How to plan your first Europe Trip

Ever since I’ve got back from my last holiday, many of my friends and colleagues have asked me questions like … How do you plan a Eurotrip like that? How much does it cost? How do you know everything will be fine? Do people speak English? How do you communicate? What if you run out of money? And many more…

So here is a simple (though longish) post on how I prefer to do this and a rough idea of how much it costs.

For planning, we just need 3 basic things:

Google, an Excel sheet and an idea of your budget. And you will not believe this, but sometimes planning is the most exciting part, because a mind-blowing holiday lasts for a few weeks but the planning, anticipation and excitement can span over months!

Step 1: Main Plan

I always start everything with a simple google search of the main place I’m interested in. For example, let’s take Paris. Then by looking at google map and itineraries from other travel websites and blogs, I make a list of 3-4 places around the main destination (in our case Paris). Once this is made, I shortlist my final destinations basis relative distances, connectivity, similarities in destinations, my priorities and number of days I have, etc.

Here are a few useful links for this exercise:

https://www.ricksteves.com/europe – this one helps a lot in picking places around the main destination, also helps in prioritizing

http://www.thomascook.in/ – this one helps in understanding how many days to spend in 1 place

https://www.google.com/maps – google map helps in understanding the proximity from main destination as well as relative distances- to decide the order in which you cover all destinations

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/europe – for expert advice on each destination and also to see main attractions

https://www.raileurope.com/ – to see train connections, time tables and ticket prices. In Europe – most cities are connected by rail.

At the end of this exercise, you should have a list of the places you want to visit, the order of visiting them and the number of days you want to spend at each destination. Plot all of this in an excel sheet – so you don’t forget anything. This is what my excel sheet looks like when I am done with my full plan. Of course, some columns will get filled in the steps that follow.

ex

Step 2: Travel

Now that your main plan is ready, let’s get on with costs. Start with the main flight tickets. From your home town to the first destination and from the last destination back to your hometown – select the dates that you intend to travel on – because flight prices could fluctuate a lot between weekdays and weekend, season and not season etc. If you have a stopover flight, you may want to add a destination to your holiday. For example, when we were searching for flights from Athens to Mumbai, we saw that Turkish Airlines was the cheapest flight, so we took a 1 week stopover at Turkey without adding any flight costs. If you are booking via a travel agent, this is very easy to do. If you are researching/ booking flight yourself, then I recommend the below sites:

https://www.makemytrip.com/ – can see prices, stopover times, airline options, etc.

https://www.yatra.com/ – can see prices, stopover times, airline options, etc.

Just remember that your main flight expense will be your biggest expense (especially if you are travelling from India). So don’t get disheartened at this stage. What I recommend is book a longer holiday (2 weeks rather than 1 week) and try to cover more destinations, because the incremental cost for adding new destinations is very low.

Once your main flights are done, you should plan your internal connections. So you can book trains on the website I shared before (Rail Europe) or look for connecting busses and ferries on google (if applicable in your case). Sometimes flying is cheaper and faster. So look for internal flights on the websites I mentioned before as well as the ones below:

https://www.skyscanner.com – I have found unbelievable connections on this site

http://www.easyjet.com – This is a low cost airline that connects most places in Europe

Just 1 tip when you book low cost airlines. Be realistic about your luggage and pre-book all the bags that you need to check in. If you don’t, you will end up paying a lot more at the airport check-in counter.

By now, the Travel Price column in your excel sheet should be filled. Let’s move on.

Step 3: Hotel

You can look for hotels, B&Bs, home rentals, hostels, etc. depending on your style, comfort and budget. I prefer staying in hotels or B&Bs because they are very flexible about timings. You could choose a room with an attached bathroom, or a common bathroom. You can select a package with breakfast or without one – depending on price and what you intend to do on your holiday. I always opt for ‘no breakfast’ because I like eating out and exploring local cafes and restaurants. Also, I always select a hotel in city center – even if it is a little more expensive that staying outside. It just saves a lot of time. These few links should help you. Before booking anything, you must check reviews and rating on TripAdvisor.

http://www.booking.com – this is by far my most favorite hotel booking website. They don’t charge in advance (in most cases), they have a clear cancellation policy (mostly its free cancellation until 1 week before stay). Their prices are mostly at par with the cheapest ones online. You can book hotels, B&Bs, home rentals and hostels.

https://www.makemytrip.com/ – mostly you will pay in advance

http://www.hostels.com/ – great for booking hostels if you want to stay in one. I have stayed at a few in Spain and had a great time. Again, depends on your comfort level of sharing a bathroom, etc.

https://www.airbnb.com/ if you would like to stay in a home environment. They have some pretty great options. Communication with the host is key. You will mutually discuss check in time, etc. Payment is mostly in advance. Cancellation policy is different – there is no free cancellation, you lose booking fees.

https://www.tripadvisor.in/ – the best place to check reviews and user ratings

By now, the Hotel column in your excel sheet should be filled.

Step 4: Excursions

Most people forget about this but excursions are a very important part of any holiday. For example, if you are going to Paris, you may want to visit Versailles for a day excursion. Now it may not make sense to pack your bags and stay in Versailles for just 1 night, so a day trip from Paris makes more sense. One way to do this is to find out from google and other websites on how you can do this excursion (this is the cheapest way). The other option is to book a suitable group tour from a local travel agency (generally they pick you from your hotel or ask you to come to a central location in the city (in our case Paris).

https://www.viator.com/ – the best website to book excursions.

Your excel sheet should be fully ready now. Make sure you save your flight tickets, hotel and excursion vouchers, etc. in one place. You may need to submit these details along with other financial documents when you apply for a visa (this is for Indian passport). Ideally, just 1 Schengen Visa should work for all the countries you plan to visit in Europe. Make sure you check the country list on their website.

Now coming to costs, let me give you a rough estimate from my last visit to Italy, just a week ago.

A comfortable 8-9 days trip in economy class, second class Rail Europe travel, comfortable B&Bs with private bathroom, good food and wine in each city, 2 excursions from Viator, Visa, public transport with one airport taxi, travel sim card and basic shopping like souvenir magnets, chocolates, books, etc. should cost you about 1.75 lac INR (i.e. 2600 USD/ 2350 EURO/ 2130 GBP) per person. This is from Mumbai, on twin sharing basis. You can spend even less if you decide to stay in hostels, eat a few meals and buy drinks from supermarkets, etc.

Now, to answer a few more questions:

Do people speak English?

Yes they do! And if they don’t, they will still help you. With sign language, google translate, etc. Basically, you need to look for friendly people or people like salesmen in shops who can communicate with foreigners. It is not difficult.

How do you communicate?

Take a travel sim card before-hand. There are many brands such as Matrix and Friscon (I prefer Friscon rates). Don’t take an internet package, just select a hotel with free wifi. It’s good to not be on Facebook and Whatsapp 24X7 when you are travelling. If you think you are more comfortable having navigation in your phone just download ‘Here Maps’ – they work without internet. Remember to use calls only in emergency and for basic communication.

What if you run out of money?

There are ATM machines in all countries with English language option. Most of our debit and credit these days are international (check yours before you go). So if you run out of money, just withdraw/ swipe card.

Need help in selecting destinations? Here is my Travel Blog Greyindecision to give you a flavor of various places I have visited in Europe as well as around the world.

A few clear recommendations from my experience:

If it’s your first Europe trip and you want to keep it as cheap as possible while even exploring as much as possible, I would select Spain.

If it’s a Honeymoon you intend, I recommend Greece, especially Santorini or even Venice in Italy.

If you love hiking, Cinque Terre in Italy is the place for you!

If you are a fan of Yash Chopra movies, then you can’t miss Switzerland.

And if you are looking at a romantic shopping trip, you should not miss Paris.

I think I’ve tried to cover most of your questions in my post. But if you still have questions please feel free to post a comment and I will get back with answers/ recommendations as soon as I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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