I’m writing this at four in the morning. Wrapped in a thick blanket and sipping a cup of tea, I have given up on catching some sleep tonight. I seem to have left my mind in Europe, unable to adjust. Every time I close my eyes, I am bombarded with an endless succession of wonderful memories from our Euro trip. I still can’t believe two months went by that quickly. It feels like it was just yesterday. It’s been a week but I still look at prices and count in euro. It’s been a week but it’s like I could still sense the sweet scent of truffle and waffles. Water tastes like beer. Or wine.
It’s been a week since we wrapped up our two-month backpacking journey around Europe, the first of three Euro trips that we’ve been planning for the next couple of years in an effort to visit all countries in Europe. On this leg, we visited 16 countries. It took careful, meticulous planning because we wanted to do as much as we could within the short time the embassy allowed.
As soon as we announced we were in Europe, our inbox was flooded with inquiries asking for more details. We promised to share our full itinerary and cost in a blog post. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this post is NOT it. Not yet. We’ll share the details of our entire two months in another post soon. In the meantime, we’ll tell you HOW we planned our trip and HOW you can plan yours, instead of simply posting our itinerary. Here are the reasons for that:
We all have different dreams and tastes. There are items in our bucket list that may not be in yours. There are experiences we would love to try but you wouldn’t even dare.
We all have different budget and time restrictions. We were allowed to stay in Europe by the German embassy for 60 days. Initially, we wanted to stay longer —- our original plan is 3 months! —- but our budget forced us to trim it down to just 2.
If you have a bigger or smaller budget and your dream destinations vary greatly from ours, there really is no point in simply sharing our itinerary. Besides, planning a trip to Europe goes beyond simply building an itinerary. There are a lot of things to consider. The cost of living, climate, language, and the culture in general vary from country to country, which will all affect your preparation.
Anyway, here’s the method we took in order to successfully fulfill our dream European adventure, presented as a step-by-step guide!
Determine your budget.
First things first: How much is your budget?
Your budget will dictate how long you can stay in Europe, where you will be staying, and what places you can visit.
Immediately, let’s subtract P30,000 from your budget for your airfare. Trust me, you can find roundtrip fares for many major cities in Europe for less than P30,000 if you book in advance.
Determine WHEN you want to go.
The summer months of June-August are considered high season (peak season) in most parts of Europe. Because of the sunshiny skies, it is the most touristy time of the year. Hence, prices go up! If you’re on a budget, you might want to avoid this and consider the shoulder months of September-November instead.
But the weather isn’t the only thing you need to take into account. Is there any event you would like to experience but can only be enjoyed at certain times of the year? If you would like to experience Oktoberfest, go to Munich in mid-September (but expect the hotel and tour rates to skyrocket)! If you want to see the Northern Lights in the Nordic countries, visit between mid-September to mid-March but consider the moon’s brightness too for greater chances of seeing the aurora.
If you have events you MUST MUST MUST experience, use it as your starting point and work from there.
If you don’t have any, then you can be much more flexible.
List down all your must-visits!
Are there any destinations you’ve always dreamed of visiting? Is Paris something you can’t miss? Did you make a vow to attend the papal mass at the Vatican? Are you a big fan of the Sound of Music and you just NEED to see the locations in person?
For this exercise, let’s call them “must-visits.” These are your non-negotiables. Meaning, whatever happens, you HAVE TO make a stop at these cities. These are the reasons you’re traveling to Europe in the first place.
List them all down. Don’t edit it yet. It’s easy to travel within Europe, so just write them down and we’ll figure it out later.
Find out lodging costs.
Cost of accommodations varies greatly from one city to another. For example, hotels in Prague are unbelievably cheap while Reykjavik seems like it wants your soul with your money. There are A LOT of cheap lodging options in Europe. It doesn’t always have to be a full-service hotel. There are no-frills hotels, hostels, dorms, and AirBnB options!
At this point, you should already know if you’re traveling alone or part of a group. This will affect your expenses and accommodation choices significantly.
If you’re traveling alone and you’re concerned about the budget, consider booking dorm beds. It’s waaay cheaper than booking a private room. (Even single rooms can be pricey.) It’s also a great way to meet other travelers and make new friends.
If you’re a pair, you may consider booking two dorm beds or a private room, depends on the situation. If you’re a duo wanting to meet people, the dorm is still a good choice. If you’re a couple on a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, my god, please get a private room (haha!). Note, though, that in many hostels, the bedrooms may be private but the toilet and bath are sometimes shared. Check the arrangement before booking.
If you’re a group of three, know that Triple Rooms are not uncommon in Europe. You may also check their policy on extra person on Double/Twin rooms. It’s a great way to save!
Since by now you have an idea of your travel dates, it’s best to go to Booking.com and check hotel rates per night for your must-visit’s. (Why Booking.com? I’ll explain later below.)
DON’T BOOK YET. Just check the rates first. We’re only budgeting at this point and figuring out the allocations.
But to give you an idea, here are the price ranges for some key cities in Europe for a September-December stay.
Decide on how long you would want to stay at each of these stops. Let’s assume you’re staying at each of your must-visits for 5 days and 4 nights and you’re traveling with a friend. That means staying for a total of 12 nights in your must-visit cities, and dividing the room cost by 2.