So, you want to go to Europe? You have it all planned out and know that you don’t even need a visa or anything.
Do you know about about the Schengen Area?
The Schengen area is a relatively recent agreement, and it’s what lets much of Europe function as the USA does with its states. That is to say, you can travel between the borders without any kind of checkpoint.
Now, there is some confusion about what exactly this zone is, with some warrant to the confusion too.
There are 3 main super-governmental agreements/organizations that are important to know about when going to Europe.
The European Union: the one most people know about, commonly referred to as the EU. It’s strictly a political entity and acts as a forum for Europe to talk about things, much as the UN does on a larger scale.
The Euro Zone: the area inside Europe that uses the Euro as its currency.
The Schengen Area: the one that is the least known about (in my experience) and the most important one to know.
Now, each one of these have different member states. So, just because a country is in the EU doesn’t mean they are in the other two. The same for any combination of the three groups. The first two wont affect a traveler very much, so I wont go into too much detail, the only time I could see someone running into trouble is if they didn’t know Switzerland isn’t a part of it and end up not have the right currency for a moment.
The Schengen Area though, is a not so often talked about area that could and has and probably will continue to affect travelers to Europe. For most short term travel, it will never come up, but if you were thinking about just passing some time going from country to country, it could very easily come up.
This area, that makes the continent of Europe a bit more unified also throws a wrench in for those going to travel. From the moment you step into the area, you have a rolling clock that starts ticking away. For the area, you have 90 days out of 180 days allowed inside. That means, if you were to leave the whole area, the 180 day clock would still be going. So, if you are inside for 50 days, outside for 70 days, you are only allowed 40 days inside the area still. It is there to stop people from leaving the country and coming back quickly, somewhat abusing their visa waiver.
It is also a very large area:
The blue area is the Schengen Area in its current state.
For more, here's the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Agreement