This is a much requested blog post.
And a much delayed one. I went to Europe in August 2017, which was a long while ago.
Nonetheless, I must write about it. Everybody does things differently and the internet is full of articles on how to plan any kind of vacation. I am here to share my version of how I did this one.
Money & Time
You cannot go anywhere if you do not have the money or time. And therefore, the first question I asked myself, while planning for my Euro trip was : how much money can I afford to spend and when should I go for it? After a lot of research and discussions, I settled for a budget of 2,50,000 INR and the month of August to travel. And I shortlisted two countries for the 15-days trip : Italy and France.
Making a budget: It is always smart to break down your budget, even if broadly. I allocated 1,00,000 INR for all the travel tickets, accommodations and was able to manage well within it. Plus, it is easier if you allocate a daily allowance for yourself, based on how much you want to spend on food, sight-seeing etc. everyday. I tried to stick with 5,000 INR per day - some days I spent less and some days, I ended up splurging on wine, clothes and French cosmetics. You need not cut out the fun, because of a strict budget - keep it flexible. Also, make sure you have some"emergency money", as part of your budget, for a rainy day or some un-foreseen situation in a foreign land.
Choosing the time and countries to visit: Europe is a big continent and has something to offer to each type of traveller, all year-round. You just need to decide on what experiences you are looking for and what is your style or rather, vibe. My vibe for this particular vacation was - two girls, on an adventure across Italy and France. I wanted a mix of the old and the new and hence, picked the cities accordingly. August seemed ideal, not just because that was the only time I could afford two weeks off-work, but also, the summer crowd starts moving out by then.
Depending on what time of the year and which part of Europe you are visiting, your budget will vary - like, Central or East European countries can cost you much lesser.
Next up was a travel itinerary, both from planning perspective and for the visa process. Simplest way to prepare one is to divide the total number of days equally, over the number of cities and then, do a bit of plus-minus around them. A Rome has a lot more to offer than a Milan. Let's just say Rome was not built in a day but, Milan was.
This was how my itinerary looked like - in chronological order:
1. Rome - 4 nights
2. Florence - 1 night
3. Venice - 3 nights
4. Milan - 1 night
5. Nice - 1 night
6. Paris - 4 nights
This was the worst part - my visa took so long. For no fault of mine. I was not late in applying and neither were my documents insufficient. When I showed up for the interview, it seemed like the guy at the embassy just randomly chose me for it. My friend's visa came in very easily within few weeks and mine did not, until two-three days before my travel dates "on paper".
Visa process can get tricky, specially during the peak seasons. As I was entering Europe via Italy, I had applied for a Schengen tourist visa at the Italian embassy. When it comes to getting the documentation ready, the most confusing bit was the itinerary itself. Because it requires you to show valid flight tickets and hotel bookings. However, considering there is always a risk of one's visa application getting rejected, I decided to get the help of Travel Visa Guru. For just about 2500 INR, they provided me all the bookings as per the plan I shared with them. I will leave you to figure out how these websites/companies manage to do so - they were not my final, real bookings, but sufficed for the process.
1. Do not make any bookings before you have the passport back in your hand, with a visa stamp on it.
2. In your application, show the departure date atleast a week before the actual. This way, there is a chance that the embassy would not leave it till the very last moment to issue the visa. They tend to do that during peak seasons.
3. Be careful with the travel dates, altogether. Some embassies do not issue a full 90-day tourist visa. Mine was for 30 days. If you plan on postponing your trip by a month after the visa has been issued, it might not work out well.
Accommodation & Trains within Europe
My initial travel dates were 12th to 28th August. However, the visa process had taken so long that I moved them by 6 days and bought flight tickets only when I was sure about getting the visa. That's when the fun began. I absolutely enjoy searching for flights and hotels for different vacations and ofcourse, booking them.
I used Airbnb and Hostelworld.com for all my Euro trip accommodation bookings - they have now become my go-to websites. We were not really backpacking and I wanted to ensure we had a variety of experiences and memories. Most of our stays were in guesthouses or private rooms in hostels. We did book dormitory beds in Milan, as we were in the city for only a night. But I have come to realize, I am not a big fan of dorm rooms. The hostel was pretty cool, though. Very lively, vibrant and the bar had happy hours. In Venice, we stayed at a camping site - it was amazing! For Paris, we decided to up our game and stayed in fancy, comfy hotels.
For travelling from one city to another, the answer is railways and you can book the tickets at GoEuro. It is a great one-stop-shop for flights, trains and buses within Europe. We took an overnight bus from Nice to Paris, as it was the best option - cheaper and saved us from wasting a whole day in travelling. Sometimes a flight could be a better option - you will have to decide for yourself. I did not get the standard Eurail passes and booked for each ticket, point-to-point. Because they made more sense if we were hopping around many countries and did not have a fixed plan. Nonetheless, the rail services in Europe is good - I mean, the trains are clean, fast and on-time. So much so that, we missed our train from Venice to Milan by two minutes. Yes, two minutes.
Now I know why I refrained from writing on this topic, for so long.
Personally, I love planning for vacations and it keeps me excited for the days leading upto one. However the last thing I want to do, is make this look like a tedious job. Planning is important but you need not do it in so much details like me. You will never be fully prepared.
There is no right or wrong way to do a Euro trip. And no blog or listicle will be tailor-made for you. This is my attempt to help you plan better and have a great time in the beautiful and magnificent land of Europe.
I will leave you with this photo of mine - while the planning and preparation did bum me out a bit, but once the trip actually started, I had the time of my life.