When putting your itinerary together, try to be realistic.
If possible, give yourself a minimum of two nights at every stop in order to minimize travel expenses and keep everyone happy.
The trip planning experience can be exhilarating. You know that you have a set number of days (or weeks!) to travel, and you look at a map with all the lip-smacking excitement of a kid in a candy store. Where do you want to visit? Where don’t you want to visit?
Imagine that you’re putting together an itinerary for a 10-day trip. You could start in Paris, head to Amsterdam, then take a train to Salzburg, Venice and Rome? Wait, maybe start in Madrid instead, then drive up to Barcelona, Nice, Milan, Munich and then Amsterdam? But hold on. What about Prague?!?!
If you’re only traveling for 10 days, either of those options is certain to cost you dearly (in transportation costs alone) and, without question, lead to grumpy and exhausted travelers.
Your epic misadventure
It’s normal to be excited and overbook your itinerary. It can work on paper, technically, but unless you fully understand the roads, how much time from town to town, how much time to spend at each town – you might end up with not nearly enough time exploring the cities you sleep in or the tiny towns you race by. You don’t want to be exhausted, merely checking off “must sees” and remembering none, much less stopping to absorb the local culture. Most first-time European travelers try to cram in everything they can, but that is exactly what you shouldn’t do!
A note to first-time American travelers to Europe
European and US road trips are different. There are a lot of (tasty) reasons to slow down. Living in the US, you are probably used to hopping in the car and taking those road trips. Many travelers from the US approach their European travel planning with a similar mindset. Why not jump from town to town every day, taking in the landscape, driving through cities and finding fun spots for dinner along the way?
Add to our inherent “road trip” instinct the fact that we get the fewest days of vacation each year of any industrialized country, and the high cost of getting to Europe in the first place, and you’ve got a situation where American travelers understandably want to pack in as many experiences as possible during their European trips.
Nobody’s going to stop you from doing this, of course, and you might have a grand time. However, you’d be missing out on a lot. Many of the cities that you’ll be passing through have histories that go back more than a millennium. A region that you could speed through in an hour probably has its own cuisine worth sampling, wine worth tasting, and dessert worth gobbling. It’s worth slowing down to experience it. And slowing down can also lead to real savings. Read on…
Consider the cost of gas.
If my last point didn’t convince you, it’s worth noting that slowing down means less gas.
On another practical note: Gasoline in Europe is far more expensive than in North America. If you’re planning to rent a car and drive like crazy, you’re in for a real shock at the pump. Even with gas prices falling lately, gas costs about three times what it costs in the States. (Check out this interactive ranking of gas prices around the world.)
Slowing down means fewer train tickets
During the summer, high-speed train tickets can be quite expensive. Slow your itinerary down and save.
Zipping from city to city on Europe’s high-speed rail network is an experience in itself and highly recommended. You can speed from Florence to Rome in 90 minutes on the high-speed train (and for as little as €20 off-peak if you book in advance. One of my biggest joys is booking train tickets for clients!
However, those seats (and those on France’s TGV, Germany’s ICE and Spain’s Renfe can be expensive in high season. Save on transportation costs by scaling back your itinerary. Not to mention that if you speed from one city to the next day after day, most of your trip memories will be of train stations and cafe cars.
Minimize the one-night stands.
If possible, give yourself a minimum two-night stay in each spot along your itinerary. This is what I always plan for my clients and is my number one creed for itinerary planning. I give my clients at least two nights in every hotel I book.
Yes, this little tip will force you to slow down and take in your surroundings a bit. But on a more practical note, it will relieve the hassle of schlepping your bags from hotel to hotel, packing and unpacking, checking in and checking out. All of that busy work can be a time-waster and add stress to your trip.
I recently helped a client plan a trip where they asked to drive from Paris to a small town close by, heading back to Paris the next day.
What was the problem with this plan? It didn’t leave any time to actually visit the town they drove to! He might have been able to see a few things, but not take the time to really take it in. Fortunately, he listed to my advice and greatly enjoyed exploring this town. ,He later told me about an unforgettable experience he had going to mass in a small village church–something that certainly would have fallen off an over-packed itinerary.
Use your two-day stops as bases for exploration.
Instead of visualizing your trip itinerary as a straight line (stop after stop after stop), think about using each stop as a “home base” for exploring the area.
If you do take my advice and give yourself at least two-day stops along your trip, use those stops as bases for exploration. This way you can wake up, not have to pack things up, head off to explore, and feel relaxed that you can come back to your “home base” whenever you please. I always use a “home base” plan with itineraries that allow this.
You also have the added bonus of exploring a territory that your hotel owner will be very familiar with, and will be able to offer all kinds of inside advice for activities not to miss, restaurants to try out, and views to take in.
Remember, this isn’t a race: It’s your highly anticipated, saved years for, vacation! Check-in, unpack for a week and immerse yourself in your immediate and close by surroundings. Meet the locals, enjoy the market days, have time to sit at the local cafe’ . You will appreciate this time and your memories will be vivid and remain so as the years go by!
Don’t drive in circles.
Beginning and ending your trip in different cities can help you save time and money.
When you’re checking around for flights to Europe for your trip, remember to check “open jaw” flights that allow you to fly into one city and home from another. Increasingly, these flights cost about the same amount as flights into and out of the same city. “Open jaw” flights can have a big impact on your itinerary, as they can free you to plot your trip in a straight line, avoiding that last-minute requirement to circle back to your city of arrival. This is what I always recommend to my clients who have a short travel time to cover a large area.
One caveat: These “open jaw” flights work best for travelers moving around Europe by train, one-way flights inside Europe, or traveling by rental car within only one country. Renting a car in one European country and dropping it off in another can be quite expensive, as the company usually tacks on a fee to go fetch the car and bring it back home.
Your trip itinerary
Now, back to your plan! As you can see, it is not as easy as you think and that is why you should ask for the help of a Travel Professional specializing in European planning. I live through my client’s planning and re-visit all the fantastic European countries I have visited EACH time I put together their personalized travel plan. Working with me all the guess work is gone and your travel planning is stress free and just what you want, at a pace that is comfortable for all.
Ready to get started?