1. Do your research!
So I planned our entire trip from start to finish. By myself. It was a heck of a lot of work, but oh so much fun (and I'd love to help you plan your trip if you'd like!). In the process, I walked through several steps, including figuring out our almost free flights, starting and end points, connecting the dots in between, reading Rick Steves' travel books, and lots of internet research on pricing and reservations for things. Be sure to research or you may not know things like train closures on the way to Versailles or when you can attend places for free (like we did in Florence for the Academia and Uffizi Gallery). Totally worth the spreadsheet and detailed google doc.
2. Do some sort of tour in every place you visit.
Although we didn't use a travel guide, it was pretty dang nice for someone else to do some of the explaining and touring for us. Instead of walking around with a guidebook in every city (more on that later), we had an amazing time on some Big Bus Tours, riding a tour train around Dublin, hopping on a Paddywagon Tour bus to the Cliffs of Moher, and more. It was so nice to really know what we were seeing, and to have someone else take us there and tell us about it all!
3. Use some great travel apps, especially the ones of the city metro systems.
Many of the apps we used and loved the most were free ones! We used the London and Paris Metro Apps, which helped us see which stops were closest to where we needed to go, and what connections we needed to make. There was also my personal favorite, the free Rick Steves Audio Tour App. This app (on the picture on the left) actually lets you download playlists for sights in all major cities in Europe. These playlists then give you a "guided tour" which you can listen to with headphones, read off your phone, or just look at the map. It saves you a ton of money on guided tours for all of the places you visit, but you still get to know what you're seeing and why it's important. Plus, after you've downloaded your playlist while on Wi-Fi, the tours work offline!
We did purchase one app, City Maps 2 Go, which allowed us to know our location and use maps offline (you just have to download the map of the city once before you go). This app helped us get to our hotels and destinations, as well as to locate the nearest bus and metro stops. It was awesome!
4. Book and pay for as much as you can ahead of time.
By doing this, you minimize your need for Euros and other foreign currency, which helps you avoid trips to the ATM. You also maximize your ability to earn points on your credit cards, which in turn can be used toward free flights and free hotel nights! Not to mention, you can rest easy on the trip knowing that you've already paid for most of what you're doing, and your bank account isn't about to take another huge hit.
5. Bargain hunt.
Chances are that there is a promo code, discount tour, or some sort of coupon for lots of activities or tours that you want to book. We got a discount on our Paddywagon Tour. We got our Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Tower of London tickets online through Discount London. We used the Paris Pass to save the most money on transportation and entrance fees. We also got Best Rate Guarantees for nearly all of our hotels, which means that we price-matched hotels and they gave us the lower pricing, then also gave us back $50 or more (making some hotels free). We stayed for free at the Hyatt Churchill in London and at the Intercontinental in Geneva (both were amazing). Find out how we got our flights for almost free here.
6. Pack light.
This backpack held everything that I carried for 16 days. Everything. I didn't even bring a purse. Since we were flying a few cheap, short flights on EasyJet and RyanAir, we knew that we would have to meet their carryon requirements because we weren't going to pay a pretty penny to check a bag. On EasyJet, they don't even let you have a personal item, so we had to be sure that every single thing we brought along would fit into our respective backpacks. We absolutely loved it, and I would highly recommend this type of packing and traveling for all trips. We saved time and money, and weren't stuck carrying or rolling suitcase all over Europe, which was another plus! If you'd like to see more about how I fit 16 days worth of clothes including three pairs of shoes in this bad boy, click here.
|My Trusty REI Lookout 40 Pack|
Yes, we were a little scared to bring our super nice camera along. What if it was broken? Stolen? Thankfully, we never had even a hint of someone trying to take anything, including the camera, and so we have over 1,000 amazing pictures. Make the room in your bag, or around your neck. You won't regret it for a second.
8. Plan plan plan, and then be okay with changing the plan as needed.
Planning a trip like this is a lot of work. But it was OH so worth it to have a plan while we were there in order to truly maximize our stay. We didn't have to waste precious time figuring out where we were going or what we wanted to do when. The google doc/spreadsheet life was well worth it, and I just snapped a photo of our plan each day and we were on our way.
At the same time, being flexible with the fact that the plan may change is super important. We weren't able to go up to Mount Blanc on a lift like we wanted to, because the weather got in the way. But we made the most of it, and just hung out in the little ski town of Chamonix where we had amazing burgers. Or in Dublin, when we missed our free walking tour, but ended up having a better time and resting our feet anyways on a very reasonable train tour. You just make the most of it all!
9. Sleep and eat when you should according to the time zone you're in.
This one is a biggie, and is super hard for some people. Many overseas flights are overnight, so you leave around 9 or 10 pm and get in at what feels like 4 am. But it's 8:30 am local time. So even though it's hard, and you feel like death, you just have to push through until it's time to sleep wherever you are. Otherwise it's going to make your trip a lot more difficult, and your schedule will be all out of whack.
10. Be willing to embrace adventure- it may make for some of your favorite memories.
We survived a Tuscan hailstorm, a 30 min train delay that had Italians yelling and throwing their keys, and a two hour plane delay in London where we met two guys who flew private jets. Seriously, there will be crazy, unexpected, super fun things that happen and you will be so glad they did. So just embrace it, don't get bent out of shape, and have an amazing time!
Check out my travel guides for Ireland, London, Venice, Florence, and all of the other places we visited. We've got a ton of amazing pictures and tips to share!
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