Trip planning is exciting and very essential for budget travel. Self-guided tour gives you the flexibility to visit attractions without time limit. Also, it is cheaper than the tour organized by tour operators. I will use Europe as an example to demonstrate how to complete the trip planning for your family vacation.
1. Countries to Visit
All tourists have dream destinations in their mind. Some popular destinations (e.g., Rome, Paris, London, Athens, etc.) are very well-known. Even though Europe is not a big continent, traveling amongst different countries could be time consuming. It is important to group several countries together and to see Europe as much as possible because it is a long journey if you travel from Asia, Oceania, North America and South America.
The following useful tools for your destination selection:
1). UNESCO World Heritage Sites List
UNESCO has extremely strict assessment criteria for world heritage site selection. China, Greece, Italy and other countries have numerous historical sites over thousands of years, but not every site is recognized as UNESCO world heritage site. Every year there are numerous site applications submitted different nations, but only a small number was selected. UNESCO categorized world heritage into three types: cultural, natural and combination of cultural and natural.
2). New Seven World Wonders of the World
New seven world wonders of the world were selected from 200 existing monuments all around the world in 2007.Besides the new seven world wonders, this website also shows other 13 finalists. It will help you to make decision on destination selection.
3). Gate1 Travel
Gate1 Travel is a very popular tour operator in USA and they offer escorted tours all around the world. The company’s website is attractive and user friendly. You may see what routes they offer for tours which will help with your own destination selections and self-guided tours trip planning. For escorted tours, you will receive $50 USD credit for your booking using the referral (Account#: 2873931, Name: Wei Chen)
4). Recommendations Based on Activities
· European Historical Sites: Italy (55 World Heritage Sites) and Grace
· European Classic Palaces: France, Italy, Germany, Austria
· Beautiful Island: Italy, Greece, Norway
· Mediterranean Experience: Italy and Greece
· Shopping Trips: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Czech Republic, Hungary and other Eastern European countries.
· Nature Scenery: Norway, Switzerland, Ireland and Iceland.
· European Cuisine: Italy, France, Spain and Hungary
· Museums and Galleries: UK, Italy, France, Austria, Spain and Belgium
· European Castles: UK, Germany
· Wedding Photos: Greece, Italy, France, Czech Republic and Hungary
· European Churches: Italy, Germany and Spain
· Classic Small Towns: Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, France and Switzerland
· Extremely Safe Nations: Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark
· Last Minute Trip: Belgium (the only European country offers 10-Journey card for 77 Euros, so you can travel across Belgium by train with amazing price).
2. Popular Routes:
1). France – Italy – Switzerland
2). Spain – Portugal
3). Austria – Czech Republic – Hungary
4). The Netherlands – Belgium – Luxembourg - France
5). UK – Ireland
6). Finland – Russia – Estonia
7). Denmark – Norway
8). Estonia – Latvia – Lithuania
9). Germany – Belgium – Luxembourg
10). Greece – Italy
3. International Flights
If you live in Asia, Oceania, North America or South America, international flight fare will take majority of budget for overseas trip to Europe. However, the good news is Europe has multiple low-budget airlines and extremely affordable train network within Europe. The great tip for your international booking is to find the cheapest flight from your home country to a European city. It does not matter what part of Europe you will fly to, then connect there to your destination by budget airlines (e.g., easy Jet, Ryan Air, etc.) or European train (as low as 9 Euros for international train with advanced booking). For international flight, please use Google Flight to find the cheapest flight
List several cheap flights that I flew for the past
1). May (KLM): Western Canada to
Amsterdam for $639 CAD (or $450 USD) return flight including
taxes. Then flew with easyJet to Prague for 31 Euro.
2). February (Iceland Air): Seattle/Vancouver
to London for $371 CAD (or $260 USD) return flight including taxes. Then
flew with easyJet to Santorini, Greece for 25 GBP.
3) October (British Airway): Calgary
to London for $324 CAD ($216 USD) return flight including taxes. Then flew
with easyJet to Venice for 21 GBP.
If you live in North America, most seat sales for international flights flying to Dublin, London, Amsterdam and Reykjavik due to shorter flying distance. Then you can connect your next destination from these airports by checking which European budget airlines flying to.
London Gatwick Airport:
easyjet provides route services from London Gatwick
to the following locations for low price:“Aarhus, Agadir, Alicante, Almería, Amsterdam, Ancona,
Athens, Barcelona, Bari, Basel/Mulhouse, Belfast–International, Berlin–Tegel, Bologna, Bordeaux, Budapest, Catania, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Edinburgh,
Granada, Gran Canaria, Hamburg,
Inverness, Isle of Man, Jersey,
Ljubljana, Luxembourg, Lyon, Madrid, Málaga,
Malta, Marrakech, Marseille, Milan–Linate,
Milan–Malpensa, Montpellier, Munich,
Murcia, Nantes, Naples, Nice, Olbia, Palermo, Palma de Mallorca, Paphos, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Pisa, Porto,
Prague, Reykjavík–Keflavík, Rome–Fiumicino, Seville,
Sharm El Sheikh, Sofia,
Tenerife–South, Thessaloniki, Tirana, Toulouse, Valencia,Venice, Verona, Vienna, Zurich
Seasonal: Ajaccio, Antalya, Aqaba, Bastia, Biarritz, Bodrum, Brindisi, Chania, Corfu, Dalaman, Dubrovnik, Enfidha, Figari, Friedrichshafen, Grenoble, Heraklion, Ibiza, Izmir, Jerez de la Frontera, Kalamata, Kefalonia, Klagenfurt, Kos, La Palma, La Rochelle, Menorca, Mykonos, Östersund, Preveza/Lefkada, Pula, Rhodes, Rovaniemi, Salzburg, Santiago de Compostela, Santorini, Split, Tel Aviv, Tirana, Tivat, Turin, Varna, Volos, Zadar, Zakynthos”
London Heathrow Airport:
4. Train Booking
Europe has a huge network of high-speed train system in Western, Southern and Central and some part of Eastern European countries. The long-distance train’s price is as low as 9 Euros with advanced booking. Ticket sale usually starts 3 to 4 months prior to the departure dates, then after that train tickets are getting more expensive closer to your trip. For example, I took the train from Zurich to Milan for over 5 hours journey from Italian train website and I purchased the tickets for 9 euros about 3.5 months before my journey. The Swiss train website shows 29 Euros for the same journey, so it is important to check both countries websites for the cheapest ticket. Another example, I booked Berlin to Munich train for 29 Euros about 4 months ago. I checked the ticket close to my departure date later and the price has gone up to 133 Euros. The only exception is for domestic train in Belgium. You can buy 10-journey card (self-filled in card) for only 77 Euros to travel anywhere in the country, so Belgium is very suitable for last minute trip to avoid expensive train tickets.
For short distance or regional trains, no discounts for early purchase, so you can purchase at the ticket office or machine on the platform.
The following websites for train booking:
Italy (2 websites):
https://www.italotreno.it/en (private company with low price)
5. Hotel Booking
I recommend tourists to book a hotel or Airbnb property near the train stations for easy arrival/departure to next destinations especially you travel with luggage.
I have very positive experience with European Airbnb properties because the price is about 50% cheaper than hotels and also the apartments and houses are nice and clean, and you can experience local cultures. Book Airbnb from the link below will save you $62 CAD/$43 USD instantly for your first stay anywhere around the world:
I stayed at this one-bed room apartment near Prague
train station for $33 CAD ($23 USD) including all taxes. The private apartment
has everything you need (e.g., kitchen, utensils, TV, shower, washer, dryer,
comfy bed, etc.). At the time, I checked the hotels near train station are all
between 60 - 150 Euros.
To book hotels, I recommend people to use expedia or hotels.com because most European hotels are not a part of a chain, so you can find all hotels on these websites.
6. Finalize Your Routes (an example) Based on Previous Searching
North America – Amsterdam (international flight on sale)
Amsterdam – Prague by easyJet (UNESCO World Heritage Site): 2 days Amsterdam and 3 days in Prague
Prague – Cesky Krumlov (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Prague: day trip
Prague – Budapest by train: 3 days in Budapest
Budapest – Vienna by train: 3 days in Vienna
Vienna – Hallstatt – Salzburg by train: day tour in Hallstatt on the way to Salzburg and 2 days in Salzburg
Salzburg – Zurich by train: 2 days in Zurich
Zurich – Lucerne by train: 1 day in Lucerne
Lucerne – Milan by train: 3 days in Milan
Milan – Rome by train: 3 days in Rome
Rome – Amsterdam (51 Euros by Air Italia) – North America