After you've researched your destination, the next step is planning your stay. I'm a big subscriber to
If you don't know where you're going,
how do you know you've arrived?
and in travel I've learned the hard way–
better plans make for better trips.
I'm not saying a daily, detailed itinerary with all time accounted for is necessary; rather, that you've evaluated the information gathered during your research and you have a good idea in advance how you'll spend your time.
Five Tips for Planning Your Trip
1. Involve your co-travelers in making decisions.
The people you're traveling with, be it children, spouse or friends, will better enjoy their time if they're actively involved in the planning. I've been surprised to discover the things I've most wanted to see or do don't always line up with my husband and/or kids.
2. Take advantage of Trip Advisor, Viator and Booking.com.
These sites have reliable information and ratings by other customers JUST LIKE YOU; plus, it's also possible the sites will save you money. We've used them in choosing specific hotels, buying tickets and narrowing down what to do.
For example, when we've located a great hotel deal on booking.com, we cross reference it with Trip Advisor reviews; what people have to say–good or bad–will impact our choice.
3. Familiarize yourself with public transportation.
Especially in larger cities, public transit really is manageable. Reviewing subways and bus lines in advance minimizes the intimidation factor. A quick google search will provide this information (or if you've purchased guidebooks, they're likely to have a small one). You'll save money over taxis and time over walking.
4. As soon as you arrive and drop off your bags, if it's available, invest in a hop-on/hop-off bus ticket.
A friend recommended this to us in Paris, and I strongly recommend you do this first thing; making the complete bus loop helps tremendously in orienting yourself to a larger city. To me, the benefits far outweigh the cost. Often, it's very cheap to add the second day and if the stops are where you want to go anyway, it's win-win.
5. When possible, buy advance tickets.
Have we done this? No. Have I wished we done this? Time and again.
Buying advance tickets will save you time and money if the destination is at the top of your list (be sure to check Viator.com for discounts). Lines are often long at top tourist sites and no one wants to waste valuable time. Also, if the place doesn't take e-verification and your hotel doesn't have printing services, you'll be glad to have tickets in hand when you arrive.
Be careful buying advance Theater ticket through "discount" agencies; often, they offer no savings at all. When possible, buy those directly from the box office.
6. Remember the downside of travel guides.
If Rick Steves, Fodor's, Frommer's or DK Eyewitness Travel Guides suggest it, everyone else and their brother will be doing it, too. The tips are typically sound and good advice, but you aren't the only one taking it. Don't be afraid to take the off-beaten path; little known secrets will be treasures from your trip.
7. Pack your suitcase. Then take half the stuff out.
Mercy. Someone teach me this one! You will NOT need most of what you want to bring; this goes for backpack contents when flying, too. LESS is always the better choice.
I was most impressed with my sister and brother-in-law who came for a two-week visit this summer; both of them brought only a carry on bag and backpack! Their light load made it much easier to navigate their three-city trek through Italy after their visit with us; if only I had that gene.
8. Always, always, always bring at least a light-weight rain jacket with you!
I'm convinced all of Europe likes to make fun of tourists by tricking us constantly with weather changes. The forecast rarely matches the actual weather; and, I kid you not, on multiple days where sun was forecast with ZERO PERCENT CHANCE OF RAIN…it rained. Even if your morning is bright and sunny, take rain gear or be prepared to buy it.
Mark my words…this point will be the most important travel tip you'll take away from my series. You'll be thinking, "I can't believe I didn't take Robin's advice," when you're sloshing though that unexpected rain shower.
Though we have a local bank account while living in Germany, we've found the easiest and CHEAPEST way to get Euros is by using our American debit card at most any local European ATM machine. When you arrive at your destination airport, you're going to need the local currency of the place you're visiting if they don't use U.S. dollars (snacks, taxis, shuttle services, bathroom, etc.). Before you leave home, the least expensive way of doing this is through your local bank (beware–not all branches will be able to accommodate your request), but there'll be a fee. If you wait until you arrive in country and exchange dollars at the airport, you're going to pay a higher fee.
We've visited France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and have always been able to withdraw cash from their local ATMs.
IMPORTANT: Many restaurants and smaller hotels will take ONLY CASH; but for those times you'd prefer using a credit card, be sure to call before you leave home to have it released for International use!!
10. Electronics and appliances
At a minimum, you're going to need adapters; if you use rollers or a flat iron, you'll likely need a transformer. You can't count on your hotel to have either (though many will). Remember, too, that if you're traveling with family, you'll need several adapters; otherwise, you'll have to take shifts during the night to plug in chargers :).
Make sure you bring along battery chargers for phone (did you get a temporary International plan?), camera, laptops and tablets; bring extra memory cards.
Your turn: Questions? What tips am I leaving off? Your suggestions might be fodder for an upcoming post!
And thank you, always for sharing and Facebook likes–it lets me know you're reading (and I'm grateful).
I meant to tell you this ages ago – if you are travelling in Europe, check out Easyjet – a budget airline. The earlier you book the less you pay and you can city hop at unbelievably low prices. AND you can book one way tickets wthout the huge levy other big airlines charge. I fly Easyjet all the time. No problem.
Great tip that my savvy husand has already discovered AND USED! The big ticket is getting from the US to Europe; once you’re here, airlines like Easyjet make European travel affordable! Thanks for bringing it up now :).
One thing I learned in Italy this summer is to walk a block or two off the main streets when looking for a restaurant. All of the touristy places will be in the busy areas, but if you walk just a couple of blocks off the beaten path, you’re likely to find a wonderful little place to eat that costs half as much.
Also, in London (Robin!), be sure to enjoy pub food. Especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Mmmmm.
Great ideas! Now, what can you tell me about the German rail system besides buy before we get there. Oh, are there places to lock your bags at train terminals? if,yes, are the large?
VERY good question and the answer depends on where you're traveling from/to!! I'm most familiar with Bavaria/Bayern; here, there are tickets for regions and areas. For instance, you can buy a one-day Bayern ticket for 2-5 people and the price is only slightly higher as you add people (see this explanation: http://www.munich-touristinfo.de/Bavaria-Ticket.htm).
In Munich's main train station, there are lockers available to rent; they come in various sizes and can accommodate large suitcases. I've never even looked at other terminals since we haven't needed them elsewhere.
If you can share more specifics about your travel, maybe I can help with more answers. YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE THIS COUNTRY!!