What is stopping you from traveling Europe? Is it the fact that you just don’t know where to start and have no idea how to go about planning your first trip? I have traveled to Europe on over five separate occasions and throughout my time spent abroad, and my time spent planning for these trips, I’ve learned a lot!
Here are some of the tips that will make planning your first (or second or third…) Euro trip easier.
Don’t try to do too much
Since the countries in Europe are relatively small and are so close together, many people think they can jam pack multiple countries into a small amount of time. Don’t get me wrong, you can definitely do this, but if you don’t want to feel rushed, and want to actually see the countries you’re visiting, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Lay out the countries you’d like to visit, then look at all the cities or highlights you’d like to see within each country. From there, determine how long it will take to get to each place. This will give you an idea if it’s too much. If you’re going to spend the majority of your trip traveling between countries, then rethink your itinerary and save some of the places on your list for a later trip.
If you want to hit 4 countries, and only want to see the main cities, and nothing else, then it will be easy to plan to hit multiple countries in your trip. If you’d like to visit more than one city in each country, you will really want to think out your best plan of attack. Look at a map and see how faraway places are, and remember if you plan on taking buses and trains for your transportation, you’ll sometimes spend days traveling to the next destination.
My tip? See everything there is to see within one country, then when you leave, you won’t feel like you have to return at least 3 more times because you didn’t get to see everything.
Don’t only do structured tours
Europe is one of the easiest places I’ve ever traveled and now that I’ve visited places like Asia, it is even less intimidating.
Most people in Europe speak multiple languages, English being one of them, so with a minimal language barrier this makes it easy to find your way around. Although I encourage doing day trips, afternoon tours, etc., limiting the whole duration of your trip to an organized tour with minimal time for discovering and exploring on your own, will limit you. Planning your own trip will be much more rewarding, even if you are traveling alone. This way you can see everything you want to see, do whatever you want to do, and not have to worry about wasting time stuck in a city or tour that you aren’t at all interested in.
Do your research
Buy travel guides, read online blogs (like this one) and reviews, and ask people you know about their trips. Research is key to making sure you don’t miss out on anything. Guide books and tourism websites only tell you so much about a place, but you’ll really find an insider perspective by seeking out opinions from other places.
Not only will doing proper research leading up to your trip help guide what you’ll be doing on your trip, it will also help calm any anxiety you may have about a place (especially if you’re traveling alone). Remember to not just research about must-see places and things to do but research information about the actual places you’re visiting, learn about their culture, learn about how you should dress, how to be respectful of local religions, any scams to watch out for.
This ties into doing your research, but reading reviews is so important I feel like I have to emphasize it again. Reviews can give you the insider look on attractions, accommodations, tours, restaurants, etc. A company or hotels website is always going to be created to make something look the best it can possibly be, when in reality you may show up and realize there’s no hot water and bed bugs.
Read reviews from other travellers and collect the insiders tips and advice, but keep in mind that some people on these forums like to complain for the sake of complaining. If you see 3 negative reviews, and 10 positive, there’s a pretty good chance you should follow the positive ones.
Book ahead but leave room for the unexpected
Many people are the types of travellers that don’t believe in booking anything but their flight ahead of time. This option is great to not limit yourself, but isn’t the best option for everyone, especially if this is your first trip to Europe and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed already. My suggestion is to book your accommodations and your internal transportation (ferries, trains, buses, planes in between countries) ahead of time. Many times during tourist season accommodations book up quick, and if you care about where you’re sleeping, you’ll want to book ahead of time!
For day trips and tours you may want to take, I’d suggest waiting until you’re there. You can often get a better price and there may even be more options and suggestions once you get there, or you may decide you want to do something entirely different. The only thing I’d make sure about is the tours that book up really quick in advance. For example: seeing the Last Supper in Milan, tickets sell out months in advance! So we found a tour group that would take you and tickets were included. We made sure to book this in advance so we wouldn’t miss this highlight while in Milan!
It also doesn’t hurt to do your research on main attractions you want to see. Yes, you can ALWAYS buy tickets the day of for places like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, or the Colosseum in Rome, but you can also buy tickets online ahead of time and skip the long line that wraps around the entire building.