Europe 101: A guide for first-time travelers to the continent

There’s a reason Europe always dominates Best of Travel lists year in and year out. It’s downright gorgeous. And it’s not just one kind of downright gorgeousness. 

There’s the historical kind (Rome), the natural (Ireland), the fantastical (Finland), the otherworldly (Iceland, Norway), the ethereal (Switzerland), the tropical (Greece, Spain), the romantic (France, Italy), and so many more. 

There are, in fact, too many options including top bucket list attractions that choosing a destination, or several, for a trip can be a challenge. 

Europe can be intimidating that way especially for first-time travelers. There are also the high costs involved (€1 = P60) and the demands on time (it’s at least 16 hours away from the Philippines by air). But be assured: Europe is well worth it. It’s everything you probably hope or imagine it to be—or more. And there are ways to maximize your resources. 

Here are tips for first-time travelers to Europe.

Choose the right embassy for your visa.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

You’ll need a Schengen Visa for a trip to anywhere in Europe. You can apply for it in any Philippine embassy of any European state in the Schengen area including  Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

Where should you apply for a visa? The rule of thumb is to apply in the country you’ll be staying in the longest or the one you’ll enter Europe through. That said, in 2022 the European country that Filipinos lodged their Schengen visa application the most is the Netherlands, with 45,354 visa requests. Of that number, 95.7% (43,387) were approved. One reason for this may be because the requirements are mostly basic and the application form is only three pages short containing basic information.

  • Valid passport
  • Photo
  • Detailed itinerary (ideally day-to-day)
  • Accommodation confirmation (proof of online reservations would do including those yet to be paid)
  • Proof of occupation or business registration
  • Proof of funds (bank certificate, credit card statements, bank statements, etc.)

First-time travelers with extra funds may opt to get the services of a travel agent/agency to assist with the application to save you time. The services usually include getting the appointment for the submission of the application. This one-time appearance facilitates the enrollment of the applicant’s biometrics into the embassy’s system and does not involve any interviews. The agent/agency may also help with the required itinerary and supporting documents. Schengen visa applicants from the Philippines should submit their application no more than six months before their trip. Ideally you do so around a month before you leave, considering that visa application processing usually takes at least 15 days.

Go during summer.

Santorini, Greece

Europe’s summer, that is. It’s when the sun is up from as early as 5:30 in the morning to as late as 10:45 in the evening. That’s at least 17 hours a day you can spend for sightseeing. If you’re after quantity, this allows you to visit as many locations as your energy can take you. If quality is your priority, this gives you more time to spend exploring each attraction at a less hurried pace and taking in as much as you can. Remember, sometimes God is in the details.

Summer gives you a lot more time for the all-important…selfies. Another advantage of a summer trip: you can pack as light as you want. No need for thick clothes and other cold weather essentials. Summers in Europe are from June to mid-September. 

Compare airfares.

Perast, Montenegro

Airfares don’t have to cost an arm and a leg; maybe just an arm or a leg. Fare aggregator sites such as Google Flights,, and allow you to compare prices. Just key in your search details (departure city, arrival city, date of departure) and they’ll cough up a list of all flights available from all airlines, from the cheapest to the most expensive. All details are provided including layover schedules.

The cheapest fares aren’t necessarily the best options: some of them have very long layovers that extend the total time you’ll spend on the trip while some have short layovers that may be problematic if the luggage aren’t checked through to the end destination (meaning you’d have to claim it after each flight and then check it in for the next one). This is very important information you need to consider. When you’ve decided on the flight that best suits your budget and schedule, you can book right then and there. Alternatively, you can get the flight details and book directly with the airlines but that would entail extra steps and effort. 

Compare accommodations.

Paris, France

Basically the same process as searching for airfares. Just go to sites like,, or to check look for accommodations. They list all sorts including hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. The key information to consider alongside the price are location, cancellation policy, customer reviews, and transportation. The cheapest options are usually the farthest from the city/town center, but you should not dismiss them right away just because they’re not centrally located. Most European cities have a vast and efficient public transport system of trains, trams, and buses that accommodations pinned a few miles away involving commutes of 30-45 minutes to and from the center can be excellent choices. Just make sure there are train/tram/bus stations nearby.

As for the quality of the properties, don’t just rely on the photos provided: read up on the customer ratings and comments to get a better idea. When you’ve narrowed down your choices, select the option/s that don’t require payment upfront and that allow for cancellations up to a few days before your scheduled check-in date. You may even book several properties for the same dates if you can’t make up your mind yet. This gives you the flexibility to make changes including canceling your bookings entirely for whatever reason you may have (yes, including plain change of mind) without costing you anything. 

Don’t bring too much cash.

Rome, Italy

You won’t need it as most of Europe is pretty much cashless. A credit or debit card is the way to go: a quick tap on the card reader is all you need to pay for anything, whether in a restaurant, a kiosk on the sidewalk, or a bus. However, some bigger transactions require a card PIN, so be ready with that. Otherwise, you may opt to use the cash you have. 

Get unli metro tickets.

Granada, Spain

As mentioned earlier, Europe has a vast and efficient public transport system of trains, trams, and buses. Exploring any city or country is very easy with any one or any combination of these rides. Ditto traveling from one country to another via the international railway system. To save on costs, book international train tickets online well in advance as prices tend to be a bit cheaper. As for the intra-country commutes, the “unli” metro cards are the way to go. Most are good for trains, trams, and buses where all are available and many come in multi-day options. An exception is Luxemburg where there’s no need for any ticket in buses and trams as they are absolutely free for everyone including tourists. 

Use data roaming sparingly.

Hallstatt, Austria

Or don’t use at all. There is good free WiFi connection throughout most of the major cities in Europe. If you don’t have to be absolutely online 24/7, you can just open your own line’s data roaming for when you are off the WiFi grid or off the city grid. In any case, local telcos have affordable data roaming daily packages you can avail of as needed. That should minimize your paid data charges for your trip.

The new lifestyle.