How to plan your first trip to Europe

Are you planning to travel to Europe but you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry! Moving around Europe is easier than you think, especially if you come from bigger countries where distances are big and cost for intern flights are high.

I’ve decided to make this quick guide with some basic but important information about how to plan and how to travel across Europe if you’re traveling there for the first time. The information you’ll find below is taken from websites, other travel blogs and from my personal experience. If you should have any further question, don’t hesitate to drop me a line to outsidelivingtravel@outlook.de. I’ll be happy to help you with more details!

There is much more to say about traveling to Europe but in most of the cases it depends on many other individual aspects that make your trip a personal experience. I tried to summerize a bit what a very general experience in Europe could be look like. If you feel there is something missing in there, feel free tto contact me anytime!

  1. Get your VISA (if needed) or your PASSPORT
    Coming from abroad and depending on your nationality you might need to have a Visa to enter Europe. Before to plan your trip, make sure you have a passport (valid for at least 3 months prior to your departure. The passport must have at least two blank pages*) required to enter the country and the right Visa to stay as long as planned.If you want to visit more than one country and backpacking across Europe, you need a Tourist Schengen Visa. If you have to apply for this 90-days Visa, consider that your country might need from 2 to 6 months to process your request!

    What’s is Schengen Area?“Schengen Area, named after “the Schengen Agreement” signifies a zone where 26 different European nations, acknowledged the abolishment of their internal borders with other member nations and outside, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services, and capital, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening common judicial system and police cooperation”.Which countries are in the Schengen Area? Check it here.

    Please, consider that the countries in the European continent (Geographical Area) do not always correspond to the countries in the European Union (political Union) or to the countries in the Schengen Area (Political Agreement). Be aware about it when you want to track an itinerary !

  2. Set a period of TIME and a BUDGET
    Europe is a very huge area. Unless you move there on a  long term base and spend years and years only visiting it all, well… you won’t be able to visit all the places and cities.
    Then start from your availability!
    You can enjoy Europe in many different ways and through unlimited tours, so you always have a solution that can be ideal for your needs.
    It’s very important to set a time and a budget and plan your trip starting from these criteria. If you have an unlimited time and an unlimited budget, you can be more flexible about your stops, but it’s still important to approximately calculate your time and your money to organize your trip at best. 

     

    TIME
    To backpack in Europe I highly recommend to spend at least 14 days (excluded flight time). Two full weeks are a good amount of time to visit at least two up to three countries ( !! It depends a lot on what you want to visit and which countries do you want to see, but also on how is your travel style !! ).
    Four to six weeks could be the ideal time to move across the country and be able to visit your favourite destinations with no rush.
    If you happen to have the time and the budget, two up to three months could be a dreamy period to stay in Europe and enjoy all the cultural and geographical diversity in there.

    BUDGET
    Europe has not an unique standard. Even if it contains many countries and you might have the impression that all of them follow the same trends, don’t make this mistake! European countries are deeply diverse and different. Travel from North to South and from East to West means a lot of differences not only about the costs, but also habits, languages, traditions, way of life, people’s attitudes. The situation can be incredibly different depending on the country. Visiting Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden can turn to be a completely different experience than traveling to Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain, but also than traveling to Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Poland.

    Don’t forget that Europe is a young political system. Before the foundation of the European Union, all the single countries experienced their own history and lived their own culture. A political union doesn’t mean that the countries share an union too! (This can sign its beauty but also its controversy).
    For this reason it’s important to understand which is your budget before your leave and try to adapt your tours to the budget you have set. Moreover, setting a budget should go along with deciding what to visit and which countries you rather want to see (Point 3).

    To calculate the expanses you could have while traveling in Europe, I would recommend to always consider these criteria: accomodations, transports, food and drinks, sightseeing and attractions. Once you have tracked a list of must-go places, cities, things you want to do and visit, you need to make a research and get an idea of the average costs (check the points below!) for every city. Local blogs usually write about café, restaurant, city tours or hotel/hostel! Through them you can take a look at the offer and adapt your plan according your budget and what the city has to give in terms of the criteria mentioned above.

  3. Think about WHAT to visit
    Europe is huge. Very very huge. More than you feel! Many people think that Europe is a compact continent, where the distances are short and some places are a little bit stereotyped or similar to each other. Mmm… wrong! Every country can be on itself deeply diverse. A perfect example is Italy: you might need a whole month only to visit Italy and it won’t be enough. North and South are – for some things – like two different countries. The prices and the cost of life are also not the same and may result quiet tough to organize a budget if you don’t consider this difference. I don’t like to categorize countries or destinations, but I try to give an idea about how you could think of your itinerary in Europe. As European, I am the first who think about the Europe in these terms when it comes to decide where to go next! 

    North Europe: Denmark, Island, Norway, Finland, Sweden. These countries are known to be more expansive, the cities smaller and cleaner or “quieter”. They overlook the North Sea, the weather is mainly cold both in winter and summer. Modernity, severity, colorful but geometrical architecture, minimal intern design and urban structures might be some typical features here.

    Central Europe: Germany, North of France, North of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherland, UK and Ireland.
    This part can be defined as the heart of Europe. Where the political and cosmpolitan life gets real and a massive tourism shakes the cities’ centres. Amsterdam, Bruxelles, Berlin, London, Paris, Dublin, Wien, Zurich are the most visited but also the biggest cities in Europe, they offer many cultural attractions, history and generate the new and hip European trends. The cost of life is usually medium-high, depending on the way you live the city. The cities are all well connected with low cost flights served daily and even more time per day. The atmosphere is frenetic, the streets are crowded but full of life and humanity. The weather here can change: continental clima hits the winter with lots of rain, cold and darkness. In the summer you could end up suffering high
    temperature and humidity.

    South Europe: Central and South Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, South France, Malta Cyprus. These countries are usually cheaper than the North ones, but don’t get confused. Since these countries are highly beloved because of their good weather, nice beaches and shiny places, they can be also very expansive. Barcelona, Rome, Nice and the Provence are not cheap destinations. At least, you need to consider that those cities are often massively taken over by tourists – especially in the summer and spring time. But the beauty is real. Here you can enjoy the warm soul of Europe, the seaside touched by blue water and Mediterranean atmosphere. From one side you have big cities like Rome, Madrid, Athens but you can also decide to stay away from the traffic and retire to a small village in front of the sea and give up humanity for a while. Drinks, food, public transports and attractions might result a little bit cheaper than other sides, but stay aware! Sometimes you can fall in some touristy places and get bad surprises!

    The Balkans and East Europe: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Erzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary,  Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Esthonia.
    These countries belong to the old Sovietic bloc and still carry some of its heritage. The charm and the beauty of this part of Europe is in its mix of different influences arrived from the borders’ opening of the European Union but also with the presence of ancient rituals and traditions that resist modernity and give these countries an unique fascinating decadent style. The Balkans overlook the Adriatic and are becoming one of the most beloved summer destination and location for music festival or not mainstream beach life. This area is usually cheap and less touched by the modernity as the heart of Europe is. Backpacking here can be a little bit challenging but one of the most authentic experience of traveling in Europe.

    When you decide to travel to Europe, you need to be aware of the multiple faces and traditions. The questions you need to ask before to leave are: which part of Europe I am more attracted by? Do I want to have more of seaside travel or inland experience? Do I want to have both? Do I rather visit big cities or small ones? Do I rather pick warm or cold countries? Do I like modern environments or traditional ones? Based on you answers you can define your trip and decide to focus more on what you really want to see instead of visit cities or areas that are basically out of your interest.

  4. How to move around Europe?
    The cheapest but also longest way to move around Europe is the bus. Especially in the South and East Europe you have plenty of options for traveling with it. Flixbus and Eurolines are the biggest companies that offer many routes for very cheap prices. But if you have only two weeks to move across more than two or three countries, you might rather go for other options like trains or flights.If you want to get a better idea of what does it mean to travel by bus in terms
    of time and costs, check those websites: Flixbus, Eurolines, GoEuro.If you decide to plan your trip without letting anything to the improvisation but organize almost every step prior your departure, you can take a look at EasyJet or Ryanair low cost airlines. If you book your flight up to two months before your leave you can find a round trip to one of their destinations for less than 50€. Wizzair (serves mainly East Europe), Germanwings (low cost option of Lufthansa) and the recently founded Joon (low cost option of AirFrance) might have some discount or offer for cheap flights.

    I usually recommend to fly across Europe when you decide to move from one to another country, especially if your next stop is about 3 hours far from where you are. Be aware that not all the cities are served by EasyJet or Ryanair: you can fly from Berlin to Copenhagen for only few € but from Copenaghen you don’t have a direct flight to Madrid, for example.
    I always use Skyscanner, a travel website and app, that makes a comparison of prices and tracks the best option for specific period of time. I open it almost every day, not only to travel Europe but also to spot some good offer to fly intercontinental!Traveling by train in Europe is probably one of the most expansive option. The networks are well served and maintained but not really price worthy. If you want to move by train, I suggest to consider the Eurorail ticket. It’s an all-in-one train ticket that allows you to travel the railway network in Europe in the time you’ll be there. The ticket offers a wide flexibility and it can be adapted according to your plans. It’s the Interrail’s option for not EU citizens and it’s a great alternative to visit Europe if you don’t want to fly or move with the bus.

  5. Where to stay? What about the price?
    Sleep around Europe can be rediculously cheap but also incredibly expansive. It always depends on you travel style and your preference. The most used kind of accomodation is the hostel. The price per night changes from city to city, from hostel to hostel, from dorm’s option to dorm’s option but it’s usually not higher than 30€ per night. Sometimes it turns to be up to half of this price (Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, Prague).There are cities that are way more hostel and backpackers friendly than other. If you travel across Spain or Germany the hostel constellation is wider and better. Other cities, especially smaller town or provincial area, might not have a great hostel’s choice. If you travel to Tuscany or Sardinia in Italy, you better sleep in an Agriturismo. Bed and Breakfast are also an ideal option if you want to have a place to sleep and a breakfast included. The BnB are run by local families sometimes and you can litteraly enjoy an intimistic atmosphere while staying at their place.

    Another way to sleep around in Europe is Airbnb, but you need to be careful about it, because it’s not the best option in every country. I was deciding where to accomodate in Madrid and Airbnb flats were not really convenient. Far from the center and way too expansive. However, if you travel to Copenhagen or Amsterdam you could find a better offer on Airbnb instead of a bed in a hostel’s dorm. For the North of Europe the prices can increase without getting a better quality of stay. I decided to book a place with Airbnb when I traveled to Copenhagen and I did the same when in Wien.

    I always recommend to make a huge comparison between hostels, hotel, bed and breakfast and airbnb. The website I usually check when I need to book an accomodation are: Booking, Hostelworld and Airbnb. Basic requirement before book a place: check the reviews and the position of the flat before confirm your stay!

  6. Food and drinks
    If you decide to embark on a journey to Europe, you need to consider the culinary experience as a fundamental part of your trip. Save some money to spend on food and drink, like a good glass of wine in Italy, Spain and France or a tapas tour in Spain, a lunch in a street food market in South of Italy, but also a Mediterrean dinner in Greece or a fish breakfast in Oslo.Europe is also known for its richness in terms of gastronomy. Every country and every region offer local dishes and special sorts of food and drinks you shouldn’t miss. The culinary side of Europe it’s a trip on itself and a great way to discover the continent in its most authentic side. Of course you have a range of different choices and prices and it might be a little bit hard to understand which is the best way or trend when it’s about to eat and drink there.My personal advice is to avoid big restaurants or restaurant chains. Every time you go out, take 10 minutes of time to check on google maps or local blogs if there is any good or recommended place where to go. I usually do that when I’m in a new country or city. I look at the reviews, the pictures an let them inspire me about the food. If you’re in a hostel or hotel or airbnb, ask your host to suggest some local places or the average cost of a meal in the area. This way you’re going to avoid bad and expansive restaurant!
    Markets and street food are very popular right now in Europe. You can find authentic and tasty food and sometimes some interesting fusions or sperimental dishes.

    The daily budget to eat and drink in Europe (nights out and party excluded!) is from 25 to 55€. It can be higher if you spend a dinner in a very good restaurant with the best of quality for every dish and glass. But if you plan to have a fancy lunch or dinner somewhere it’s only a matter of money management! 🙂

Organizing a trip to Europe might result a little bit challenging. You might feel you need to visit everything, make sure you won’t waste any time and see as many things as possible. My personal suggestion is to take it easy. You don’t have to go everywhere in once. Focus on the things you really want to see and make a list of priorities. Set a budget, make a lot o research and take notice of what’s really important for you. Do a basic programm but also feel free not to stick it. A little bit of unexpected and improvisation mood will make your trip even more exciting!

If you need more information or details about traveling to Europe, feel free to contact me here: outsidelivingtravel@outlook.com

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28 thoughts on “How to plan your first trip to Europe

  1. Very nice blog Margherita. Keep up the great work and I am very much looking forward to reading your travel adventures and tips in 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips! A thing which I like about Europe is that you can visit a lot of countries with less money than you would need in other parts of the world and that’s because Hitchhicking and CouchSurfing are always a solution and they are free and mostly safe. Though, when it comes to Hitchhicking people should check the Facebook groups which were created special for the ones who choose this way of travelling, because there are a lot of useful tips and they are very helpful when it comes to countries where doing it can be kind of difficult if you’re new to doing that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great suggestion, but in my opinion two weeks aren’t enough for visiting one single country. Anyway a Vietnamese friend of mine visited half Europe in just one week running from trains to flights 😉

    Like

  4. Also in my opinion 2 weekes are not enough…I’m thinking about Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Uk, Ireland…and other many beautiful countries here in Europe…I would spend 2 or 3 months to visit Europe and probably are still not enough 🙂 but your tips are really important and usefull.

    Like

  5. Great article and great tips! The cool thing about Europe is that every country is so close that you can manage to visit more than one during one single trip… although I am a slow traveler hence I like to take my time and visit one country at a time!

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  6. il tuo inglese è strabiliante! potessi ritornare a scrivere così anche io! questa guida mi piace molto, ma il consiglio che ti do è di far concentrare i turisti su un solo punto. O di suggerire loro come muoversi attraverso i mezzi.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post Margherita!
    You shared a lot of useful information to those that are planning to explore Europe.
    However I don’t think that two weeks would be enough to visit more than two countries and even that would be a stretch. Suffice it to think of all the things one could/should see in Italy!

    Like

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