So you want to take that dream trip, maybe to Europe from the U.S. You’ve finally saved enough vacation days, or it’s a milestone birthday or anniversary. In your excitement, the possibilities for your itinerary make you feel like a kid in a candy store. How do you start to narrow down your choices?
A few practical suggestions may help.
1. Dream it. First ask yourself (and your traveling buddies), “Where do I most want to go?” This may seem obvious, but unless you buttonhole a few top priorities, you may get into airfares and cost considerations and lose sight of what you really want to see. If you’ve always longed to stroll the streets of Paris, put that at the top of your planning list. If a cruise down the Rhine is the most romantic place you can imagine, plan around that. In my trips to France, the D-Day beaches headed my list, and the days spent there were truly the highlight of a trip full of wonders.
2. Map it. Look at a map of all the areas you may want to visit. This could be all of Britain. Maybe France, Italy, Germany, and Austria catch your fancy. You may want to plan a trip to Eastern Europe. Use the internet to quickly find distances between places. If you want to stay in London and take day trips, figure out how far you would go to Bath, the Cotswolds, or York. How far is it from Berlin to Munich? Berlin to Prague? Berlin to Vienna? Do you see places between these points that would make a good overnight stay? Looking at a general, large map will also help you avoid backtracking and spending more time than needed getting from one point to another. I have countless spreadsheets of “sample” itineraries I’ve made. It’s my fun way to dream of travel!
3. Check transportation. One of my favorite web sites is Rome2Rio. If you are going to Europe, you can plug in any two places and find not only how long it takes to travel, but also you see all of the options – train, plane, bus, and car. You can click on the train option, for example, and see how often the trains run and the times. We took trains from Venice across the entire country of Italy to arrive at Cinque Terre. I checked the times for the three train legs to see how early we needed to leave Venice. I allowed for a change in Florence that left two later times that afternoon in case we missed our chosen time. It turned out we got stuck in the station in long lines and did miss the first two trains. The third (and last) option worked, barely. We arrived in Cinque Terre in time to enjoy a dinner of fresh-caught seafood and this view.
This may seem like a complicated step at this point in your planning, but at least make sure transportation is available. I’ve looked at some itineraries where buses are the only option, and I’ve moved those places to the bottom of my list. I prefer trains. You may prefer planes or be fine with buses, but just be sure you’re OK with what’s available.
4. Research flights. You may think this would be the first item you plan. I would rather know roughly where I want to go, then look at flights for those places. You will likely want to fly into one city and leave from another, so plan a flexible itinerary first to figure out where you want to start and end. My last trip we flew into Paris and left from Rome. Our next trip we are planning to fly into London and go home from Paris. For a good overall picture of flights available, try Skyscanner, Kayak, and Google Flights. After you find flight possibilities, head for the web site of the airlines to compare prices and book. If you’re flying with miles, of course you would check the airlines site directly. A note on American Airlines: If you are flying to Europe from the U.S. with miles, be careful of booking flights on partner British Airways. The taxes are hundreds of dollars. If you stick with American flights, the taxes currently are less than a hundred dollars. Just uncheck the British Airways option when you search.
Even if your dream trip is far in the future, you can always start planning. It’s absolutely free and may inspire you to make your dreams come true.