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7 Tips to Planning a European Vacation

Travel

7 Tips to Planning a European Vacation

Lana Hawk

A new year and a new trip to plan. Let me just say, I LOVE planning. We usually decide on our location, book our plane tickets, determine our budget, and then I just go for it. I plan out lodging, a basic itinerary, and dream of the day we finally board the plane. Seriously though. I have documents galore in the planning stages. Documents full of tables, budget estimates, links, activities, etc. This summer, we are headed to Italy and planning has commenced. Here are some tips I use to help plan the best possible trip!

  1. Creative Flights: The most expensive part of most any trip is the flight. To save money, don’t be afraid to be creative. Our last two trips to Europe, we flew out of Chicago despite living in Indianapolis. The drive to Chicago and the parking was worth the money we saved on our flight. Plus, when flying out of a major city, you often avoid unnecessary layovers and can often get a non-stop flight at a decent price. Get creative. Use domestic airlines like Southwest to piece your itinerary together and save money. This year we are flying Spirit to Chicago and then Chicago direct to Rome. We have a non-stop international flight and it is cheaper than flying out of Denver. To find the best deals and try out your options, we often use Google flights. This allows you to check different flights, days, destinations, and cost options. It provides flexibility and an easy comparison of airlines and timing options. Remember, if you are piecing together flights, give yourself plenty of cushion. I am SUPER conservative on timing because after all of my planning and dreaming, the last thing I want to do is miss a flight because I pushed it on timing. I would rather be at the airport really early and be stress free, than rush through and start/end my trip all stressed out.
  2. Trip Advisor Reviews: I often depend on Trip Advisor to help with planning accommodations, activities, and tours. The ratings and reviews on Trip Advisor can be very valuable when visiting a new place and trying out new tour options. Pay attention to full written reviews, but always take them with a grain of salt. Be aware, there can be a big difference in priorities for travelers. Some travelers consider convenience, elevators, and big rooms a priority (*Americans*cough*cough). When I am looking at hotels and bed and breakfast options, my focus is on a safe neighborhood and a clean room. We tend to spend most of our time OUT of our room, so the spaciousness of the room isn’t so much an issue. However, I would like to be confident in the general cleanliness of my room for peace of mind while sleeping. Plus, European rooms are smaller than American hotel rooms. They just are. Go out and explore the city, sleep in your room, and all is well. Also, European buildings are much older than American buildings, so elevators and big open stairs aren’t always an option. Get over it. Pack light and suck it up.
  3. Alternative Accommodations: Air Bnb. Now this is a new one for us. I know… we are late to the party. I am really excited to try out Air Bnb this summer in Italy. If you want to stay in a less touristy area and have your own apartment with a kitchen, this is a great option. Again, pay attention to reviews and be sure to take note of location. The less expensive options may be a bit further out, but again, if you want a more local feel, Air Bnb may be a solid option for you. Our favorite trip together was our stay in Vienna, Austria. We stayed at a friend’s apartment and had a completely different experience than previous trips in hotels.We loved being in a neighborhood, experiencing the local market, and not staying in the hustle and bustle of the hotel areas.
  4. Research Local Travel: This is important. Be sure to use the internet or travel books to check out local travel options. Are you planning on a day trip? Check train times and availability, as well as cost. Nothing blows a budget faster than endless train travel you forgot to budget. When staying outside Den Haag last summer, we weren’t as thorough in our train budgeting and ended up spending far more on local travel than we originally anticipated. Usually we stay in the city, so we tend to walk everywhere or take public transport which is normally reasonably priced. In this case, we dropped the ball on research and had to adjust accordingly to stick to our budget.
  5. Old School Travel Books: In the age of the internet, it is easy to dismiss the value of a good travel book. However, I truly believe a good travel book is really important in planning your trip. Our favorite is still any and every Rick Steves travel book. He offers valuable tips on everything from activities to lodging to safety and culture. The best part about a travel book is it goes with you. We tend to travel without paying for international cell data, so a book becomes crucial. The maps, walking tours, pricing options, hours of operation, and travel tips become portable and accessible even when we are without internet. So go old school. Find a Barnes and Noble and buy yourself a travel book to study before and take with you. If you can’t find a store front, hop on the beautiful internet and look up Rick Steves because HE. IS. THE. MAN! (Rick Steves’ website , travel guides, and Amazon)
  6. Research a Bike Tour: This is now one of the first things I look for and plan for our trips abroad. Most major cities offer bike tours and we LOVE them. Seriously. This is a great way to see the city, get your bearings, learn some history, and get a taste of culture. Here is a great example. When in Vienna back in 2013, we scheduled a bike tour for our second full day in Vienna. While on our lovely tour, our local tour guide explained the coffee house culture of Vienna. The coffee house culture of Vienna is one which appreciates enjoying the moment and leisurely enjoying your time in the restaurant or coffee house. Sounds lovely right? The problem is we spent the previous day rushing around, asking our waiter for our check, and completely ignoring all the unsaid norms of the coffee house. Whoops! Now, we book our bike tours on one of our first days in a new place to help us get our bearings and soak up the historical tidbits offered by our guide. This way, we appreciate what we are seeing and experiencing much more than we would independently. Bonus: these can be a great way to get out of the city without the hassle of public transport. We created our own bike tour along the Danube in Austria and took a guided tour to the countryside outside of Bruges. Both highlights.
  7. Plan Ahead for Packing: I know, I know. Seems random and unnecessary right? Well here is the thing. I hate to be super stressed out right before vacation. So, I tend to think ahead when it comes to travel essentials for packing. Determining the type of bag you want to bring, clothing basics, footwear, adapters, etc. ahead of time can ease the stress leading up to a trip. You can find the best deal and make your purchases ahead of time versus rushing around the week before trying tackle an endless to do list. Seems crazy, but I promise, it will save you money and stress. Plus, bonus, a well thought out travel wardrobe will make your trip much more pleasant. Also, be sure to check baggage requirements both domestic and international. More than once, I’ve been okay on domestic flights, but had to check my bag during the international leg (i.e. Dublin to London). My bag didn’t meet the smaller baggage requirements once in Europe. And unfortunately, in two cases, my bag didn’t make it to my destination with me. Not fun arriving in London with no bag. So, do your research, measure your bag, and pack light if you want to stick with a carry on. Plan ahead, do your research, and enjoy your trip.

*Pictures taken in Bruges, Belgium (June 2015)

*Post originally appeared on Old Pink House.