We’re going to Europe! I have always wanted to visit Italy, that’s where my family is from, after all. So we (my boyfriend and I) decided to make it a full on 3-week vacation and visit Germany, France and the Netherlands too. My mother and brother are joining us for half of the trip as well! What fun!
This is the first of a series of posts about planning our trip to Europe. Since I am “the planner” in the family, I have taken it upon myself to plan out our itinerary. I decided that I wanted to plan the trip my way, rather than take a tour. Most people recommend taking a guided tour and having a guide make all the reservations for you (that is starting to sound nice, right about now). But I thought, I can do it! I want to be on MY schedule and do what I want to do.
Oh but there is so much to do! Plane tickets, train tickets, hotels/apartments, reservations and car rentals, oh my! I have been planning this trip little by little for the past couple months. I thought planning out food for a 4-day camping trip was hard… this vacation reaches is a whole other level. It is a challenge but I LOVE it and I know it will be worth it in the end.
Through trial and error of planning this vacation, I am happy to share some things that have worked for me so far:
If you can find someone who can explain the science of plane tickets and why the prices change so drastically over night and why a one-way ticket costs $800 and a round-trip tickets costs $900, please send them my way. Plane tickets are hard.
Two, one-way tickets seemed to be the best option at first – start in one country and leave from another. No backtracking needed. But I ended up going for round trip because they were literally $500 cheaper per person. Keep that in mind when you book your tickets. Making a large circle around Europe isn’t that bad. Especially if you plan to fly in a city that is near both your start and end points.
Now for finding the tickets: I fully 100% recommend using Hipmunk.com. I tried using other booking engine sites, like Expedia and Travelocity, that I usually use for hotels, but they just couldn’t match the convenience the Hipmunk freakin’ has! Here’s the difference: Usually you can only search one flight at a time, or open new browser tabs and start over each time (ACK!). On Hipmunk I searched like 6 different flight variations on one page and I could easily click between each. Flight prices change depending on the day of the week so having an easy a way to compare is essential. Seriously, the best thing ever.
Hotels vs. Apartments
Sure, I could make this easy on myself and book hotels online and just show up with the reservation. But who wants to do that? If you’re staying in one place for 3 days or more, I recommend booking an apartment. Ok, so I haven’t gone on my trip yet to give you my full opinion, but the process so far is not as bad as you think.
The difference between a hotel and an apartment is with an apartment you get a kitchen, washing machine, multiple rooms, patio, and it’s a whole lot cheaper! I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who have booked and stayed in apartments in Europe. So here’s how you do it:
I booked two apartments (one in Munich and the other in Paris) two different ways through two different sites. I used Airbnb.com to book the one in Paris. At first I thought I was going to have to make an international call to a stranger in Paris who probably doesn’t speak English and try to reserve his apartment, which scares me for some reason. But NOPE, it was super easy. I found a few places I liked, I sent a few emails through Airbnb, explaining who I was and how long I planned to stay. I heard back from someone via email like an hour later. He was super nice and excited to welcome us in person. I then paid for it right there through the website and moved on to planning the next part of the trip. Amazing! There are many other booking sites such as Homeaway.com that offer the same thing.
If you’re ever planning on buying a real, hand-held book ever again, make it the Rick Steves travel books. Hands down, they are the best way to plan an international trip. I bought a Frommers Travel book and also tried to figure things out online but I just got confused… (sorry, but it’s true). Rick Steves explains everything you need to know. He says specific things like, “after you get off of the plane, head left and you will see an ATM to your right, under the yellow sign.” And he’s very honest about attractions and what’s really worth a 3-hour line and what an alternative option would be. He describes walking tours through city centers and describes the history. In the Amsterdam book I have, he even explains the Red Light district in detail, so you know what to expect. He’s my hero.
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Well there is still much more to planning a European vacation. I will talk more about planning ground transportation and other fun things in future posts