Planning a holiday to Europe this year, but not sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed by what you should be doing now? Rest assure that this comprehensive guide has all the tips to follow for your perfect European Summer.
In recent times I have had many friends ask me about how to go about planning a Europe trip. Last year I travelled around Europe for four consecutive months and I’d have to say those were the four best months of my life to date. When I first began planning my Europe trip, I assumed that four months would be plenty to see the whole of Europe. I couldn’t have been more wrong.The entire European continent is able to easily fit inside of Australia. Would it be possible to travel the entirety of Australia in four months, not just the coastal outline but including the mass of dessert that makes up the middle section of the country? No. The answer is definitely not. Or if you did manage to, it would be far too rushed to stay and enjoy places and truly discover all that each place has to offer.
Planning your Europe trip is absolutely essential, especially if you intend to travel in the European Summer. I thought that I would be able to make up my itinerary from day-to-day and ‘wing-it’ when it came to finding accommodation. Again, not the case in the summertime or at least for the hot-spot destinations. In fact, if you want the most out of your time away, you need to find the perfect balance between planning and un-planning.
Follow this comprehensive list to experience the perfect European holiday.
1. Research, Research, Research
Talk to people who have been there and done it. Don’t just ask them ‘What was your favourite place?’ Instead find out vital information from them. Ask questions such as ‘What was the best thing that you did?’ ‘What is one thing you did that you had no idea you would?’ ‘Which country surprised you the most?’ Was there a place that you didn’t expect to travel to but loved it?’ Those types of questions. This is how you find out all about the best places to travel to and the best things to do there that you may not necessarily have known about. And a little tip I like to remember is not to judge a place by someone else’s experience. Instead go there and find out what it’s all about for yourself. I can guarantee you that their trip will be totally different to yours!
2. Make A Bucket List.
After talking to people, asking Mr. Google and looking through travel mags and guidebooks, come up with your own list of places/things you definitely want to do and see. Don’t just add things if you’re not 100% sure you want to do it, they can feature on another list of ‘would like to see places’. Make sure you research any dates of events that you may want to do, such as a sail or music festival.
3. Figure Out Your Budget
How much money can you realistically save before you leave for your trip? You might want to take a look at my article ‘How To Save For Your Next Big Trip’ to learn some money-saving tips and tricks.
4. How Long Will You Travel For?
You need to know a rough estimate of how long you can travel afford to travel for. Whether it’s weeks or months. A general guide on a tight budget is around $100 (Australian Dollars) a day for Europe – for dorm style accommodation, cheap meals, some spending money for daily activities. If you want to party, this is going to add more to your daily budget, depending on how much alcohol you tend to drink and how often!
5. Book Early
Try to find early bird deals on flights and tours. This is guaranteed to save you hundreds of dollars.
Work out whether you want to fly from place to place, hire a car, use buses, ferries, trains or go with an organised tour company. Again talking to people and hearing their experiences can be good for deciding this. Remember hiring a car, taking the train or flying you are less likely to meet as many people or strike up friendships like you would on an organised tour. But they do leave you with more flexibility to explore on your own. I have to say I like doing both. I like going on tours, meeting people, spending days at a time with them, striking up great friendships with like-minded people. Yet I also like to venture off the touristy routes and do my own thing. Both have their pros and cons, it’s all about finding a balance that works for you and your budget.
7. Determine Your Route
This is the time to get your geography up to date. Find a map or use Google Earth to try to learn the layout of the countries of Europe. Then spend time trying to figure out the best route to cover all of the things you want to see and do. You don’t want to waste time back tracking so it’s best to try to work out some systematic way of travelling in a certain direction. I always like to do the coastal European countries in the mid summer in hope of hot weather and beautiful beach days. But so too do most people. July and August are the busiest times of year for tourists in Europe, best to keep this in mind.
8. Make An Itinerary
I always like to use an online calendar to plot where I plan to be each day of the month. Pencil in any days that you have already booked – such as flights, music festivals and tours. Then fill in the gaps by looking at your route and determine roughly how long you have / would like to stay at each place. This is just an approximate and it can be hard when you don’t know exactly what a place is like. But try to work out whether it’s somewhere you want to spend three days or three weeks. I find it’s simple to make changes on a calendar and you can easily count up how many days you will spend at a particular place.
Using a calendar also gives you a good visual plan of your trip. It can help you to work out if it is possible to do all of the things you hoped to do within the timeframe that you have. You are able to tell just by looking at it if your itinerary appears to be too rushed or too drawn out. Just don’t forget to include travel days. On these days you are usually going from place to place and you won’t really see much other than outside of your window. So don’t count these days as days that you will explore.
Remember, this is just a rough plan. You can leave gaps on your itinerary for parts of your trip that you want to keep ‘unplanned.’ I think it’s important not to over plan, but be organised enough that you have a rough idea about the direction you will move in and dates for certain events e.g. music festival. This way you can fill in the gaps as you venture and leave yourself with time for activities that arise when you are on the road.
A simple one but make sure your passport has more than two years until it expires. Some countries will not grant people entry if their passport does not have two years validity.
Do you require a visa to enter a particular country? Or is there a limit on how long you can stay? Note that for Australian passport holders travelling to Europe, your total length of stay within the Schengen must be a maximum of 90 days. This is an agreement between lots of European counties for their citizens to travel through their boarders without their passports being stamped. If you plan on being in Europe for more than three months, you may need to travel outside of the Schengen Zone to stop your days from being counted towards your permitted 90. Click here to see which countries are a part of the Schengen Area and to learn more about it. Here is a link to find out if you require a Schengen Visa. (Australians do not need a Schengen Visa. However for other countries like Turkey, Australians do need a visa).
Now you need to start thinking about what type of accommodation your budget will allow you to stay in. Whether you are going to book hostels, apartments, hotels or luxury accommodation or a mix of all the above. Be sure to know that if you are going budget and staying in hostels, sometimes for some places, renting an apartment can be just as cheap as a hostel. Check websites like ‘airbnb’ for this to compare locations. Also ‘Couchsurfing’ can also lead to being hosted for free and great local experiences. Just be sure to check host’s references on both of these sites. (Just making sure it’s clear that I have not been endorsed to say this but rather have used these sites, have had great experiences and highly recommend them.)
13. Keep Track Of Your Bookings
I always make a quick table to keep track of the dates that I have booked what. This sounds nerdy I know but if like me, you travel for four months, there is no way you will remember which dates and times your flight is, the name of a town you are supposed to catch a ferry from, let alone being able to pronounce it. Make some sort of record for the things you book and fill it out as you book new parts of your trip. Info to include: the dates it’s for, how much you paid, the address. You will be very thankful that you don’t have to waste time on the road sifting through emails trying to find your booking information from seven months ago, but rather you will be squeezing in one more activity for the day instead.
14. Travel Insurance
Be sure to book yourself travel insurance. From my experience it’s better to purchase insurance that does not have an excess. I made this mistake once and it was going to cost me more on excess for incidents that happened on the road and things I lost, than how much I would receive in compensation. It simply wasn’t worth making a claim and being further out of pocket. I also like to book for a couple of days in advance before I leave and a couple of days after I plan to be home. This gives time incase anything happens days before you fly out, for the costs of your flights to be covered. And same with the return home, incase planes are overbooked or the airline cancels a flight. This happens all the time and it’s the last thing in the world you will feel like covering the cost of when you are on your way home and out of funds.
Things To Take You May Not Have Thought About:
- A good suitcase / backpack. I suggest one that is as theft proof and water proof as possible. I lost my suitcase twice on the road thanks to an airline stuff up and a lowlife breaking into our hostel room (it does happen).
- A bike lock or cable lock – you can use this to chain your backpack or suitcase to a permanent furniture item within your room. I suggest a pipe, piece of metal or if not then your bed. Some people also like to use portable safes for this purpose, as even lockers still manage to get broken into (this also happened to me 😦 )
- A microfiber towel – a super fast drying light towel that easily rolls up into your luggage. You will be thankful of this if you have to pay to hire a towel constantly.
- A sleeping sheath – either made of cotton or silk. Think a sleeping bag but as thin as a sheet. This will be handy for backpackers when sheets are not provided at your hostel or they must be hired at a price.
- An eye patch and ear plugs are also totally underrated when on the road. Some European cities are very busy and noisy not to mention if you’re staying in a hostel there will be people coming and going from your room all hours of the night / morning. A good nights sleep is definitely appreciated when travelling.
- Comfortable walking shoes. Choose comfort over look. I was contemplating taking my pretty white converse shoes as my walking shoes. Very glad I didn’t. Choose shoes that you can walk kilometres in day after day and not complain of discomfort. The lighter and softer on your feet the better.
- Some sort of document / passport holder to keep all your paper work, visas, passports etc
- My best tip: get a camera with wifi. If you are thinking of purchasing a camera for your trip, the thing that made our trip so much easier was having a camera that had inbuilt wifi. (note: this wont let you connect to the internet but it does mean that you can download all your pictures from each day on to your smart phone, devices or computer in an instant). You won’t be looking to try to find wifi every few days to back up your photos. Instead you will give your self loads more time for exploring each place.
If you have any other travel tips / experiences to share I would love to hear them!