I get asked a lot about planning travel itineraries and especially when it comes to foreign countries it can be very daunting. There are a million books, blogs and podcasts to research and I myself have been overwhelmed at times by the pure bulk of information out there.
Over the years I have found some hacks that have really helped me plan wonderful euro-trips, so here are some of my tips for how to plan your trip to Europe.
Before you book anything, map it out!
This might seem silly but before you book any kind of airfare, hotels, Airbnbs or train tickets print out a physical copy of a map and plan out your trip. I like to use the map below (which you can download for free) and then take a pencil and physically draw lines between cities and countries you want to visit so that you can have the best flow as you plan.
Sketch it out on a calendar.
Next, use a physical calendar, or print out a calendar page and sketch out the the days. What cities will you visit? What days will be travel days? Are the places you want to go close enough to travel by train? Or should you use cheaper European airlines?
Remember to allow yourself at least 2 full days in each of your destinations. Which brings me to...
Don't cram too many stops into your itinerary.
I can understand the urge to want to see as much of Europe as you can during your trip. Afterall, if you're flying across the ocean you want to make it count right? Unfortunately too dense of a Europe itinerary will just leave you exhausted and you won't be able to enjoy yourself. If you're jumping on a train every 2 days to go to a new city or country you won't be able to delight in the pleasures of being in Europe.
Many European cities are similar in their offerings. If you're going to Italy, you will find museums, parks and restaurants in every city you visit. Rather than hustling from Florence to Rome to Venice to The Amalfi Coast to Naples to Pisa to Milan, pick the places you most want to visit and allow yourself to savor them. There is amazing pasta, wine and art to observe in both Florence and Rome. Don't kill yourself to do it all. You can always come back another year.
When you're planning your travel days, check flight times and train schedules.
Europe is a relatively small continent and countries are small and it's easy to get from one to another, but don't be fooled. It might seem like a cinch to jump from Paris to Provence to Nice, but that trip can still take hours. (It's 7 hours from Paris to the French Riviera!)
Also if you're hopping between countries, be sure to make sure there are trains that run between your destinations. Or check to see if you can fly.
Some rail companies don't offer service over country borders. If you want to travel from the French Riviera to the Italian Riviera, even though they're right next to each other, you still have to transfer between the French railway and the Italian Railway at a specific station.
Websites like Rome2Rio.com are really helpful for this kind of research.
Think about Airbnb vs. Hotel.
It's important to think about what kind of accommodations you want to have before you begin booking them.
Hotels might offer more services like room service and concierge services, but Airbnb's offer kitchens and often times washer and dryers. If you've read my post on, How to Pack for 2 Weeks In Europe you'll remember my tips about planning to wash clothes as you travel.
If you're on a budget, having a place where you can prepare some of your meals can really help you curb your spending. Also while most hotels do offer laundry service, there is often times a hefty fee. If you're staying at an Airbnb that has laundry the expense may only be buying laundry soap.
Have a list of things you want to do, but go with the flow.
One of the best parts of being in Europe is wandering and roaming around. For safety I don't suggest too much wandering after dark, but as long as you're in safe neighborhoods in safe cities, allow yourself to explore.
While you may have a list of areas you want to go, things you want to see and places you want to dine, don't forget to go with the flow and enjoy where the day takes you. If you're spending a day in Paris, I promise you wont have a bad meal, whether you're dining in a fancy restaurant or eating authentic street food. Make plans but keep them flexible so you can enjoy your discoveries.
When in doubt ask your Airbnb host or Hotel Concierge for recommendations. Also Rick Steves Europe has tons of resources for this kind of specific recommendations.
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Hi! I'm Erin Shaw. I'm a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer based in Los Angeles. My happiest days are those that are spent packing a suitcase for my next adventure! More at Erin-Shaw.com