Back in May, I went on an amazing trip to Europe for 3.5 weeks. I spent hours upon hours looking at travel blogs, Pinterest, Trip Advisor and Eurail.com so I could plan every moment of my trip. I was so OCD about this trip that I created a color coordinated calendar with all of our tours and attractions on it. I know, I need help. When I got back from Europe I thought to myself, “I put in a lot of time and research into this trip and learned a lot along the way, so why don’t I share all of it?” I figured that all of my hard work could benefit not just me, but other people who are interested in traveling to Europe. So here we are!
This is my first post in my “Travel Europe” series. In this post I’ll talk about our route, city itineraries, transportation, how we paid for everything and where we stayed. In the upcoming months I’ll be expanding this series with posts that are specific to the different cities and countries we visited so keep posted!
Our flight arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands on May 10th and from there we traveled to Brussels, Belgium ⇒ Paris, France ⇒ Florence, Italy ⇒ Rome, Italy ⇒ Venice, Italy ⇒ Salzburg, Austria ⇒ Prague, Czech Republic ⇒ Berlin, Germany. We left for the US on June 2nd. We visited other small cities on day trips, but for the most part we stayed in the major cities I listed. A more detailed itinerary that shows how many days we stayed in each place can be seen below.
When I say I was OCD about planning this trip, I was not lying. Each city was marked with a different color on my itinerary and all of the places and attractions we wanted to see were listed on the appropriate day. Some attractions we booked directly on their websites, but the best way to book a lot of different tours on one website is by using Viator. There are tons of tours and attractions from all around the world on this website with real customer reviews. It is also much easier to look at your bookings in one centralized place instead of visiting a bunch of different websites, so I highly recommend it. There were a few tours that were not available on Viator that I purchased directly on the tours’ websites, but I would definitely check Viator first before looking elsewhere. Plus, if you click on the link above you can save $10 on your first booking!
What I realized when it comes to lodging is to use Airbnb in larger cities and hotels or hostels in smaller cities. Airbnb is great because all of our apartments had full kitchens so we could cook some of our meals and keep leftovers in a fridge, rather than eating out for every meal. You also get the opportunity to stay in residential areas which will give you a more local experience rather than a tourist experience. If you click on the Airbnb link above, you can save up to $35 on your first booking!
When it came to booking hotels I used Hotels.com. It was really nice and convenient to have your booking information on one centralized website – not to mention, the more you book, the more free hotel nights you can earn!
Once we made it over to Europe we traveled from city to city using a Eurail Pass. I highly recommend using the train system, because not only do you get to see the European countryside, but they have a ton of routes leaving at all times of the day. The Eurail website has a plan your trip feature that makes it super easy to plan your routes and make reservations, rather than going to each individual train website to make the reservations. I will say that the Eurail pass was not cheap, but it was nice to have all the reservations made and routes planned prior to our trip. Keep in mind that some routes require a reservation, and depending on your Eurail pass, that reservation might need to be in First Class.
At first, figuring out the train stations and hopping off one train to catch another was intimidating (remember, we were lugging around two over-sized, heavy suitcases). Once I did it a few times, though, I got the hang of it. My biggest piece of advice here is to not be afraid to ask! Other people waiting for the train were always more than willing to guide us in the right direction, and the people who work for the train companies were also incredibly helpful.
Other than riding trains, we either walked or took taxis to most places. I will say that even though it was expensive, it was much easier than trying to figure out the public transportation system in most places. Don’t get me wrong, we tried – but after sitting on an airplane for nine hours and walking around aimlessly looking for the correct bus in the rain for an hour with our suitcases, we gave up and said #teamtaxi!
I will start this topic off by saying that I am in no way, shape or form a financial advisor, and I strongly believe that you should never spend money that you don’t have. Now that that is out of the way, when we knew we were going to Europe, we decided to open a new travel credit card so we wouldn’t have to worry about changing currency going from country to country.
We used the Chase Sapphire credit card which has no international fees and no currency exchange fees. There is a $99 annual fee, but it is waived your first year (so if you cancel before then, you will not have to pay the fee). If you plan on spending $4,000 in the next 3 months, I highly recommend applying for a Chase Sapphire credit card. If you spend $4,000 in the first three months your account is open, you will earn a 50,000 point bonus ON TOP OF the points you already earn for your purchases. That is basically an extra $500 you will earn for buying things you had already planned on purchasing! In addition to earning the 50,000 bonus points, if you redeem them for travel you get an additional 20%. How awesome is that?! That’s basically a free plane ticket to Europe!
By the way, if you are not interested in redeeming your points for travel, you can still purchase gift cards or redeem your points for cash. We did take out Euros at an ATM when we got there, but we mostly used the credit card. I will say that if you are going to get Euros, DO NOT go to the currency exchange counter or request currency from your bank before you leave. Both of those methods are quite expensive and should be done as a last resort. Taking money out from an ATM is the most cost efficient way to get different currency.
Overall, my trip to Europe was an incredible experience, but there were some things I would have done differently. First and most importantly, I would not have lugged around a huge 26″ suitcase that weighed over 40 pounds. Not only did I not wear half of the clothes I packed, but I also almost pulled a muscle lifting it on and off the train. Which leads me to my next change: I would have not brought all the clothes I brought. I recommend bringing less than you think you should and bringing pieces that are versatile and comfortable. Lastly, I wouldn’t fill my trip with things to do every day. Sometimes when we got to our hotel from the train station, all we wanted to do was relax and take a nap… but since we booked a tour, we would have to suck it up and go. Leaving free time in your schedule lets you relax, explore or go back to places you want to see again.
Stay tuned for new Travel Europe posts that will include my favorite eats in Paris, five things you must ask your Airbnb host, things I wish I knew before going to Rome and many more!
Do you have any recommendations or advice when traveling to Europe? Have any questions for me? Leave them in the comments below!