Planning a Trip to Europe
Planning My Trip
I am planning a trip to Europe this year. I have been planning this trip for about two years, and I really do believe that my advanced planning will lead to a successful, fun, and unforgettable trip.
There are many things that need to be taken into account when planning a trip anywhere overseas, and unfortunately some people don't even think about these things until the last minute. Sometimes this is too late.
Therefore, I decided to write a hub to help those who want to travel overseas, but aren't really sure where to start. These tips are not exclusive to a European trip, but as that is where I am going, that is what I decided to make the focus. Hopefully this will help fellow adventurers have a fun-filled stress free trip!
2.5 to 2 years out
1. Decide that you want to go!
This is the most important step. You can't go anywhere until you make the decision that you are going to do it.
2. Open a separate bank account
This will be your "trip" account. A round-trip plane ticket will cost approximately $1400. A hotel in a decent area will cost between $125-400 per night, depending on what city you will be going to. The earlier you open the account, the less money you will have to put into it from each paycheck to fund your trip. I started 2 years ago with $50 per paycheck. It is slow, and sometimes painful, but soon you will see enough money to buy your plane tickets!
1 to 2 years out
1. Decide exactly where you want to go
There are so many amazing travel destinations in Europe, it is hard to pick just a few to visit in a 2-week vacation period. I've always wanted to visit Athens, Rome, Paris, London, Barcelona...and so many more. I had to narrow it down. There are many things that need to be considered, and the most important one (that people often don't think about) is the socio-economic situation in that country. Although Athens has always been my number 1 travel destination, the protests there due to the austerity measures has turned me off. I want to have a safe trip, so I don't think that traveling to a country that has been in the news for all of the rioting in the past year is the best idea. You can find travel advisories to the countries that you are thinking about visiting here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html
After any safety concerns have been mitigated, you should decide based on what YOU want. Are you a fashionista? Maybe spend some time in Paris. Are you a history buff? Check out Rome. Love beer? Tour Germany or Ireland. For castles check out Scotland. There are so many different cultures and historical things to see in Europe, it is nearly impossible to narrow it down. I decided to visit London, Paris, Florence, and Rome because I love art and I love history. This is a personal choice though, go with what feels right for you.
2. Apply for your travel documents
A passport is a must-have for any foreign travel. Your passport will be issued by the US government, and you can apply for one at most post offices. It can take up to 3 months (I have also heard of it taking longer) for you to receive your passport in the mail once you go in and take the picture, so it is best to get this taken care of well before your planned trip to avoid any last minute anxiousness. It is better to have it a year too early than have a hiccup in the processing and not get it in time.
A Visa is also required for travel to many countries. These documents are issued by the country that you are traveling to. Most Western European countries are members of the Visa waiver program, so you won't need one if you are only traveling those countries. It is always best to check well in advance to see if your travel plans will require a visa. You can check the entry requirements for the country that you are traveling to here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html. Fortunately, I am only going to countries that are members of the visa-waiver program, so this is a step that I don't have to worry about. I did research it well before my trip though just to be certain.
1 year to 6 months
1. Decide exactly when you will go and get the time off of work
Many companies require you to put in your vacation time up to a year in advance. Get your request in and get the approval so you can purchase your plane tickets and hotel rooms.
2. Purchase your plane ticket
Hopefully you have been saving money for a year, so this won't be a difficult expense to meet. Begining your search for the best airfare about a year out will ensure that you get the best rate possible. If you are traveling to multiple destinations, be sure to check the differences between a round trip ticket from the same airport and a round trip ticket from different airports. I decided that it would be more cost effective (and I would get to see more of Europe) if I flew into London then flew back home from Rome. You can generally buy this type of ticket from any of the popular travel sites.
3. Purchase your Hotels
To find the best rate on a hotel, you will want to purchase it about 6 months in advance. This will ensure that there will still be rooms in the best hotels in the best neighborhoods. Also, searching for rooms in advance ensures that you will get the best deal possible. Hotels.com is a great resource for finding decent hotel rooms. I prefer not to use hotwire.com because they don't always show you where the hotel is located. If you aren't planning on renting a car, you will probably want a hotel within walkingdistance to the main attractions. Hotels.com can help you determine how close a hotel is to the main attractions in that city (the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris; the Colosseum in Rome, etc).
6 to 3 months out
1. Make copies
Make copies of all of your travel documents (Passport, Visa, Flight Information, Hotel Reservation Information). Give one copy of all of these documents to someone you trust who is not going with you (parents, siblings, etc). This is very important, safety is always first. Someone should always know what city you will be in and what hotel you will be staying at. In the rare event that something might happen to you, someone having this information could save your life. You should keep the other copy in your carry on bag when you travel. These are not documents that you want to lose in a checked bag.
2. Purchase your train tickets/rental cars
I will be taking the London to Paris train, and then the France-Italy Euro rail. Tickets for these trains and any others should be bought well in advance. I've heard that the London to Paris train sells out rapidly, so it is very important to ensure you get a ticket in advance. You don't want to be stranded on a platform somewhere in a foreign country with no place to go because the train you needed to take was sold out.
If you are renting a car, now is the time to make final arrangements for the car rental. Ensure that you have your confirmation number and pick-up location set up and ready to go.
The last few months
You have taken care of pretty much everything in advance. The only things left are to make arrangements for your things at home (which we do when we have vacations here in the US as well). Find someone to feed the pets, get the mail, and make sure your house is safe.
Now I haven't gone on my trip yet, so I don't know what I might be missing. I won't be going for a few months, but when I get back, if there is anything that I missed, or anything that I wish I would have known before I going, I will be sure to publish a hub about it.