For better or for worst, I love to form opinions and figure out advise to give. I've now been to Europe 3 times and each trip was very different. Granted the first was 19 years ago... so my memory is definitely foggy but still.
The first trip was traveled completely by train to 5 countries. (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, France, and Switzerland)
The second trip was by cruise ship to 6 countries. (Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Vatican City, and Croatia)
The third was by train, airplane, bus, and rental cars to 9 countries. (Germany, Italy, Austria, Vatican City, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Denmark)
In this post I will give all my opinions and suggestions. Yikes. But I figure I should write it all down before I forget. Just in case someday someone wants my opinion.... or someday I actually go back. (I highly doubt that will happen... but hey, if you would have told me in March I was going to spend 5 weeks in Europe I would have laughed. So who knows)
So here we go.....
First and for most. It's crazy how intensely stressful traveling is. It is difficult to comprehend or describe when you are out of the situation. And it's amazing how quickly you forget. Right after Jason and I got back from our trip we went and visited my aunt and uncle who also just returned from an extended visit to Europe. My sweet sweet aunt greeted us at the door with, "I can't wait to compare war stories!" And honestly.... that is almost how it felt. Traveling is hard especially in a foreign land without knowing the language. The stress of uncertainty and the unknown is crazy.
So that being said my first advice to someone wanting to travel to Europe would be: what kind of trip do you want? Easy, relatively low stress(Because no trip is without some stress) with no research required or medium stress with some homework required, or high stress with hours upon hours of research required?
That's something else that is hard to even grasp before a trip to Europe. If you are doing your trip on your own, it's hard to even comprehend the amount of research required in order to get the most or anything out of your trip. Something as simple as where to park a car. And even then after much research.... sometimes you lose and have to pay 45 euros for parking your car in a parking garage for 12 hours....
Zero stress: Go to Epcot at Disney World. I only kinda am kidding. Epcot is cool.
Low Stress: I hate that I am probably going to recommend this route to the mass majority of people who want to see Europe: do a Mediterranean Cruise and book all excursions through the cruise line. And maybe plan to fly to one other city not included in the cruise to visit at the beginning or end of your trip. (Or book a tour or river cruise if you want to visit landlocked areas of Europe) I didn't realize how wonderful my Mediterranean Cruise was until I tried to replicate some of that trip on my own on our next trip. The Cruise was so much easier! The downsides of any tour is you have to keep to their schedule. The downsides of a Cruise is you only ever see any place in the heat of the day. Never in the early morning and never in the evening. But man is it easy.
Medium stress: Do a cruise but plan out all the ports on your own and do your own adventure at each port. Or book a tourish adventure where they book all your transportation and hotels and you just have to research what you want to visit in each location. (Cheaper but a lot more stress)
High stress: Travel by any and all modes of transportation and book sleeping arrangements to every place you want to visit completely on your own.
Another thing to really consider before a trip is what your priorities are on the trip. Priorities are so important. Possible examples:
- Every iconic Spot (Paris, London, Rome, are probably the top 3)
- Cheap (Eastern Europe is WAY cheaper)
- High Adventure (Switzerland is probably the top of this list depending on the type of adventure)
- History (Greece, Italy, Germany would probably be the biggest depending on which time in history)
- Art (Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, London)
- Sun bathing (Spain, French Riviera, Greek Islands, Southern Italy)
- Or the hardest........ a mixture of all.
If your trip is 2 weeks or less I would try really really hard to narrow down what your priorities are. To have the best experience possible I would try and hit two different types of climates. Like a northern Europe area and a southern Europe area. Because the contrast makes it even more enjoyable. For instance we LOVED Prague and southern Germany. But one major reason for that was it was such a contrast from Italy where we spent the majority of our time. A darling American family we met in line at a pizza place in Florence had been traveling for 4 weeks but they spent the majority of their time in Northern Europe. So where was their favorite place in all of Europe, Florence. Kinda interesting how that works out.
My little brother Craig asked me what my favorite city in Europe is now that the dust has settled. It is still extremely hard to say.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Prague, Czech Republic
(The two that probably should be on the list but it's hard because I was 15 and barely remember them at Paris and Amsterdam)
Favorite things to see in Europe
St. Peter's Basilica
Top things I'd like to see in the future:
Islands of Greece
My thoughts that go against most popular opinions:
Do Rome in a Day. Spend few days relaxing at the Mediterranean instead of days in Rome.
Do NOT get a Eurorail pass. Unless you are a student.... (under 25 I think? and plan on taking over night trains with your Eurorail pass every time) And even then do not use your Eurorail pass in Italy.
Don't be afraid to use cheap European airlines but MAKE sure to read the fine print. Example: One time we flew, if you didn't print off your own boarding pass, you had to purchase a completely NEW ticket.
Renting a car was actually cheaper than I expected **** as long as you returned the car to the same location you rented it from**** Although parking can be a nightmare. AND tolls in some areas can be pricey. (Our drive from Florence to Monaco and back cost over 100 euros.) But that was the only place we had tolls. We didn't run into any tolls in Germany, France, or Northern Italy.
AirBnbs are fabulous but sometimes the convince of a hotel is even more fabulous.
Unless you speak the language or can at least limp along in the language, going off the beaten path really isn't that cool. (gasp.... I know, it's so hipster to want to go out of the "touristy" areas. People are nicer it is true. But really.... at the end of the day, touristy areas are touristy because they are cool. Except for when it comes to food... find good food places off the beaten path)
But probably my number 1 piece of advice for anyone traveling to Europe: underpack.