Planning your first European trip can be both exciting and daunting.
As first time travellers, we sought answers to many of the obvious questions when we were planning our first European Trip
- What is the best flight?
- Where do we find the best accommodation?
- How much spending money do we need ?
- What attractions do we want to visit?
- How do we travel between destinations?
All of these questions can be answered simply by booking a package tour through a travel company. This has many benefits, as your trip is pre-planned and pre-booked, providing an attractive option for many travellers.
The downside is that it is a much more expensive way to travel, your schedule is pre-determined, taking much of the spontaneity out of your trip and you will tend to get a more “sanitised” experience, lacking the interaction with the locals which provides you with a rich cultural experience.
We opted for a mix of the two for our first trip, and I hope these pages will help you in planning your trip of a lifetime, as well as providing some inspiration for your next destination.
Our first visit to Europe was in May 2016. The children had all not only left home, but three of them had left the country, settling in the “hip” metropolis of Berlin, a base from which they have taken the opportunity to visit much of Europe. Berlin with an initial visit to London, was therefore our first destination, rather than the popular Paris, Rome, Venice itinerary we may have chosen otherwise.
While we were fortunate to have “local guides” there was still much planning and preparation to be done.
Booking your flights
Booking your flights should be the first step, as your departure and arrival dates will define your itinerary.
- Be Flexible It can pay to be flexible with your dates, as you will be amazed at the cost savings to be had. Flying on a Tuesday for example, is often significantly cheaper. Even a few days either side of peak holiday times can make a huge difference in cost. We initially chose early June for our trip as I don’t “do” freezing winter. We found however that by changing our plans by a few weeks to May we were able to make significant cost savings on our airfares.
- Research: There are many websites where you can Research flights and get comparison fares across numerous airlines. Do look closely however at the cheaper fares. Do they include baggage? Meals? Can you cancel or rebook if necessary? These essential “extras” can make a cheap flight not so economical.
- Timing: Look also at the number of legs in the journey and layover times. A 24 hour flight can be harrowing enough without adding in four plane changes and a 17 hour wait in Dubai airport.
There are many websites and publications available to help you plan your trip. From accommodation to local attractions.
- Research your itinerary When planning your itinerary, it is worth checking the opening days of any must-see attractions. No point being in Dresden on a Monday, if you want to see Zwinger Palace, for example. Hop onto the tourist website for your chosen destination for information. You will probably also find some great accommodation options here.
- Consider distances: While many organised tours offer multiple countries and cities in the itinerary, it can be more relaxing and enjoyable to spend more time in one place and see “more” of “less”
- A Lonely Planet Best of Europe travel guide for your chosen destination is a must. These will provide you with wealth of information ranging from accommodation, maps, local attractions and transport options, to practicalities such as currency, weather, local etiquette and some basic foreign phrases
- Trip Advisor will provide you with details, reviews and pricing on everything from accommodation and attractions to car hire and transport options. There are also forums where you can ask questions of other travellers. There are a number of other websites such as Expedia, Webjet and bookings.com where you can do similar research
- Book accommodation close to town. When researching accommodation, do consider the proximity to the places you want to visit. On the London leg of our trip, we could have booked considerably cheaper accommodation in the outer suburbs of London. However our Kensington hotel was within a five minute walk of both Earls Court and Gloucester tube stations and a few minutes ride to anywhere in central London. Well worth the extra cost
- Visit the local tourism websites, where you will find valuable information on transport, seasonal events, weather and local attractions. There is nothing worse than arriving at a “must see” attraction on Monday morning, only to find it is open Wednesday to Sunday, or closed for maintenance. Simply google “Visit…your chosen destination”.
- Here’s a great checklist to help you with your planning.
Budgeting your trip
The question “how much do I need for a trip to….?” is like asking “how long is a piece of string?” Basically you need to work out how much you can afford to spend on your trip and budget around it.
Having said that, I have found a useful site Budget your trip ,which provides you with estimates based upon other travellers experiences. The site provides you with options for low, midrange and high range budgets, taking into account accommodation, food, travel, and incidental expenses. We have also provided information on the costings for our trips to London, France and Switzerland.
In the excitement of planning your holiday of a lifetime there are some fine details you need to attend to:
- Passports and visas. Most countries will require your passport to be valid for six months after your departure. Smart Traveller will provide you with up to date visa requirements for your chosen destination, as well as providing you with up to date travel alerts. While you are there, don’t forget to take a few moments to register your trip.
- Vaccinations. Check with your GP on vaccination requirements and ask for a copy of your health record in case of an unforseen emergency. At the very least a Fluvax is always a good idea, given that you will be in a confined space on a plane for at least 24 hours. Nothing worse than arriving at your dream destination with the ‘Flu.
- Copy documents. Leave a copy of your passports and original birth certificates etc with a friend or relative in case you need to replace your passport. Trust me on this – my children have taken passport loss to a professional level.
- Travel insurance. If you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel. Many credit card providers offer free basic travel insurance. Be sure to compare these with the insurance offered by your travel provider, as this can save you several hundred dollars.
- Money matters. How are you going to access your funds overseas? Travel Money Cards, which allow you to load multiple foreign currencies are a good option which help you to minimise the international transaction fees you will incur on your credit card and debit cards. Travellers cheques are no longer widely used and may not be accepted in your destination. Make sure you have internet banking access to your accounts before you leave.
- Phone plan. Are you taking your phone overseas? Check with your carrier about the international roaming plans available. Simply turning your phone on when you get overseas will result in a costly bill shock when you return home. Prepaid international sims are also available, but these cannot be used on all phones – check with your provider.
- Packing. What specifically to pack will be dealt with in a future blog. When choosing your luggage, take into consideration both your airline baggage limits and how you will be travelling when you get there. Navigating two large suitcases, two carry-ons, backpacks and handbags on and off buses and trains is not fun.
- Local transport. Pre-purchasing your local transport tickets before you go will provide you with some great cost savings. I purchased our Opal card for the London tube from Visit Britain and Europass tickets are readily available online
Hopefully the above has provided you with some helpful tips to planning an enjoyable holiday. My future posts will include travelogues from Berlin, London, Prague, Dresden, Munich and Potsdam and the all-important question “What to Pack”
Read also Travel Europe on a Budget