Hi Frugalistas! I know I’ve written extensively about aspects of planning a trip to Europe, and I’ve also written a series on itinerary planning, but I’ve never written specifically about planning an itinerary for Europe. When you are planning a trip to Europe, where to start is often the hardest part. There’s so much to see and do, that knowing how to plan a trip to Europe can appear a bit daunting. But planning a trip to Europe step by step is easy…….
Planning a trip to Europe: where to start
I always like to start at the beginning: where do I want to go? Obviously if you are thinking of just one country that is a little different to planning a trip to Europe in its entirety. But from a planning point of view you need to approach it in the exact same way.
You need to start planning a trip to Europe by making a list of where you want to go.
If you are looking at just one country, your list needs to be all the places in that country you are interested in. If you are looking at more than one country then make a list of the countries and/or specific cities you are interested in.
Planning a trip to Europe: sorting out what makes sense
The next thing you need to do is put your list of places into a logical order. You need a good map for this if Geography is not your strong point. You don’t need to think about making a perfect circular route – most airlines will happily sell you an open jaw ticket where you arrive at one destination and depart from another.
If you find destinations that just don’t seem to make sense from a continuity or flow point of view think about whether they are “must dos” or “nice to have” and treat them accordingly.
Planning a trip to Europe: how long should you stay in each place?
I hate one night stays in all but the smallest of destinations. They are tiring and I find are often a waste of time.
I plan for 2-3 nights in big cities (unless you have a special interest in a place and therefore want to stay longer) and then 2 nights in smaller destinations (one night for traveling to get there and then a full day to entire my stay).
Also consider whether you can stay in one place for a few nights and do day trips. When we were in Germany a few years ago, we spent three nights in Munich and did day trips to Neuschwanstein, Dachau and Salzburg. Similarly Avignon or Aix-en-Provence are great bases for Provence, and Nice is excellent for the Riviera. When you choose a base, consider a place with good transport links if you do not have a car, or without horrendous traffic if you have a car.
Once you’ve worked out how long you want to stay in each place on your list, go back to your plan and check that you still have enough days and that your plans make sense.
Planning a trip to Europe: work out how to travel around
I’ve written previously about how to travel around Europe and how to work out how to travel around Europe. To summarise, think about how many of you are traveling, when you are traveling, and how far you are traveling. Also think about your budget. Traveling as a family, a car often makes sense. Similarly if you want to visit rural and more off the beaten track destinations only a car will do. When we visited Provence and the Camargue some years ago we hired a car and were able to visit tiny atmospheric villages that we just couldn’t have reached by public transport. But when we went to Germany in the winter we decided a Railpass was definitely the best choice – we just didn’t want to drive in the snow.
Again you need to go back to your itinerary and sort out how to get between your destinations. Don’t think you need to just use a Railpass or just a car. Mixing and matching may work best for you. While I would never drive in Italy generally and would use a Railpass instead, for a trip to Tuscany I would definitely be picking up a car in Florence for a few days.
If some of your destinations are tricky for you to get to, think about whether you should leave them for another time – a perfect excuse to plan another trip!
Planning a trip to Europe: work out where to stay
I love working out accommodation options when I’m planning a trip. I find travellers fall into two distinct categories: those who don’t care where they stay – it’s just a place to crash, and then those who love to find a place that is special. Personally, I fall into the latter category, and love finding hotels that really “suit” my location.
You also need to think about who is traveling. If you are traveling as a family or in a group, an apartment or house may work best for you. Not only does it work out cheaper, having a kitchen to cook a meal for little ones can be a godsend.
So, where to look?
For hotels I prefer booking.com and Hotels Combined. Having said that, sometimes it is better to book your hotel directly via their own website – particularly for smaller, family owned hotels I find they are often cheaper.
Air BnB is the category killer private apartment or house booking site, but there are plenty of others around. Booking.com has an apartment (and B&B) section. There are also numerous specialist booking sites for private accommodation. For Paris, I love Vacation in Paris.
Planning a trip to Europe: what do you want to see and do?
When you decided on your itinerary I’m guessing there were particular things you wanted to see or do in each of your destinations. But now is a good time to work out exactly what you are going to do. Again, I find people often fall into two camps – those who plan their itineraries down to the last minute, and those who love to wing it.
Regardless of which group you fall into, it is definitely worth doing some planning ahead. Not only will you save money, you will also save time by booking ahead at many popular locations. When you are in Barcelona, you will want to go to the Sagrada Familia I’m sure. Book your timed entry ticket before you leave home and just march past the long, long, long queues. Once you are inside you can spend as long as you like. Similarly in Paris, a Musee Pass allows you to skip the oh so long queues at the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.
If dining your way around the Michelin Stars of Europe is on your agenda, or you want to dine somewhere iconic (like the Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower) you will need to book well ahead (up to three months well ahead). So plan to make those bookings early to avoid disappointment.
Even if you are a natural born planner and have everything organised down to the last minute, do allow some time to go with the flow and do something spontaneous.
Planning a trip to Europe: what to pack for a trip to Europe
Of course, regular readers will know that I’ve got this covered. I’ve written extensively about packing for Europe, so explore the Pack category on my blog for great advice on what to take and what to leave at home.
Finally, sort out your phone and money. Whether you rely on free wifi and free services like Skype or FaceTime, or buy a local SIM card doesn’t matter – just don’t use your home phone and internet service. I guarantee you will die at the cost. Talk to your bank about the best way access money while you are away. Debit cards and pre-loaded travel cards can work quite well, although I find I don’t use a lot of cash in Europe so tend to just withdraw money from my normal credit card. Because this gets treated as a cash advance I pay the money back into the card straight away from my bank account (using my bank’s Internet banking service). Speak to your bank and work out what will suit your individual circumstances best.
I think there’s really only one last thing to do – fly to Europe and have the best time ever!
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