Do you want to be not confined to a motor coach tour in Europe? You may rather choose your own itinerary and travel independently. But it may appear challenging to the first time visitor. Planning an independent trip needs much time as the preparations have to begin well in advance. Consider the following.
At the outset, you have to decide on the duration of your trip. Will it be for one, two or three weeks? I would say that at least ten days should be allocated, whether you are a student, an employee or a retiree. A lot of people prefer to visit Europe in summer which covers the months of June to August.
The next step is to make a budget. The main components of the budget will include air fare, hotel, inter-city transport, food, local transport, sight-seeing, communication, souvenirs and visa/insurance. Some of the payments will have to be made in Swiss Francs, Euros, British pounds or other local currency. Forex fluctuations may have an impact on the total cost. Big ticket items like air tickets and hotel bills can be paid by credit cards. Debit cards become useful to withdraw the local currency from ATMs (known as Bancomat in Italy).
Air fare is normally the largest single cost facor. Air tickets tend to cost more when they are bought close to the date of travel. Travel websites like Kayak help you to make the right decisions on flights. The tickets will have to be booked 2-3 months in advance to get the best prices.
Hotel rooms are best booked online through sites like booking.com. Advance payments in most cases are not asked for. Reservations may be made when you locate the right hotel at the best price. You will be asked to furnish the details of your credit card. No-shows will attract penalties of one night’s stay or more.
Europe has a modern rail network which connects even small towns and villages. Fast trains can touch speeds of up to 300 km/hour. We had seen Rome, Florence, Lucerne, Gengenbach, Paris and Amsterdam over a period of two weeks. The inter-city transport was done entirely by trains. You must book train tickets 60-90 days in advance to get the lowest prices. Last minute fares will be extremely high.
Food costs will vary from city to city. Paris, Amsterdam, London and some other cities are generally considered high-cost. Switzerland and Scandinavian countries are also expensive. Hotels usually provide complimentary breakfast. Local eateries and bakeries present low cost solutions for lunch and dinner. To get an understanding on costs in individual cities or towns, visit budgetyourtrip.com.
Big cities like Paris and Rome have metro systems which are fast and inexpensive. But you have to be on guard against pickpockets. Taxis will will burn a hole in your pocket. A lot of the sight seeing in any case will have to be done on foot. We had bought Roma Pass in Rome which we employed to travel on the city buses.
You can book entry tickets to popular destinations like Vatican Museums, Louvre Museums and Eiffel Tower at their official websites. This will help you to bypass long queues at the ticket counters. If you do some research on the internet, you will be able to easily lay out your sight-seeing itineraries.
As far as communication is concerned, free wi-fi of your hotel will be the lowest-cost alternative. But do keep in mind that wi-fi hotspots are not secure. Use of mobile phones in international roaming will be prohibitively costly. However you may wish to make sure that you continue to get SMS alerts from your banks and credit card providers. Consider Skype to place emergency phone calls.
You will need a visa to travel to Europe. Schengen area covers the majority of European countries, a notable exception being United Kingdom. Countries on the verge of EU membership are Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Macedonia.