Planning European Vacations

I love to travel so much. So much, in fact, that when a month goes by without traveling, I start to get itchy and cabin fever. One thing I really love is planning for our vacations! It is so much fun doing research and putting together a loose itinerary and major landmarks to see while we’re visiting.

With all the travel we’ve been doing, I thought I would share how I go about planning our European vacations. I finally have a good system in place and hope it helps ease your next vacation planning!

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First things first, choosing dates. I try to plan vacations about 3 months or so in advance. Sometimes it’s a spur of the moment trip, but I like to at least put dates on the calendar so we know to take off work and schedule a pet sitter if need be. I start by discussing with Vinn what dates work for him. Since he works in finance, certain weeks of the year are busier than others and September is off limits because it’s planning month. I then block out on my Google calendar possible long weekends and week long trips.

Once I have the dates selected, I go online and research the best places to visit in Europe by those dates. For example, December is a good time to visit Amsterdam because it’s not super cold, the museums are open during holidays and there’s plenty to see and do inside. I add everything to my Google Doc with all my research so that I can access it from anywhere and can add a location anytime someone gives me a recommendation.

Now that I have possible dates and destinations, it’s time to really start looking for a place to stay and how to get there. I use all sorts of sites to check out hotels or apartments to rent. AirBnB is always a great option, especially if you are traveling with a larger group. I usually have multiple tabs open on my browser to quickly compare prices based on dates. For flights, I use Google Flights because it looks at all different airlines at once and I can quickly see if it’s more or less expensive to fly out of other airports. I usually reserve where we are staying first and then sign up for flight trackers so we can get the best deal.

Once everything is booked, now the fun really begins!! I start to research the top things to do in our chosen destination. I use all sorts of blogs, ask on Twitter and talk to friends who have visited these places. I used Twitter to ask for recommendations on what to do in London and every tip was spot on. I also really like reaching out to the hotel concierge about a month before our trip for restaurant recommendations or tips on what to see. The extra great thing is that he or she will make reservations for you. This is how we booked our anniversary dinner in London! One of my favorite blogs to check out is World of Wanderlust! I love her writing and she organizes her site so well, even listing the best bakeries in Paris! Some other favorites are Nomadic Matt, Peanut Butter Fingers, and The Blonde Abroad. TripAdvisor has yet to do me wrong, too, especially when it comes to restaurants. I make a running list again in my Google Docs so we can access it while we’re gone.

I don’t love to have an actual itinerary, you know with exact times for absolutely everything. I like to have general idea of what we want to see and do and be a little more flexible. The bigger things I’ll plan in advance, like our London tea or our upcoming day trip to the Cliffs of Moher while we are in Dublin. This way we know that we have to be somewhere at a certain time and then can go with the flow the rest of the day. A perfect example was during our London trip, we visited Buckingham Palace first thing and then at breakfast we talked about what else we wanted to do that day. That’s when Vinn found that we could have champagne while going up the London Eye. We booked it while we were at breakfast, just three house in advance. And that was one of my favorite parts of our trip! If we had a rigorous schedule, we probably would have missed this opportunity.

Above all else, I think that planning vacations are some of the most fun parts of travel. I love to find small cafes and restaurants, while still leaving time for spontaneous outings. How do you plan your vacations? Any websites that help you?

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