Travel Planning Tips: How to Plan a Trip to Europe

I think that half the fun of taking a big trip is the anticipation and planning leading up to it. Alex and I just returned from nearly a month abroad and have learned a lot about what it takes to plan a big trip.

I am a total planner. Alex and I spent the better part of a year planning our month-long Euro trip and left feeling calm, collected and pretty stress-free. One of the biggest things we realized, though, is that it really doesn’t take a year to plan a lengthy trip. Here are some other things that we learned in planning this big excursion:

Websites and Apps:

  • Trip Advisor – check out top rated hotels, attractions and restaurants in cities all over the world and read other travelers reviews and suggestions
  • Rome 2 Rio – logistics website that helps you figure out how to get from point a to point b
  • Kayak – it’s helpful to have one site that shows you airfare trends and compares the prices on other travel sites
  • Orbitz – we booked our major flights through Orbitz
  • Booking – make and store all of your hotel reservations here + read handy reviews
  • AirBnB – rent a room or apartment from another person
  • Viber App – talk and text for free through the Viber app
  • TripIt App – email all of your individual travel plans to plans@tripit.com (after you create an account!) and it will create an itinerary for you and update you on your travel days with airport gates and changes

Money:

Not all credit cards work in Europe, plus, most of them will charge you an arm and a leg in foreign transaction fees. Thankfully our research proved to be quite successful. Here is what we did:

  • Chase Sapphire Credit Card: no foreign transaction fees, has a chip {you need a card with a chip in Europe} and gives you awesome rewards
  • Capital One 360 Debit Card: no foreign transaction fees; we used this only to get cash at an ATM – don’t be a sucker and go to the currency exchange booths

Other:

  • Microsoft OneNote – how anyone plans anything without OneNote is beyond me! OneNote is basically a digital notebook. We had a tab for each country, then within that we had Transportation, Lodging, Food and Activities tabs where we listed our travel plans, the hotel information, restaurants to check out and either an itinerary or ideas of things to do. We were able to access this on our phones, too.
  • Phrase Books – If you’re going to a country that speaks a language you’re unfamiliar with I would highly recommend getting a phrase book. We had an Italian and Spanish phrase book that was incredibly helpful, especially when ordering at a restaurant. While most people speak English, it is fun and appreciated to at least look like you’re trying to communicate locally.
  • Travel Guides – We used Rick Steves’ travel guides which were really helpful. He has a guide for most {maybe even all} European countries, as well as his notorious “Back Door” guides that contain basic travel advice.
  • Universal Adapter – Europe uses a different electrical plug than the US, so be sure to get an adapter before you go. If you’re going to the UK and another country in Europe you might consider a universal adapter instead of two separate adapters. We brought two adapters. Know that this is different than a converter – check the power plug on your devices to ensure they are dual voltage compatible, otherwise you’ll need a converter.

Activity Planning:

One thing that I am glad we didn’t do was over-plan. Our priorities for being “planful” were having a place to stay and knowing our transportation logistics. Second to those were planning activities. We wanted to be able to be flexible while we were in Europe so we really didn’t plan all that much to do. More or less, we had a list of things that we would like to see and do in each city and tried to make a rough itinerary that didn’t fill an entire day and then work it out when we arrived to that city.

Know When to Go with the Flow:

I’m not sure where we got the sense to do this but we were so glad that we planned our trip in an order that allowed us to go to smaller, more relaxing cities in between our jaunts to bigger, busier cities. We got the chance to recoup and relax by stopping at some cities off the beaten path – plus, those ended up being some of our favorites.

Either way, it seemed like flexibility and the willingness to go with the flow were the two biggest components that added up to a successful trip. Being the planner that I am it helped me to mentally prepare for things to not go as I had accounted for them to go. In the end, all that matters is having a great time.