Last summer, I went on the trip of a lifetime to Europe. I began planning this trip in October 2016 and left for my two-month adventure across the pond on July 3, 2017. As much as I love being spontaneous, I knew I had to have almost everything planned in advance to —
- Be able to afford being on the road for 2 months
- Be able to see as much as possible in that time
- Be able to enjoy every leg of the trip without the last minute stresses of thinking about lodging and transportation.
So how did I do this? I will break it down by categories to ensure you can get through the long hours of trip planning as smoothly as possible.
Creating a Timeline and Itinerary:
When I am planning a trip the first two things I decide are how long I am going for (of course after taking into consideration my budget and work situation) and where I am going to go in that amount of time. My favorite way to decide where I am going is to look at a map of the continent I am going to and start planning a route that makes sense. Along with this comes making sure these areas are accessible by some form of transportation… and as much as you would think they are, I definitely found myself amazed at the routes I took. There were planes, trains, boats, rental cars, ferries, buses and cable cars!
Once your locations are decided, I like to do research on which major airports are the cheapest to fly in and out of and then I book my flights and set my itinerary with pretty locked in dates! Doing this makes it very easy to book other transportation and accommodations when I find what I am looking for. Here’s what my itinerary looked like!
Los Angeles, CA –London, England
London –Dublin, Ireland
Dublin –Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos –Athens, Greece
Athens –Santorini, Greece
Santorini –Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor –Sicily, Italy
Sicily –Naples, Italy
Naples –Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona –Rome, Italy
Rome –Basel (Murren), Switzerland
Murren –Munich, Germany
Munich –Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg –Lake Hallstatt, Austria
Lake Hallstatt –Vienna, Austria
Vienna –Prague, Czech Republic
Prague –Berlin, Germany
Berlin –Paris, France
Paris –Brussels, Belgium
Brussels –Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam –Los Angeles, CA
Booking Flights & Transportation
I feel like I have become a flight connoisseur over the years as I am very picky and don’t do well on long flights. I probably spend way too much time studying prices and cities and options, but I always get a great deal!
For the initial big flights – my favorite applications and sites to work with are Hopper, SkyScanner and Expedia. Hopper is where I initially start and I plug in my dates and look at a year overview to see when the cheapest time to go is. I then set an alert to keep me posted when flights are low. I have never officially booked through Hopper because they only show roundtrip prices and I usually always do a multi city trip. I also like to book through the airlines site to get points and miles or on Expedia for convenience and the best prices. Once I have an idea of some great dates, I move my search to SkyScanner.com and filter out the airlines I prefer not to fly. From there I keep an eye on things for a few weeks to a month. Using this method, I always get a great price with good airlines and travel times.
For Domestic Transportation – depending on the continent you are on there are a variety of options when it comes to traveling. Since this post involves planning an epic Euro Trip, I will stick to what I used for Europe.
*Trains: RailEurope or specific countries rail website (ex: SBB for Switzerland)
I think the biggest decision I always have to make when it comes to accommodations is whether I am going to stay in a hotel, Airbnb, or hostel. For Europe, these three are all great options and depend a lot on budget and preferences. All three of these options can be found in great locations (my #1 requirement) and at all different price points.
Pros: Concierge, Maid Service, easy to get to and find, ample payment options for international guests, security, in room safe, privacy, overall an easy experience, amenities such as restaurants, gym, pool etc.
Cons: More expensive, no kitchen or fridge
Pros: Kitchen/fridge/cooking facilities, larger groups (esp. in Europe), more space, interaction with host and locals, affordable, can experience city like a local, laundry machine
Cons: No elevators and usually many stairs in Europe, no maid service, often no air conditioning, less security, can be difficult to find, and no extras or amenities
Pros: Budget friendly, very social, great place to meet people, fun, in great locations, events and a lot to do
Cons: No room locks, shared bathrooms, can be dirty, loud, shared rooms, lack of privacy, no maid service
I think a great way to evaluate which option is best for you is to consider your budget, who you are traveling with, your preferences and non-negotiables, and lastly how long you will be in that destination and what you want to accomplish while there. For my style of travel, I usually travel with my significant other and we are usually on the move frequently. Because of that, we prefer hotels and Airbnb so that we have more privacy and security while still being in a great location. I think for more long term stays Airbnb is fantastic and a great value since it gives you the options to cook and do laundry throughout your stay.
- Book through the same site to collect points and stay well organized (I use hotels.com or Agoda)
- Pay in advance if possible to save some money
- Location is everything – you will ultimately have a better experience staying in a great location and can save time and money on transportation if you can walk
- Many a times our accommodations are just where we lie our head, so it is not always worth splurging on a 4/5 star place – sometimes it is but not always!
I don’t like to over plan before I even get to where I am going. This is the one area I leave to spontaneity that way I can enjoy the moment and take in recommendations as I go. On this particular trip, I had an idea of certain things I wanted to see in each place and I did book a few tours and excursions that had great reviews. The rest I left to when I got there and I am so glad I did it that way. I think a good rule of thumb to follow is plan one or two things and have an idea of what else you want to do with an open mind in case other opportunities present themselves. For the things I do book in advance, I like to use Viator.com. It is always best to do some research on each location and find out what things need to be booked in advance and what can wait to arriving.
What to Book in Advance
- Eiffel Tower in Paris (multiple months in advance)
- Cliffs of Moher (in high season a few weeks to a month in advance)
- Santorini tours
- Naples (Capri and Pompeii tours)
- Start Booking things in advance and as soon as possible
- Pay for hotels and pre-booked excursions as you book to avoid a bigger cost all at once on your trip
- Qapital is my favorite saving app to set travel goals on
- TripIt app/website is amazing to stay organized
- Pack lighter than you think – you can always shop while there J
- Watch prices on everything for a few weeks if they seem high, you will get an idea of the going rate for comparable things and know a good deal when you see it
- Over budget
- Ask for the locals recommendations, you will not be disappointed!! (Flight attendants, hosts, hotels, coffee baristas, servers, bartenders etc.)
- Research basic things for each country you go to – it is always great to be able to say “hi”, “bye”, “please” and “thank you” in their language as well as know tipping customs and the cultural customs of where you are along with the conversion rate and how to pay.
- No matter where you go in the world, safest country or not, always be alert and watch your surroundings!
This is my first blog post and I am still trying to find a flow for what you all want to know and how I can help you in your travel journey and adventures. Please post any questions for me to get more specific and dive into a topic or email me for help in planning your next adventure!