Quite a few things are worth arranging while you’re still at home — lining up these details before you travel is a big part of having a smooth trip.
Check your passport expiration; you may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within three months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close.
Make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season, for accommodations, popular restaurants, major sights, and local guides.
Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, and more. Get your bank’s emergency phone number in the US (but not its 800 number) to call collect if you have a problem. If you don’t know your credit card’s PIN code, ask your bank to mail it to you.
Do your homework if you want to buy travel insurance. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowner’s, or renter’s) covers you and your possessions overseas.
If you’re bringing the kids, make sure you have the right paperwork, including a passport for each, a letter of consent if only one parent is traveling, and documentation for adopted children.
Make copies of important travel documents as a backup in case you lose the originals.
Students should get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for discounts throughout Europe. Hostelers who’ll be staying at least six nights in official HI hostels should get a membership card.
If you’re planning to buy a rail pass, you’ll need to get it before you leave the US. Rail pass or no, it can also be smart to reserve seats on certain trains before you leave.
If you need to bridge several long-distance destinations on your trip, look into cheap flights within Europe. For the best fares, book these as far in advance as possible.
If you’ll be renting a car, you’ll need a valid driver’s license. An International Driving Permit is technically required in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain.
If you plan to use your US mobile phone or smartphone in Europe, contact your provider to enable international calling or to “unlock” your phone. Consider signing up for an international calling, text, and/or data plan, and be sure to confirm voice- and data-roaming fees.
Get a proper guidebook. If traveling with one of mine, check the Rick Steves guidebook updates page for the latest news about your destination.
Download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, and transit schedules. Check out Rick Steves Audio Europe for free, downloadable audio tours of Europe’s major sights and hours of travel interviews.
Take care of any medical needs. Visit your doctor to get a checkup, and see your dentist if you have any work that needs to be done. If you use prescription drugs, stock up before your trip. Pack along the prescription, plus one for contact lens or glasses if you wear them.
Attend to your household needs. Cancel your newspapers, hold your mail delivery, and prepay your bills.
Give a copy of your itinerary to family or friends.
Make a list of valuables that you’re bringing (such as electronics). Include serial numbers, makes, and models, and take photos of your items to serve as a record for the police and your insurance company should anything be stolen.
Because airline carry-on restrictions are always changing, visit the Transportation Security Administration’s website for a list of what you can bring on the plane, and for the latest security measures (including screening of electronic devices, which you may be asked to power up).