The summer of 2016 was our best travel summer yet.
Luke and I took a total of 8 trips from the start of May until today. Jacksonville Beach, Washington, D.C., Merritt Island, Kentucky, Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard, Arizona, and Minneapolis. This brings our total trips of 2016 to….
Are we crazy? Maybe so. But it’s been the best having so many reasons to travel, and additionally appending on such great trips to epic new places. I’m now at 21 for the number of states I’ve visited.
Which brings me to our next big adventure…
It’s time to add to another list, but not to the state count, but a COUNTRY count! Europe 2016!!
It’s been almost 2 years since Luke and I have traveled overseas. In less than a month, we will depart from Orlando to London, and also visit Munich, Rome and Venice as well. *6 months later, we also visited Oslo, Bergen, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Berlin!
I feel like I’m lying saying that; it doesn’t feel real at all just yet. I have been to Europe once before to visit Luke when he was living abroad in Germany. We spent time in London, Paris & Aix-en-Provence in France, and beautiful Spanish Barcelona, but Germany and Italy are 2 new countries for this girl to experience.
Although Luke has been all over in Europe, and I’ve also been once before, it has been really different planning our trip this time around. It is a different process when you’re going to visit someone, or when you’re both students, and neither of you have full time jobs with real bills to pay. I was still in college, and worked two jobs to buy my flight to go visit Luke (and get engaged, I later found out!) and spent my winter break in Europe with him.
This time, we’ve had to secure dates, take the plunge to actually buy tickets, save up for the trip, and take time off of our “real” jobs. This isn’t me doing the usual “I’m going to add vacay days onto a wedding or work trip to get a taste of a new place”, but going for a 10-day trip abroad.
It isn’t easy but it IS doable with a little planning ahead. On top of the time it takes to meticulously plan just those aforementioned things, there is a lot to master when it comes to planning a trip to Europe.
If you want to get an idea of what you’d spend on a 10 day vacation in Europe, check out this breakout of what we spent.
Let’s start with the basics today on how to go about picking your European destination – here is the big, initial questions you have and the answers you need.
- There are so many amazing places to go. How do I pick one?
There are two methods for selecting your European destinations. You could either…
A) Decide what is important to you in terms of traveling – art, food, history, outdoors, safety, familiarity, transportation, accommodations, etc. and choose your cities to see based on what you want to do.
B) Watch flight prices and select your locations based on the lowest possible flight price. This is what we did. Flexibility = money saver.
It all depends on what you’re comfortable with. If you have always dreamed of what it would be like to stand before the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles in the sky, or yearned to see all of London atop the London Eye, then it will be worth saving up more money to make those reveries become tangible. However, if you just want to get away and experience new things, meet new people and explore, flexibility is your best friend. There is a surprising amount of thought of how to think about picking your European destination.
If you are are into option A, here are some unique ideas according to interest to help get your wheels turning (provided by Luke, who has spent extensive time in all of these locations):
Croatia: Naturally picturesque
This country offers the outdoors lover an abundance of scenic views, especially within their national parks. It’s on the Mediterranean, so you still get the gorgeous views that you do in Italy. The sunsets on the water are unbeatable. However, Croatia is cheaper to travel to and within since it isn’t on the euro.
The locals are warm, and you can’t go wrong with the seafood. Think Game of Thrones scenery – it was filmed there!
Poland – Unique and up and coming
Poland is for those who want a unique travel experience. It’s a touch of western combined with eastern European. It has tons of history, especially in cities like Warsaw and Krakow that have recently been rebuilt. Warsaw’s Old Town was rebuilt from the original rubble that had crumbled from the city during World War II.
Contrary to popular belief, Poland is not only cold – there’s plenty of sunlight and great days. The Polish are very friendly and welcoming to others wanting to visit their country.
If you’re worried about culture shock, you don’t need to when exploring Poland. You’ll find plenty of burger joints, cafes, and bars that will make you feel like you could be in D.C.
Ever heard of a shot bar? You’ll only find them in Poland. They’re just what they sound like. You walk into a tiny bar and select from 70 types of vodka for around $1 a shot. Bottoms up!
Mallorca – The classic vacation
Mallorca is totally on island time. This glorious place off of Spain’s coast is for the traveler yearning for a true peaceful escape. It’s even a great place to travel solo since the locals are kind.
The island isn’t very big, so you can cover the whole thing in a small amount of time. Don’t underestimate seemingly odd things on their menus – the squid ink pasta is to die for. Mallorca is known for oranges, so think “tropical”. Their pearls are world renown, as well.
You will find influence from the famous Spanish artist, Antoni Gaudi, all over the island. Known for his unique style of mirroring the patterns in nature in his art, you’ll be able to spot the Palma Cathedral no problem.
Vienna – Art lover’s paradise
Home to Mozart & Beethoven,Vienna is described as an artistic hub. It is also famous for its coffee! That’s a reason to go in itself.
Vienna showcases exactly what you think of when you hear “European architecture”. The buildings throughout the city are regal, with lots of blooming greenery in the spring and summer seasons. The city is easy to navigate, and size that offers plenty to see and do within just a few days.
After perusing through some city guides and getting a better idea of where you want to go, now you need to look at a map (well, Google maps really!). Think about your airport options (biggest airport to biggest airport tends to be cheapest flight fare), and explore prices for the time of year you aim to depart.
The next thing you need to is see how many days you have in total, and then divy them up by destination. It will be of best interest for your time on your trip to pick cities that you can get to via budget flight companies or the EuroRail (learn more here in Part 2). I would suggest 3-4 days in each city at least. Any shorter, you’ll have some aching knees and deflated enthusiasm after over-stuffing your days with too many sights to see.
Even though it’s tempting to cram in everything you want to see and do after you’ve gotten yourself all the way over there, I always say it’s better to spend more time in less cities. That way, you actually leave with a sense of the place and an understanding of a way of life you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Hone in one a good window for you to escape your daily responsibilities as a young professional, and watch flight prices. Once you’re booked – hooray! – it’s time to plan your travel details from places to place next. Stay tuned for more.
Now, if you’re an option B-er and are more preoccupied with just traveling to a new and exciting place than with where exactly you’re heading, it’s going to take some dedication to checking flight prices on the daily.
For our Euro trip, this is how it went down:
- We started talking about taking a trip to Europe at the beginning of the year as one of our New Year’s resolutions
- We checked flight prices daily on Kayak.com and Google Flights. After realizing that September had lower flight fare than any time over the summer or winter, we started digging in to seeing if we could get time off work during that time of year, and looked into what we’d need to save up.
- Before we got to finalizing how much money we’d need to go on this trip, we found super cheap flights from Orlando to London (direct, too) for $635 each…they were basically BOGO. After a few minutes of “Are we really doing this? Should we just do it?”, we did it! And then proceeded to jump around the living room giggling, “We’re going! We’re going!!”
If you can keep your eyes peeled for some serious discounted travel deals over a time frame you’ve identified as a good time to escape, that’s your best bet to save some money. We have been to London before – Luke has even lived there before – and it wasn’t necessarily where we were aiming to go. But in an enchanting place like London, there are always new streets to uncover. Plus, getting around in Europe is much more affordable than in the US.
If this is helpful to you, or you just want to hear more scoop on how to plan a trip to Europe, check out Part 2 here. Part 2 includes what you need to know to plan and book travel within Europe, and what to pack.