Our Travel Process- How we picked places and planned our European itinerary

23 July 2019

Leaving home for our 5 week Europe trip. This time with an 8 month old.

Hanging out with friends in Nuremberg

Impromptu trip to Heidelberg Castle, Germany

Ortakoy Mosque, Istanbul

Nuremberg, Germany

Never ending stairs in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Unplanned Trip to Lucerne, Switzerland

Canal side strolls at Strasbourg, France
This is one of our most requested blog post after our second European trip. Our travel process.
How we decide cities for our month long trip and make bookings? How we get to know of various places to visit? So here’s a quick run down of how we go about finalizing our 5- week itinerary and making solid bookings.
Last year May/June 2018 was our first trip to Europe. For this trip, I tried to include a lot of big cities as it was our first time on the continent. We wanted to learn European ways. I basically ticked off the most touristy cities from my wish-list- London, Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, Bruges, etc. As it was our first trip to Europe, we wanted to maximize our money. However, during our time there, we found that we actually enjoyed the smaller towns and cities more than the big ones. Cities like Haarlem, Lieden, Daame, etc.
So for our May/June 2019 trip, we tried to put in as many smaller cities as we could. My mantra for travel is stretching my money as far as I can. Basically I want to see everything in the little time we have. So our travel style is quite full on (definitely the polar opposite of relaxing). Europe is a very long way from NZ so I make sure we see and do a lot, as opposed to spending an evening sipping on some wine & watching Netflix. Our itinerary reflects that motion. This will not be everyone’s travel style and that’s ok. Everyone has their own preferences. It’s important to do what you enjoy the most.
As this was our second Europe trip, I had a list of cities we wanted to cover this time. Some were cities we missed last time, places we heard from fellow travelers or blogs or websites. Even though we had some absolute favorite places last time (Bruges, Haarlem, anyday!) that we would love to go back to one day, we decided not to repeat any of the cities during this trip . Fresh new trip, fresh new places.
Throughout the year, I keep a look out on people’s recommendations on best places in Europe or any other country that I’m keen on. I currently have ongoing lists for Turkey, Bali, more of Northern & Eastern Europe. I screenshot any worthy travel place I come across, be it on Instagram or friend's Facebook album. I ask European friends and friends of friends for their recommendations. Locals know the best! I keep looking for those hiddden gems. This way when it’s time to plan a trip, I have some idea of cities I’d like to cover this time. Note: what I’d like to see and what we actually end up visiting are two entirely different things. Logistics, ticket prices, geographical location, ease of transport options, etc decide whether a city will be included in final itinerary.
When you start planning a European holiday (or any trip), the first puzzle to solve is where to land? Which city to fly to and which city to fly back from? Flying to and from same city is a bit cheaper than multiple city itinerary. For eg- flying to and from Amsterdam return is cheaper than flying to Amsterdam and flying back home from say Paris. We personally like to enter Europe by one port and leave it by another. It costs a little more but it opens up more options for us. You might have to open Europe’s map on your phone now.

Last year we flew to London and flew back home from Paris. This year we flew to Istanbul and came back home from Frankfurt. Deciding these two cities (or one city in case of same city return journey) is the most pivotal. I wanted to visit Istanbul this year. It is quite south of Europe so as the days passed, we moved inwards in the continent, exploring many countries on the way and finally making our way to Frankfurt.
You absolutely don’t have to do this. There are so many transport options in Europe that you can literally keep going back and forth in no order.
We personally like to follow an order and visit cities that are on same transport route.

We also always try and visit our friends in Europe. This gives us a chance to live with locals, rest up for a day or two, fuel up with some good food and just spend some chill days. It also saves on money, but we always offer your own place to them as well. Just whenever they make it to New Zealand. It's a two-way street. We stayed with friends at Nuremberg (Germany) and visited cities around it. We also stayed at a dear Instagram friend's place in Frankfurt and made many days trips from there, keeping Frankfurt as our base.
Our itinerary in May/June 2018 was -
London - Amsterdam - Haarlem- Lieden- Bruges- Ghent- Berlin - Nuremberg - Bamberg - Rothenburg ob der Tauber- Rome- Paris- Auckland (home)
Our itinerary in May/June 2019 was-
Istanbul - Dubrovnik- Split- Zagreb - Ljubljana- Graz- Vienna- Salzburg- Hallstat - Salzburg-Nuremberg- Regensburg- Nuremberg- Strasbourg - Lucerne- Basel- Colmar- Strasbourg- Frankfurt- Rüdesheim- Heidelberg- Frankfurt- Auckland
If you look at Europe’s map, we started south of Europe and made our way inwards. I hope this gives an idea of how to go about it. You don’t have to do it this way, but we like doing it because it keeps the itinerary streamlined, bookings easier and my mom-brain at peace. This way there’s less chance of me jumbling the dates and getting an accommodation booking wrong.
How did we decide on so many cities? Google, TripAdvisor, locals, fellow travelers on local trains, friends, friends of friends, Instagram saves.

When we left Auckland, many of the cities we covered weren't even on our list. During our trips, I tend to leave a few free days when we can do whatever we like. Last year, Rome happened on a whim. This year, Kotor, Perast, Lucerne, Basel, Colmar, Regensburg, Rudesheim, Heidelberg happened on a whim.

Train transport is so easy and hassle-free in Europe that you can literally leave home with no plan, get to train station and go anywhere you fancy. Day trips gave us a chance to have a peek into other countries without staying there overnight. We actually enjoyed these surprise places more than the ones that were thoroughly planned. So if we visit Europe again, our plan is to go plan-less. No set itinerary except the flight tickets. We decide how many days we want to stay at a place. We will decide when to leave, not our Airbnb bookings. All we need is our phone and internet access. Last minute bookings are possible anywhere and everywhere. We arranged a room at Kotor (Montenegro) while on a hike at 8 pm, checking-in at 9 pm. All we needed was a charged phone (just 8% mind you!) and internet to browse options on Airbnb. The Airbnb location feature is a lifesaver. You can put in your dates, number of people, push search accommodations, then go to map feature and look for the one closest to where you are standing right at that moment. Most Airbnb hosts are super responsive to last minute bookings. I mean if it wasn’t for you, the room was going to be vacant anyway. They earn money for a quick night spent. It’s a win win.
Once in a city, we explore options for day trips and best sites to visit. Google is my best friend again. I always have a basic list with me from my own research. If we only have a day in city, I’ll google ‘Things to do in xxxx’ and look for the most touristy places. If we have more than 2 days in a city and we are done with major touristy sight-seeing, I’ll google ‘Hidden things to do in xxxx’ and explore some hidden & not-on-tourist radar places. Beyond that, a city is best explored on foot and wandering aimlessly. The vibe of the city is beyond it’s central square and we always try to finish off the touristy bits before embarking on our own adventures. We are addicted to that feeling of ending up at exciting events and in beautiful surroundings, by chance.
Our free movement in Europe was all thanks to our NZ passport. We did not need visa for any of the countries we visited. Please make sure your passport allows visa-free travel. If not, it’s best to stick to the ones included in your current visa.
Some countries do check your visa even when you are crossing by train or bus. Our passports got checked while crossing from Croatia to Montenegro and also between Slovenia & Austria. I am not sure what the implications are, in case of improper visa.
Once in a city, there’s public transport. The first time we boarded a local subway was in London in May 2018. I was in awe of my husband’s cousin who could figure out where to go and which stop to get off in a jiffy. Fast forward an year and a lot of public transport hustle under my belt, I’m that one who can read public transport maps in minutes. It takes some time and experience to figure it out but it’s my cheap thrill. There’s nothing like getting lost in an unknown city. That’s half the fun. Best memories happen when we miss a stop.
We always try and book our Airbnb centrally so we can walk to most tourist attractions. If you google ‘where to stay in Istanbul?’, you are sure to come across TripAdvisor discussion threads with all the answers you need. Sultanahmet area in this case. If you have a question, there is every chance that some other traveler has asked the same question on TripAdvisor. Hence, Google is the best travel consultant.
We try and stay central and in tourist hub. However, there are instances when the cities are big (eg Berlin, Paris). There is no avoiding public transport in big cities so it’s best to stay within 2-3 minutes (Max 10 minutes) walking distance of a metro station. Every minute counts when you are exhausted and carrying all the luggage on you.
It’s also good to research the transport options before you reach a city. This way you’ll know whether it’s economical to buy a day-pass, a 3- day or 7-day pass or an all attractions & public transport included pass. You can totally do this part when you reach a city but our experience has taught us to look for these details beforehand as it can take up a lot of precious time to figure out these options if left to the last minute. That’s not to say we’ve not done that, but it takes a good few hours to make our way into city when the planning has been minimal. In saying that, we ended up in so many cities which were not in plan and we still figured them out, utilizing the time we had while in public transport or waiting on train stations (using public wi-fi)
During our 2018 Europe trip, I bought a European SIM card (LycaMobile brand) and unlimited internet for 75 euros. It served us good and was totally worth every cent. I did not have a baby then, I could be on my phone all hours, research places on the go and post Instagram stories in real time.
During our 2019 Europe trip, we did not buy European sim or internet. We relied heavily on public WiFi. There’s WiFi at most tourist attractions, major fast food joints (McDonald’s is the best!), even some trains & buses. All Airbnb accommodations have wifi. Google maps can be loaded while online and then they work offline too. So this time, we saved the money on internet and spent less time on phone (and more with Aiza). We did get lost a lot of times and even had to make efforts to find McDonald’s some-days but it was fun and we enjoyed being disconnected from the world.
In Istanbul, we bought our home country roaming add-on deal with Vodafone ($19, 1 GB data). Some days when we desperately needed data and couldn’t find any, we bought $5 roaming add-on for a day (200 MB data till clock strikes midnight in NZ). So it's worth checking what roaming offers your home country phone provider does.
I hope this gives you a good overview of how best to structure your trip. I’m going to cover our itinerary in next post and will also be writing on some of the requested topics such as packing light, travelling with babies, our packing essentials, etc. I hope you will be back to read those blogs as well.
Happy travelling

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