"We want to take our first trip to Europe...
How do we start planning?"
Wow... We're so used to making travel plans that we don't even think about it, but I think we can come up with some ideas.
Sometimes just getting started with the planning part of a whole new experience is the hardest part.
If you've never done any international traveling, we want to encourage you...
So, you've decided it's time to take a vacation to Europe. Good for you!
Of course we have a few tips for planning that.
For many Americans it seems like a rite of passage.
It doesn't matter if you're young or old. It's something special... that first trip to Europe.
You've finally arrived somehow.
You've saved the money, you've applied for the passport...
Wow, you're practically ready to pack.
Just having made the decision to get a passport and go to Europe is only the first step.
There are more decisions to make. Let's think through some of this.
If you only have one week, you will have to concentrate on one country...
or maybe a couple of big cities.
You could do, say London and Paris if you flew between the two or took the "Chunnel" -- the Eurostar train that speeds between those cities.
With two weeks you can tour around a bit more...
maybe hit the highlights of two or three countries, but you'll be really busy.
Three weeks or more and you can start thinking of some sort of "grand tour".
What part of Europe do you want to go to?
It's not like you can just go to Europe. That's like saying you want to see the United States.
There are big areas to be covered, and you need to choose an area to see even if you have several weeks.
For your first trip to Europe, do you just want to see it... visit the highlights like maybe London, Paris, Rome and see the big sites?
Or... do you have an agenda?
Do you concentrate on one or two countries or try to do a grand circle of Europe?
Do you take a tour? Set up a custom tour? Or do you want to take your first trip to Europe all on your own and find your own way?
Need ideas? Read some of our stories. You can find a bunch of them on our Europe Travel Tips page.
If you’re a student, you may be able to travel for the summer... good for you. You won’t find a better way to add to your education!
If you’re retired, you can stay as long as your finances will allow... AND you can travel during shoulder seasons when there are fewer crowds.
If you're on vacation... and you only have one or two or three weeks, try for those shoulder seasons to maximize your experiences and minimize the lines.
Try to limit
yourself to a country a week. Even at that you’ll just be getting an
overview of the area you choose to visit.
A tour can be a good idea and can take some of the anxiety out of your first trip to Europe.
There are so many tours offered that you can easily choose one that goes to the area you want to visit for the length of time you want to spend. You can even get tours that specifically go to those festivals or visit gardens or let you explore just castles.
Your hotels will be taken care of and many of your meals too.
A tour on your first trip is a good way to build your confidence abroad.
If groups just aren’t your thing, being an independent traveler on your first trip to Europe is not difficult either.
You will have to think about how you're going to get around in the cities and between cities... and there are hotels to find and tickets to buy on your own.
You can plan all of this ahead... even making museum reservations. That's what my sister does.
You can travel the way we do, finding hotels as we go. There is so much information on the internet that it’s easy to plan it for yourself and leave yourself more flexibility.
For you independent travelers on your first trip to Europe, we have some hotel tips.
You can fly round trip to one city. That works well if you're just visiting that city or that country. It can also work well if you plan some sort of grand circle route.
Another option if you have more time and you will be visiting a bigger area is to consider an "open jaws" ticket where you fly into one city and out of another.
If you check carefully, this need not be very much more expensive that a simple round trip ticket and it could save you lots of backtracking.
We've used both strategies. On a trip to France and Italy, we flew into Paris and out of Nice. We did return to France to depart because there was no drop off fee for the rental car if we returned it in France.
On a recent trip to Romania and Bulgaria, we drove in a big circle and flew in and out of Bucharest. Do the research and figure out which will work best for you.
Don't be scared off with all these questions. Research is half the fun... it helps you anticipate what you'll se seeing and decide what is important for YOUR first trip to Europe. For a few more planning tips see our Custom Tour Planning List.
Just sit down with a pencil and paper and make the decisions one at a time and that long awaited first trip to Europe will be a reality.