In the rush and excitement of preparing for a trip — planning an itinerary, booking hotels, making airline reservations, packing — most people don't even think about preparing themselves mentally and physically for their trip. Make no mistake, traveling in Europe will challenge both your mind and your body. Here's how to get yourself ready.
One of the biggest comments people make during my tours is how few overweight people they see in Europe. The reason is simple. European cities are made for walking.
Europeans think nothing of walking or riding their bike the mile or so to the post office or grocery store. They walk to work, or at least to the bus stop or subway to catch public transportation. They walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner, where they enjoy a fat-filled, calorie-laden meal.
Then they take the scenic route on the walk home, climb up three flights of stairs and shake their head in bewilderment as the evening news reports the latest diet fad in the US, showing scenes of Americans driving half a mile to their health club so they can spend twenty minutes walking on a tread mill.
Your European adventure will require more walking and more stairs than you may be used to in everyday life. Elevators and escalators are not as common as in the United States, and where they do exist they are often reserved only for handicapped use.
In smaller towns and villages the amount of walking may be relatively small. In bigger cities, even if you make full use of the public transportation systems (buses, trams and subways), you may still end up walking a minimum of 5 to 10 miles during the course of a full day of sightseeing.
Start preparing your body now, months before your trip. Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and get on an exercise program that will build your leg muscles for climbing stairs, and your arms and back for hauling luggage. At the minimum you should be walking two or three miles several times a week.
If few people think about the physical aspects of travel, even fewer plan for the mental challenges that travel brings. On every tour there's somebody who, half way through the trip, comes down with ABC — "St. Peter's Basilica, Notre-Dame, Sant'antimo, they're all the same — just Another Bloody Church." They're bored with the sights because they don't understand anything about what they're seeing.
As you travel around Europe, your guidebook or tour guide will bubble with enthusiasm about things like Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. If these terms don’t mean anything to you, you'll want to do a little brushing up before the trip. The better prepared you are ahead of time, the more you'll understand and enjoy the sights and what your guide has to tell you.
Even if you're not planning an educational trip that takes in lots of museums and other historic sights, your trip will still be an intensive learning experience. Let's face it, you're spending thousands of dollars on your trip. Get the most out of it by investing a few dollars and a few hours ahead of time.
Check out my lists of What to Read
& What to Watch
for my recommendations of books and movies, non-fiction and fiction, that bring to life the history, spirit and mood of each region.