Europe 2009: The little things to remember…

1. Fewer borders: With the expansion of the EU you can move within Europe without being stopped on every border. For more information definitely read up on the Schengen Agreement details to find out which countries are part of this treaty. Be sure to see that your passport is stamped upon entry to the EU – as Canadian and US citizens can stay visa-free in EU for 90 days. And beware – you have to have your passport with you at all times as local authorities may check your documents and the initial entry date to EU at any given time.  If you stay over 90 days or if you don’t have an entry stamp in your passport, you will get in trouble upon departure from the EU territory. For more info on visas etc. for Canadians go to http://www.voyage.gc.ca/preparation_information/tourist-visas-tourisme-eng.asp

2. Less different currencies: With a lot of countries have adopted the Euro – check the list of countries you want to visit, as in many countries still only their national currency is accepted.

3. Travelers CHQ-s: These pieces of paper with unpredicted exchange rates and service fees and have become an annoying hassle during the era of convenient ATM-machines. Credit cards are accepted in most cities – but outside the urban areas some stores (including even gas stations!) might still accept only cash, so having some local currency at hand is always a good idea.

4. Smoking: It has becoming more and more restricted in Europe. Non-smokers will be happy to see smoke-free train cars, hotels, restaurants and public buildings.

5. Duty-free alcohol (and liquids): Because of increased airport security measures, shops selling large bottles of liquids beyond security checkpoints at EU airports must put the products into special, sealed bags that are recognized throughout Europe. Passengers who buy liquids at duty-free shops outside the EU and change planes in Europe before their final destinations do not comply with those rules. A passenger from Toronto, for example, who flies to Paris via Frankfurt on a transatlantic Air Canada flight and makes purchases from Toronto airport or Air Canada onboard duty free shop – will have to surrender any liquid duty-free goods in their carry-on baggage in Germany before boarding the connecting plane for France. On your way to Europe your best bet is not to buy any duty-free alcohol from a non-European location or carrier. This is bad news for your friends and relatives who like the Canadian Crown Whisky that is so hard to find outside Canada… But the EU Transport Commission is supposedly working on different solutions to this problem.

6. Cell phones: Have become more of a necessity as even if you can find a pay phone in a strange city, it is a much greater hassle to figure out how to actually use it… These days a lot of cell phones work on both sides of the ocean – but using your “local” North American number can be very expensive. It is more efficient to buy a cell phone from Europe for $40-$50 and get a local $10-$20 SIM card for every country you visit long enough to need a phone. Users of some handheld wireless devices (most notably the iPhone) have been surprised with astronomical bills for unintentional roaming – such as when the phone constantly checks for new e-mails. This default feature can be turned off to avoid per-kilobyte charges. If you are going to use your smart phone, be sure to call your provider to activate international service before you leave – and to ask about extra charges for international roaming and data transfer.

7. Photo cameras: Carrying around a film camera can be a challenge in Europe as it is becoming more and more difficult to find the right film for it – and the cost for having to process “throwaway” shots is so much higher than a click with the “delete” button. So invest in a digital camera and bring some extra memory cards, just in case!

8. Converter for electric appliances: To charge your camera’s battery or use your “never-leave-home-without-it” curler iron, you need a handy little gadget that converts the European 220-240V electricity into 110/120V. You can buy one of those from “The Source” for $49.99.

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