Three months after graduating from college my friend Ivana and I left the United States and traipsed around Europe for almost two months. It was a really fun and challenging trip, I think we both grew a lot during it. We kept a blog/travel log while we were abroad, if you want you can check it out here!
Planning a Europe trip can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you are trying to visit multiple countries or staying for a long period of time. There are a lot of things to think about beyond travel, lodging, and food. Laundry, museums, church donations, and treats are all things that can be unexpected or cost more than you might think.
Since I’ve gone through the process of planning and executing a trip to Europe I have put together a few tips for you. I hope that you find them helpful in planning your own European escapades!
1. Planning vs. Winging It
There are two ways to go about your trip preparations. First, and probably most obvious is to plan everything out before you leave. Decided where you are going to visit, reserve hotel rooms or beds at hostels, book any tickets for country to country travel, and decide what you are going to be doing and seeing in each country. This approach allows you to more accurately estimate how much your trip will cost.
Another fun way to travel is to buy your tickets to and from Europe but then leave the inbetween up in the air. Keeping your schedule loose allows you the freedom to stay in one place longer or shorter depending on how much you like it. Winging it isn’t as friendly on the wallet as planning your trip in advance. However, for someone who has the extra money this can be a fun way to experience Europe where so many cultures exist so close to one another.
Ivana and I did kind of a mixture of both of these. We purchased as many of our transportation tickets beforehand, and made sure that we had a place to stay in each country, but other than that we kept out schedules free. We decided what we wanted to once we were there, this allowed us to get recommendations from the locals on fun things to do!
2. When to Travel
Deciding when to travel is one of the most important steps in planning a trip to Europe. Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall have the nicest weather, but they are much more expensive than traveling during the colder months. During the winter historical and religious sights might be closed or under construction because that’s when they are the least busy. If you want to travel in the winter and have a place that you are dying to see I would make sure that it’s going to be open during your visit!
Ivana and I went to Europe during January and February and found that a lot of restaurants were closed because it was the off season, as well as construction happening at the Lourdes Grotto, St. Therese’s Home in Lisuex, and the Trevi Fountain in Rome. While we didn’t care too much about the Trevi Fountain, it was a real bummer to have to view the Grotto at Lourdes from behind a chain-link fence.
3. Imurse Yourself in the Culture
One thing that was really important to Ivana and I was to get a chance to really experience what it was like to be a local in each city we visited. When we were in Paris we made a pact to eat like the locals. We noticed that even when they were just getting a coffee and pastry the Europeans really savored the experience and enjoyed the company of the people they were with. Ivana and I, like typical Americans often ate our food in near silence and then hurried to pay the bill and move on to our next location. We were so proud when we went to a french restaurant for dinner one night and stayed even longer than people who arrived after us!
On a side note, that meal was one of the best that I have ever had in my entire life. It was at a restaurant called: Le Potager du Pere Thierry. If you go to Paris, you have to eat there!
A practical reason to try to look and behave like a local is so that you aren’t as much of a target for people who are looking to take advantage of a tourist. Dressing in comfortable and normal clothes rather than your standard tourist outfit goes a long way towards making you look and feel like you belong. Ivana and I got scammed exactly 1 time and it was so embarrassing!
5. Food on a Budget
Why does anyone travel to Europe? I’m not talking about the history, or the religious sites, or even visiting the Pope. I’m talking about the real reason deep, deep, down in their heart that people would want to go to another country.
It’s the food!
But all joking aside, trying the food in another country is one of the best ways to experience that culture. But eating out for every meal, every day is dang expensive… even if you are just eating street food, the price can really add up. In saving and planning out your budget I would leave plenty of room for food.
One way that Ivana and I saved money on food was to purchase food at a grocery store rather than at a restaurant or food stand. Fancy cheeses and delicious breads that are normally on the expensive side in the USofA are usually pretty reasonably priced in Europe.
Each day Ivana and I would get cheese, meat, bread and fruit from the local grocery store for lunch and maybe dinner that night. We would carry it around with us and we were able to eat where we wanted, when we wanted. We also brought mini containers of peanut butter and tons of granola bars from home for snacks. Doing this helped to keep our food budget to a minimum while still allowing us to splurge on fun things like eating out and gelato everyday while we were in Italy. Yum!
Here is a slideshow of some of the foods that we ate while we were in Europe.
Let me first say this: There are laundry places all over the cities in Europe. So you can take it easy with packing your whole wardrobe. 🙂
If you are going to be traveling for longer than a week I would pack no more than maybe ten days of clothes, this way you don’t have to wear the same seven things each week, but it’s still a manageable number of clothes to carry with you from place to place.
For our trip to Europe I had a large backpack and a purse and Ivana had a small rolling suitcase and a medium backpack. We were able to cart these around more easily that we would have had we packed a fresh change of clothes for each day that we were abroad.
Have you traveled to another country? What are your tips for making the trip easier and more enjoyable?
P.s. If you have specific questions about traveling in Europe please leave them and I can give it my best shot at answering them!