I’ve got good news: you may have already surpassed the highest hurdle to traveling to Europe in the off-season. Namely, the willingness to go when it might be slightly colder than you are used to on vacation. But here is a quick checklist that we’ve put together to help you get over the teeny tiny hurdles that may come up.
- Get Over the Weather
- Let’s start with the biggie. If you are hanging out on this site with us, it’s probably because you are interested in traveling to Europe in the winter (or maybe it’s our irresistible charm and inventive wit, let us dream). But perhaps you are still unsure if the off-season is for you because the weather will be terrible. If your winter is filled with snow, the vast majority or Europe is going to be warmer than where you currently live. If you live in place where it rarely snows in winter, southern Europe will feel normal to you and northern Europe will be a little colder than usual. Be adventurous, try something new, you might just like it!
- Pack the Right Clothes
- If you are north of the Alps, you will want a heavy coat and hat in the winter. South of the Alps, the hat will be optional on most days and a medium or light coat will be fine. The real trick to traveling in the winter is layers. Make sure that your sweaters match all of your pants and each other so you can mix up outfits! Europe is surprisingly mild in the winter, if you want lots of snow you really have to get into the mountains.
- Check When Sites are Closed
- Most of the major sites are open in the off season will be far less busy than in the summer. If you are in a major city, expect sites to be closed on December 25 and January 1, with less popular sites closed on the days surrounding those dates. If the visiting hours are reduced at all, it will be only minimally on most occasions. In small towns the story is different. See our article on getting stuck in Italian paradise on January 1.
- Benefit From Cheaper Flights
- Flights are usually just as easy to find with trouble to only the most seasonal locations. To the major cities, there will be multiple flights a day to choose from. However, most airlines use the hub and spoke method when flying over an ocean. So it’s unlikely that you will be able to go directly from Chicago to Malta anytime of the year, and thus you really aren’t going to have fly more in the off-season than you would in the summer. Psssst, the-not-so-secret secret is that flying in the off-season is cheaper.
- Consider Using Cash vs. Credit Cards
- Regardless of the season, Jane and I always bring enough cash for a couple of days, especially if we are traveling to eastern Europe where the payment systems are slightly less developed. Will your credit card work? Almost certainly. Should you use it? Probably not. Unless your card does not charge international fees, you could be adding $3+ to each purchase and that expense really adds up over two weeks. Check with your bank or card issuer before using it.
- Make Sure you Have a Passport
- If you are an American citizen, all you will need is a passport and not a visa. Make sure you apply for your passport at least six months in advance to avoid last-minute panic. If you already have a passport, it’s always a good idea to check the expiration date before clicking “purchase” on those airplane tickets!
- Stay Safe
- It’s always a good idea to exercise caution and location awareness while traveling, and it’s a good idea to check with your local government’s travel warnings before taking a trip. If you are from the U.S., here are your current travel warnings. That said, Europe feels as safe as the U.S. does to me. There are going to be places in every major city that have higher crime rates and risk of terrorist attacks, but we’ve never felt truly unsafe in our 20 trips to Europe.
We hope this gets you over the hump and into planning mode! Are there other things that are holding you back? Send us a message or leave a comment. Let’s get traveling!