Hello again everyone! Hope you all are enjoying the warm sun and taking advantage of all the fun summer brings. As some of you know, I took advantage of some European sun this month and went on a dreamy twenty day vacation across the pond. I know some of you think its crazy to do something like that after just coming back from Brazil, but I saw it as an opportunity I wouldn’t come across again in my life, so I took it! I’m freshly graduated from college and before immediately hopping into a Big Girl Job, I wanted to complete my year of travel on a different continent. It really was spectacular, mainly because of the people I saw again, and met anew. I’m finding more and more that the people make a trip impactful way more than a scene does. With that being said, let me tell you all about how I got there, what I did, and how I planned it!
First off, the decision of where to go. Now, Europe is huge, which I don’t really think many people realize when they look at a map. In terms of cultural diversity and historical background, Europe is one of the densest continents on earth. You can go not even fifty miles in one direction, hit another country that not only speaks another language, but had managed to maintain an entirely separate culture, which I think is absolutely incredible. I think of the US, or even Brazil, and how large countries differ so much from small countries.
My main deciding factor of places was largely determined by my ability to stay with people. I wanted to budget as best as I could and staying with people is an excellent way to cut costs, especially in July which is high season. If you don’t know I mean when I say high season, it refers to tourism. In a place like Europe, its important to know when is best for you to travel, so tourism is blocked off by seasons. High season is June through August, with prices high, lines long, but weather warm and activities buzzing. You may need to shed a few extra dollars to go in this time, but if you’re a people person, this season is great to go and meet other travelers along the way. April, May, September, and October are considered shoulder season where prices drop a bit, lines get shorter, and there are a few more rainy days. I’m planning on going to Italy with my mom during a shoulder season because it’s significantly more manageable and calm. Finally, the winter months are low season, with the cold settling in and most seasonal attractions or lodges shut down until spring. This is a great time to go if you want to see the non-touristic side of a place, or if you want to save the most amount of money. A word of caution though, watch prices around Christmas time, or if a place is known for skiing, prices and people usually shoot back up.
Taking into account all the people I met in Rio, friends that I knew had connections in places, and people from my past travels I settled on Dublin, London, Barcelona, Berlin, and Oslo, in that order and I would fly both in and out of the Dublin Airport. Pro tip; I’ve been looking at flight prices to and from Europe for a very long time, and almost always the cheapest entry point for Americans is Dublin. Dublin Airport also has the added bonus of doing TSA Passport Control before you even leave for the states, so you don’t have to deal with it when you get there. Another helpful note, buying round-trip tickets is also frequently cheaper than buying one-ways from different countries so when you are planning, try to organize your destinations in a loop so you end up back where you started. There are many examples of these online, so find what’s best for you.
Another money-saving tip about Europe is that Eastern countries are also a bit cheaper than Western ones, so if you have the option between squeezing in Prague or Budapest versus Paris or Lisbon, cost is something to consider. Not saying Paris or Lisbon aren’t great, it’s just all about personal preference. I personally knew I wanted to go to Dublin no matter the cost, so I made it work even though it was just announced Dublin is officially more expensive to live than London. Keep in mind that even though I talk a lot about cost, sometimes splurging is necessary to make your trip more enjoyable. There is a big difference between seeing a place and experiencing a place, so leave a healthy cushion in your budget for the unexpected opportunity.
Speaking of unexpected, I know there are many different travel styles out there and plenty of people are fine just hopping on a plane and seeing what happens without doing the faintest bit of planning, but that is not me. I recommend booking all flights, trains, and lodgings for your trip well in advance, and know how you are going to get to and from each of those places. It’s so helpful to know if a country has a train system to and from the airport, if Uber exists, or if bus routes will work for you. This will save you anxiety and the necessity to plan while you are traveling, giving you a more enjoyable experience. That being said, day to day stuff can largely be planned out when you arrive because locals know it all! Just by asking around, you will know what’s worth going to and what’s not. The only things I had planned going into the trip were two day trips, one in Ireland and one in London. Both were spectacular and well worth it, but I didn’t feel I needed more planned when I was there.
Something else I felt I didn’t need any more of was luggage. Throughout the entire trip I lived out of a duffel bag and a backpack, everything within carry-on bag limits, and never had to deal with checking my luggage, saving me both copious amount of time and money. Most rock-bottom price airlines charge for any added thing, including choosing a seat and adding an extra bag, so I made it work and honestly I never felt like I was missing anything. By the end of the trip, I had actually felt like I brought too much because I was so sick of carrying around my heavy bag! I also didn’t bring any liquids with me besides contact solution and perfume, which made my airport security process much easier. You may be thinking, “Mon, you probably smelled really bad on your trip then” but my secret is switching to solid. Solid everything! Shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, facial moisturizer, exfoliator, even laundry detergent! Everything was in its own carrying case and I never had to worry about spilling in my bag. Thank you Lush and Yes To cosmetics, my hat goes off to you (sponsor me plz).
If you’ve been picking up on it, I’ve been talking lots about airline bookings and airport security. That’s because I flew my entire trip. I took only one train two hours in Germany to a town called Hannover to visit a friend for the day. The rest of the trip I found that bare-bone airline tickets were not only significantly cheaper than trains, but they were also much faster. Instead of losing an entire day or more going from one country to the next, the max I lost was half a day and I was saving money. I suggest this route to people who are willing to deal with the natural mishaps that come with barebone airlines, because they will happen on your trip. Also, I’ve been hearing that this option may not be around for too much longer because many cheap airlines are actually going bankrupt and are rumored to be closing soon, or be forced to raise prices. Keep your eyes peeled!
The last thing I want to touch on is time. I know too many people who have rushed through a place in two days, thinking it would be enough time to experience it before they cram the other twelve places in and then go home exhausted. You will get sick, your plan will fell through because you will miss a flight, and you will feel way more anxious and exhausted on the trip than you ever did before it. Spend a minimum of four days in a place, for London and Paris I would even argue six. Four days gives you the opportunity to still function at a fast pace, but with a bit of breathing room. I got in the habit to rest the afternoon I got in, maybe go out to dinner if I felt up to it, have two and a half big days in the city or otherwise, and then spend the last evening packing up and organizing for the next destination. I didn’t ever feel rushed and I also didn’t feel bored, so I think this is an awesome rule of thumb.
Ultimately, doing Europe looks different for everybody, so find what’s best for you. As always, I’m here for questions and if I missed anything let my know in the comments!
Have great weeks everyone 🙂
Next to read: Another Patagonia Guide