After solo traveling in Europe for 42 days, a lot of people are asking me how I managed to plan my itinerary on my own. Yes doing DIY can be tiring and time-consuming but you can save a lot and end up seeing more places (than buying expensive tour packages with fixed itineraries).
I've listed down some tips on how to start planning for your travel. Yes, YOU can do it too ;-)
1. First question you need to answer is: Where do you want to go?
It is always hard to pick the destinations with all the beautiful places you've pinned on Pinterest and bookmarked on your favorite travel sites... But you need to narrow down your choices. How do you decide your picks? 1) Check out the weather. 2) If you're going to multiple countries and you have a tight budget, check out the travel routes and pick the ones that are within your budget and with travel connections that are less time-consuming. 3) You also need to check the prices of hotels, food and transportation. Cost of living can be very different per city. 4) Rank your favorites. Always pick places where you've always wanted to go to.
2. Set price alerts on Skyscanner. If you have no airplane tickets yet, be sure to search on Skyscanner. Set price alerts so you'll get notified about price drops in your email. For my trip, I had to take several flights between countries and getting price alerts was very useful.
3. If you don't know how to travel between places you want to go to, Rome2Rio and goeuro.com will figure it out for you. Comparing prices between trains, buses and flights will be easier. Be sure to book directly from bus/train/airline companies and not through these websites because they add a few euros to the total price.
4. Another problem you need to solve is your accommodation. Do you want a hotel, hostel, or a homey feel? In some cities, I have booked rooms or apartments in Airbnb because a) it's cheaper b) most Airbnbs have dryers and washing machines which can be convenient if you're traveling for a long time. c) you get to meet friendly local hosts and they always give the best travel tips ;)
While in some cities, hotels through Booking, Agoda, Hotel are cheaper than getting Airbnb.
Always book rooms/hotels near the train/bus station.
(If your departure time's after hotel checkout time) Always choose accommodation that offers free luggage storage after checkout.
Always read reviews in Tripadvisor and other forums. And if all rooms have bad reviews, choose the lesser evil :-P
5. And if you're really in a tight budget, try Couchsurfing.
6. Check the time of your arrival, not just the price. Sometimes it is easy to get carried away with discounted flight/ferry/train/bus tickets. But you also need to consider a) the time of your arrival and b) the travel time to your destination. If you need to maximize your time in a place, sometimes an expensive 9AM flight is more worth it than a cheap 6PM flight because you get to see more places and do more things. And if you're in a tight budget and you only have limited allowance for cheap public transportation, always check the opening hours of the train/bus/ferry station before booking your flight. (For example, instead of taking the train, I was forced to take an expensive taxi because of my early flight schedule. And I could have saved a lot had I taken the later flight.)
7. Research on city cards. In some cities, getting a city card (bundled unlimited public transportation and entrance to attractions/museums) can be cheaper. Always do the math ;) Fast-track entries to crowded attractions can also be very convenient.
6. Reserve online. If you're traveling during peak season, always reserve online to avoid the hassle of lining up in queues. Some attractions run out of tickets so better reserve online several weeks before your travel. (Ex. The Louvre, Vatican Museum, Sagrada Familia, Alhambra, Park Guell, Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell'Accademia, Rome Colloseum, etc. )
7. Sign up on free tours. There are so many amazing free tours (tip-based) if you want to explore the city through the eyes of a local.
8. Sign up on useful websites and install apps. My favorites are the following:
Google Maps (for traveling in cities and looking for best-reviewed nearby restaurants)
Rome2Rio (for estimated travel time and best public transportation route)
Triphobo (very helpful in choosing attractions, plotting the best route, and visualizing my itinerary)
Sygic (for choosing attractions and seeing maps)
Google Trips (for choosing food and drink specialties, transportation, attractions and things to do)
Utrip (for thematic itineraries created by locals ex. Midnight in Paris tour, Food Trip in Rome)
Triposo (for attractions, shopping, tours and nightlife)
Duolingo (for learning languages)
9. Make an Excel sheet of your itinerary and estimated cost (entrance fees, tours, food, transportation, accommodation). Thanks to my accountant mom, I have always been organized with the aid of my Excel. With an estimated total cost of your trip, you'd know if your trip's feasible within your budget.
10. Research on European simcards with data. My travel became easier thanks to my 10GB of data. I would have gotten lost 1 billion times without my very reliable Google Maps on my smartphone ;-P
I hope I helped you jump start your planning. It took me a month of researching but in the end, it was worth it ;-)
Follow me @fartherfurther