There is something to be said for a totally spontaneous trip where you just show up at your destination & go from there. However in my opinion, planning is a MUST, especially for Europe. Joe & I started planning the beginning “backbone” stages of our ‘Tour-de-Europe’ two years before we left – and every minute we spent planning paid off. We were very inspired to plan our travel because of something we heard Rick Steves say, “Planning an itinerary forces you to see the consequences of any spontaneous change you make while in Europe. For instance, if you spend two extra days in the sunny Alps, you’ll see that you won’t make it to the Greek Islands. With the help of an itinerary, you can lay out your goals, maximize their potential, and avoid regrettable changes.”
So you might be asking, WHERE DO I EVEN START PLANNING?! Good question, because planning a trip to Europe can be beyond overwhelming. I’ve come up with some planning steps, ideas, tips, and tricks that worked for us while planning our two months we spent in Europe that I’m excited to share with you in this post. Grab a cup of tea and let’s jump right into where to start planning your very own trip to Europe.
START HERE: First things first, make sure your passport is valid, and if it isn’t, jump on that right away. Depending on the time of year it can take some time to get your passport all set and ready to go! Then, figure out how much time you can get away for and how much money you have to spend on the adventure as a whole. Every other detail about your trip will stem off of these two details. (Just a tip – I don’t think a trip to Europe can be done in under 10 days just as a basic rule of thumb – with how far you have to fly from the USA, time changes, jet lag, and the amount of activities you may want to do it do seems very ambitious to me to do it in under 10 days, not to mention much less enjoyable.)
Now, budgets can be very tricky depending on how much you are able to spend and what type of trip you are wanting to have. You can stay in 5 star hotels or $5 hostels and everything in-between in Europe – you have to really decide what kind of trip you are wanting. Rick Steves recommends $5600 per person for a month long trip excluding airfare. We plan to write a series of blogs about how much our trip cost us overall, how much we spent on lodging, food, attractions, sightseeing, etc. Look forward to those posts coming up. Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door 2015 is a great resource we used a ton while planning our trip which gave us a ballpark idea of where our budget should start. Want to know how we afford to travel so much? Check out our blog post on how we afford our travel. (Just a little tip that helped us, we recommend opening a savings account for your Europe trip and saving all your trip/travel money in a that separate bank account from your normal savings account and checking accounts. Also, open an account with a bank that has free international ATM withdrawals and no international transaction fees or percentages – we use Charles Swchwab and HIGHLY RECOMMEND THEM!!!)
Once you have the length and cost nailed down – pick your country or countries, cities, towns, & villages you are dreaming of visiting. Again, Rick Steves has some AMAZING sample itineraries in the back of his books if you are looking for examples of where to go, or how long to stay. We would also to be happy to share our complete itinerary and how long we stayed in each place and if we felt like we wanted more or less time in each place. If you are interested in our complete itinerary contact us via our Away We Go contact page. We visited 9 countries and over 35 cities, towns, & villages on our ‘Tour De Europe.’ Begin to create your detailed itinerary in this step with places you plan to visit and length of time in each place – the more detailed your itinerary is at this point will help you in the next planning steps.
After figuring out your length of time in Europe, overall budget for your trip, a list of places you’re wanting to see, you need to start shopping around for your airfare. We have found in our international travels if you are seeing more than one city or country that it is very cost-effective to book multi- city tickets. For example, we started our trip in Italy and flew into Rome and booked a multi city ticket to fly home from Ireland at the end of our trip. This avoids needless costly return to your starting city. If you are only going to one country you can even think about leaving out of different cities in that same country.
Now, you have either booked your airfare or have a basic idea of how much you’ll be spending getting to and from Europe you can give yourself a basic budget for booking places to stay, transportation, food, and sightseeing activities while on your trip based off the remaining amount in your travel budget.While planning our trip we took the remainder of our Europe trip budget after buying our airfare and divided it by the number of days we were spending in Europe. This worked for us because we knew if we splurged on staying in a Italian Villa we’d be eating 1€ pizza that day, all day 🙂 .. or if we ate an expensive lunch out we’d be staying in a bed & breakfast and doing free entertainment that day, it made it very easy for us to splurge on things we wanted to do, see, or eat and make up for it by sacrificing in other ways on those days.
Next up, you’ll need to start looking for places to stay – I booked nearly all of our Bed & Breakfasts, Apartments, & Hotels via AirBnB.com – check it out! You can specifically set location, dates, prices, house styles, etc in your search. It is an AMAZING site that I would highly recommend.
Okay so you have your length of your trip planned, amount you are going to spend, you have the places you want to visit picked out, you have airfare booked, and now you have a place to stay – your trip is starting to really take shape! We booked our transportation next, if you are traveling to 3 places in Italy will you be taking trains? Planes? Renting a car? Now is the time to figure your transport details out! Begin booking your means of travel that most make sense for your route and budget. There are just sooooooooo many details I want to share with you all on transport, trains, eurorail pass, budget airlines, renting cars, buses, etc. I have a post planned out with major details on planning your transportation in Europe that would just be wayyyy to much detail for this ‘Basic Guide’ post — so look forward to that coming soon.
Okay now you will decide how you will be spending your days. Will you be spending several days laying on the beach? Sightseeing? Art Museums? Exploring castles or palaces? Researching the highlights of your destination is key, we used Trip Advisor almost exclusively for this part of the trip – you can search on their website by destination and it will show you all the attractions for that city. It will also tell you a basic amount of time you should plan to spend at each attraction and what the cost of the attraction is, if there is a cost. Just as an example check out Rome’s Attractions via Trip Advisor.
At this point you are pretty much planned! YIPEE! Make sure you know how much money you have left per day in your budget for food, in-city transport, attractions, and shopping. Now you can just count down the days til you travel! Please feel free to post any questions you have about planning travel to Europe. Look forward to our more detailed posts about budget ideas and transportation in Europe as I mentioned above. I know planning can seem very overwhelming, but I promise it is so worth it. I sincerely hope something from this blog helps you in planning your European adventure.