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Planning a Europe Trip Itinerary
“I’m going to Europe for a month. What should I see? Where should I stay? Can I do England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Greece – all on this trip?”
All the time I see these sorts of questions posted on reddit/travel, as well as Lonely Planet forums. I’ve even had facebook friends reach out via private messages asking me to help them plan an Europe trip itinerary. The interest is totally understandable. Believe me, I get it.
People want to visit Europe, because Europe is spectacular and awesome and beautiful. I keep going back again and again for a reason.
Yet, despite their excitement, they struggle on a key travel skill: writing a great itinerary. I don’t blame them for reaching out for help. Itineraries are Serious Business since they build your adventure’s metaphorical backbone.
Planning a Europe Trip Itinerary is Important.
Not even joking around here, guys. You’re spending a lot of money so your skills need to be on point. But writing an itinerary isn’t always easy. It’s one of the reasons I booked guided tours only for a very long time. Honestly, writing a solid itinerary for your upcoming European trip is a skill that only improves with practice.
And if you want to know the truth? The planning process still overwhelms me. Half-finished itineraries have made me shut my laptop in frustration. I want to see everything. It takes me ages to craft a suitable itinerary, one which matches my personal travel style.
In this post, I offer some advice learned from two years of solo travel around Europe. Enjoy, Wayfarers!
How To Plan A Europe Trip Itinerary
1. Don’t Forget to Research when Planning a Europe Trip Itinerary
Research is essential. Doesn’t mean it’s always fun, though. Many of my students gripe about researching material for their essays. They’re kids. It’s okay. But, as for you, potential traveler? You must research if you plan on writing a successful itinerary.
Sorry, there’s no way around this step. Read guidebooks, travel blogs, search Trover, use Trip Advisor, anything at your disposal to plan a great adventure. And, for the love of all that is holy, don’t ask people on forums to write your entire itinerary because you were too lazy to do the leg work yourself. Experienced travelers see through that nonsense.
If you skim on research, your itinerary will suffer. For instance, when I went to Scotland two years ago, I booked in August because I wanted to see The Fringe Festival. If I failed to research and booked a June trip, I would’ve massively missed out on an important cultural experience.
Research will help you narrow down your dream list to fit a reasonable itinerary. Bringing me to my next point…
2. Stop Trying to See Everything, Ms. Europe Itinerary Planner
Let me be blunt: you are not going to see every single city, town, and attraction on one trip.
It’s impossible and will only leave you feeling stressed out.
For instance, my biggest mistake in Paris was believing that a single week was enough time for me to see all the museums. Ha, what fantasy world was I living in? On my final day, I realized I could come to Paris every single year and still not see it all.
Accept the fact that you will miss certain sites, restaurants, and activities. Once you let that idea go, you can focus on creating an even better travel plan for yourself. My suggestion: you want to build in “slack time” for each day in your itinerary, because you want to actually enjoy the place, not run from site to site like you’re going to die tomorrow.
Trust me when I tell you “less is more.” Besides missing some places gives you an ironclad excuse to return to Europe.
3. Forget About “Doing” a Country
Man, oh man, I laugh whenever people claim they’re intending to “do” xyz countries on their European adventures. This is a mistake I see new travelers make a lot. I know I did when I first started to travel across the Atlantic.
Newsflash: there’s no way you can “do” a country.
Europe’s countries – even the tiny ones – are so rich in history and culture that it’s impossible to truly immerse yourself unless you’re an expat or longterm traveler. The idea of “doing” a country is very misleading and damages your itinerary.
Instead accept you’re only skimming a country’s surface. If you want to truly appreciate one country, let’s say you’ve a fascination with Portugal, then spend more days there to earn a deeper understanding of its history, culture, and people.
Or think in terms of cities or towns rather than countries. It’s easier to split time between Paris and London than the entire countries of the United Kingdom and France.
When planning a Europe trip itinerary, you need to give up on the idea of seeing every single part of a country.
4. Don’t Only Focus on Europe’s Capitals
Try not to limit yourself to Europe’s major capitals and urban centers. You experience the true “soul” of a nation in its smaller cities and rural towns. Believe me. I’ve fallen in love with some true hidden gems, away from the capital cities.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Paris, Rome, and London. All amazing cities worth a few days. I live close to New York City and Philadelphia, and I’m honestly a “city gal” at heart. The buzz of an urban area thrills me.
However, you miss out on so many incredible cultural experiences if you only book stays in large cities. Break away and visit the countryside. For instance, let’s say you have a week and are flying to Rome. I would spend a few days in Rome followed by time in Umbria in order to have a taste of both Italian city and country life.
5. Don’t Ignore Jet Lag
If you’re flying from North America, Asia, or Oceania, then your first day will be fraught with hellish jet lag.
Personally, I can’t sleep on airplanes, especially when I’m cramped in economy class and fearing for my life, and upon landing in Europe, my brain and body are both deliriously exhausted. I almost fell asleep in a park in Dublin because I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open.
Do not underestimate jet lag. I don’t count my first day in Europe as a true day spent in a city. Therefore, I wouldn’t leave for a new destination until you’ve spent at least two nights in your arrival city.
If you’re one of those people who can sleep through an entire long haul flight… then I want you off my blog. Not really, of course, but I’m jealous of your abilities and want your secrets now!
6. Planning a Europe trip itinerary? Don’t Discard Your Own Interests
Everyone wants to experience different things on the road. Even looking at travel blogs, you immediately see there’s a variety of passions and niches.
Perhaps you’re a foodie. Perhaps you want to enjoy the nightlife. Perhaps you’re a big museum buff. Perhaps you’re a hardcore hiker. Take your personal interests into consideration while still in the planning stages of your trip.
The Eiffel Tower and The Leaning Tower of Pisa are awesome, but if you’re more interested in nature, then limit your time gawking at manmade sights and instead head for the Julian or Swiss Alps. Don’t feel obligated to see certain sites, even the famous ones, if you’re not interested in them. Be selfish especially if you’re traveling alone.
Again, this tip relies on you to do your research ahead of time.
7. Don’t Shrug Off Transport Time
Underestimating transport time is a big problem for new travelers. I was guilty of falling into this trap in the past. Don’t forget about transit when planning a Europe trip itinerary. You’ll end up regretting it.
Why is that? Well … Europe has excellent public transportation, true, but you don’t want to spend too much in of your precious time in-transit. You didn’t come all this way and spend all this money to see the inside of several trains or buses.
On “travel days,” you don’t actually have a full day in whatever city or town is your final destination. Why not?
Well… You need to check out of your accommodation, go to the train or bus station, factor in potential delays, complete the actual journey, go to your new accommodation, and check in. Even a half hour train ride can turn into a two hour ordeal.
Again, less is more.
8. Book an “Open Jaws” Flight
Sometimes it’s not worth it to arrive and depart at the same airport. While “open jaws” flights are typically more expensive, you save a lot in both time and public transportation costs. Believe me.
Let’s say you planned a beautiful and leisurely train journey from Paris down to Rome, stopping at amazing destinations along the way. Would you really want to spend more time overlanding it back to Paris, just so you can fly home? I didn’t think so.
Look into “open jaws” – flying in and out of different airports – tickets instead. Much better for certain itineraries.
Thanks for reading my guide on planning a Europe trip itinerary! How do you plan the perfect European holiday? Have you ever made any big itinerary mistakes?