Planning a trip can be daunting, especially when it’s a foreign country and somewhere you’ve never been. For me, planning trips combines just about everything I love to do. I caught a severe case of wanderlust a few years back when I started traveling as a kid and I’ve been adding to my travel bucket list ever since. Then I married someone who feels the same way I do about traveling. There never seems to be enough time or money to visit all the places we want to see, but we can certainly try!
My second time in Europe, I was in college and able to study abroad for the summer. This was the first major trip where I did a large portion of the planning and I was hooked. Through the experiences of family, friends and myself, I’ve learned a lot about how to plan an international (or domestic) trip. I thought I’d share all of these tips in a blog series so my fellow wanderlusters can make use of them too! There’s a lot of info here, but I thought it was all important to share. Enjoy!
Steps to planning your European getaway:
- Decide on location and then narrow down key cities/places you want to see. You can’t see it all, so don’t stress yourself out with that daunting task. Be flexible with your ideas and plans.
- Do your research. Read everything you can get your hands on, explore travel blogs, view maps, talk to friends and learn from the experiences of others. A well researched, well planned out trip can be the difference between a good and bad trip.
- Make sure you have an updated and valid Passport. You would be surprised at how many people book a trip and realize their Passport is outdated. It could happen to anyone, so always check and visit this site for more info. Also, don’t let your dog near your Passport haha. On a trip to Costa Rica, my friend’s dog ate a chunk out of her Passport the morning of our trip which resulted in her not being able to pass through customs in Costa Rica and being sent back to America. Yikes.
- Decide on a budget that works for you and your travel partner(s). Ask friends who have been there before how much they spent and budgeted. Always plan to have a bit of cushion for unexpected expenses. Consult Rick Steves’ website for more money tips.
- Decide on a date for your trip. As I’ve said before, the shoulder season is a great time to go, because crowds and prices are down significantly. For any European trip, you will want to do a minimum of 10-14 days to make it worth the flights and jet lag.
- Come up with a loose itinerary before you book hotels or flights. I make mine on Google Docs and also download the Google Doc app on my phone, so it’s always accessible. I can edit it on the go. Jot down all of the things you want to see in each city and use that as a guide to help you plan the number of days in each city. I don’t like strict itineraries. Instead, I prefer a loose goal-oriented plan with simple goals for each city. Then you can just plan it out geographically.
- Read up on each city. Rick Steves’ Italy book helped tremendously with that. He also has guidebooks for pretty much any country in the world. I also love Fodor’s and the trendy CITIx60 guide books that can be found at Anthropologie or on Amazon. Local blogs about your particular destination are also helpful. Spend a lot of time viewing maps and literally map out how long it takes to get from the main train station to the potential hotels you want to book. Google Maps will be your best friend. I’ll be giving my Italy hotel recommendations in later posts.
- Book flights, but first search ways to use credit card points and airline miles. For some people who have a flexible vacation schedule, they try to have the cheaper flights dictate when they travel. Sometimes a layover is annoying, but sometimes it’s worth it for the cheaper price. Favorite airlines always seem to be JetBlue, Air France, Delta and Southwest. Definitely get the app for whatever airline you choose so it’ll be easier to track your flight. Overnight flights always seem to work best to combat jet lag when traveling to a different time zone.
- Decide on where to stay-hotels, hostels, house, apartment, etc. Great resources for finding hotels would be any of the travel sites, but I really love TripAdvisor and Rick Steves.
- We always look for these three things with hotels: location, breakfast included and free Wifi. Those things can save you a lot of money! We try to go with 4 or 5 star Trip Advisor hotels and that doesn’t mean you have to spend a crazy amount of money. We are on a budget just like everyone else. A really bad hotel can ruin your stay. Read the reviews!
- I also love AirbnB because I think you get more of a local feel. Another good option is to consider staying at a b&b or smaller villa. We’ve loved the villas and apartments we’ve been able to visit. Friends of mine have also had great luck with farms that double as b&bs or hostels. Think outside of the hotel box!
- When searching for hotels, always consider how much money you want to spend on taxis and transportation. For us, we wanted to save money by walking, so we chose hotels that were central to the train stations and most train stations are near a significant amount of important sites in the cities we’ve visited. Win, win.
- Book train tickets ahead of time. Book trains between check out at one hotel and check in at another. That way you’ll never have to store your bags anywhere. In Italy, we preferred the Italo trains, but Trenitalia was fine too. Honestly, any train I’ve used in Europe seems to be a really easy way to travel and has become one of my favorite things about Euro travel. Order and print all E-tickets for trains before you leave home. This made it so easy for us! The train staff members will scan your ticket or ask for your confirmation code about halfway through the trip. Use this link to buy and print any train tickets you may need.
- Always make sure you’re up on all of your check-ups and vaccinations, because traveling to other countries can definitely expose you to various diseases that we’re not used to being exposed to here in America. People always seem to get worn down from traveling, so sickness is a common problem when traveling. Also, just a side note, the US Embassy’s website for the country you’re visiting is a good resource should you need an English speaking doctor (or lawyer or any other service) while abroad.
- Packing for a trip like this required its own post, so that will be on the blog soon!