How Long to Travel
Revised January 1, 2019
It is important to know that the length of your visit will determine which travel documents you will need. Generally, you are can stay up to 90 days in most European Union countries with a US or Canadian passport. If you are staying longer than that or spending time in eastern Europe you may need a visa. Most of the nations of the EU limit foreign visits to 90 days within a period of 180 days unless the traveler has a VISA, a document issued by the country you are visiting (or will be in the greatest portion of your stay). US travellers can get the details at the US State Department website. Canadian travellers can get details on travel restrictions from the Canadian government's passport website. If you are a Mexican citizen, your passport and visa requirements are explained at the Mexican Consultate's website.
Any pleasure trip to Europe is a trip worth taking but the hours it takes to cross the Atlantic encourages most Americans to stay for at least two weeks. A longer trip gives you more time to adjust and acclimate--it will help you appreciate the pace of European life. It would be difficult to schedule enough time to do all that you would want to do, but the more time you can take and afford, the more memorable your experience will be. If you travel in the summer, the cost of the flight to Europe may the largest parts of the expenses for the trip to Europe so that if you can add a few days to the trip you are planning, that may be more realistic than planning a return trip in a year or two.
Our first trip was for 41 days, plus travel time, and took us through France, northern and central Italy, western Austria, western Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Like a whirlwind visit to the great national parks of the western US, our trip was just a sampler of the historical and physical beauty of the continent. We missed many of our planned destinations because we were enjoying where we were at the moment (and probably had been too ambitious in our original travel plans). We opted for a long trip on the assumption that it might be our only trip to Europe. By the end of the trip, we realized there was so much more we wanted to see and experience that we would find a way to get back. Our other trips have been at least 3 weeks long, our latest lasted 7 weeks--time to get over jet lag and adopt a different frame of mind. We are finding that as we get older, we get up later, go to bed earlier, and cover less ground in a day, so to get a sense of the places we are visiting we give them a bit more time. We also found with age, our highway speed drops; we drove the narrow backroads of England and Wales more slowly, and had to limit our daily mileage to around 100-120 miles when we couldn't use major roadways; our recent trips to Greece and France also capped drive time to about 3 hours a day, scheduling multi-day stays in places where we could walk or take short drives to attractions. Our itineraries and comments are included in the specific countries we discuss.
The airlines sometimes charge higher prices for summer travelers who stay for more than 30 days. We paid approximately 20% more for our airfare to stay the extra 12 days on our first trip to Europe but on this trip, though we arrived during peak stay, our extended stay pushed us into a cheaper season. Students travelling during the academic year (September to May) will find low cost fares though they plan to stay for many months.
The method of travel you choose will also affect how long you stay. If you travel by car, the cost of renting or leasing may be affected by you length of stay. Credit card companies often place a 30-day limit on the length of liability insurance that they provide if you a renting a car.. Typical advice to a traveller who is visiting for more than 30 days is to lease the car because of the way insurance operates. We fortunately found a travel agent who saved us money by arranging two car rental agreements with the same company...and by paying for them with two different platinum cards.
Similarly, Eurail passes and airline passes are for specific lengths of time. Your trip will extend beyond the length of the pass based on how long you plan to stay in your arrival and departure city/cities. If you are taking a package tour or cruise you may want to add some independent time before and after the tour. Just remember that anyway that you can save money will allow you to spend more time on a continent that is amazing.
With the weak dollar, you may fear that the cost of traveling very long will make it prohibitive. You can stretch your travel dollars by camping or renting a cottage for a few weeks.