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Advice for first European trip

My husband and I are going on the Heart of Italy tour in September. It will be our first trip to Europe, and any tips or advice would be welcome! We are flying out of Atlanta, to JFK. Layover in Frankfurt to Rome. We have allowed enough time (4 hours in Frankfurt) for our conncection. I have the RS rolling backpack, with my husband carrying a similiar bag. We are both very excited, and a little nervous. I have been looking over the packing tips, and have found great advice! What can we expect at Customs? What is the best way to get to our hotel from the airport? Do the tour buses have restrooms?
Thanks

Posted by
8500 posts

Tour buses usually have restrooms, but it is preferred for people to take advantage of the regular and frequent bathroom breaks. You may not have the same bus the entire time on this particular tour.

I would just go ahead and get a taxi from the official taxi stand at the airport and take it to the tour hotel. Sometimes, easy is best.

You will show your passport at passport control, claim any checked baggage and then walk out one of two hallways. One hallway has red sign over it “ something to declare”, the other has a green sign “nothing to declare “. Those hallways are customs.

Posted by
11350 posts

I think you used the word customs when you meant Immigration/ Passport Control.
As a tourist entering another country, you won’t be bringing in goods to sell I presume. When you return to US, you will be asked how much you spent abroad purchasing items.No problems or fees unless you spend over $10,000. Just walk through large doors under “Nothing to declare” when you arrive in Italy.

Posted by
898 posts

As you get closer to your tour date, the Rick Steves office will provide detailed directions on various methods of getting from the airport to your first hotel. Check you tour account periodically to find it. The directions may come with the list you may have already gotten of the first and last tour hotels.

I will echo was has already been said about the bathrooms on the tour bus. They are TINY, smaller than airplane bathrooms and are for emergencies only. The bus makes frequent stops so this should not be a problem.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you! Yes, I should have used Immigration/Passport Control. Your answer has helped.

Posted by
16672 posts

Definitely take a taxi from the airport straight to your hotel. Have the hotel name and address written down to show the driver so it is clear.

Rome has flat-rate taxis (€50) from the airport into the city, anywhere within the “Aurelian walls”. This includes most of Rome, but you can name your hotel and we can check to be sure. To take one you go to the taxi stand just outside the arrivals area and join the queue. Ignore anyone who approaches you and offers to get you a taxi. The official Rome taxis are white with a burgundy medallion on the door and the indication “Comune di Roma”. All the taxis in the line should be this type. There is usually an official managing the line and directing people to the next available taxi. You can tell this person you want the fixed rate just to be sure.

Posted by
1080 posts

To add to what Lola said above, I take 3x5 cards with me and I write the Hotel name and address and just hand in to the taxi driver, that way there is no confusion as to where I need them to take me.

Posted by
530 posts

What can we expext at Customs?

Not customs but border control or, passport control. You'll depart your airplane and get funneled with everyone else towards various counters: citizens with EU passport holders will go to one line, while non-EU passport holders will go to another, read the signs. There will be no shops, cafes or any concessions upon exiting the aircraft just bathrooms and the border control checkpoint; you'll be doing some walking and don't be surprised if its you and several other airplanes worth of passengers getting checked. Hand over your passport, look at the officer, answer any questions, get your passport, secure it and move along. Once done, read where you need to go and continue on to the next connection.

What is the best way to get to our hotel from the airport?

Depends on where your hotel is?

Personally I enjoy taking the Leonardo Express train, it takes 30-minutes to go from the airport directly into Termini Station in Rome. Departs every 30-minutes so it's like a commuter but, this one is filled with travelers. You can purchase your tickets either online in advance or, at a kiosk. As the video below points out, the train may stop at a couple of locations, just check where your hotel it in relation to train stations. Depart train, and find taxi stand or, stretch your legs and walk to your destination.
https://youtu.be/aOa7_Mj3YQc

Do the tour buses have restrooms?

Modern ones do, but, ask in advance

Posted by
638 posts

As stated above you’ll receive different recommendations from RS Tours regarding travel from the airport to your hotel as it gets closer to your tour departure date. Choose what is most comfortable for you.

I’m stressed about the number of flights to get you to Europe. There are nonstop flights between ATL (Atlanta) and FCO (Rome) or single connection itineraries but that depends on your carrier choice, availability, price, etc. So you may be exhausted and find it convenient to simply choose the taxi option.

I did the Best of Italy tour and a bunch of other RS Tours. The experiences have been quite rewarding. Have a wonderful time.

As you plan your trip consider your return to the United States taking a look at the guidelines for what you can bring back into the country. Follow those carefully. You don’t want to arrive at customs only to realize that something isn’t allowed.

Posted by
27 posts

Unrelated and flying to Amsterdam w RS also from ATL. I'm flying direct to Amsterdam w KLM (mainly to use points first time ever). Also direct flight home from Paris Air France. Not crazy about luggage restrictions for sure. Was just curious about your flight to NY etc. Seems like a lot!

Posted by
2267 posts

I skimmed the previous reply and didn't see this, so will add it:

You'll go through Passport Control on your first point of entry into Europe, so for the above itinerary, Frankfurt. It's almost always a non-verbal exchange—maybe a hello or Guten Tag in Germany. They'll scan and flip through passports, stamp them, and pass them back for you to move on. Then you'll connect to Rome like a domestic flight in the US. The US doesn't have exit control but Europe does, same routine as before from wherever you exit Europe. If you have a connection in the US coming home, you'll go through passport control at first entry. Then collect any checked bags, go through customs (which is a passive process- just walk out), and recheck your bags. You'll have to go through security to get to your next gate, so be careful about buying liquids (duty-free) en route.

Posted by
11 posts

I'm a little stressed about the number of flights too, but we have left plenty of time between flights in case of delays or other unforseen problems. We wanted to fly on a carrier that does not serve ATL, and we found really good deals out of JFK. Fingers crossed all will go smoothly. It will be an adventure on top of the tour! I'm keeping the positive attitude!

Posted by
11 posts

We are flying Delta to JFK. Then Singapore Air to Frankfurt. My husband found a great sale on Premium Economy with them. If it hasn't changed, Delta and Singapore are on the same concourse at JFK. We will have carryon bags only, so hopefully that will make things easier as well. Lufthansa to Rome. It does seem overwhelming, but we will be fine.

Posted by
4171 posts

Especially since this is your first European trip, if you haven't done so already I recommend that you explore all the advice available in the Travel Tips right here on this website at https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips. It could help you to learn what you don't know that you need to know.

Likewise, there are many other forums devoted to topics besides packing under the forum category of Tips & Trip Reports.

And if you'll have extra time in Italy before or after the tour or possibly for your free time on the tour or just for fun, exploring Italy online here is an easy way to learn a bit more about the country: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/italy

You are going to have so much fun and you're very smart to start asking these questions early.

Posted by
1856 posts

I would suggest learning a few phrases in Italian. Rick has language books which are small and quite handy. I love Italian as it is a phonetic language and I find it easy to speak. I have found if I politely ask someone a question (including asking them if they speak English) they will usually say "a little bit." You will usually have no language problems in large cities, but sometimes in a small town it can really help. Plus I think people are just friendlier if you try to speak a little of their language. Although in France, I always apologize for my dreadful French (it is NOT a phonetic language.) You will have a wonderful time. I've been on 8 Rick tours, (4 in Italy.) I would also suggest watching a few videos here on the website or You Tube on riding the Metro in Rome, packing tips, etc. Have a wonderful time and do let us know how your trip went.

Posted by
11 posts

We are flying Delta to JFK. Singapore Air to Frankfurt. If it hasn't changed, Delta and Singapore Air are on the same concourse. Lufthansa to Rome. We will just have carry on bags.

Posted by
11 posts

I subscribed to Babbel for 6 months to get familiar with Italian. It is a beautiful language! I will at least know basic words, and will have the pages torn out of the Rick Steves Italy book with the basic words and phrases with me! All of the advice is wonderful.

Posted by
638 posts

It’s great that your inbound and outbound flights through JFK are in the same terminal 4. It’s very easy to navigate. Only a couple of gates are oddly located. Frankfurt’s airport is excellent and seems very well maintained.

Posted by
8805 posts

Stay positive. Packing cubes. Money belt. Be prepared for the graffiti. Its every where. Take 2 pairs well worn shoes. Small roll of gaffers tape. Small coin purse. Xerox copies of your passport. When you get to your hotel if they have business cards at check in take a couple.

Ciao

Posted by
8201 posts

The first thing I'd do is call the airline or who booked your trip and tell them to book you on a non-stop flight out of Atlanta. Delta goes non-stop to Rome at 4:25 pm and 6:30 pm daily. Going from ATL to JFK to FRA to FCO is ridiculous, and there's too many chances of missed flights with so many connections. (I was such a victim on United out of Frankfurt 2 weeks ago.)

Make sure your rolling bag is no longer than 21" long so you can carry on your airplane. (I was the only one in my party that didn't have a lost bag 2 weeks ago.)

You won't have any problems with customs if you have all toiletries in a 1 qt. zip up plastic bag. And no other liquids including a water bottle.

Unless you're staying walking distance from Rome Termini (train station), I would ask the hotel to get you a car to pick you up and take you to FCO. The rates are not bad. Or, call Roma Cabs--who are online.

And yes, tour buses do have rest rooms.

We're leaving in a month for a cruise out of Rome (Civitavecchia), and we'll have a couple of days after we return there. It's a special place I never tire of. I told my wife all she can have is a 21" rolling bag because I'm not paying $77 extra for a suitcase on one of the budget airlines we're flying into Rome.

Posted by
3290 posts

Don't underestimate how exhausting and disorienting an overnight flight from the States to Europe can be. I have done it multiple times - in Economy, Premium Economy, and Business - it doesn't matter. I am always brain dead on arrival.

There are less expensive options. But, I am in favor of a car service from FCO to your hotel. All you have to do is look for a tablet (most likely) with your name on it. Someone will take you and your bags to a car and deposit you at your hotel.

Posted by
4978 posts

Taking a taxi to the hotel in Rome is certainly a viable option. However, after a long flight, some jet lag, and being on unfamilar turf, nothing is better than having a private driver meet you in the terminal and take you straight to the hotel. We've used Rome Cabs (a private car service despite the name) a number of times from the airport to the ciy and from the city back to the airport. Just google them for information. We send an email detailing our needs and get a reply within 24 hours. A private car service will cost a little more than a regular taxi, but we think it's definitely worth it. Some say have your hotel make the arrangements. But you might get a car service at a higher rate, a free lance "taxi", or a relative of the desk clerk. Who knows?

Posted by
11350 posts

Let us know how your first European experience was.! I am guessing fabulous, magical!
One time in Frankfurt airport we couldn’t find the gate for Milan. It was listed in the German name Mailand so I always am aware of the possibility of needing to translate a name. Rome may be Rom or Roma.
Bring a change purse for foreign coins which tend to be larger than ours in US.

Posted by
2354 posts

For your connection in Frankfurt, you will go through immigration/passport control there. They may ask you how long you are staying and where you are going. Then you will go through security again. Remember the rules about liquids. If you bring a water bottle on the plane at JFK (recommended), empty it in Frankfurt before security. Bring your toiletries in a quart size ziplock bag, not any other clear toiletries bag. European airports tend to be more strict about the ziplock bag size.

Frankfurt has a program where you can reserve your time for security and avoid the lines. I haven’t tried it, but plan to use it in June. You probably don’t need it since you have plenty of time, but it’s an option. You can reserve your time 3 days prior to your flight. https://www.frankfurt-airport.com/en/airport-guide/check-in-and-luggage/fra-smartway.html

When you arrive in Rome, you just walk through the Customs doorway that says “Nothing to Declare”.

Posted by
1157 posts

@a&sfloyd writes: I'm a little stressed about the number of flights too, but we have left plenty of time between flights in case of delays or other unforseen problems. We wanted to fly on a carrier that does not serve ATL, and we found really good deals out of JFK. We are flying Delta to JFK. Then Singapore Air to Frankfurt.

It sounds like you bought a ticket on Delta, and then a separate ticket JFK to Rome on Singapore Air.

Personally I would never do this unless I was arriving in NYC a day or more ahead. If for any reason you can't make your Singapore Air flight then it's on you. When you purchase your entire trip on a single booking then the airline selling the booking is obligated to get you to your destination on a later flight, but if you have separate tickets then essentially you're a passenger trying to make a last-minute change on the 2nd carrier. Subject to whatever rules and fees they have for those changes.

And I'm assuming you bought directly from Singapore Air since their website says for changes "If you booked your flight through a travel agency or partner airline, please contact them directly for assistance." If you need to work thru Expedia or some other reseller to make changes then the fun factor goes way up.

I don't want to sound too alarmist. Usually planes arrive close to the scheduled time. But sometimes they don't, and if they don't it's important to understand what happens next.

Posted by
89 posts

We went a day early in 2019 for the Heart of Italy. We stayed at the RS hotel. In confirmation info they offered to arrange a private car to pick us up. Cash in euros to driver. Arriving exhausted to a busy Rome airport under construction, it was a joy to see our name held up by the driver. Best $ we spent on the whole trip.

You will love this tour, it was our first RS tour also.

Posted by
848 posts

Maybe they have changed things in the last year but arriving in Frankfurt from the US to connect to Rome, we went through passport control and on to our gate. We did not have to go through security again. And there was no passport control when arriving in Rome. We arranged through the Rome hotel for a transport to pick us up at the airport. It was still 50 euros but they were waiting for us with our name on a placard. After 16 hours coming from the west coast, it was stress free and a real treat.

Posted by
11 posts

We will be arriving a day early, and have booked a room online at the same hotel we will be staying at on the tour. Should we let them know in advance, or while checking in that we will be there for two additional nights?

Posted by
1856 posts

If you have booked at the R Steves' tour hotel, be sure to tell them you are on the tour when you check in. You sometimes get a discounted rate, so you might just send them an email now to let them know and ask if there is a discount. Also request you be allowed to stay in the same room for the tour so you don't have to move rooms. Some hotels will do this for you.

Posted by
131 posts

Hi,

I used to get very nervous about traveling, especially about forgetting things, and a friend of mine said something to me before a trip that really helped me a lot: "if you forget something, you can always buy it at your destination. It's not worth worrying about." I would extend this a bit to: "if any problem occurs on the trip, you will be able to deal with it. You will figure it out." Probably nothing will go wrong, but since you can't anticipate most problems, just the knowledge you will be able to deal with it is enough.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
7389 posts

There’s so much to see & do in Rome that it’s tempting to schedule some activities your first day you arrive. Do yourself a favor and just enjoy walking around outdoors with nothing planned, especially nothing planned indoors. It helps with jet lag to be outside in the sunshine to acclimate.

Near the Pantheon is a wonderful treat! Mr. 100 Tiramisu has a whole wall of decisions - what topping would you like on your tiramisu - yum!

In Rome, be careful when crossing the street. You may have a green light to walk and still have a few motorcycles going through. Just walk with intention and don’t pause and stop in the intersection. It helps to cross the street with other people at first. ; )

The Rick Steves office will send you a money belt to wear. It keeps your passport, credit cards, etc. secure under your clothing from pick pockets. Your guide will explain, and you will want to wear it your first day as you explore & enjoy Rome.

If you walk by any churches, go inside. They are gorgeous!

You will have a wonderful time!

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you so much for all of the incredible advice! My husband and I are really looking forward to this trip. I feel that the nervousness is definitely replaced by excitiment now!

Posted by
25 posts

I just completed my first RS trip also Heart of Italy last week. It's our first time to Europe too. I have posted my trip report.

We took Iceland air and the connection is in KEF. So we entered EU custom in KEF, where they reviewed our passport and gave us a stamp. Then in Rome we don't go through custom. This probably happen to your connection in Frankfurt as well.

We also booked same hotel as RS with two extra nights before. Upon checkin, we let the front desk know we're part of RS tour. They can either arrange same room so you don't need to move then RS tour starts, or you can leave your packed suitcase in the room, and they will move it to the RS room. It's very convenient.

Our hotel is in city center. After consideration we decided to use taxi instead of train. It costs a few extra but after long flight we want to save the energy so look for place in a totally new language environment. Sometimes the alley are maze like and hard to navigate for the first time.

If you arrive early, I'd suggest goto Fountain Trevi and Spanish steps in early morning, By the afternoon when our RS tour arrived, it's very crowded.

The tour bus has restroom but only for emergency. The tour made sure to stop at highway stops frequent enough for restroom breaks and coffee, snack time.

Posted by
118 posts

We will have carryon bags only, so hopefully that will make things easier as well.

Good plan; my wife and I are going on a river cruise in Germany this October, and will try doing the whole 15 days with just 5 shirts each in our carryons, and wash them along the way. For RSE tours, there's always a wash day, but on other trips you're on your own. Dri-fit shirts and pants are great--they dry in about 5-6 hours; that's what we'll be bringing on overseas trips from now on.

The only thing I'd advise is, when you get on the plane, put your bags in the first available overheads that you get to, because overheads seem to be more full these days than in the past. IMPORTANT: Make sure you remember what the seat number is below your bags!

In a flight earlier this year, I had to put our bags in the back of the plane, PAST our seats, which meant that when we landed in Florence, I had to go against traffic back to my suitcases, then grab them and go back forward.

One more note: make sure you have what you need for the flight in a separate little bag that you bring to your seat (headphones, neck pillow, Kindle, iPhone, iPad, laptop, book, etc.).

Posted by
3290 posts

There's no need to worry about Immigration/Passport Control - just follow the crowd and watch for the directional signs. If you make a wrong turn, someone will shoo you back to your proper place in the universe. Just make sure your passport is handy.

Especially since this will be your first trip to Europe, I would definitely email your hotel and ask them to recommend a car service to your hotel from the airport. Then all you have to do is look for someone holding a tablet or sign with your name on it. You can book a car service online, but I like to ask the hotel, since whoever they recommend will likely know the way to the hotel. Reasonable minds differ, but my husband and I are always brain dead after an overnight flight, and try to think as little as possible.

Posted by
2212 posts

You've received a lot of good advice. I have been to Europe 20 times and will just say that each time I go, two or three weeks ahead I start feeling nervous: "why am I doing this?," "it's not worth the trouble," and so forth. As soon as I get on the plane, that all goes away! I remember the year we landed in Brussels, got to our hotel and then walked to the Grand Place. I said to my husband, "Even if we only stayed one day in Europe, this was worth it."

And Italy is our favorite destination - we've been there on two-thirds of our trips. You will have a wonderful time.

Posted by
32 posts

"When you return to US, you will be asked how much you spent abroad purchasing items.No problems or fees unless you spend over $10,000."

$10,000 is the limit on the value of cash you can bring into the US.

For stuff you purchased, the limit is generally $800 per person. You can lump this together as a family (so no worries if you purchase $850 worth of stuff and your husband purchases $500...the aggregate is $1350 which is still under $800 x 2=$1600.)

Here's a link for US customs and border control on the subject (the web site has lots of good information for travelers).
https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-246?language=en_US#:~:text=In%20most%20cases%2C%20the%20personal,rule%2C%20which%20are%20explained%20below.&text=Depending%20on%20the%20countries%20you,%24200%2C%20%24800%2C%20or%20%241%2C600.

Your tour book will have a page of basic Italian phrases. It's well worth cutting this out of the book and keeping it handy during your travels.

As you arrive at each hotel on the tour, grab a business card at the front desk (assuming they have one). Or, just make sure you have the list of hotels that Rick Steves provides in your day bag. This is handy for that "just in case" moment when you decide to take a cab back or really can't remember how to get back to your hotel after a wonderful day of wandering.

Most of all, relax and enjoy!