels at all fancy and moderately-priced hotels, and most cheap ones. Although $30-a-day travelers will often need to bring their own towel, $60-a-day folks won't. Washcloths are rare in Europe - bring one if you want to use one. I bring a thin hand towel for the occasional need. Many travelers also recommend thin, quick-drying, synthetic towels such as Travel Towels (various sizes available at travel stores & places like Target & Wal-mart - look in the travel or camping sections).
  • SEWING KIT. Clothes age rapidly while traveling. Your flight attendant may have a freebie for you. Add a few safety pins and buttons.
  • TRAVEL INFORMATION (MINIMAL). Rip out appropriate chapters from guidebooks, staple them together, and store in a zip-lock baggie. When you're done, give them away.
  • MAP. Get a map best suited to your trip's overall needs, and pick up maps for specific local areas as you go.
  • ADDRESS LIST. A list of e-mail addresses and mailing addresses will help you keep in touch. Taking a whole address book is not packing light. Consider typing your mail list onto a sheet of gummed address labels before you leave. You'll know exactly who you've written to, and the labels will be perfectly legible. Or just send mass e-mails as you go (bring a shrunk-down print-out of your e-mail address book in case you can't access it online).
  • NOTEPAD AND PEN. A tiny notepad is a great organizer, reminder, and communication aid (for sale in European stationery stores).

Optional Bring-Alongs - I rarely bring these, as I opt for more photo gear instead.

  • PICNIC SUPPLIES. Bring a small tablecloth to give your meal some extra class (and to wipe the knife on), salt and pepper, a cup, a washcloth (to dampen and store in a baggie for cleaning up), and a Swiss Army-type knife with a corkscrew and can opener (buy the knife in Europe if you plan to carry your luggage on the plane), *picnic ware for dining in a civilized manner. A plastic plate is handy for picnic dinners in your hotel room.
  • SUNGLASSES AND SUNSCREEN. Depending on season and destination.
  • ROBE, OR NIGHTSHIRT. Especially for women.
  • INFLATABLE PILLOW for snoozing on trains, planes, and beaches.
  • HAIR DRYER. People with long or thick hair appreciate a hair dryer in the off-season, when hair (and laundry) takes a long time to dry and it's cold outside. Look for a small, lightweight model with a built-in voltage converter; you'll also need the appropriate plug adapter. Hair dryers are generally provided in $100-plus hotel rooms.
  • SPORT SANDALS OR FLIP-FLOPS. Good for avoiding dubious shower floors as well as beach-combing.
  • SLIPPERS. Great for the flight and for getting cozy in your hotel room.
  • FLASHLIGHT. A small one is handy for late night trips down the hall, exploring castle dungeons, and hypnotizing street thieves. Don't forget fresh batteries and a set of spares.
  • BOOK OR MAGAZINE. There's plenty of empty time on a trip to either be bored or enjoy some good reading.
  • POSTCARDS FROM HOME AND FAMILY PHOTOS. A zip-lock baggie of show-and-tell things is always a great conversation piece with Europeans you meet. (Don't bring irreplaceable photos.)
  • JOURNAL. An empty book to be filled with the experiences of your trip will be your most treasured souvenir. Use a hardbound type designed to last a lifetime, rather than a spiral notebook. Attach a photocopied calendar page of your itinerary.
  • RADIO, CD or MP3 PLAYER, or TAPE RECORDER. Partners can bring a Y-jack for two sets of earphones. Some travelers use microcassette recorders to record concerts, church bells, tours, or journal entries.
  • COLLAPSIBLE CUP.
  • OFFICE SUPPLIES. Bring paper, a highlighter pen, envelopes for receipts and ticket stubs, and sticky notes to mark your place in guidebooks and novels.
  • DUCT TAPE. You never know when a small roll may come in handy!
  • FOLDING UMBRELLA for photographers, check out the ones that can be clamped onto a camping chair, they attach nicely to tripods.
  • TINY LOCKS. Use to lock your backpack and day bag zippers shut, also any luggage left in the hotel room.
  • SPOT REMOVER. Bring Shout wipes or a dab of grease remover in a film canister.
  • INSECT REPELLENT. Especially for France and Italy.
  • GIFTS. Local kids love T-shirts and trading cards; gardeners appreciate flower seeds. Small enamel pins from your hometown are also popular.
  • RAIN PONCHO. Hard-core vagabonds use a poncho as protection in a storm, a ground cloth for sleeping, and a beach or picnic blanket.

Packing List for Women - from Rick Steve's

For many years, Rick Steve’s has included his packing list in his budget European travel skills book, Europe Through the Back Door. Women wrote and said his list didn't consider their travel needs.

Tour Diva Joan Robinson teaches one of our most popular travel classes, "Packing Light 101." She has created this packing list for women.

Clothing - Black is a good travel color, it can be worn more than once.

  • 1 pair of walking/comfortable shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals (weather permitting)
  • 1 rainproof jacket
  • 2-4 pairs of shorts/capris/skirts
  • 2 pairs of pants (one dressy, one casual), 1 belt
  • 1 swimsuit (packed in a plastic bag)
  • 5 pairs of socks (cotton blend)
  • 5 pairs of underwear (silk, lace, or micro-fiber dries quickest)
  • 1 extra bra
  • 4-6 shirts (long/short-sleeved, various colors)
  • 1-2 light cardigans for layering
  • 1-2 skirts (wrinkle-resistant)
  • 2 dresses (optional)
  • 1 hat
  • scarves (to wear with clothing or hat)
  • 2 vests (optional)
  • 1 pair of pajamas (or long shirt to get you to the bathroom down the hall if necessary)
  • Toiletries/Medicine
    Body soap/puff (washcloth); most European hotels do not supply washcloths
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Brush/comb
  • Lotion
  • Vaseline (for feet)
  • Razor (non-electric)/shaving cream or soap
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent
  • Prescription drugs (in original container with your name and your doctor's name, write down generic name)
  • First aid kit/moleskin/blister kit
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Deodorant
  • Nail clippers/file/tweezers
  • Spare glasses and/or prescription, mini-eyeglass repair kit, or contact lenses and supplies
  • Hand sanitizer - I like the individual packets
  • Vitamins
  • OTC remedies (whatever works for you): Pepto, decongestants, benedryl, etc.
  • Clothesline, sink stopper, soap
  • Baby powder (dry shampoo for hair)
  • Money and Security
  • Money belt: Passport, plane ticket, debit card, credit cards, traveler's checks, rail pass, driver's license (if you're renting a car)
  • Security: Bury copies of your passport, plane ticket, and prescriptions in the bottom of your luggage

Packing Essentials

  • Pack light, wash frequently, buy it if you need it.
  • Your pack should weigh about 20% of your body weight, preferably no more than 20 pounds.
  • Limit yourself to one carry-on size bag: 9" x 21" x 14".
  • And of course your camera gear.
  • A week before your trip, pack your bag with everything you think you want to take, and carry it around for a day. Is it comfortable? Too heavy? Better to know now than later!

Last updated Sunday October 1, 2006