Many people think of a trip to Europe as a once or at least a few times in a lifetime experience. What this can, unfortunately, lead to is an itinerary in which you try to do 10 cities in nine days not to miss anything, and worse, the things that you do see may not really be what interests you most. Planning a trip of this magnitude can feel overwhelming, but the tips below can help you better prioritize and create an itinerary that will be satisfying to you.
Plan Your Budget
Ultimately, you’re going to be limited by how much time and money you have, although not as limited as you may think. The first rule here is not to assume that you need to be wealthy to afford this trip to Europe. You can get this impression if you only talk to people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a grand tour, but keep in mind that, as is the case with everything, you really can spend about as much or as little as you want.
Low-cost accommodations, including hostels and even camping, can keep costs extremely low. Cooking food you buy for yourself or eating at restaurants popular with locals instead of tourists also saves money and can provide a richer cultural experience. If you want to save money, it doesn’t have to mean an inadequate experience.
There’s the time budget as well, and time and money go hand in hand. Some countries in Europe are more expensive than others, but if you have your heart set on a pricier destination, such as Paris, doesn’t it make sense to go where you really want? You can still travel on a budget while there.
Spending less can give you more time. If you don’t have enough saved up or you have an unexpected block of time, you want to take advantage of; such as a few weeks between ending one job and starting another, you may want to think about taking out a personal loan. This may offer better repayment options than a high-interest credit card.
As mentioned above, one common mistake people often make is trying to cram too many locations while planning a short trip to Europe. This can become even more fraught if you’ve booked a series of flights between European cities. While on paper it can look faster to fly somewhere than to take the train, you must factor in the time it takes to get to airports, often some way out from the city center, as well as the cost of transportation to and from airports and the time you spend standing in line for security and to pick up your luggage.
You may find that a train journey takes a roughly equivalent amount of time or just a couple of hours more, and traveling by train can be a great cultural experience. It’s also a wonderful way to get a look at the scenery.
Whatever you plan, remember the time spent going from one place to another so that you don’t spend most of your trip seeing the insides of train stations or airports. As painful as it may be to leave some stops off your itinerary, no one can see everything; not even Europeans get to see every corner of their continent. The tips below can help you prioritize and choose what you really want.
Going on Your Own Journey
The minute you mention to some that you’re considering traveling to Europe, you’ll be inundated with well-meaning advice, much of it about all the places and things you must see. The internet and guidebooks aren’t much better in this regard, and you can wind up feeling as though your trip is a waste if you don’t visit some of the most popular locations, like Rome or Paris, or the most popular sites at those locations, like the Eiffel Tower.
However, ultimately, you need to take the trip that will fulfill you and your traveling companions. It’s great to get advice from other people, and it can mean some terrific tips on restaurants and other experiences you might never have had.
If you can just admit to yourself that you don’t really like art, it is okay to go to France without ever setting foot in the Louvre. Take some time to sit down with your traveling companions and talk about what everyone enjoys. If you’re a World War II enthusiast or you love mountains, plan your trip to Europe around battlefields or hiking in the Alps.
Also, if you’re all about nightclubbing, make Berlin your priority; if ancient history is your thing, Greece and Italy have you covered. If everyone wants to do something different, don’t force everyone to endure things they don’t enjoy. Choose a location that will provide something for everyone.
First-time travelers in a foreign country have a few other common concerns. One is the language barrier. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, you’ll probably find that people speak excellent English. But in other places, particularly if you leave the beaten track, this is not so much the case, but you can get by with language apps and some key phrases, including “Excuse me” and “Thank you.” In fact, it’s a good idea to learn a dozen or so simple and polite everyday words and phrases, even in countries where English is widely spoken. People will appreciate your efforts.
Safety is another worry for some new travelers. In general, touristy areas in Europe tend to be relatively safe, although pickpockets are a problem in some countries. You can always check the State Department website for any warnings about countries, although keep in mind that these warnings tend to err on the side of extreme caution. People also worry about how to dress and look like a tourist.
The fact is that you are a tourist, so it’s no disaster to look like one. In general, keep in mind that in some countries, Europeans dress somewhat more formally than Americans, so you might look out of place in a T-shirt and shorts. By and large, however, you should wear what makes you comfortable.
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