Planning a trip to places you’ve never been before could be very challenging. Looking back at how I planned my Europe trip, there are certain things that I wish I knew back then. But that’s the beauty of travelling, not only will you able to gain the experience in exploring new places, you also gain knowledge that might be useful in the future.
Europe trip was the hardest holiday that I’ve ever planned. Unlike the time when I went to U.S.A, Turkey, New Zealand or China, my holiday in Europe was totally dependent on public transports and maps without local people to guide us for most of the time. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time during our trip in Europe, and I hope that anyone who have spent money and time to visit Europe would feel the same.
There are contributing factors that I think made our trip such an enjoyable one. Here are 8 useful planning tips for your next European holiday.
1. I only packed comfortable clothing and accessories that I will actually use
Okay, that’s a total lie. Two days after arriving in Holland, I realised that I’ve overpacked. Luckily, Holland was our first and last destination in Europe, and that’s also where my mom’s friend lives. She was kind enough to let me put my extra stuff at her home. I also bought a pair of leather sneakers from Poelman shoes when I was in Maastricht, and I was glad that I did. Not only that it was the most fashionable pair of sneakers I’ve ever own, it was also very comfortable. Those cobblestone pavements in Europe are definitely not made for heels, or even unsupportive flat shoes. So if you’re planning to enjoy long walks and spend less time worrying about your tired and sore feet, sneakers are the only way to go.
The weather was pretty unpredictable during the Spring season we were there. It rained a lot in Holland and Paris, but Rome and Florence was quite warm. I was happy about my decision to pack two jackets; one trench jacket for the warmer days, and a winter coat with hood for the colder days. Two pairs of pants (including the one that you’re wearing) and three tops are definitely enough, because you’ll cover them with your jacket most of the time. Plus, I stayed in some Air Bnb apartments and they provided laundry facilities.
2. The best way to travel around Europe is by train
It’s true what they say about European trains, they are awesome. TGVs are pretty expensive, and you should only take them when you need to save time (and just to be able to say that you’ve been in a TGV). I took TGV Lyria from Switzerland to Paris because it was quite far and I was able to save around 4 hours with the TGV. If you are only travelling short distances, regular trains are enough. Most trains have first and second class. I sat in second class most of the time and they’re perfectly all right. The only noticeable difference is that you can’t really choose your seats in second class, and they are generally more noisy and crowded. My best first class experience was on the Frecciarossa train from Milan to Rome. The seats are so comfortable, there were not many people around and they served free snacks and beverages. Plus, Italian trains are fairly cheap compared to other countries, such as Switzerland.
Switzerland public transports are more expensive than the other countries I visited, just like everything else in that country. So if you are planning to spend 3 days or longer and travel around the country, including places like Jungfraujoch and Lake Thun or Lake Brienz cruise in Interlaken, make sure that you purchase a Swiss Rail pass. I know that 251 CHF sounds like a lot for 4 days of using Public transport, but it includes trains, busses and boats, and you’ll definitely spend more than that without a rail pass.
You need to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances such as train strikes or rail works. Sometimes they don’t even tell you about it until you’re actually on the train. I purchased a direct ticket from Brussels to Amsterdam, but they announced a rail work situation on our way and we had to change trains in 2 other cities. It took us longer to reach Amsterdam, and we had to move pretty fast between platforms.
3. Your sim card data only work in the country where you purchased it, but European WiFi is awesome
When I arrived at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, I purchased a Lebara sim card. According to the salesperson, the number will work for calling and sms all over Europe, but the data will stop working as soon as I leave The Netherland. At first I was quite sad to have to travel around Europe without mobile data. How am I supposed to let my Facebook friends know about all those amazing croissants that I ate everyday? Turns out that WiFi is easy to find in most places, including most of the trains. Yes, the trains got WiFi and they are reasonably fast. Plus, you will most definitely find WiFi in your accommodations, and some cities like Florence even have free WiFi spots all around the city.
4. Location is an important factor when choosing your accommodation
I booked most of our accommodations through AirBnb for a few reasons. With AirBnb, you could get cheaper accommodations in awesome locations. Plus, you get to experience living in a local apartment/home, and that is just priceless. I am going to write more about the Do’s and Don’t’s of choosing and AirBnb accommodation in a different post. But no matter what type of accommodation you’re choosing, whether it’s a short-stay unit, hotel, hostel or B&B, location is definitely a very important factor. Research the location before you book the accommodation. When booking for Rome, I almost stayed in a chain hotel near the Colosseum. When I researched about the area, I found out that it is not very safe at night. I personally prefer to be in safe but less touristy areas, with decent cafes and bars that are open till late. Luckily, I found this cosy apartment in an area called Trastevere, which is a less touristy area in Rome compared to places like The Spanish Steps or Piazza Navona, but just as beautiful. After the sun goes down, which was around 9.30 PM, we had lovely strolls in the alleys full of cafes and restaurants, and I will never forget that experience.
5. Some places are worth going with private local guide
We were lucky to have my mom’s friend to take us around Holland, because we got to visit so many cities in 5 days! We also had a lovely local guide to take us to the Tuscany Regions from Florence, and it was money worth spending (we went with Francesco from Tours in Tuscany). If you’re going in a group of 4 or more, and don’t know any locals, it is definitely worth going with a private local guide. The best places in Europe are always the smaller towns and countrysides. Without local guides, you have to take the trains and that will waste a lot of your time, including the hours you spend getting lost (and if you’re clumsy like me, you definitely will).
6. Don’t force yourself to see all the tourist attractions (unless that’s your thing)
I personally hate tourist attractions. I didn’t even see the statue of Liberty when I was in New York, and I am totally fine with that. I just don’t see the beauty in places where I have queue up for a long time, and once I’m in, I have to walk really slowly among the sea of people, and sometimes even need to queue again for the elevator or something else (I’m looking at you, Eiffel Tower!). I only like tourist attractions when I get to see it without making too much effort, such as standing among the pillars of the Roman Pantheon at night (that building is magical!), looking at Eiffel Tower from a distance in Montmartre, and visiting the Museumplein early in the morning, when there were not many people (or bikes) yet in Amsterdam.
But that’s just me, if you feel like you haven’t been to a city unless you’ve been to their most famous tourist attractions, then go ahead. But you might like to read my next tip.
7. Certain tourist attractions are worth going with Skip the Line tickets
Fine, you cannot escape from tourist attractions forever, especially when the rest of your group want to do that. You don’t want to be a party-pooper, do you? Then you might want to consider getting Skip the Line tickets for those tourist attractions, especially the popular ones. We got STL tickets for Vatican city and I’m glad that we did, because we skipped the horrible long line that we saw on the way there, which would be a waste of time and I would rather have that time spent sitting in a Roman cafe eating Gelato. Where can I get these magical tickets, you ask? I got mine from one of the tour companies on Viator.
8. Don’t pre-book everything
Sometimes I can become a bit of a control freak when I plan for holidays. I feel the need to pre-book everything, or else things won’t go as planned. The truth is, just like overpacking things, I tend to over-pre-book tours and tickets. Other than accommodations and plane tickets, pre-booking is not required for train tickets, other public transportations such as boats and busses, and day tours. European train tickets can be purchased as you go as they don’t sell out and it will give you more flexibility just in case shit happens. Skip the Line tickets for attractions and guided tours can be booked a couple of days before to avoid the risk of having bad weather or change of plans. The only thing you might need to pre-book are privare tour guides. During peak season, they might sell out weeks before you arrive.
I hope that my tips are useful for your next Europe holiday. If you have any other travelling tips that you’d like to share with me, please leave a comment.
This post is not sponsored or contain any affiliation with the travel companies mentioned above. I only write about companies that I’ve used, enjoyed and thought that you might like them too!
All images are taken by me.