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Europe : Planning your dream trip – Phase 1

Europe : Planning your dream trip – Phase 1

A step-by-step guide to self-organize your Europe trip 

Recently, I went on a trip to Europe. It took me quite sometime to plan and prepare for it. The easier path would have been to reach out to a travel agent like SOTC, Thomas Cook etc. But who wants it to be easy when you are travelling to your dream destination. Also, travelling on your own has loads of advantages over package tours, I will cover it in upcoming posts. Subscribe here to get notified.

Self-planning an international trip can be challenging and time taking but the rewards are worth taking the pain.

So after having gone through the pain, I am sure this guide will help you in a lot of ways when you start planning for that ultimate Europe trip.

I have designed the guide with 2 phase. In this post, I will cover phase 1.

Phase 1

This phase has to complete at-least 6 months prior to travel. I call them the “4 Pillars – Finance, Destinations, Durations, Seasons”, and all of them need to match each other and also satisfy your need. Without this, moving to the next phase would not be a good idea.

Time to complete phase 1: 4 months (spend 5 hours/week for 15 weeks)

Finance: The cost of your trip

Importance

Travel to Europe will eat up deep into your saving. Your financial planning needs to start well in advance. The earlier you start planning finance, the easier it would be from you to keep this point flexible. It is very much important to decide your budget.

Ask yourself

(1.A) What is the maximum amount that your financial situation will allow you to spend?

This is a very mathematical question. Do not get emotional. Just calculate all your earnings, savings & liabilities; and get to the figure. Even if you have endless money, put down a number.

If the answer is less than INR 2 Lakh, then I would suggest you to reconsider your finance and save a little more.

(1.B) How much would you like to spend?

Of-course, this will depend on destination, season & duration.
You can come back to this after you are done with the other 3 parts of planning.
But for now, record a number that your heart tells you. Just make sure it has to be less than or equal to the answer to question (1.A)

Once you have a little idea about your destinations, explore website like

  1. Budget your trip
  2. Bugyal
  3. The Savvy Backpacker
  4. Skyscanner

Create the budget as per these websites and then compare against your expected budget.
This will help you understand how far your expectations are to the reality.

(1.C) Create your budget

This could be the last task of phase 1 planning. Comeback to this task after you have completed your (3.F) 

Your budget needs to have the following 4 segments

  1. Europe travel: This segment will cover your cost from your home upto the first city hotel. And then from the last city hotel upto your home. This will majorly have the air travel but then based on your location and your hotels you may have a car/bus/train travel in this part. Try and look for tickets in your preferred season of travel so that you get a closer estimate.
  2. City budgets: This is the overall costing of the city, which you will get from the sites mentioned in (1.B). You may refer to any other website as per your convenience, but please make sure that you consider accommodation, food, local transport & sightseeing. 
  3. Inter-city transfer: Many people forget this while budgeting and their planning fail. So make sure to research city transfers. Trains are the most convenient in Europe but based on the distance you may also need to take flights. Train/flight tickets have dynamic pricing in Europe. Also, the season, tourist demand, popularity of the city may come into play. So try to find the maximum fare, as this will give you the worst-case estimates.

A thumb rule for budgeting: Budget for the worst case scenario. This will make sure you know the amount that you might have to spend in the worst case. 80% of the time you will never reach this amount and if you plan properly you can easily save 30-40% of the amount.

In our case, our worst-case budget was INR 5 lakh for 2. We completed our trip just over INR 3 lakh and we feel with a little more effort in the planning phase we could have got it down to around INR 2.5 lakh. 

Duration: The length of your trip

Importance

Europe as a destination is big. It is difficult to cover the whole of Europe at once unless you are planning for a yearlong vacation.

Ask yourself

(2.A) What is the maximum number of days you can be away from your regular life?

For many, the answer can “Forever”. If not, then get to a number.
Consider your employment and people who are dependent on you.
It will not be cost-effective if the number is less than 2 weeks, but any number will work.
Revisit this, if your financial budget gets strained. Cutting a trip short by a week can relax your budget.

Destinations: The places you want to visit

Importance

As I said before, it’s big. European Union is 28 out of 50 European nations put together, every inch filled with history, stories built over year and years. It is difficult to filter and decide where you want to go. The list would be never-ending. But now you have your budget and duration, you can plan your trip.  

Ask yourself

(3.A) Which that 1 single destination that must be covered in this trip?

This is a very emotional and personal question. So you don’t need to justify the answer to anyone. Just listen to your heart and stick to your dream place. Don’t let it go. Don’t compromise on this destination otherwise you will regret it forever.

(3.B) Which are the next 5 destinations?

Do the same as the previous question. Just don’t stick to them. You may or may not be able to cover all these 5 destinations. So finally, you should have 6 destinations in a prioritized list.

Complete these

(3.C) Create a logical route map

Don’t get into detailed planning. Just place all the 6 destinations on Google Map and logically decide if keeping all these destinations together in 1 trip makes sense. Only consider your starting and end point, as these need to be big destination with air connectivity to your home. Internal transfer within in Europe can be easily completed by trains in most cases, otherwise by bus or flight. 

Filter out destinations that don’t fit in and move ahead with the filtered results.

(3.D) City-wise duration of stay

If you know the time you want to spend in any of your dream destinations then it’s good for you. Otherwise, explore websites like Days In a City Adding these numbers for all the cities will give you a rough estimate of your duration of stay if you want to cover all your dream destination.

(3.E) Travel time and inter-city transfers

Travelling to anywhere in Europe will take around 15 hours from India. You would generally be taking fast trains or flights between cities, not more than half a day should be spent per city transfer. So do the math and add these to your duration of stay from the previous task.

(3.F) The first draft of your itinerary

Just put the things from (3.C), (3.D) & (3.E) together to get your first draft of the itinerary. 

Now bring in your set duration from (2.A). If your first draft overspills the duration, then remove the destinations based on priority whereas in the other case leave it as is. We will take of it 

Season: The time of year you want to travel

Importance

This is generally the most flexible part of Phase 1. Generally governed by the holiday season, people tend to travel to Europe between May – September. However, your decision of the travel time can greatly impact prices and hence your budget. So, explore few forums discussions on Trip Advisor, Lonely planet etc. and you should have a fair bit of idea about the seasons and main events throughout the year.

Ask yourself

(4.A) Are you travelling with an aim to attend special events?

Europe hosts many international events like Oktoberfest Munich, Cannes Film festival Cannes, Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain etc. So if you want to be part of any of these events your travel season becomes absolutely rigid. 

(4.B) Are you travelling to enjoy specific seasons?

Europe is also home to the Alps where you can enjoy loads of winter sports but you need to be there in the winters. In a similar way, if you are travelling to Europe with an aim to enjoy any particular season then plan accordingly.

If your answer to any of the above is “Yes”, then you lose the flexibility but this can also be of great advantage. As this would make things very clear and catapult you into Phase 2.

Special Note :

Many people would like to start with Destinations, but I would disagree. Destinations would involve emotional decisions, and with Europe, it won’t take long to flow in the wrong direction. So I would suggest starting with Finance and Duration, which are logical and connected to your life before and after the trip. If your season if rigid, then start with Season and work your way through Finance, Duration and Destinations.

What should you have at the end :

At the end of phase 1, you should be able to fill this up :

I want to visit the following cities ___(list of lists in order of visit)___in the month of ______(month/year)______ for a period of ___(number of travel days)___
within the budget of __ (amount in INR)_____ .

And you must ensure these have been check

  1. The number of travel days is sufficient for the list of cities to be covered.
  2. The budget is sufficient for travel plan and it will not have a major impact on your daily life.
  3. The budget is the worst-case budget and you have 80% of the amount ready to spend.

If any of the answer is “No”, then you still need to work on you phase 1 planning.

Once done, then jump to “Planning your Europe Trip : Phase 2

Don’t forget to subscribe for the upcoming post and phase 2 of Europe planning.

Do feel free to explore my other post on http://thewhisperinggal.com/

 


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