One of the most daunting ventures is designing your own travel itinerary. It can be challenging to figure out where to start and there is a reason why people pay travel agents to figure out everything for them. I have a particular methodology that works and as long as you follow it, it’s very easy. To make sense, I will provide examples of common cities and how to figure out if your travel plans are realistic and with the least amount of stress. Before we start, there are key things to understand before you start plotting:
(Disclaimer: This is coming from an American perspective however most principals may apply to others from different countries)
- All of Europe is not the same – Just because you jump on a direct flight in Paris doesn’t mean you can do the same in Warsaw. I will elaborate further in this article.
- Just because it says Paris, doesn’t mean it’s in Paris – What I mean by this is that a lot of cities have 2 or 3 airports of different sizes and for different purposes. They use the name of the largest city that is close by but if you see it on a map, you’ll realize that it’s no where close to the city. You must understand this and always research the airports actual location. Example: CDG Paris Airport is 1 hour outside of Paris. If you are flying into an airport outside of the city, find out your options to leave the Airport to get into the City. The good news is that the Airports know this and they have buses and/or train lines setup to get you into the city.
- If you can, avoid the Summer Time – Europe is a popular destination for people all over the world to go to during the summer time. Everyone is trying to go there and the airlines know it. Those same flights you were looking at for $600 round trip are now $1100 round trip. Spring-Time and Fall are just as nice weather wise, less crowded and cheaper.
- Keep Region in mind when planning – The farther east you go in Europe, the fewer transportation options and the more likeliness that you will have to take inconvenient layover flights. Keep in Mind the 3 Regions: Western Europe, Central Europe and Eastern Europe.
OK, now that we’ve gone through that, lets plan your trip!
- Pick an airport that will be your “Transportation Hub” – You want to pick a larger city as your starting and returning point. These cities are typically in Western Europe. My suggestion for people coming from the Americas is to use Paris CDG Airport. The key point of finding your hub is you will have the ability to setup a round trip ticket there and this hub should have lots of airline flight options. In Europe, they have a lot of discount airlines to connect you to your next destination (EasyJet, Vueling and RyanAir for example). Also, my suggestion is to make this city your last stop on your trip.
- There is an exception… – Depending on where you’re going and your flight options, it might not be realistic to have a main hub. What you do is focus on airports that have a high amount of airlines that come from and go to your country. It’s perfectly fine to setup one way tickets from 2 different airports. For example, you’re coming from America and you are visiting Istanbul, Munich and Copenhagen. Copenhagen offers more direct flights, layover flights and cheaper flights back to America than Munich does, so you would use this city as your last stop and Istanbul is the farthest away, so you make that your first stop.
- Fly Farthest First and Work Your Way Back – The last thing you want to do is Criss-Cross around Europe. It doesn’t seem like it but Europe is a big continent and you want to travel in the most efficient way possible. For example: If your destinations are Prague, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, you want to Travel farthest East first and work your way west. You setup a round trip ticket in Paris, when you land in Paris catch a discount flight to Prague and then work your way back. It would look like this: Prague -> Berlin -> Amsterdam -> Paris
- Don’t overwhelm yourself…keep it realistic – What you’ll discover when you plan out your trip is that it’s exciting. Your mind will run with all the cities you want to see, this is normal. The problem can be that you’re planning to see too many cities in a very short time frame. I follow a 3 night rule. In 3 nights, you can see a good amount of a city, you can pace yourself, you won’t feel rushed and most importantly you can enjoy yourself. Doing 2 nights is OK for a small city somewhere in your trip but if your plan is to do a trip with only 2 nights each city, you will feel exhausted before your trip is even over. That’s just too much movement and you will never feel settled. Keep it simple and keep it realistic.
- Keep your flight and train times realistic to avoid missing them – Could you possibly wake up early enough to get to the airport for your 6:30 AM flight to your next city? Sure you can but why risk missing that flight. My general practice is that I don’t setup flights or train departures earlier than 10 AM. If you have no choice then you have no choice but there are usually multiple options whether it’s different airlines or even different airports. Just keep it realistic and keep in mind the distance of the airport or train station from where you’re staying and how you’re going to get there.
- If the next city is close, look at trains – The train systems in a lot of European countries are fast, comfortable and on-time. They are a wonderful option if you’re traveling within a country or going to a neighboring country. It really is a relaxing experience. Eurorail is a good option to go from one country to another. If you’re in Germany, I highly suggest using DB Bahn.
- Use Google Maps and Kayak – Google Maps will save you in so many ways. Use google maps to find out every location, distance and even route options for each location. I personally use kayak.com to get a good idea as to what my flight options are. Whether you buy it from them or not is up to you. Kayak will also show you the smaller discount airlines in Europe.
- Type everything out – When I have a solid plan, I always type it all out with every important detail. What time my train/plane/bus arrives and departs, the address of the places I’m staying at, dates, contact info for the places I’m staying at and my contact info when I’m in Europe (Phone Number, WhatsApp and Email Address). I print at least 2 copies for myself and I email my important friends and family this information in case of an emergency.
- Places to Stay in Europe – I highly suggest staying Hostels or AirBNBs. I wrote articles about both:
- Phone Service – There are options when you land in Europe to sign up for a pay as you go phone service like Vodafone but I highly suggest signing up for service with OneSimCard.com. With them you find the right plan for you and it has a wide range of countries that you will have service in. Every trip I’ve had to Europe, I use them with success. You can also activate the phone before you land in Europe which is one less thing to worry about. The SIM card will provide you a European phone number and allow Data, Inbound/Outbound Phone calls and Text Messages. The prices are reasonable and it works great. IMPORTANT: This will only work if you have an unlocked cell phone. If you need an unlocked phone, you can find plenty of cheap unlocked cell phones on Ebay or Amazon.
- Download the Cities Maps from Google for Offline Use – We are all about being prepared. If there is a worst case scenario that you don’t have cell signal or GPS signal, download every cities map on your phone before you leave for your trip.
Want more tips? Please read the Europe Travel Tips page.