Europe 2013 Planning mode!

by oz chinita

I’m so exciteeeeeed!!! After my plans didn’t push through last year, I’m FINALLY set to go for my first Europe trip this year (well actually my 2nd, but the 1st one I was a kid and couldn’t really remember it).

This is also the perfect time since I just got my AU passport.. which means that for a lot of the European countries in Schengen area, NO VISA REQUIRED!! 😀 😀

Europe is such a huge undertaking that deciding how to plan it out and where to begin can be overwhelming.  How many days to allot, which countries to go to, what is the budget, do you go with a tour or self itinerary, or a mix of both? My itinerary went through a lot of revisions, but after 6 months googling and asking people about their trips.. I’m pretty happy with the plan I came up with..

Hopefully for other people out there, my ramblings on here about how I planned it out can help you with your own plans to go to Europe.

1st Question: Tour group or self planned trip? I asked both people who planned it out themselves and people who have been on tour groups about what their experience was like.  So the pros and cons are listed here, but it really depends on your own personality to decide which one is best suited for you.

Pros Cons
Tour
  • you don’t have to worry about anything
  • can cover more places at cheaper cost
  • can go with a group
  • there’s a guide explaining to you the place and giving you information
  • the friends I’ve asked can’t seem to remember all the places they’ve been to and where because of the pace of the tour
  • have to follow the group plan
  • if you’re going budget tour, expect the accommodations to be far from city center and food provided to be low to just ok..
Self plan
  • tours usually only cover “popular” spots. With research you might find a place that’s amazing that only with self planning would you be able to go to
  • go where you want
  • time spent for a specific place is up to you
  • it could still be crowded, but at least you don’t have to crowd around with people in a tour group trying to also make the most of their time spent on a place
  • you have to put in the time to plan/research
  • cost could get high, but if you do the planning can actually be comparable to a budget tour group

Bottom line is, if you don’t have the time or too lazy to do the research, then tour group is the best option. However for my case, although it was daunting, I wanted to give self planning a try because I didn’t want to feel like I just passed by all the places without enjoying and experiencing the life there. So my condition to myself was, I’d try to plan it out myself, however if the costs of my own planning would end up significantly more expensive than a tour group with a similar itinerary, then I’ll go with a tour group.

2nd Question: How long and when to go? This one was a bit easier because of my limited leaves.  In an ideal world where I have Long Service leaves (or better yet, endless leaves), I would probably go a minimum of a month to fully take advantage of the trip.  However the closest I can go to that is 3 weeks.  As for when to go, in general peak month is June-Aug because of nice weather.  September is slowing down from the peak season but you can still enjoy the remnants of good weather. So if you want to avoid crowds and the high prices of the peak season, avoid June-Aug.  Based on my planning so far, September is still not as cheap as what I had hoped, especially when trying to look for cheap plane flights, but booking accommodations wasn’t too bad and found some pretty affordable ones.  Others might go March-May, not sure how the weather is during that time though.
3rd Question: Where to go? For my initial trip to Europe, I knew already what two places I had to have in the list.. Paris and Italy (Rome).  These are the places I hear a lot about in movies and books that for a first trip I could at least say I ticked off all the popular tourist places from here.  Given I had my must sees already, I then looked at the map to see logically, what would be a good 3rd country to put in that would make the most sense in terms of travel, plus since I don’t drive, it has to be accessible by trains. And the most logical was Switzerland since it’s in the middle.  If I had longer leaves, I would have probably done London -> Paris -> side trip to Amsterdam -> Switzerland -> Italy.
4th Question: How much is the budget? For this question, I looked to tour groups like Contiki, Trafalgar to get an idea of budget.  Since I wanted it to be comparable to what a budget tour group would cost, I looked at the ones that was the closest to my plans.  Based on that I set a target of around 2000-2,500 AUD for accommodation/transportation for 3 weeks. As long as my cost won’t be extremely higher than that, I would be happy doing it on my own.
With these in mind.. I set off to start planning my trip! I’ll share in the next entry how I allotted the number of days.
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