10 Step Guide For Planning a Trip to Europe
Before you can experience authentic Spanish tapas, piazzas in Rome or rooftop terraces in Prague, an important to-do list stands between you and your European vacation. The logistics involved in planning a Europe trip may seem tedious or overwhelming, but the more prepared you are, the greater your chances of a successful trip that lives up to your expectations. That’s why it’s important to do a bang-up job creating an itinerary, arranging transportation and tackling the brass tacks before you’re off to the Continent.
The following simple steps will help you engineer a well-planned escape to Europe — so you can spend less time worrying about your travel arrangements and more time staring at pictures of castles and men in kilts.
1. Get your documents in order
If you don’t have a passport, it will take four to six weeks from the time of application for you to receive one. Expedited services will trim the process down to two or three weeks, but it will cost you an additional $60, so it’s best to take care of this well before your trip. Already have a passport? Check its expiration date. The last thing you need is to find out your passport has expired while you’re in line at airport check-in.
All car rental companies require drivers to have valid licenses in their home country, so you’ll also want to check the expiration date of your license. Some car rental companies also require an international driving permit for European rentals in addition to a valid driver’s license. For U.S. citizens, these can be obtained through the American Auto Association (AAA).
2. Establish a budget
It’s important to establish a budget as early as possible — even before you know your destination, travel dates or itinerary. Some destinations are generally cheaper than others, but there are ways to save everywhere: travel in the off-season, pick budget accommodations, plan a shorter trip.
3. Pick a destination
Now that you know how much you can spend, where do you want to go? If you’re like many travelers and you have a humongous list of places in Europe you want to visit, this could be tricky. Some tips:
Pick a particular site that’s on your must-see travel list, and plan your vacation around that. Pick someplace timely. Visit countries’ tourism Web sites and search for seasonal events like festivals or local holidays (which you may want to either avoid or join, depending on how you feel about crowds). Don’t forget to check the weather before you decide on your destination.
4. Create a rough itinerary
So you want to go to France, eh? Don’t go ahead and buy a roundtrip flight to Paris and a hotel room — at least, not yet. You’ll want to sketch out a day-by-day itinerary of your perfect trip to France before you book a thing. Research sites and cities you really want to explore, and then figure out which ones you have the time and budget to get to.
Check out alternative ways to travel in Europe. If you want to see multiple countries or cities but are on a tight budget, you may want to consider a cruise (exchange rates are naught for U.S. citizens onboard American ships). Walking tours, bike tours, camping and adventure tours are other interesting options worth considering.
5. Book your airfare
Because airfare will probably be the most expensive part of your trip, you’ll want to book it before anything else (car rental, hotel, etc.). This will allow you to be more flexible with your dates, which is a great way to save money on your flight. You can also spend less by flying on international discount airlines like Aer Lingus.
6. Book your accommodations
It’s time to go back to that rough itinerary you jotted down and fill in some places to sleep. As is the case with pretty much everything you book for your trip, the earlier you make arrangements, the better — especially during high season.
If you do a bit of research you could discover some funky lodging that’s almost as exciting as the attractions you plan to visit. Keep your eyes open for historic castles, tiny bed and breakfasts, houseboats, eco-friendly hotels or organic farms.
7. Consider travel insurance
There are several kinds of travel insurance: trip cancellation insurance, flight cancellation insurance, medical insurance, etc. The best time to buy insurance is right after you put down the major deposits on your trip, whether that entails airfare, a package or prepaid hotels. Once you know how much money you’ve paid up front, you can insure your trip if you so choose. Many airlines and travel providers sell insurance that you can purchase along with your flight or tour package. Always, always read the fine print in your policy and compare it with other travel insurance policies before you make a purchase.
8. Book local transportation
Find out how the locals get around the destination to which you’re traveling, and act accordingly. You won’t need a car rental in places like bike-friendly Amsterdam or London with its convenient underground Tube, unless you plan to go outside the city.
A car rental is your best bet if you’re traveling to locales that can’t be easily reached by rail or plane. To get from city to city or country to country, examine your rail options in comparison to routes and prices offered by European discount airlines like easyJet or Ryanair. Travelers embarking on extensive travel within Europe may save money by purchasing a rail pass that permits unlimited train travel within a specified region.
9. Tackle last-minute logistics
A few weeks before your departure date is the right time to start taking care of a number of key logistics: money, phone, house-sitter, pet-sitter.
cell phone woman italy bridgeCall your credit card companies to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad. While you’re at it, find out if you’re going to be charged a fee for using your card overseas. Research the locations of ATM’s in your destination, especially if you’ll be relying on cash.
Does your cell phone plan or equipment allow you to make calls overseas? If not, your phone options include purchasing an international cell phone, renting a cell phone or getting an international calling plan (if you have the right kind of phone). While you may be tempted to leave the phone at home and really “get away from it all,” it’s smart to have an emergency phone with you if you’ll be traveling by car, or hiking or biking long distances.
Instead of packing the day before your trip, start thinking about what you’ll need to bring at least a week before you leave. For one, if your destination of choice is suddenly experiencing abnormal weather, you may need that extra time to go shopping for something like a packable rain coat. Plus, experienced travelers know that the chance of forgetting something essential increases the longer one puts off packing.
Start planning your trip to Europe today!