If you polled average Americans and asked “Where would you most like to go in Europe?” I’ll bet London, Paris, and Rome would be in the top ten percent. Many Americans even go so far as to try to cram all three places into one vacation, leaving them exhausted by the end. Is that what you really want or would you rather just pick one place and explore that area? There are many questions that should be explored to make the most out of your first visit to Europe. Do you even know where in Europe you want to go?
First ask yourself why you want to go to Europe. Is it because a friend or relative went there and said it was awesome? Or do you have something more specific in mind, like visiting St. Peter’s Basilica or The Eiffel Tower? Do you simply want to go somewhere different than the usual Disney World? Do you enjoy history and want to check out some historical sites?
If you’re more flexible on where you’d like to go, you can look around for good deals on flights. As I mentioned previously in my post A Simple Way to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Airfare, Google flights is a great search engine for gaining insight on airfare. If you put in a city in the US and type in Europe, Google flights will generate a map with prices for major cities in Europe. You can even put in Eastern Europe or Southern Europe, for example, to zero in on a more specific region of Europe. Or, if you have a specific city you want to fly to but are flexible with your dates, you can check Google flights calendar day-by-day to see how prices fluctuate. Even if you’re locked in to only June through August for travel, prices often differ by at least a couple hundred dollars and sometimes several hundred dollars, depending on which dates you choose.
Let’s say you’ve decided you want to go to Rome, Florence, and Venice in Italy. This is certainly do-able if you’re going to be there more than 7 days. If you have 10 days to spend in Italy, you could spend 3 nights in Rome, 4 nights in Florence, and 2 nights in Venice or even 4 nights in Rome, 3 in Florence, and 2 in Venice (either would be great options). You can easily get from one city to the next by train. The rail system in Europe in general is pretty reliable and easy to navigate. I don’t recommend driving in any of these cities the first time you go and not even on subsequent times, as it’s just easier to get around in town by taxi and a lot less stressful, at least in these Italian cities.
Let’s go back to the London, Paris, Rome example I brought up previously. To get from London to Paris can take up to 9 hours on a bus, a little over 6 hours by car, just over 2 hours by train, or a bit over an hour by plane. Taking the train seems the obvious choice to me, given the hassle with airports and the time difference between flying and the train isn’t that great. From Paris to Rome is a bit more of a stretch since the distance is much greater. One good option is to take the night train from Paris, on the Artesia sleeper trains from Paris to Italy. You must reserve a sleeping berth in either a sleeping-car or more economical couchette car (4 or 6 bunk-style beds) in advance. However, you can fly from Paris to Rome in about 2 hours for under $200 (usually much less) on Air France or one of Europe’s many discount airlines.
Putting all of the above together, let’s say you have 10 days total (9 nights) to spend in London, Paris, and Rome and you’re going to spend the first 3 nights in London. From London you’ll take the train to Paris and spend 3 nights there then fly to Rome and spend 3 nights there before flying back home to the United States. This is a bit tiring because of moving around such great distances, but the most you’ve spent in actual travel time in Europe is roughly 2 hours at a stretch, which isn’t bad. This of course doesn’t include any time spent at the train station or airport, but still isn’t terrible. I’d say it’s not as bad as it may seem at first, when you do the math and calculate the travel time.
By no means am I supporting the London-Paris-Rome first trip to Europe plan, however. Personally, I like to explore one country at a time, starting in a bigger city simply because they’re always cheaper to fly into, then branching out into smaller towns and villages of a country. For example, when I went to Austria, I flew into Munich, Germany and spent a couple of days here before I moved on to some of the small towns of Austria like Bad Gastein, St. Johann im Pongau, Werfen, and many others that most Americans have never heard of. I enjoyed the scenery, food, and activities much more in these tiny towns than I did in Munich. I know, technically I did explore two countries in my example here since I was in Austria and Germany, but other than Munich, I didn’t see any other parts of Germany other than driving through to get to Austria.
I guess my most important points in all of this would be the following. First determine how much money you can budget for this European vacation. Then figure out why you want to go to Europe and what specifically you want to see and do. Next look at travel times and how to get from one place to another if you want to visit multiple cities and look at the costs involved. Finally, factor in accommodations, dining out, drinks out, museum costs and other entertainment costs and leave some money for souvenirs and any unexpected costs. I’ve found that by choosing places that are a bit different than where some people might choose, they’re usually less crowded and cheaper, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box when choosing where to go!
By figuring these things out in advance, it will greatly add to your peace of mind, which should help you enjoy your vacation more. You will also find that it’s not so complicated after all to plan your first vacation to Europe. Given all of the information available online on destinations, you should be able to put together a package that includes your airfare, accommodations, transportation, and some ideas for things to do.
Some general planning websites I like:
For figuring out how to get from point a to point b:
For flight information:
For putting all of your travel plans in one place:
So go ahead and start planning your first vacation to Europe! Just don’t make the mistake of going there in August. Many Europeans take the month of August off work to travel so many restaurants and other businesses will be closed in August and beaches and other hotspots where Europeans like to vacation will be packed. Instead, travel during the shoulder season in September and October (with the exception of Paris, which tends to be quiet in August but crowded in September). Finally, I would be happy to give advice on anything travel-related if you have a more specific or personal question. Just send me an email @runningtotravel (gmail).