2013 European vacation planning tips from guidebook author Vesna Neskow

Planning a European vacation? We're pleased to present some 2013 travel tips from our own Little Black Travel Guide author Vesna Neskow.

First, Vesna advises that you do some preliminary research. "Find out about events you might be interested in attending and when and where they are happening." You might also consider destinations off the beaten path. "Western Europe is generally expensive these days. So rather than spending a lot of time in the large capital cities (Paris, London, Rome, Berlin), especially if you've been to them before, look for smaller places that might be interesting. For example, you might spend only two days in Rome or Florence and go to a village in Tuscany, Umbria, Campania, or Sicily."

Vesna recommends Paris this year, for its Jazz Festival (June-July), its Chopin Festival (June 15-July 14), the acclaimed "Thousand and One Nights" exhibit at the Arab Institute (only until April 28!), the Chagall exhibit at the Musee de Luxembourg (until July 21), the rarely performed La Gioconda at the Opéra de la Bastille (May 7-31), the fabulous Roy Lichtenstein exhibit ("if you missed it in Chicago, it’ll be in Paris at the Centre Pompidou from July 3-November 4"), and the South Africa Cultural Season in France (May-December). "Or go for the city's summer sales, June 26 to July 30!"

If you’re a monarchophile, London might be the place. "Besides the arrival of the royal baby and related souvenir paraphernalia," states Vesna, "it’s the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s coronation." The Coronation Festival (July 11-14, Gardens of Buckingham Palace) will let you buy or sample products from more than 200 companies that hold Royal Warrants of Appointment (companies that supply goods or services to the Crown). But our author warns: "Beware: London is super-expensive, so a good strategy would be to stop there for a day or two then go on to Devon, Wales, Portmeiron, or some other lovely town."

What about a Roman holiday? "With a new pope in the Vatican — and one who likes to take public transportation — you might catch sight of the Pontiff in the streets of Rome," says our guide. "A trip here might also provide a chance to go to smaller towns and villages in Lazio or other provinces of Italy."

Or go Greek! "There’s hardly a more beautiful sight than an Aegean island," proclaims Vesna. "With Greece’s economic situation, it would be advantageous to visit now. A day or two in Athens to see the Acropolis and other sights, and on to Spetses or Hydra nearer to Athens; Sifnos, Santorini, or Paros in the Cyclades; Patmos in the Dodecanese; Skiathos in the Sporades; or Corfu or Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea." (Note: There is ongoing unrest in Athens; check the U.S. State Department Web site for information. If you are leery of visiting Athens, you might opt just for the islands. Keep your passport or another form of photo I.D. with you at all times. Take appropriate precautions.) 

And if Western Europe is too expensive, Vesna advises going East or South. "Prague (Czech Republic) or Budapest (Hungary) might slake your thirst for Paris. The former Yugoslavia offers good deals: Belgrade (Serbia) and Zagreb (Croatia) are fun and the Dalmatian (Croatia) and Montenegrin coasts (Montenegro) are among the most beautiful in Europe. Spain and Portugal are also fabulous and less expensive than Western Europe."

Any travel survival tips? "Security in some places is quite different from in the U.S.," states Neskow. "In London, security is more rigorous but faster. Your baggage is thoroughly screened but you don’t have to disrobe as much as in the U.S. The U.K. airport security people are so thorough you might think they were once secret service agents or Mossad spies. Don’t bother them, don’t contradict them, they’re smart and efficient and know exactly what they’re doing."

Other security tips: "Beware of pickpockets and be aware of your valuables at all times. Don’t hang purses or backpacks on the backs of chairs in restaurants. Keep your passport and money tucked away in a waist pouch or neck pouch inside your clothing."

Regarding air travel, our author advises wearing comfortable clothing for long plane trips. "You might want to take along a toothbrush and a small — small or it won’t pass through U.S. security and 3-1-1 regs — tube of toothpaste in your carry-on to freshen up when you arrive at some ungodly hour of the morning."

Packing tips? "Pack lightly! Make sure all your clothes mix and match so you need fewer items. Be sure to have layers. A hot summer day can be followed by a cool, breezy evening." Take things that can be easily hand-washed and that will dry overnight. "Pack as flat as possible," says Vesna. "Rather than rolling things up, which creates bulk and leaves empty spaces, pack your items flat and use small things to fill in the gaps. Leave some space for things you’ll inevitably buy. Or take a bag that you can fold into your suitcase and that, once filled, you can check on your way back home." And comfortable shoes are a must. "Europe is all about walking; that’s the way to see the sights."

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Vesna Neskow is the author of the Little Black Books of Paris, Rome, London, and Florence & Tuscany as well as the ZoomArt Guides to London and New York. She lived in Europe for 13 years and has traveled extensively. When she’s not working on her travel books or novel, she’s up to her eyeballs in her new start-up, Give Me Space!, a consulting business providing home and office organizing solutions.

Images © Vesna Neskow. Used by permission.