By Francesca Escarraga
Warning: This post is an in-depth walk-through of the whole process of planning a Europe trip for best friends, travellers, lovers, and daydreamers. Pictures and useful tips below may spark an immense wanderlust in you.
On a typical Saturday morning in June, I woke up to an unanticipated message from my long-distance best friend of 16 years saying that she booked a ticket to Paris. And being the adventurous and spontaneous person that I am, I said yes! It only took a minute to seal the deal. Oftentimes, those spur of the moment decisions turn out to be the most life-changing and extraordinary adventure of your life.
Europe – the place where hopes and dreams come to life. Undoubtedly known for its rich culture, historic architecture, exquisite delicacies, heart-warming locals, and a home without borders for the world to see and experience.
The thought of embarking on a trip to that side of the world may be overwhelming due to contributing factors such as time and money, but in reality, anything is possible if you just stop making unnecessary excuses. So, two average millennials with a strong fascination of Europe that goes way back to our childhood and a fair amount of savings, planned the trip of a lifetime in a span of 9 months. And I’ll walk you through the process of how we winged it.
Being based in Hong Kong and my best friend, Alex, in the Philippines, we only had Google Trips, Booking.com, and weekly Whatsapp collaborations to depend on and bring it all together. And yes, not even our busy work schedules hindered us from sparing a few minutes to plan everything and make it all possible. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Before anything else, Philippine passport holders are required to go through the vigorous process of acquiring a Schengen visa in order to enter Europe. So for 6 months, we were planning a trip that was still up in the air due to the fact that the embassy will only process applications 3 months before your scheduled departure. Also, they require you to submit the necessary documents on the above list, leaving you with no choice but to purchase everything in advance. Without risk, there is no reward. Am I right?
Be reminded that you must choose the embassy of the country where you’ll stay the longest and requirements may change from time to time, so please don’t forget to do your own research! Google will happily assist you.
Since we both haven’t been to Italy and France, we chose to explore the major cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice, and Paris respectively. The whole duration of the trip lasted for 16 days (March 17 - April 1) including the travel time; 3 days each in Rome & Florence, 2 days in Venice, and 6 days in Paris.
Also known as the most dreaded part of every travel planning. A lot of people dream of going to Europe but instantly back out the moment they do the Math. Yes, you need an acceptable amount of savings to make it happen but not to the point of relative deprivation. The easiest way to budget is to purchase all fixed-price items such as transportation, hotels, and tour/city passes beforehand. Once you purchase everything in advance, you could get an estimate on how much you want to allot for food, shopping, and emergency funds. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference and how you creatively find ways to make the most of what you have.
Below is a general breakdown of our expenses:
Living miles away from each other, we both agreed to fly separately and meet in Rome, which is our first stop. Alex purchased her ticket in June 2016 while I purchased my ticket in September 2016. In my opinion, I believe that there is no perfect time and day to find the best ticket. As you can see, the price range is around €500-€600, and it's reasonable enough considering you're travelling halfway around the world. If you keep waiting until the next seat sale, chances are you're going to end up empty-handed. Trust your gut, you'll know if the right one comes along.
REGIONAL TRAINS IN ITALY
It's a given fact that Europe is known for its efficient transportation system. You could literally go from one country to another by train with ease and convenience.
The fastest and affordable way to go around Italy is by ItaliaRail; the official regional train operated by Trenitalia. You must book the train tickets on their website at least a month or two in advance if you want to get good seats and time slots. It sells out quickly due to the high volume of on-the-go locals and tourists. If not, you can still purchase tickets at the station.
Train Stations & Estimated Time of Arrival:
ITALY TO FRANCE BY PLANE
If you're pressed for time, it is imperative that you take the plane from Italy to France. It only takes an hour and a half by plane compared to 11 hours by train. We chose to take Air France and booked the ticket on their website 4 months before our scheduled trip. I highly recommend Air France for their good service!
We chose all the hotels based on their strategic location and safety. One important tip when travelling, never choose isolated hotels even if they're dirt cheap. Make sure that the hotel of your choice is located along a busy street or surrounded by establishments. Your safety must be your foremost concern and I assure you that you'll sleep in peace. Also, if you want to save up on transportation, I highly suggest choosing a hotel that is walking distance to main attractions and restaurants. Yes, it may cost a bit higher than your allotted budget but you'll thank me later, you'll see.
Wherever I travel, I always count on Booking.com to give me the best rates and hotels during low and peak seasons. You'll benefit greatly from their free cancellations, various payment options, and membership deals. We booked all of our hotels in Europe 4 months in advance.
The easiest way to plan your itinerary is through Google Trips, an all-in-one mobile app that organizes and maps out day-to-day activities that you could follow or use as a basis for making your own. In able for us to explore a lot of places, we combined all the attractions and restaurants that are located in the same area. Do not overthink your itinerary, though its purpose is to act as an overall guide, you must also take into consideration that there could be last minute changes due to unforeseen circumstances when you're there. So, it is important that you are flexible and adaptable. Besides, a good adventure is all about getting lost and discovering places off the beaten path. Let the world surprise and amaze you with its hidden wonders!
The most exhausting and time-consuming part of your trip is getting stuck in a queuing line for purchasing attraction tickets. Waiting times could take as long as 2-3 hours and you know that time is gold when it comes to sightseeing. City passes are essential if you want to save time and money on transportation, attraction tickets, and local events/activities. We purchased our city passes 2 months in advance online, trust me, you'll be glad you did.
Rome is the home of must-see historical places you absolutely can't miss when you're in town. You could save a lot of time and money as well as enjoy discounts and privileges if you purchase the Turbopass. We felt like VIPs walking around the city with the Turbopass in hand because it gave us free access to top attractions, public transportation, and Big Bus tours. Also, we had so much time on our hands to explore local places, all because we were able to skip the long queues in touristy places using our city passes. 48 hours in Rome well spent all because of a card!
Features & Benefits:
FLORENCE & VENICE
Most attractions in Florence or Firenze are free of charge except for some museums. Since it's also a small city, everything is walkable as long as you stay in the city proper. However, if you need to take the bus, tickets could be easily purchased at convenience stores. So, it's not really advisable to purchase the city pass. We only purchased the Il Grande Museo Del Duomo for €15 on-site, which gave us free access to the Cathedral, Dome, Baptistry, Bell Tower, and Museum. Moreover, we wanted to see Michaelangelo's famous masterpiece, David, at the Galleria dell'Accademia so we purchased the tickets online for €12 only. Keep in mind that you must purchase the tickets a few weeks or a month in advance to reserve your slots. We opted not to visit the Uffizi Gallery, which is another popular museum in Firenze, but in case you fancy art, you may purchase the tickets on their website.
Venice is a city where a lot of tourists come to relax and enjoy the scenic view of the Grand Canal. In my opinion, the ultimate Venice experience is simply riding the Gondola (€80 for 6 people) and enjoying the sunset during aperitivo (happy hour) along the Grand Canal. If you're feeling adventurous, you may visit museums such as Peggy Guggenheim Collection and St. Mark's Square Museums or be entertained by opera performers at Teatro La Fenice. You may purchase the tickets on-site or on their respective websites.
Paris is a city where it is impossible to run out of places to see and things to do. Thus, it is imperative that you purchase a Paris Pass to give you access to main attractions, public transportation, Big Bus tours, and local events with ease and convenience. Once again, the city pass gave us the VIP treatment while roaming the streets of the City of Lights. We purchased the 3-day Paris Pass and the duration was more than enough to explore the city considering that we stayed there for a week.
Features & Benefits:
IMPORTANT FOR ALL CITIES: You must carefully check the museum opening times (some museums are closed on specific days) and the validity of your city passes to ensure that you are getting the most out of your purchase.
Moral of the story: anybody could go to Europe as long as you live within your means and your priorities are in order. If two average millennials living in different countries were able to pull off a Euro trip without asking for any support from our parents, you definitely could, too! Everything provided here is based on our personal experiences and I know that everyone has their own way of doing things but I hope you learn a thing or two from our strategy. It is absolutely possible to experience and enjoy the beauty of Europe without hurting your pocket. Undoubtedly the best investment you'll ever make in your life; turn those wanderlust dreams into reality!
You may learn more about the nitty-gritty of our adventures in each city in a separate post. Stay tuned!
Disclaimer: defunct TV series (title)