We know how difficult it can be to plan a European vacation–I mean, how can one be expected to choose!?!? It’s difficult, but my years of experience have helped me master the art of planning a great European vacation…for me. But my ideal euro-trip may not be what you like or want. So instead of coming up with an actual itinerary for you, I’d like to give you some criteria to help you design the best European vacation for YOU.
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LENGTH OF TRIP
First, you have to accept that you ‘can’t have it all’. The best way to ruin your experience is to try and pack in a ton of cities/countries into a very short amount of time. Once you accept this, you can decide exactly how much time you have and how many places you can realistically visit.
Here’s are some figures to help you calculate the length of your trip:
- Arriving from the US to Europe = 1 day
- Experiencing the basics of a city = 3 days
- Traveling between cities by plane = ½ – 1 day
- Traveling between cities by train/bus = varies (use Google maps and train schedules to determine if it’ll take you 2 hours or 7+ hours to travel between cities)
- Flying back from Europe to the US = 1 day
To maximize your trip from the US, I recommend planning a Saturday to Saturday trip for a nice 10 day trip (2-3 cities, depending on modes of transportation and distance).
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Everyone has an opinion about when to travel. The travel seasons in Europe are basically divided into three seasons:
- Low or Off Season – November through March
- Shoulder Season – April through mid-June & September though October
- High Season – Late-June through August
If you have no travel date restrictions (i.e., you can only travel in the summer when you’re out of school, etc.), then choose your travel dates based on these factors:
- Budget – Low season is, of course, the cheapest, but the weather may not be that great (especially in northern Europe).
- Festivals & Holidays – Spain is amazing any time of year. But visiting during La Tomatina in late August makes the visit during the high season worthwhile, despite the crowds and the jacked-up prices.
- Season – You can also choose your destination based on season. Common sense will tell you to head north in the summer months and head south during the winter months for the best climate.
Another factor, probably at the top of every list is budget. Most people think traveling in Europe is pricey. But with the recent shift in exchange rate, and the pleathora of ‘off-the-beaten-path’ destination, there’s no shortage of options for all types of budgets.
- Luxury – If you have a generous budget, look for Michelin starred restaurants, luxury tours and cruises, and stay at your favorite hotel chains in Europe. You can find top quality at premium prices at every corner.
- Budget – If you’re not broke, but not wanting to spend a lot on your trip, you can comfortably travel around Europe at reasonable prices. Renting an apartment is cheaper than ever, thanks to AirBnB, so stay in the heart of any city and live like a local (which means cooking at home and meeting you neighbors!). You can also take advantage of budget airlines and balance sightseeing between free things to do and things that require a fee.
- Backpacker – For those who want to spend the least amount of money possible, you can stay in dormitory-like hostels (12 people in one room!), travel by bus and eat cheap street food like kebabs and hotdogs! There are plenty of things to do for free like checking out the incredible architecture, visiting a park, people watching and taking advantage of museum ‘free’ days.
Google ‘free things to do in _______” to find a list of free things to do in any destination.
For those, like me, who want to travel intentionally, there is always a theme for every trip.
- Purpose – The theme of your trip could be as simple as why you’re going. Are you only visiting German-speaking countries because you want to practice your German skills? Are you going to tour England to get in touch with your roots? Or are you going to visit Paris and Rome because you just love architecture? Whatever the reason, your purpose for visiting Europe can help you choose your destinations.
- Fast vs. Slow Travel – Even if you have only two weeks for your visit, you can choose to cram in 4-5 cities (fast travel) or you can choose to get to know a city intimately by staying in 1-2 cities for those weeks (slow travel). Each has its own benefits and will produce a completely different type of experience.
No matter what ‘the experts’ say, make sure your next trip to Europe is the one that’s perfect for YOU!
What other criteria helps you determine the details of your next vacation?