Planning for Europe: A trip for 4
A reflection of my thoughts:
This is it. May is here! You know what that means? My trip to France and Italy is a couple weeks away. I will be going with my sister, Alyssa, and two cousins, Christina and Steve. Planning a trip for four was definitely a big challenge, especially when three of four people are still in school. It's a good thing I was able to split some responsibilities up with Christina (she's planning the France portion of the trip, while I plan Italy). The flight was booked back at the end of February and it's been a long planning process since. Knowing the type of person I am, the uncertainty of one person's plans really hindered my ability to plan and caused me a lot of stress -- which you would think shouldn't be the issue because planning a trip for Europe should be fun right?! WRONG. Maybe if I was planning for me and one other person, but forget about planning for four! (Don't get me wrong, I know I will be much more excited when all the planning is officially done and I'm actually on my trip). Aside from the point, this post is dedicated to my thought processes and some resources I found helpful while planning this lovely trip.
Where in Europe should we visit?
This was the first question that had to be addressed. In a group of four, everyone's feedback is important. The starting destination was set at Paris, France, but from there we could travel to any part of Europe. Initially we decided on a few different locations, including England, Spain, and Netherlands. We wanted to visit as much as we could in 17 days! After consulting with our older cousin, she offered an insightful suggestion: to visit the relatively smaller scale destinations and save the main tourist attractions for another time (such as the Big Ben, London Eye, Amsterdam, etc) because those attractions will always be there. That's not to say we shouldn't visit any major tourist attractions, but to limit it. Her main point was that we're still young and because we don't have families of our own yet, we should take advantage of the opportunity to explore the rich culture Europe has to offer by doing things that we probably won't be able to do with as much leisure when we're older. This advice really helped open up my perspective in terms of deciding which places to visit because I would've picked all the major tourist attractions instead of falling in love with the picturesque Cinque Terre, Italy and the scenic trails between the five villages, or I would've never discovered the existence of the Gorges Du Verdon in the South of France.
A few things to keep in mind...
- It is VERY easy to fall into the trap of trying to squeeze in as many places to visit as possible within a given time frame. Even though I extensively narrowed down the destinations I wanted to visit, there is SO MUCH to see/do in ALL of the pinpointed locations that it was tough to decide on specific activities and sights because I still wanted to do as much as I could. However, I know that if I overload on the scheduling, I will be too exhausted to really enjoy myself.
- Travel time. I didn't want to spend an inordinate number of hours traveling when that time could be used for exploring so we had to pick destinations that didn't require TOO much travel time to get from one point to the next.
- Compare EVERYTHING, compare, compare, compare! I compared prices and read reviews from multiple websites before making final decisions.
- The Savvy Backpacker - Great for travel tips in Europe, what to pack, how to dress, accommodations, and more!
- For hostels: Hostel World
- Reviews from travelers, including ratings on atmosphere, facilities, cleanliness, etc.
- For hotels/apartments: Booking.com
- Most places offer FREE cancellation (if cancelled before booked date, other restrictions apply) with no booking fees!
- Lonely Planet's Italy Travel Guide - offers an assortment of activities, a brief history of locations, useful maps, travel accommodations, and it even teaches you some basic Italian phrases.
- Google Docs/Excel: this was extremely useful for group planning because everyone can edit/comment with their feedback
- Packing list of shareable items split amongst group; keeps track of who brings what
- Price comparison of air flights amongst different airports within a given time frame to figure out the best deal
- I chose Kayak because it allowed for multi-city travel comparisons and it included prices from other meta-search engines as well (such as Expedia, Orbit, etc). I don't think it matters which meta-search engine you use, but for my purposes, I thought Kayak showed me the best prices.
- Price comparison of individual point-to-point train tickets VS. buying a Eurail Global Pass for unlimited train travel
- For this trip, I found that it was cheaper to get individual point-to-point train tickets because with the Eurail pass, some rides require you to pay to reserve a spot EVEN though you have the pass. Since I wasn't traveling extensively via train rides, the Eurail pass was not worth it.
- Itinerary of train routes
- Rail Europe is great because it allowed me to purchase tickets in advance so that I don't have to worry about scrambling around trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B (I would also suggest comparing prices with the actual train provider's ticketing website to see which offers the best deal).
- List of lodging information for each destination: addresses, contact information, costs
- Trip Advisor was my main go-to. For this trip, I found that the group prices for vacation rental apartments in Italy were a lot cheaper than booking a place at a hostel.