Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Traveling in Europe: Planning

Now that I think about it, I probably should have done this post at the very beginning of my Traveling in Europe series, but hopefully it will still be some help to someone out there.

I've had trip planning on the brain ever since Sean told me he wanted to take a long vacation. In all honesty, I constantly plan trips, even though we don't always take them. Trying to juggle going away at the spur of a moment with the military doesn't always work.

Anyway...I've majorly planned for our upcoming vacation. Normally I at least plan on what sights we want to see and get a few ideas of what there is to eat where we'll be staying. This trip I've gone all out. Because it is a long trip, with many destinations and flights, I've planned more than usual. I've done a Word document for each individual city with details like:

What time we get to the city
How to get to our accommodations from the airport
Name of hotel (hostel, etc) phone number and e-mail
Balance due for the room, whether breakfast is included
Sights we want to see, plus what the hours of operation are and what the cost is

I find it easier to break it down like that because I want to keep an eye on how much money we are spending and how much we can expect to spend on this particular trip.

Because we are flying on a budget airline, it means the size of our suitcase and weight allowance are pretty low. Because of this, I try to pack as light as possible. This means I don't want to haul 3 or 4 bulky guidebooks around. For instance, I have the full Spain and Germany guidebook. I only need the info for three cities in those guidebooks. So, I bought the Snapshot Guide for Madrid, Barcelona and Berlin. Much smaller and more compact and I don't feel like they are using up a bunch of extra space. (By the way I got mine on Amazon for much cheaper)

(See how much smaller they are?!)

I've mentioned that I use Rick Steves guidebooks and the site Tripadvisor, but I also have a few other recommendations for sources. The magazine Budget Travel is one of my favorites, I often go through my issues, tear out pages that I think we are interested in going to and then put the pages in plastic folders and into a large 3 ring binder. That way before a trip, I can just flip through it, see if anything applies to where we are going and add it to my planning. The website for Budget Travel magazine is also very helpful.

(My travel binder)

Another source I utilize is blogs. There are some great blogs out there that detail life in cities all over Europe and the rest of the world. Some are written by natives of that country or city and others are Ex-Pats that now consider that place their home. I have some helpful sites on the right side of my blog. Others I keep in an special folder under my Favorites tab. I just recently stumbled upon a blog from Rome that had great non-touristy recommendations for gelato and dinner.

I realize there are some people out there that don't like to plan and would rather fly by the seat of their pants when the travel. My husband is like that, I'm not. I think in the long run you end up paying more money when you don't plan you trip out. I know that firsthand from several trips that we've taken in the past.


tootie said...

I'm a planner, too, so I can definitely relate! Even for our quick weekend getaway, I planned where we'd eat our meals and what we'd do.

PG said...

I've been following your blog for a while but this is my first comment - hi!

I am a mega planner when it comes to travel. Sometimes this has ended up causing us more stress -- e.g. a train is late, and then you end up losing money on the next train ticket and your hotel for night too, or you end up walking for an hour on a scorching Greek cliffside looking for that hotel you booked on Expedia...

But I think I'd still do it the same way! I'd hate to spend my whole European vacation trying to find hotels and sometimes if you don't scope things out in advance you end up paying a lot of money for Chef Boyardee.

Anonymous said...

Fellow super planner. I have an Excel itinerary template that I just update with each trip. Sounds very similar to your Word doc. And I also love me some Rick Steves and TripAdvisor. I actually planned our trip to Italy soley using TripAdvisor and the internet. Didn't touch a guide book until we got there, and that's when we fell in love with "Uncle Rick" ;)

Anonymous said...

Yep, I like planning things out too. I'm always scared I would end up some place and look really foolish because I didn't have the paperwork, etc. I needed. lol

family of 4 on the move! said...

I am exactly the same way with the planning! Mr. M always thinks I get a little crazy with looking things up and having everything written down and in a book with us when we travel. He is always happy though when we get somewhere and I know exactly where we are going and exactly what times we need to be places and how much cash we need on us. So I plan away and I hope you have a fabulous vacay!!

Adrienne said...

How awesome is that travel binder?! AmaZING!! I am totally going to need to do something like that!! (Germany APril, here I come!)

Jessica @ Acting Adult said...

It's funny that I'm not as big a trip planner as I should be, because I plan events for a living. My husband does most of the trip stuff for us.

But I agree that Rick Steves' books are such a wonderful resource! They helped us figure out our spur-of-the-moment Spain trip in less than 24 hours before we were leaving.