Looking to travel Europe, but not quite sure how? We’re offering Tips for Traveling in Europe over the next five weeks!
Many of you may not know, but Ernie is a KCBS (Kansas City BBQ Society) sanctioned judge. He signs up to judge competitions typically within a four-hour driving radius, and based on our NC location, the season lasts from April until November. Last year, he came up with the brilliant idea of volunteering to judge a couple back-to-back European competitions. Cool, huh? Since I love Europe, how could I argue?
The first competition was in Hasselt, about an hour’s train ride outside of Brussels. We flew into Brussels and spent a couple days wandering around Grand Place, the bustling central square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh my goodness, amaaaazzing!
From there, we railed to quaint Hasselt for a couple days, then on to Berlin via Cologne, and lastly Amsterdam via Osnabruck. For the last four years, we’ve cruised across Europe, but this was our first land venture. Over the next five weeks, we’ll be sharing our experiences and what we learned from them. These posts will be longer than most, but our hope is that you’ll find something of value. Maybe we’ll inspire you to take the plunge and push past your traveling comfort zone. Will pictures help? No worries. We’ll throw some of them in too. 🙂
This week, let’s talk about research. We spent countless hours scouring the Internet before we ever committed to purchasing plane tickets.
Choose your itinerary.
Because of the BBQ events, we had a beginning (Brussels) and ending point (Amsterdam) and a time frame. On a map, we pinpointed cities that looked interesting or those that were already on our bucket list. Our son had traveled to Berlin a couple years ago and encouraged us to add that to our list. Prague was on our bucket list. We started with a list of probably seven or eight cities (besides Brussels and Amsterdam) and whittled them down to three using Go Euro. This free app/site is not only a great tool to research cheapest, shortest routes between cities and offers comparisons between trains, buses and flights, but it also showed us that Prague might be a bit farther than what our few days would allow.
What’s important to you? For us, it was free Wi-Fi, a private bathroom (yes, there are some hotels with shared facilities, even shared rooms!) and since we chose not to spend our entire budget on taxis, ample eating options available nearby. These priorities may not be yours. What about air conditioning? This was our first trip overseas with temperatures edging 80. Most of our hotels didn’t offer a/c. Who’d have thought? We never cooled off until we hit Amsterdam, where the temps dived to 50. Then, we didn’t need a/c. lol.
Europe is full of cobblestone streets, bridges, and stairs, so consider how far you’ll be dragging your suitcase. Honestly, by the time we hit Osnabruck, when we stepped out of the train station and saw our hotel directly across the circle, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Based on past experiences, we only book through a third party such as Kayak if the hotel offers free cancellation.
Lastly, be mindful of individual personalities. How far do you want to travel in one day? How long do you prefer to stay in one place? Hubby can’t sit still, so he was excited to hit new spots every day. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in one place for a few days, even a week or more, visiting the same café (like this one) every day and getting comfortable with my surroundings.
Funkhaus, Cologne, Germany
So, pick a happy medium. Keep in mind that you’ll be packing up your stuff every time you move.
Scope out airfares
Once we decide on our itinerary, we scope out airfares. Get a baseline price then check your favorite app (kayak, cheapflights, etc) several times a week. Note good prices and carriers with the least amount of stops and flying time. Usually cost ranks highest on our priorities, then flying time. We snagged a deal through Vayama with one stop both ways. The flight to DC was an hour and a half, and only six and a half more to Brussels. We barely had time to rest between the dinner and breakfast services. Such a relief compared to the grueling 8-15 hour flights we’ve endured. After this trip, we might pay a bit more for a shorter flying time. Resist the temptation to save a few bucks by booking two stops. Go for one or none. 🙂
After doing this round trip to Europe a few times now, we would never buy tickets where we’re stuck in the middle of a row seven or eight seats deep. Ack! We would pay extra to find a plane with a max of three seats on the side. Trust us. It’s too long of a flight to squeeze past three or four people to use the restroom or just to stretch your legs, especially when those people are snoozing. If you can sit still for eight hours at a time, those middle seats might work fine for you. Not us.
We choose our seats based on the direction we’re flying. Anybody else do that? Lol. Both of us love window seats for different reasons. Hubby can sleep better against the window. Frankly, I think that’s a waste of a good window seat. Windows are for catching a glimpse of a new city for the first time and for pondering how small you are in the big scheme of things. Oh, and so you can be the first to see that engine cover rip off and hurl through the vast sky. (How did that happen?? Yikes!) We usually snag windows and middle/aisle, but you may prefer the extra room that an aisle affords. But I digress. The point is I do not like to sit with the sun blasting my arm, so we choose seats opposite the sun.
Anybody else choose your seat based on the direction you’re flying?
Then, after we get a handle on what’s a good price and the carriers with the shortest flying time and available seats, we finally bite when another sale rolls around.
Split it up
If you’re traveling with a partner, split the research. Hubby handled transportation while I secured lodging, with input from each other. That way everybody invests in the travel experience. Be sure not to cast blame when details don’t fall neatly into place because the next day a challenge might arise on your end. 🙂
Hope this helps. Next week, we’ll discuss what to bring and how to pack for your European vacation.
Where did you go during your last trip? Did it involve much planning? What would you do differently? What did you learn from it?