In 2012, my husband, Chris, scheduled a work trip to London that spanned a two-week period. To my delight, he asked if I wanted to join him over the weekend.
The thought of going was thrilling but terrifying at the same time as I would be boarding planes, flying, and taking the subway in London on my own. To ease my mind, Chris went in his “plan a trip” mode and outlined very detailed instructions of where I should go at the airport, what to expect, which subway line to take, and when I should get off the subway.
For many of you, the thought of traveling overseas gives you that same feeling of trepidation. To plan a trip can be overwhelming—enough to keep you grounded. To be fair, I still get nervous traveling overseas alone; however, I have learned from Chris’ example as a traveler extraordinaire, and both of us have collected tips and tricks along the way to make planning a trip to international destinations easier.
As friends and family began to ask for our advice and suggestions, it just seemed logical to write it all down. Thus two options were created (with similar content). Both focus on planning travel adventures (especially to Europe) for first-time travelers and those who need to UP their travel game.
An ONLINE COURSE to teach you the ins and outs of travel planning.
An EBOOK chock full of information to inspire you in planning your next adventure.
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Tips to Plan a Trip to Europe
If I was giving advice to my parents, family members, or friends who have never traveled before, this post (as well as the eBook and Online Course) is full of exactly the practical advice I would share on how to plan a trip.
My goal is to inspire YOU to live out your travel dreams, instill confidence as you begin your adventures to Europe and beyond, and encourage you to explore the world.
So, what information does “Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures” and SUPER EASY TRAVEL PLANNING actually include?
I’m glad you asked.
You’ll find in-depth information on how to plan a trip in these 11 general categories:
- The planning stages and deciding when and where to go
- Booking flights, lodging, rental cars, and local transit
- The benefit of using reward programs and points
- Using common sense
- Food and water
- Traveling solo or with kids
- Luggage and carry-ons
- What to pack
- Travel apps and websites
I cover the basics in this post as the eBook and Online Course go into much more of the specifics. If you want to learn more detailed information on how to plan a trip, I highly recommend the course and book to you.
Here’s what one reader had to say about it:
“If I didn’t have the travel bug before, I definitely have it now!!! I recommend this travel guide. It is beautiful and thorough, written by my friends Jolayne and Chris K. They use their extensive knowledge from experience traveling to address every detail you can think of.
There are great tips of when and where and what, from before you leave home to when you are there, local transportation, places to eat, what is worth spending money on and what is not, do’s and don’ts, safety precautions, traveling with kids, and so much more. It truly is worth taking a look at if you are going to travel.”Kirsten
Let’s dig in!
1. Plan a Trip: Deciding When and Where to Go
When Chris and I planned our most recent trip (prior to the covid-19 shut down of the world!) where we spent four days in Malta discovering 5 Impressive Sites in Malta and Gozo and then 5 Spectacular Days in the South of France, we began first with choosing our dates of travel. Chris just happened to be transitioning from one job to another and had the entire month of November available.
Check out my 21 Best Carry-On Essentials for Travel for items I like to carry with me on the airplane.
From a Pinterest pin that I happened to read about Malta, I suggested to Chris that maybe that would be a fun place to plan a trip. Plus, it would be a whole lot warmer there than in Colorado in November. Chris checked on flights to Malta.
By the way, I would love for you to follow me on Pinterest and Instagram to discover all of the posts I write about destinations, travel tips and tricks, how to plan a trip, and Instagrammable photo opportunities. Yes, Instagrammable is a word!
Did you know that traveling on a Tuesday or a Wednesday is generally cheaper when you plan a trip? Thursday and Saturday are the next cheapest days.
Why? Well for one, most people want to maximize their vacation when they plan a trip and travel home on a Sunday. The upside to coming home on a Saturday is that it gives you at least one day to begin acclimating to a new time zone.
If you have never had JET LAG before, let me say, it can be a bear!
November is all also considered the off-season or shoulder season for much of Europe, so that makes flights a little easier to find and cheaper as well as you plan your trip.
Our off-season travel has included a trip to Amsterdam, Belgium and France in 2016 and then England, Italy and Spain in 2017. (These links showcase more of my favorite photos from all of these locations.)
I even had the chance to join Chris in Australia and New Zealand following a week of work for him. It was in February, so the off-season for us in Colorado, but a perfect time to plan a trip “down under”.
For all of the trips, Chris was already overseas for business; he worked for part of the time and I was able to plan a trip to tag along and sight-see on my own. He then extended his time in-country and vacationed with me for a couple of days.
The trade off when you plan a trip in the off-season? You might not find as many of the tourist areas bustling with activity when it comes to finding restaurants and excursions. And many places close earlier in the day.
Do you dream of being business traveler? Chris has traveling down to a science. You can read more about his crazy travel moments, miracles and packing tips in A Frequent Traveler’s Guide to The Most Important Travel Tips.
2. Booking Flights, Lodging, Rental Cars, and Local Transit
Chris and I use Evernote to keep track of all of the logistics that are involved when we plan a trip: flight details, hotel reservations, car reservations, maps, and excursions.
For Chris and I, planning a family vacation or even just a getaway for the two of us always takes time and research.
It works well for us that both he and I are planners.
Once you decide on the time and place when you plan a trip, you will then need to book hotels or Airbnbs, determine if you need a rental car, and check on local train and transit schedules for your day trips. Be sure to check the cancellation policies and all of the fine print.
If you plan to drive while overseas, you should consider applying for an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). An IDP is recommended though not required. Chris applied through our local AAA office and was able to obtain an IDL the same day with an in-person application. The AAA website suggests allowing 4-6 weeks if you are mailing documents. The fee is relatively low.
Tip: Share your itinerary with a family or friend before you leave on vacation. This is easy to do when your plans are stored electronically.
3. Using Reward Programs and Points When You Plan a Trip
Let me just jump in here and tout the benefits of signing up for reward programs associated with Airlines, Hotels, and Rental Cars. I talk more about this in my post 6 Steps to Plan Travel with Reward Programs as well as my eBook and Online Course.
Reward Programs are especially essential if you plan to travel for business.
If you are traveling for pleasure, you may be more interested in signing up for a credit card that gives you points toward airfare or hotel stays.
4. Using Common Sense
What is situational awareness? Being aware of your surroundings. Showing common sense. Using your noggin.
- Keep your hand on your valuables in crowded areas. Beware of pickpockets.
- Don’t keep valuables, cash, your wallet, or your phone handy for the convenience.
- If you are traveling in a group, learn to keep an eye on each other.
- Carry only enough money for the day; leave the rest in your hotel safe.
- Be aware of your surroundings. If it doesn’t feel right use common sense and leave!
These tips are NOT a guarantee of safety! Bad things sometimes do happen. I recommend that you consider investing in Travel Insurance.
5. Consider Your Finances as You Plan a Trip
My #1 tip for you as you plan a trip is to create a vacation fund. Because travel was important to us, Chris and I started a vacation fund many years ago. We transfer funds to that account every month and find that even a little investment each month adds up.
A trip to Europe for many is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Make it awesome by starting to save now.
There is a Chinese Proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
The same goes for a vacation fund. The best time to start a vacation fund was twenty years ago. The next best time is now!
Not only should you create a vacation fund, but you should also create a budget each time you plan a trip. Try to eat, use transportation, and plan your adventures within a certain budget each day. Set an amount that you are comfortable with for the size of your group. Splurge one night for a meal and do something simpler the next night.
Don’t go into debt for your vacations!
Give consideration to currency and credit cards. Many credit card companies allow you to use credit cards overseas without any or very low transaction fees (ie., Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi). You will want to research which of the cards you might already have or want to apply for that will be the best to use overseas.
MANY credit cards charge excessive fees and add another 3%+ to every foreign currency purchase. Chris and I use our debit card to withdraw cash from bank ATMs while abroad. We never use a credit card to withdraw cash.
Sticking with big-name banks will usually get you a reasonable rate, and you can often find a machine with no charge withdrawals. Be prepared for a charge at your home-bank as well. For our credit union, we pay $1.50 per ATM withdrawal, plus a 1% conversion fee. So, if we make a $30 ATM withdrawal overseas, three charges will appear on our bank statement: the $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee, a $3.00 1% conversion fee, and the $30 charge for the purchase. In our experience, credit unions tend to have better offers.
With a no-fee credit card, your best bet is to use that card as much as possible on an international trip while keeping cash transactions that require an ATM withdrawal to a minimum.Plan a Trip to Europe
Be sure to let your bank or credit card company know the dates you will be traveling. We have had our cards frozen when charges from an unusual location began to show up. To make it easier, mobile banking apps often have a section where you can easily place a travel notice on your account as you plan a trip.
6. Food and Water
There are some members of our family (me included) who need to eat regularly otherwise we crash with low blood sugar, no energy, and crabbiness.
If this is you, you might be affectionately called “hangry”—a combination of hungry and angry!
When we plan a trip we are sure to travel with snacks. Our girls like Goldfish Crackers and some types of gummy treats that come in single-serve or small packs. Chris also includes Peanut M&Ms, Built Power Bars, Microwave Popcorn, Trail Mix, Nuts, Applesauce Pouches (ingenious), and Zipfizz and Crystal Lite(affiliate links) single-serve drink mix.
TIP: When traveling with kids, going with what is familiar every once in awhile is a good course of action. And honestly, you can find a McDonald’s or a pizza place pretty much anywhere in this world. If you travel with smaller children (or even picky eaters), a sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar country can do wonders for their attitude.
We aren’t a family of foodies, nor do we drink alcohol, so if you love trying new foods with a glass of wine for dinner, consider your budget and plan for those expenses.
On a typical day for our family, we will have a simple breakfast of local breads and pastries, cereal, yogurt, and fruit. For lunch, we often find a small grocery store and buy bread, sandwich meats, cheese, and fruit and enjoy a picnic lunch in a nearby park.
Dinner typically finds us looking for a restaurant away from the tourist-focused establishments. Many experienced travelers follow a “five blocks away” rule of thumb for finding restaurants where locals might typically eat, tucked away from crowded tourist spots.
As for staying hydrated, I’ll give you a little hint. We always travel with a Camelbak Hydration Pack Reservoir(affiliate). Sounds weird and strange, I know.
If you want to know about how this works for us I talk about it in the post, The Ten Essentials for Your Best Day Hikes and more in-depth in the Plan a Trip to Europe eBook and SUPER EASY Travel Planning Online Course.
Chris’ The North Face Recon Carry-on Backpack(affiliate) with a padded laptop section is perfect for transporting his electronics on the plane to our destination, but transforms to a day trip pack which we fill with snacks, the Camelbak Reservoir(affiliate), and extra water bottles.
7. Traveling Solo or With Kids
As you plan a trip, are you planning to do some solo adventure seeking or travel with the whole family?
With respect to traveling with kids, on our most recent family vacation, we opted for some slower mornings. We were all recovering from jet lag, and it was the beginning of summer holidays.
Our girls had been getting up early for school for months. We saw everything we needed to see even on the days when we just took the morning at a leisurely pace. Plan a trip with some days just for downtime.
Chris and I really have to remember that when we plan a trip with our girls. Sometimes we want to go go go and see so many cool things. We might not see all the tourist sites, and that’s okay.
When it is just him and me traveling together, we don’t need quite so much downtime.
Safety is priority #1. What are some of the pros to traveling solo?
- You can be independent
- You are in control of your schedule
- You can travel at your own pace
- You can do and see what interests you
On the flip side, some of the cons are:
- Eating alone isn’t always fun
- There is no one to bounce ideas off
- You have to figure out bus, train, and airplane schedules on your own. (I would get so lost!)
- It can be more expensive when you pay for taxis, hotels, storage, and groceries for one
8. Luggage and Carry-Ons
Will you be buying new Luggage or do you need to update? If you don’t have wheeled luggage, that should be your first travel investment. Consider the weight of your suitcase. If you are traveling by train or are simply having to lift your luggage to store it, be sure it is light enough that you can easily lift it overhead along with all of your packed items.
Be sure to use readily identifiable Bag Tags.
Note the baggage fees as you plan a trip. Many carriers charge baggage fees. Do your research and pack lightly. If you fly between countries in Europe, you will most certainly encounter baggage fees.
9. Consider What You Will Pack When You Plan a Trip
Do you wonder what you should pack in your Carry-On or Toiletry Bag? There are so many great ideas in these two articles:
Invest in good walking shoes. I love my Asics(affiliate). If you plan to purchase new shoes for your vacation, be sure to spend some time breaking them in before you leave home.
Our family walked over 140 miles during our two-week trip to Italy and Austria. That’s a lot of wear and tear on shoes and feet.
Take care of your feet.
Chris and I have both found it helpful to invest in some travel-specific clothing with zippered and secure pockets.
You can find many more of my clothing and shoe recommendations in My Favorite Travel Things in the CLOTHING section.
A word or two on packing lightly.
For those of you who typically plan an outfit where the pants and top match but don’t really go with anything else that you have packed, you need to adjust your thinking when traveling. Choose neutral pants, shorts, or capris that will match with more than one shirt and can be worn multiple days before being washed.
Realize that wearing the same shirt a couple of times over the course of a vacation is perfectly acceptable. I’d say pack an extra pair of underwear and socks and go light on matchy matchy shorts, shirts, and pants. Oh, and rolling your clothes instead of folding them really does keep them less wrinkled.
There is so much that can be said about electronics, and you will find that I go into much more detail in my eBook and Online Course and in the post 14 Genius Gadgets for Travel.
Here are a few important considerations?
Tablets(affiliate) – they can be great for downtime, occupying small children, taking notes, and accessing travel notes in Evernote.
International Plugs – with Chris’ international travel for work, he invested in International Plugs(affiliate) for a number of different countries worldwide. This cube-shaped plug adapts to a variety of plugs across Europe—not all countries’ outlets are the same. European voltage is 220V.
11. Travel Apps and Websites
You will benefit from having Google Maps and Google Translate on your Smart Phone(affiliate). Here are a few other Apps that I talk about in my eBook: TripAdvisor, SeatGuru, and WAZE. WAZE is essential if you will be driving in Europe!
As for websites that you can use in your planning, there are many. Chris and I like these ones:
Do you have any great travel Apps or websites that you love? Be sure to comment below and I will try them out.
Final Thoughts on The Ultimate Guides to Plan a Trip With Tips From a Frequent Traveler
Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures and the Online Course SUPER EASY Travel Planning are full of practical advice, tried and tested information, lists, and suggested websites and apps to use for reference; I include tips, research, and lessons Chris and I have learned through trial and error.
Here’s to a trip that is smooth, problem-free, and as uncomplicated as possible.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Need some extra motivation and ideas for saving money for travel?