Dreaming of wandering through the cobbled streets of Paris or exploring the ancient ruins of Rome?
Planning a European vacation can seem overwhelming at first, but with a little guidance, you’ll be sipping espresso in a quaint Italian café or castle hopping in Germany in no time.
Here’s your 10-step guide to making your European travel dreams a reality, complete with the invaluable insight on why enlisting a travel agent can elevate your experience from great to "World Class" while saving you time, money and frustration.
Step 1: Dream, Research (12-18 months before departure)
Your European adventure begins in the comfort of your home. Start by envisioning your ideal vacation. Are you lounging on the pristine beaches of Greece, or are you on a cultural escapade through Amsterdam’s museums?
Step 2: Establish a Budget (12 months before departure)
Setting a budget early helps shape your trip, from choosing destinations to deciding how you’ll explore them. Don’t forget to include allocations for flights, accommodations, tours, meals, activities, and a little extra for those unforeseen splurges!
Insider Tip: A Travel advisor can advise you on a budget based on your travel style and timeframe.
Step 3: Pick Your Dates (11 months before departure)
Timing is everything. Consider the climate of your chosen destinations and peak tourist seasons. Traveling during shoulder seasons (spring or autumn) can offer a perfect balance of good weather and fewer crowds.
Insider Tip: Try to stay away from the hot and busy months of July and August when Europe is very crowded. Have flexibility on dates so can take advantage of good pricing and opportunities when ready to book.
We recommend at least 8-14 days of vacation time to see and do more because you will lose two full days of your vacation just traveling to and from Europe. You'll also appreciate having your first full day in Europe not fully scheduled so you can relax and adjust to the new time zone.
Step 4: Pick your travel style and Draft a Loose Itinerary (10 months before departure)
Now’s the time to get a rough idea of your travel style and route.
What is your Travel Styles?
Do you want to see as much as possible with full support and comfort of a tour director on a guided vacation?
Do you prefer ocean or river cruising so only unpack once while getting a taste and exposure to many destinations (this is a good option for families and groups)?
Do you like independent adventures and don't mind driving, taking trains and public transportation and carrying your own luggage?
Or perhaps a hybrid of all these travel styles in one trip which a lot of travelers like?
Itinerary planning: Which countries are a must-visit? Are there any festivals you want to experience or family heritage to discover? This step doesn’t require minute-by-minute planning but having a direction is key. Europe is a large continent like the USA so we recommend focusing on a geographic area so can get an immersive experience into the culture and destination.
Step 5: Book Your tour, cruise and flights (9-6 months before departure)
With your dates set and destinations chosen, it’s time to book your tour, cruise and flights. Keep an eye out for deals and consider using flight comparison tools.
Insider Tip: Flexibility on dates or airports can save you money! Don't forget most flights to Europe from the USA are overnight so you'll arrive the next morning. Remember to schedule your time off from work too.
Step 6: Secure Accommodations (8-6 months before departure)
Whether you’re dreaming of luxury hotels or charming B&Bs, booking early ensures you get the best selection at the best price. Use reliable booking sites and look for accommodations with free cancellation options. If you have already booked your cruise or tour you can still book pre and post accommodations.
Step 7: Get Your Documents in Order (6 months before departure)
Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your return date.
Now is also the time to apply for visas if needed, and we highly recommend purchasing travel insurance for peace of mind.
You also have time to apply for TSA and Trusted traveler programs to make it easier to pass through security and immigrations in the USA.
Step 8: Research Activities and Book Tours (5 months before departure)
From cooking classes in Italy to castle and ghost tours in Scotland, now is the time to reserve spots for can't-miss activities, shows and attractions.
Insider Tip: We recommend using a digital itinerary app so organize all flights, hotels, tours, transportation and other important travel information together for easy accessibility.
Step 9: Finalize the Details (2 months before departure)
As your trip approaches, fine-tune your itinerary. Make dining reservations, check public transport options, and confirm all bookings. Contact your mobile phone carrier, banks and credit card providers to let them know of your international travel plans. Also, familiarize yourself with local customs and basic phrases.
Download travel apps for airlines, destinations, itinerary, shared rides, hotels, etc.
Step 10: Pack and Prepare to Depart (2 weeks before departure)
Create a packing list tailored to your destinations' climate and planned activities.
Don’t forget adapters, chargers, and essential medications. Print and carry all documents with you in the order you will need them.
And finally, make sure your home and pets are secure and taken care of for your time away.
Why Use a Travel Agent?
While the internet provides endless information, the value of a travel agent, especially for a European vacation, cannot be overstated.
- Travel Agents offer personalized service, insider knowledge, and access to exclusive deals.
- A travel agent can navigate the complexities of itinerary planning, leveraging their expertise to craft a vacation that aligns perfectly with your dreams—and often at a cost savings to you.
- They are your advocate before, during, and after your trip, ensuring a seamless and stress-free experience.
- A travel agent can expedite your planning timeframe and save you money with through their preferred vendors and packages.
Planning a European vacation can be as exciting as the trip itself, especially with these steps as your guide. Whether you're a meticulous planner or a spontaneous traveler, remember, every successful journey begins with that first step and half the fun of any trip is just getting there. Happy travels!
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