The Euro Trip Conundrum

Seven steps to plan an economic, enthralling, and effective European trip.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

“Euro Trip”, a term often expressed with much zeal and exhilaration by travel enthusiasts across the world, has long been an intrinsic part of everyone’s bucket list. In today’s world, a hefty chunk of our desires and ambitions are driven by internet, digital media, TV advertisements, newspapers, celebrity lifestyles, and we don’t cease to fantasize about all those places and things we are exhibited. One can simply Google search “Euro Trip” and land up on 1000 pages, travel tips, guidance, plans, blogs and a lot of businesses and industries thrive on this trend. We surely have the enthusiasm to plan and set forth on an euro trip but,

Is planning an euro trip a cakewalk, daunting or intriguing task?

I had my fair share of desires to be on an Euro Trip and was fortunate enough to be in Europe during a student exchange program in Berlin, Germany. It was my winter semester and as experts would suggest, “…winter’s not the ideal time to plan a euro trip, try for summers, that’s the real deal”. But, did I really care? I had my opportunity during a winter and I can’t wait for an indeterminate summer when I would be equally fortunate to take a break from my academics and get on the ride.

As it happened, we 2 friends got on with our calendars, maps, laptops, notebooks, excel sheets and started planning, much excited to explore Europe during our Christmas break but pretty aimlessly then. Being an exchange student in Europe, we knew our various limitations and so we set our focus on this phrase: Time and Money but do More: with the constraints of time and money we aimed to do more. It was our first time in Europe and our financial planning had started way back in October when we were still figuring out expenditures for a livelihood in Berlin. Nevertheless, our Euro Trip had to happen anytime during that 6 month winter semester.

But how did we eventually get on with a plan?

Step 01 — Days & Budget

Budget, often, won’t appear as the first step for most travelers but we obviously were pretty limited on our budget by our VISA rules, and hence had to be very economic with our plan. We wanted to visit and explore as many places as we can, but we also didn’t have a lot of days before returning to Berlin for Christmas. We checked our calendars and chalked out 8 days with a budget of approximately 400 EUR/head excluding personal expenditures, but not really sure if at all this would suffice our ambitions.

Accommodation ≈ 100–120 €

Travel ≈ 180–200 €

Food ≈ 80–100 €

Step 02 — Countries, Cities & Routes

Google Maps’ clutter didn’t really help us in this phase, so we literally drew out an outline of Europe in our notebook and plotted the major cities starting with Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Brussels, Antwerp, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Florence, Prague, Copenhagen, London, Vienna, Venice, Zurich, Bern, Lyon, Munich, Lisbon, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Kraków, etc. Berlin, our base then, is located pretty centrally on the European map. As it appeared, it was difficult to travel central, eastern and western Europe at one go. Fast forward, we soon realized that eastern and central Europe also ran on different currencies and Foreign Exchange was a big concern for us. With euros in hand, the focus was more on western Europe. For the love of Renaissance art and stories of the Roman Empire from our school days, we were pretty eager to explore Italy and hence Milan, Venice, Rome, Florence, Naples were the obvious options but remember “…do More”, and hence added Paris and Amsterdam as well.

But “8 days, 7 cities”, may sound very thrilling and inspiring, was surely fanciful and far-fetched. So, the big question was, what goes out of our list? We listed all places of visit from these cities and after contemplating for a few days, we sadly compromised on Campania capital Naples and Tuscan capital Florence. “May be another time Mr. Michelangelo”. So our final feasible list had Italy, France and Netherlands, “8 days, 3 countries, 5 cities”, and the route:

Berlin ›› Milan ›› Venice ›› Rome ›› Paris ›› Amsterdam ›› Berlin.

Step 03 — Travel & Stay

Flights/Buses/Trains/1 Day/2 Days/3 Days? The next big thing, how do we go about it? Our short experience with transportation in Germany was pretty impressive and naturally we were hopeful about the other countries as well. I must admit, this phase wouldn’t have succeeded without the likes of Goeuro[dot]com and Skyscanner[dot]com, which helped us figure out all possible travel modes and routes.

Considering the places of visit and our tight schedule, we planned to travel overnight or early hours of the day to save day time for exploring the cities but also get adequate rest to refuel ourselves for the following days. A bit of research led us to roughly decide on how many days we should devote for each city, just enough to satisfy ourselves. After some deep speculation, our schedule looked like,

Milan: 1 day,
Venice: 1 day,
Rome: 2 days,
Paris: 2 days,
Amsterdam: 2 days.
 — — — — — — — — — 
Total = 8 days.

A lot of eyebrows were raised by our European friends, evidently it was a really stiff schedule, and we probably wont be able to pull it off satisfactorily. But we were pretty inspired from our Indian experiences of economic and time-efficient travel plans which virtually convinced us to believe that our Eurotrip plan is feasible and remember “Time and Money but do More”. We proceeded with this plan but nonetheless, time for some general tip:

Never book tickets when you are multitasking.

If you are wandering about this sudden ticketing tip, the story follows soon. With high hopes, as per our plan of 6 routes (A-F), we were supposed to fly out of Berlin at dawn of Day 1.

Berlin…
›› A — Milan — B — Venice — C — Rome — D — Paris — E — Amsterdam  F ››
…Berlin

We first started with our flight bookings as prices often tend to be high during pre Christmas season. Basically we chose flights for long distances and surface modes for rest of the routes. First up for flight was Route A:

Route A: Berlin ›› Milan

Ryan Air - 25.99 € /head
Berlin Schönefeld (SXF) TO Milan Bergamo (BGY)

— — — — — — — — — — —

Story Time 😬
Second flight: Route D for Rome to Paris.
We were in a lecture one evening when we thought about booking those tickets. Multiple browser tabs, multiple route suggestions on Goeuro, we navigated to Ryanair website, checked the prices, and surprisingly prices had dropped drastically. All excited we immediately proceeded for payment. Boom! tickets done at weird cheap rates. Both of us happily returned and opened our tickets that night.
“Hang On! What was our Route D: Rome-Paris or Milan-Paris?” Disaster had struck upon us, those low rates were for an entirely different route and we booked our flights for Milan to Paris. Wow! multitasking under excitement screwed us. Non refundable tickets sent us back to our notebooks, reshuffling, rearranging our routes, days, time, and we ended up compromising with our comfort hours, re-planned our schedule to avoid going round & round with 7 routes now:

So, 2 flights were already booked (Route A and new Route E), as our re-planned route looked like this:

Berlin…
›› A — Milan — B — Rome — C — VeniceD — Milan — E — Paris — F — Amsterdam — G ››
…Berlin

Route B: Milan ›› Rome

Flixbus - 19.80 € /head
Milan (Lampugnano bus station) TO Roma Tiburtina (Busbahnhof)

Route C: Rome ›› Venice

Baltour Eurolines - 23.00 € /head
Roma Autostazione Tiburtina TO Venezia (Tronchetto Stazione)

Route D: Venice ›› Milan

TrenItalia - 19.25 € /head
Venezia S. Lucia TO Bergamo

Route E: Milan ›› Paris

Ryan Air - 9.99 € /head
Orio al Serio Airport, Bergamo TO Beauvais-Tillé Airport, Beauvais

Route F: Paris ›› Amsterdam

Flixbus - 19.80 € /head
Paris (Porte Maillot) TO Amsterdam Sloterdijk

Route G: Amsterdam — Berlin

Flixbus - 19.80 € /head
Amsterdam Sloterdijk TO Berlin Alexanderplatz

— — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Travel Total (per head) = 137.64 €

Step 04 — Accommodation

Finding accommodation while traveling across Europe isn’t really a big deal unless it’s festive season. While Airbnb helped us with a fairly sophisticated list of homes, Booking[dot]com and Hostelworld[dot]com helped us with a lot of good affordable shelters at great price but we had to be early considering Christmas time. Considering our shelters were relatively closer to the city centres, major attractions and also public transits, for Paris and Amsterdam, we opted for Airbnb listings and for Rome we opted for a booking[dot]com listing. Choosing a booking[dot]com listing was quite challenging as compared to Airbnb as we could reach out to the potential POC for the Airbnb home and confirm our arrival timings and see photos before finalizing but booking[dot]com was more like a traditional hotel website where well lit up images are uploaded and can often be misleading.

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Rome ››

Booking[dot]com
30 € for 2D-2N

Paris ››

Airbnb[dot]com
33.10 € for 2D-2N

Amsterdam ››

Airbnb[dot]com
11.84 € for 2D-1N

— — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Accommodation Total (per head) = 73.94 €

Step 05 — Connectivity

Internet connectivity isn’t supposed to be a major hindrance in today’s world but around Europe things are slightly different. Cellular services aren’t as affordable as we find it in India, roaming and data charges are exorbitantly high. We checked around Berlin to find service providers which provide cheaper cellular services but to no avail and hence we just activated roaming services on our O2 sim cards. It’s quite difficult to live without map services today and quite a mandate when we are ourselves planning our travel. However, one good thing is free/cheap WiFi services are omnipresent in most parts of the cities like at bus stops, airports, railway stations, Starbucks, McDonald’s, at some tourist spots, and definitely at our accommodations. So we decided to use Google Offline Maps for each city.

The idea was to pre download the map of a city before setting forth for that city. Like we downloaded the map of Rome when we were in Berlin, and before we set for Venice, we deleted Rome’s map and downloaded map of Venice, and henceforth for other cities.

Irrespective of whatever research or planning one does for any city, it will prove insufficient and hence it is really useful to make use of the free airport internet services to just start the day. As a backup, we kept some balance in our sim cards to access internet in dire situations.

Step 06 — Exploring a City

One of the most challenging aspects of our trip has been planning our days in any city, commuting around the city, selecting places of interests, finding eateries.

One great thing about any European city is the concept of a Travel Pass for going around a city in public transports without much headache about using a wrong ticket. Most of these cities are driven hugely by tourism and hence this concept is immensely useful for newcomers. Though information about these day passes weren’t so easily available at the transit points but we were aware of this concept during our stay in Berlin. Depending on the time of stay, one can take a 1-Day Pass, 2-Day Pass, 3-Day Pass, 7-Day Pass for using local transportation and why not when the public transport network is top notch and mostly reliable across most European cities.

We referred a lot of online blogs and websites for listing out places of interest but we primarily used Google Trips for planning our routes. But easier said than done, by default Google Trip provides multiple routes for one to go around and cover a certain set of attractions and is quite efficiently sorted. But in respect of our interest and time in a city, we didn’t want to visit each and every place on the list. We checked the various locations on the map and accordingly selected certain spots and then referred Google Trips to make our own routes with one eye on the time of commute. Tiresome indeed but definitely efficient and flexible because the suggested Google routes will surely cross each other.

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Step 07 — Pack Your Bags

Travel light is the universal mantra for all travel enthusiasts. To avoid the burden of check-in luggage at airports and various terms and conditions with these low cost airlines, we opted to travel very light. Also, weight of our luggage was bound to increase along the trip and hence we chose buses for most of the routes. We concentrated primarily on winter wears (jackets, gloves, skullcaps, mufflers, thermals, socks, shoes) as we will spend a lot of time on the roads or without accommodation. Carry medicines as traveling during winters can prove very difficult at times. Scads of Snickers and chocolate bars for those sudden hunger attacks. Find small packs of basic grooming material. An umbrella might prove handy during the winter as it’s a damp season with intermittent rains all around.

Once done, Get, Set & Go!

Our Experience

In one word, amazing. Yes, challenging indeed but eventually we were pretty happy with our execution and learnt a lot. A bag full of experiences to talk about but sharing a few highlights:

Take a Stroll

At any time, just take a walk down the numerous alleys, city centres, marketplatz, listen to the music, sit and watch, and just feel the throb of the city. Its always a joyous and relaxing experience, lest not tired.

Search for Food

Getting good, reliable food proved quite challenging at times because fine dining is expensive across Europe, and eateries weren’t available at all places. Also the prices overshoot our expectations because food in Berlin apparently is much cheaper and we often didn’t know how much budget to allocate for food. We relied mostly on street food, known eatery brands, and primarily on McDonald’s in the city centres for cheap, reliable food (also for free internet), we couldn’t miss fine dining at Venice and Rome. If Berlin ever proved expensive, trust me, it’s the best and worthiest of all the mega cities in terms of value for money.

Foot Voyage

We stayed for around 12–14 hours in Venice, a smaller city running primarily on water transport, and hence we opted to explore the city on our foot, walking through the criss-crossed alleys, crossing numerous bridges, capturing photos at those narrow corners, traversing through the markets. It was windy and cold and we often looked for a place to rest, but nevertheless the experience of Venice on foot was unparalleled.

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Our Verdict

Our biggest learning has been in terms of time. Since things often don’t happen as per plan, it is better to have some buffer and not leave unsatisfied, which naturally means more budget.

Plan atleast 3 full days for Rome — The city is full of life. Great food, great places, great eateries, great people and the country of Vatican City. Apparently, the first place in Europe, we visited in our 3 months, which we felt is the closest to our Indian city buzz. Though we didn’t return unsatisfied but 3 days is a must to feel completed.
Plan atleast 3 full days for Paris — Its huge. Going around the city traffic, crowd, commute, takes away a lot of time and if you are a museum lover, note down that it is next to impossible to complete “Musée du Louvre” in one day. And if you are a student under 25, you are lucky, its free, I wasn’t.
Don’t over-trust public transport — Trains in Italy apparently weren’t as reliable as in Germany. In Germany, you can go from city A to city B changing 2/3 different trains with 2 minutes intermediate exchange time and still not rush because the schedule is very reliable. We expected the same for our train from Venice to Milan which was automatically routed by Trenitalia into 3 trains when booked but none of the trains were on time and we were stranded at some intermediate station in Italy for some hours at midnight with no internet. With the barrier of local language and trains not running after 12 AM, we couldn’t find much help and were really scared of missing our flights. Thankfully, 3 mid-aged Italians (who were in the same situation) could help us find an alternative.
Very cheap flight is a trap — Airports with cheap flight tickets apparently are very tricky which came as a big learning for us. Low cost airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet, give tickets at very low fares which is always inviting. When we landed at Milan Bergamo airport, it took 7€/head for us to reach Milan city centre. When we landed at Paris Beauvais airport, it took 10€/head for us to reach Paris central. Eventually it becomes a mandatory expenditure, and our effective travel tickets proved quite higher. We weren’t really aware of this practice but it’s seemed a common setup in Europe to have 2/3 airports around one city. So always cross check the airport locations.
Google Trips is reliable enough — Though we mixed and matched our routes around a city quite rigorously, but if one doesn’t want to take the hassle of planning the routes, Google Trips was sufficiently reliable. On the contrary, I’m sure one won’t like to visit all attractions in a city at one go and might have to opt out of some.

Our budget of 400€/head didn’t overshoot by much and was fairly economic at the end. So, the phrase: Time and Money but do More, and we indeed did more with some compromise on time. Mission Accomplished!

Apart from this trip I did visit Frankfurt, Dessau, Dresden, Barcelona, Keil, Prague, Brussels, Copenhagen, Liverpool, at different timelines over the next few months of my stay, but I must admit, this article though long, is the most concise report one can share, as there’s a lot more to see, experience and talk about, and I hope to go back for more of it.

TL;DR

Step 01 — Days & Budget
Step 02 — Countries, Cities & Routes
Step 03 — Travel & Stay
Step 04 — Accommodation
Step 05 — Connectivity
Step 06 — Exploring a City
Step 07 — Pack Your Bags


Thank you for reading through this long post and sharing your views. While its entirely based on our experience of Europe and things must have changed since our visit, it may not be equally sufficient or similar for someone else but I hope these guidelines help one plan their much anticipated Euro Trip. Thanks to Atul Kumar for preserving the notes and records from our planning phase. Cheers! 😄

BTW, you might just wish to stay awake on early morning flights for this view of the alps: 😍

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