It takes a bit of effort and a fair deal of research to plan a good holiday. Be prepared to spend a decent amount of time flipping through the pages of Lonely Planet and looking up travel itineraries on Google. Here’s my absolute must do when I start planning a trip.
- Lonely Planet Guidebook
- Hostel World app
- Fodor / Frommer’s Itineraries
Here’s how and why these are an excellent base to plan a trip. Lonely Planet is fantastic when it comes to detail and gives you a lot of information on city passes, timings and cost of tickets to museums, palaces, etc. Frommer’s gives you draft itineraries for your chosen destination. You don’t have to follow any of these, but you now have an inkling of what is doable in a given span of time. When you have decided which cities to visit, you should have a map that looks something like this:
Decide the direction of your trip along with the starting point. For example, it will never make sense to start from Berlin if you are travelling from India. There aren’t any direct flights. Essentially, you will stop over at Munich or Frankfurt. So, it would be better to get off at either and do a full circle to the other city. Now, the next important part is looking up suitable connections between the cities. This will also help you determine how many nights you will spend in a particular town before moving to the next one. Don’t book any hostel beds until you have sorted out inter-city travel! Remember this mantra: there is always a way to travel cheap. If you are in France, I suggest you familiarize yourself with SNCF. It is expensive but you can get some fabulous discounts with a Carte Jeune. Travelling by TGV is an experience you don’t want to miss out on! The SNCF card works in France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium from what I remember. But of course, there are much cheaper ways of inter-country travel. My ultimate favorite is MegaBus. The buses are never late, have WiFi, a super tiny cramped WC, comfortable seats and charging points! What more do you need, eh? The best part, unlike SNCF, is that MegaBus website is available in English (so is SNCF, but I will tell you why you shouldn’t use it in a separate post). Similar to Megabus, you have MeinFernBus and FlixBus in Germany. The tickets come with printable luggage tags! For those travelling in groups, it might be worthwhile to opt for carpooling. BlaBla Car and Mitfahrgelegenheit are your best options. Remember that there can be baggage restrictions in these cases and you will need a functional cell phone number to get in touch with the car owner. What about air travel? Sure, there are a lot of low cost airlines operating in Europe that actually fly ok. Ryan Air, if you ask me, is pretty shitty in terms of travel quality. But hey, it is cheap and efficient travel. And for that, I love them!
Look up travel time, cost and ease of travel before you make your decision. Take into account connectivity to the bus/train station or airport before you finalize anything. In Frankfurt, Berlin, Rome, and Barcelona, the airports are connected by train and bus. In Rome and Barcelona, you will get bus information at the airport Tourism office. In Frankfurt and Berlin, you can take the U-Bahn to wherever you are staying in town.
Once you have figured out inter-city travel options, make a list of your preferences with the details of bus / train stations or airport details. This is where you need Google Maps. Fire up the search engine on Hostel World and start looking at your options. There are a lot of factors you need to consider when booking your accommodation. I will write a more detailed note on that later. If you are travelling in a group of 3 or more, it might be worth your while to book a private room. If you are a solo traveler, depending on what you are comfortable with, you can pick a gender specific / mixed dorm. Make sure you check the hostel address on Google Maps to ensure accessibility to the train / bus stations. It will be a rubbish choice to stay far away from the main city because you would end up spending on train / tram tickets to see anything worthwhile. Most European towns can be covered on foot and I highly recommend this.
Okay, so we are almost done. Put all this together and you will have a holiday plan complete with draft itineraries, intercity / inter-country travel bookings, and accommodation!