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How to Plan a Trip to Europe, Rookie Mistakes + Top Cities to Visit

How to plan a trip to Europe
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Europe is a picturesque, historic, and magical place in so many ways. From the cobblestone streets of Paris, to the Swiss Alps of Switzerland, to the hot springs of Iceland – Europe holds a plethora of climates, languages, cuisines, and cultures that coexist side by side.

Because it is so vast and diverse, it can be daunting to plan for. Use this guide to get a quick feel for how to plan a trip to Europe, how to build the best itinerary ever, and common mistakes to avoid along the way!

How to Plan a Europe Trip

  • 1. Determine your itinerary

    Every time we go to Europe, we struggle to determine our itinerary. This is because the possibilities feel ENDLESS.

    It starts as “Let’s fly into Berlin, then go to Copenhagen and Brussels.” Then it quickly turns into, “Oh, we’re close to France! AND we could hop over to Spain! But then we’re so close to Portugal, we may as well take a daytrip to Morocco.” And the list goes on.

    Here’s how to ensure you’re planning a realistic trip that won’t lead to exhaustion, burn-out, or rushing around the whole time.

    Firstly, consider your interests, goals, and priorities –

    • Do you want to see museums and ancient ruins? Or shop along the Champs-Élysées?
    • Do you want to taste your way through Italy? Or watch a symphony in Mozart’s hometown of Vienna?
    • Do you want to sunbathe on a Mediterranean beach? Or see the Northern lights of Finland?

    Get specific to outline your dream vacation and really ask yourself what that would look like.

    Determine your itinerary
  • 2. Establish a trip budget

    The next step will be determining your budget. This will involve knowing if you plan to be a backpacker, standard traveler, or 5-star luxury guest. Let’s break this down by core factors like hotels, meals, and activities:

    • Accommodation – Will vary greatly depending on the region you are visiting and your proximity to town (staying within the inner-city can nearly double the rate of a hotel or Airbnb, so if you’re seeking a budget-friendly stay, consider staying 30-40 minutes outside of town):
      • Hostels – 15-40€ per night
      • Standard Room – 100-300€ per night
      • Luxury rooms – 500-1,000+€ per night
    • Food – Unique cuisine is part of the reason to visit Europe! Don’t restrict yourself because there are countless ways to save money while dining your heart out. If you plan to order nice wine or drink cocktails, you will also need to factor in alcohol which can nearly double these rates:
      • Budget Traveler – 5-50€ per day
      • Standard Traveler – 50-150 € per day
      • Luxury Traveler – 100-500€ per day
    • Sightseeing & Attractions – Your trip will likely involve popular sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, etc. But these can add up quickly and get quite pricey, especially if you want a human guide as compared to audio or self-guided tours. Some approximate figures are:
      • General Excursions – Free-50€ per tour, per person
      • Skip-The-Line Excursions – 50-150€ per tour, per person
      • Private Guided Excursions – 200-1,000€ per tour, per person
    Establish a trip budget
  • 3. Find the best city to fly in and out of

    Once you’ve visualized your dream trip and have an idea of your budget, you can now find the flight paths that correlate.

    Here are some tips related to booking flights:

    • Set a Google Flight Alert – Find the dates and region you are interested in, toggle the bar under the search area that says ‘Track Flights.’ This will send you email alerts every time the price is low!
    • Check Hopper, Skyscanner, and other Flight Sites – These often have great deals for flights, hotels, car rentals, etc.
    • Consider Open-Jaw Flights – These fly into one destination, and fly out of another (for example, flying into Berlin and out of Lisbon, instead of racing back to Berlin for the flight home if you’ve already traveled from east to west). An open-jaw flight would be useful if you want to travel from one point to another without scrambling back-and-forth. Round-trip from a single location may look cheaper at a glance, but factor in train rides and hotels for the journey back to starting point A, it may not be a deal.
    Find the best city to fly in and out of
  • 4. Outline a rough itinerary

    Plan your trip geographically and then look into the best routes of arrival. Think of this like a game of Connect the Dots! Try to focus on one region (the Baltic, Mediterranean, Greek Islands, etc.) to determine the easiest way to navigate your trip.

    Funny enough, roadblocks may help! On our recent trip to Europe, we wanted to stop in Marseille but found there were limited transport options from our starting point, overpriced tickets, or no easy way to get there. Ruling locations out by default has greatly helped us to finalize itineraries.

    Here are sample itineraries that feel realistic and DOABLE for popular European areas:

    • London > Paris > Amsterdam
    • Budapest > Vienna > Prague
    • Oslo > Stockholm > Copenhagen
    • Santorini > Mykonos > Athens
    • Blue Lagoon > Snæfellsnes > Golden Circle > Reykjavik
    • Rome > Florence > Cinque Terre > Amalfi > Venice
    • Lisbon > Barcelona > Monte Carlo > Zurich
    • Tuscany > Zurich > Paris
    Outline a rough itinerary
  • 5. Research how to get around Europe

    There are countless ways to get around Europe.

    Instead of wasting money on expensive taxis to get around Europe, utilize the extensive network of affordable trains, buses, metros, rideshares, and ferries available to you.

    You can use to find the best routes that may take you from planes to trains to automobiles.

    A Eurorail Pass is a solid investment if you are hitting many cities. It is available exclusively to non-Europeans as a simplified means for transnational tourism. Hop-on-hop-off tours are a bit touristy and cheesy, but they’re also a fun and fast way to get a lay-of-the-land in bigger cities. Islands like Greece are the easiest to cruise through if you’re open to waking up somewhere new every morning, MSC is a popular European cruise line with unique itineraries.

    Remember that once you’ve arrived in Europe, getting around is quite affordable. It’s the trip overseas that will hurt your wallet a bit. The metro will typically cost 1-2€ per person, train rides can cost as little as 10-20€, and flights are frequently less than 50€ between countries!

    Research how to get around Europe
  • 6. Consider travel time (potentially DAYS!)

    A rough estimate of travel time is that it will take about 4-6 hours between cities, or about a half day. But some regions are further apart and may require a 10+ hour trip. Use overnight train rides and buses to avoid double-paying for an accommodation – two birds, one stone.

    Also, leave plenty of room between connections because things aren’t always on-time in Europe. It’s a relaxed way of life and respecting time is not a cultural priority. Give yourself ample space to find the location, eat, relax, and arrive safely early for any reservations. Remember: Transits may come early, they may come late, but they will definitely leave without you!

    Pro Tip: Utilize luggage storage. Most accommodations do not allow you to drop off your bags until late afternoon. You don’t want to be lugging around heavy suitcases. Luckily, there are tons of baggage storage facilities and lockers.

    Look for websites like Stow Your Bags. as well as major train stations like Roma Termini that typically provide luggage rooms or nearby businesses that will hold your bags while you adventure.

    Consider travel time (potentially DAYS!)
  • 7. Book Travel Insurance for Europe

    Many wanderlusters aren’t aware of the importance of travel insurance. We find it too crucial to travel without, covering you in case of flight delays, cancellations, baggage loss, COVID evacuations, medical emergencies, hospital transits, and more.

    Keep in mind that your domestic provider does NOT generally follow you overseas, you don’t want to end up paying out of pocket if something bad were to happen. Even something as small as a broken wrist could turn into a disastrous bill, so we play it safe by using Faye Insurance for all of our travel protection needs.

    They have unique plan add-ons like ‘cancel for any reason’ that give you flexibility and peace of mind. We’ve also found that they pay out faster than most any travel insurance providers we’ve used, sending you cash up-front for any claims instead of a lengthy reimbursement process.

    Book Travel Insurance for Europe
  • 8. Know the Best Time of Year to Visit Europe

    Europe is a huge continent with 8 climates types, ranging from extremes like marine to subarctic. You can’t always expect flower fields in the summer or ski slopes in the winter, so it’s best to research utilizing your precise roadmap and budget.

    Flight rates may be half as much in the off-season, which leads to fewer crowds, lower hotel prices, cheaper food, and other great benefits.

    But! It’s also usually colder, rainier, and not as idyllic of a time for exploring.

    Conversely, summer in America is typically when tourists flock to Europe (June to August for school break, summer vacation, etc.), but it is also sweltering in some parts of the continent. If you don’t want to be melting like an ice cream cone in huge lines that wrap buildings in direct scorching UV rays – consider not visiting during peak season. If you do visit during these busy months, take the heat into account, even the Spaniards do a midday siesta to avoid overexerting themselves.

    We believe the best seasons to visit Europe are autumn and spring. Both will result in fewer crowds and greater affordability, in addition to not being freezing cold or boiling hot.

    Visiting in September, October, and November will be ideal for things like afternoon drinks at Munich’s Oktoberfest and long scenic hikes in the Camino Del Santiago of Spain.

    Visiting in March through May will be best to see the tulips blooming in Lisse Netherlands, enjoy outdoor meals at rooftop cafes, and meet the locals who emerge from their tourist-driven recluse.

    Know the Best Time of Year to Visit Europe
  • 9. Finalize your itinerary

    Lastly, fine-tune your plans. Get guidebooks and language-translation apps. Ask your well-traveled friends for advice on the must-sees.

    Check that your time conversions are correct to properly book your accommodations (noting that most flights from the United States will likely arrive a day after the departure date).

    Create a Google doc or spreadsheet to keep track of your planning, reservation numbers, directions, and recommendations – something you can access from anywhere on your smartphone. Download these files or set them to accessible offline in case you do not have great reception in Europe (more on phone plans below!)

    Planning ahead will help you make fewer decisions in the moment which will be of great relief to you.

    Finalize your itinerary

Avoid Rookie Mistakes in European Travel

Some of these common fails include:

Not bringing a neck wallet – Dont carry a ton of cash or essentials like credit cards and passports without a neck wallet. This way, you won’t stand out like a vulnerable tourist or be flashing around euros to potential pickpockets.

Not using a VPN in Europe – VPNs protect your WiFi connection and ensure you’re not exposing passwords, credit card numbers, and private data to potential hackers. NordVPN will add a layer of encryption when joining public networks at cafes, airports, Airbnbs, etc.

Not booking excursions in advance – Public service announcement, you don’t want to be turned away from popular attractions because they’re fully booked. Use Get Your Guide to book the best excursions based on your location! We recommend the skip-the-line option to save yourself time and energy.

Not setting up an international phone plan – Your provider will love to charge you an arm and a leg for roaming fees. Either set up an international plan before you leave or purchase a European SIM card to have an international phone number while you’re overseas.

Not bringing a universal power adapter – Don’t risk frying your electronics or being unable to charge your phone. This adapter works in 100+ countries and comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee.

Not taking advantage of the public transit – Utilize the budget-friendly options at your disposal! The public transit system is very well developed in Europe and truly the easiest way to get around. Save your taxi money for food and beverage expenses.

Not packing comfortable shoes – We bring along hiking shoes, rainboots, and Crocs that are water-resistant and supportive for the medieval cobblestone streets.

Not converting your cash beforehand – At some banks, euros will need to be ordered or retrieved from the main bank location. Plan ahead and leave at least a week before your trip for currency conversions.

Not checking the business hours – Always research closure times or if renovations are being done. Lots of things are regularly closed in Europe and you don’t want to show up to an empty building. Note that almost all central European nations will close businesses on Sundays (France, Germany, Poland, etc.), and many of Europe’s best museums are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Traveling as a female solo traveler without protection – We are all-about solo travel and female independence! But I’ve personally run into some scary situations as a woman alone in a foreign place. Keep a self-defense alert on you at all times that has a built-in location detector, siren, and emergency alert.

Overbooking – If you find one major takeaway in this article: Avoid trying to see everything at once. Time will slip away quickly if you’re cramming too much in one vacation and you will be drained from 10+ hour flights, jet lag, overnight train rides, bus rides to your neighborhood, and so on. Not to mention trying to navigate in a foreign language. Make it as simple on yourself as you possibly can!

Overpacking – Keep things light so you’re not struggling between airports, trains, and buses. Lots of European terrains are uphill and heavy suitcases would be a mistake. Plus, you want to leave some room to do a little shopping! We recommend bringing one checked bag and one carry-on, then this packable “just in case” bag counts as your personal item for the trip home. Fill it up with authentic goods and treats that your friends and family will love.

Top Cities to Visit

If it’s not your first time visiting Europe, go off-the-beaten path to find lesser-known regions and hidden gems like Sorrento in Italy, Marseille in France, Porec in Croatia, etc.

If it is your first time in Europe, we recommend starting with these major hot-spots like London, Madrid, and Rome, saving the smaller towns for future trips when you will have a better idea of where you want to return to.

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