General Question

tinyfaery's avatar

What is the best way to plan/schedule a European trip to multiple countries?

Asked by tinyfaery (35609 points ) October 15th, 2009

Next summer the wife and I want to do a trip to Europe. We want to see Spain, Portugal, France and Italy over a period of 10–14 days.

I have never planned a trip like this, and I do not even know where to start. We would like to do it cheaply, but we also plan to splurge a few nights, as well. Should we do it through a travel agency?

I saw a related question, but I am not traveling alone. Couchsurfing isn’t going to cut it for us. Plus, I need to have a plan. Even if I don’t end up following it, it’s necessary for my sanity.

Help!

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26 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

Agencies can offer combination travel, lodging and meal deals that often surpass that of even the most experienced traveler going it alone. I like to travel “The Road Less Traveled” (apologies to Mr Peck) and will often wander about without an itinerary, but it is not always less expensive. My last major excursion was to hire a “Dormobile” (campervan) in Frankfurt and drive around Europe for three months. That was a great way to explore. That was also a long time ago. Now it is fly in, stop over, fly out.

gailcalled's avatar

I would decide whether to rent a car and drive, whether to focus on cities, urban culture, art and restaurants, or small towns (chåteaux of the Loire Valley
for example) and scenery and do only two countries. My own experiences have been that in-depth is better than “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium.”

I would start with some of the better travel books. Flutherers may have suggestions; mine are outdated.

Judi's avatar

Buy a BMW and take European delivery. It was an amazing trip for us. you can take their Tour or plan your own. Just buy the European GPS disk before you go.

forestGeek's avatar

I agree with Zen that the Eurorail pass is the way to go in general, especially if you have the time and want to see the countryside. However, I did find that flying from Munich to Milan then to Cologne ended up being cheaper ($30.00 USD each flight) than the train because of the fact that we were passing through countries (Austria & Switzerland) we didn’t plan to stay in, but still had to pay for those countries when purchasing the pass. With your limited time, and the distance between some of the countries you want to visit, it mighty make sense to fly anyway. Since the countries you want to travel to border one another, this wouldn’t be an issue though. In the US the trains and planes don’t really compete, but there they do so at least check into flying, it might be the better option.

andrew's avatar

Make your train reservations in advance if you can. Count on the trains being late. Seriously.

You can find one or two star b&b’s for pretty cheap—they’re charming and will have their own bathroom.

I’ve never booked through a travel agent.

One little tidbit: Try and get euro change before you leave the US—since many of the vending machines (at least in Paris) only take credit cards with a chip in them. No swiping.

jrpowell's avatar

On my trip to Europe I did 11 countries in about 30 days. I was young and stupid. This was a huge mistake. Most of our time was spent finding a place to sleep or on a train. If I could do it again I would have gotten to know four places really well.

Train tickets are pretty cheap over there. You can really go from Venice to Nice while you sleep on the train. I did, had my walkman stolen too during that trip. The trains are pretty nice to sleep on. I would buy a padlock and a small chain if you plan on sleeping on the train.

Roory's avatar

I have noticed that nearly everyone mentioned trains for an answer, and I am not saying it is a bad answer, but I personally have found a cheaper and less time consuming solution: planes. There are charter jets in europe that have some really cheap special offers if you buy your ticket atleast before a month, I have personally been on them and they are pretty good and can go to as cheap as 20 euros roundtrip if not less ( this was from france to uk). So I advise you to check on daily for special offers and try them as you can save time and money on your trip !! The link is ” http://www.ryanair.com/site/EN/
Have Fun !!

janbb's avatar

Planes are probably a cheaper way to go; trains can be more pricey but a nice way to see some countryside. You could rent a car but unless you are very comfortable with driving in strange places that can add a lot of stress.

With two weeks, I would be inclined to consider just two countries. A nice trip might be to fly to Rome, spend about three days there, then take the train to Florence for about 4 days, doing some excursions out to the hill towns of Tuscany by bus. From Florence, you could fly or train to Nice in France and spend 3–4 days in Nice or one of the little surrounding Provencal towns like St. Paul de Vence. From Nice, fly or TGV train to Paris and then spend the last few days in Paris. I would think that’s about as much as you could take in in two weeks; of course, your preferences of locations may be different.

Money tip – you can get cash with a credit or debit card from ATMs. Most of the time there is a fee for this. However, Bank of America has an arrangement with one bank in each country that will let you use their ATMs for no fees.

Feel free to PM me for more ideas.

mattbrowne's avatar

Spain, Portugal, France and Italy is way too much to do in 10–14 days. You lose too much precious time driving or flying.

I would recommend either Spain and Portugal or France or Italy. My favorite: Italy. How about Verona, Bologna, Ravenna, Pisa, Florence, Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, and Rome? I can also recommend the area around Lago di Bolsena, like Montefiascone. Lots of nice smaller towns. The lake is great too.

tinyfaery's avatar

I would like to see as much as I can because I do not know when or if I will ever get the chance to go to Europe again, but I get the point. Portugal is a must. I have a fascination with that country. So, Spain, France or Italy?

gailcalled's avatar

Look at the map and see where Portugal is. Italy is too far. Spain makes the most sense.

And be optimistic. Western Europe is not going anywhere, unless we are all swallowed up by a giant hole.

I still vote for driving. You are young and energetic; you drive on the right on the Iberian Penisula. Learn the gas pump words in Spanish and Portuguese. I still remember when I drove around Italy in 1962. Vente litri, per favore. You see and discover things in an entirely different way and don’t waste hours and cash at airports and on planes.

Judi's avatar

I just don’t see how a person can do Europe and miss Italy though!

gailcalled's avatar

Or for that matter, the Greek Isles, the Norwegian Fjords, the Lake Country in Great Britain, Monaco…you can’t see it all in one fell swoop.

mattbrowne's avatar

@gailcalled – Yes, the Greek Isles. Santorini is my favorite one.

Judi's avatar

I haven’t done the Fjords or any of Brittan yet. That’s another trip. One more reason to stay in good health!

tinyfaery's avatar

Hey. This is my first time out of North America. And I don’t, and probably never will, have the time or money to travel for long periods of time and/or many places. Show offs. :)

And I know where Portugal is located, TYVM.

Judi's avatar

If you choose to drive, the roads are better and faster than here in California. You get places faster than you think you would. Just remember, SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT!

andrew's avatar

I did 4 countries and 7 cities in 14 days. I was just out of college, and we didn’t sleep much.

If you stay in one city, you can do more than one country. Italy, for me, was nice, but not the highlight of the trip. You might, if you limit your trip, do paris/spain/portugal for 14 days—since I seem to remember flying out of CDG was the cheapest.

tinyfaery's avatar

So maybe keep Spain as the center of operations and travel to France and Portugal from there? Portugal is small, so if we stayed for 14 days, that’s still more than 4 days per country.

Ahh.. this seems hard. Any travel agent recommendations?

forestGeek's avatar

In 2008, I did 3 countries, 8 cities, in 17 days, and I felt that was too much traveling. Seems like when we got comfortable in a city, it was time to hop the train again. I was in a similar situation @tinyfaery, where I wanted to see as much as I could because I didn’t know when I’d ever get the chance to go back again. I have little regrets, but there were cities and place I wish I had had a day or two more in, though that’s inevitable anytime I travel.

Seems that you have some of your priorities set, which is perfect. With the limited time and the distances between the cities, I think it’s important to decide whether you want to see just the cities, or both the cities and the countryside as well. Our main destinations were the major cities, but I was also interested in seeing the coutryside, especially Bavaria, so I was grateful we took the trains, despite the time some of those rides consumed. I remember looking out the train window wishing I could get out and go camping, or walk though the forests, etc., so even the train left me feeling I missed a lot. It was a great compromise in general, but when we did fly from Munich to Milan, it was quite depressing seeing the Alps from a plane window instead of being immersed in them.

I personally didn’t use a travel agent, and everything was pretty easy to do ourselves. The transportation specifically was easy to book here well in advance. Hotels and B&Bs are a different story, and all you can do is look for places in areas you want to be in, then just trust the online reviews and photos…yes you will end up with a not-so-great place to stay occasionally, but if it’s more about seeing the country and city, a bad hotel for a night or two will not matter much. I don’t think you need and agent, seems like a waste of money and I love DIY, but if you want to alleviate some stress from you life leading up to the trip, then it might make sense for you.

I also agree with @andrew, If you can keep a country, or specifically a city as a base as stated, I think that makes the most sense. I did this with Germany (well admittedly because I wanted to drink the beer! Mmm, beer!), and it was perfect…though we didn’t stick to a city, but instead did a loop and flew into Berlin and out Cologne.

Hopefully some of this is helpful! Good luck and have fun…even the planning is fun and exciting IMO!

saraaaaaa's avatar

If you are looking at the budget side of things then try this website A friend used it to get around Japan and it proved to be a worthy experience.

andrew's avatar

You can also check vrbo.com as well. It was above my price when I stayed in France, but it might work really well for you.

janbb's avatar

@tinyfaery There’s no reason not go to a travel agent if that’s helpful to you. They may be willing to suggest an itinerary for you or make bookings. You don’t usually have to pay anything to an agent since they are paid by commission from the hotels or airlines. I usually just use travel websites like www.travelocity.com and www.expedia.com for booking the plane tickets and do guidebook and internet searches for hotels/apartment rentals, etc.

If you want to find an agent, I would just search locally in your area and go in and talk to them. If they’re not helpful, you’ve risked nothing by talking to them and they may give you ideas for how to get around. In my experience, travel agents often don’t know much about cheaper options but they could certainly give you broadbrush advice. You might also want to go to B&N or another bookstore and get a guidebook for Spain and Portugal and begin reading up an areas on your own. I usually find Fodor’s and Frommer’s quite helpful.

As an aside, the Pyrenees and Basque country in France are lovely and accessible from northern Spain if you do want to get into a third country.

Fred931's avatar

Travel Agent.

MellisaTurner's avatar

I would suggest you to go through tripadvisor.com once.
Good luck and happy travels !

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