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How do you plan your European Trips? An encore

How do you plan your European Trips? An encore

Old Mar 17th, 1999, 11:26 AM
Wes Fowler
Posts: n/a
How do you plan your European Trips? An encore

Last year in July I posted this query in hopes that it would prompt responses that would be of value to first time prospective travelers to Europe. I thought I'd resurrect it this year in view of the many recent queries from first time travelers. I couldn't find it it Fodor's archives and also realized that the earlier posting was astoundingly lengthy. I've edited the responses down to something a bit more manageable. Hope it's of help!

Author: dan
Date: 7/08/1998, 10:49 am EDT
Message: I have been interested in Europe for a long time and world travel in general, so I will say that I have long known of many places that I want to go. For hotels, I generally rely on guidebooks. I like inexpensive hotels that put me right in the heart of things and that save my money for other things, I love Lonely Planet, Let's Go and Rick Steves for that purpose. For sightseeing, many are good, but Access is excellent for detail. I make lists of possible itineraries, adjusting almost daily until it is just right. I use the internet for much of the detail, such as train schedules (I love the website that Deutschebahn has). I make most of the reservations myself by phone or mail, but have used travel agents for others.

Date: 7-08/1998, 12.52 pm EDT
Message: I've planned 10 European adventures for myself in the past 10 years and another 35 to 50 for others. It takes me 6 months of homework to do justice to my own trips, but that is part of the fun - a major part. I start with a good map and the Michelin green guide for the gross planning and general itinerary. Then I consult my travel library and about a dozen sites on the web devoted to European travel. I also contact the Tourist Office for the country and get their goodies and peruse bulletin boards like this one. The anxiety that many people feel about independent travel is in direct proportion to a lack of planning. In-depth homework gives you a base of knowledge that minimizes apprehension and allows truly enjoyable independent travel.

Author: Neal Sanders
Date: 7-08-1998, 12:53 pm EDT
Message: My wife and I have been traveling the world for nearly 25 years, sometimes as a vacation tacked on to one of my business trips, but more often as a discrete event. We start with a lengthy list of places we want to visit or revisit because there are one or more things there we want to see or do. Believe me, the hardest part of our vacation planning is choosing a destination. We do not use travel agents. Travel agents invariably do what is easiest, or what they know, and what they know are tours and hotels that have comped their stays. It is an irrational economic decision for a travel agent to spend five hours researching and booking a small inn in Provence that does not pay commissions.

We start with airfare. We have booked for two heavily discounted economy class tickets then used frequent flier miles to obtain round trip upgrades into business class. Here's our rationale: For 100,000 miles we can get two "free" economy class tickets with a value of $1300, sit in Row 52 with knees up under our chins all night and arrive at our destination exhausted, or we can pay a total of $1300 for those economy class tickets, use 80,00 miles and upgrade to business class tickets worth $9300 that ensure a reasonable night's sleep and a convivial trip on our return.

We have envelopes full of clippings from places we want to see. Most are culled from the Sunday New York Times, which has the best travel section of any U.S newspaper. Gourmet magazine also supplies its share of clips. From this starting point, our next purchases are a map and a guidebook. Falk's city maps are best, Michelin is best for driving. Micchelin's yellow, highly detailed maps are an absolute must if you're touring the countryside and want to get off the beaten path.

As to guidebooks, we have a wall full of Fodors Guides, but also know and trust the Cadogan series. Guidebooks, of course, are individual things and people's tastes evolve. A Lonely Planet Guide works at one point in your life, perhaps not at another. For any serious student of art, architecture or history, the Blue Guides are indispensable.

We choose our hotel based on proximity to what we want to see. There is undeniable luxury in being able to go back to your room to drop off a package, drop off or add a sweater or just to put your feet up. We book hotels directly, usually by fax and have seldom been disappointed, either with our rate or our room.

Finally, we always buy a Berlitz tape and phrase book, and listen to them for weeks before we leave. English is widely spoken in Europe but the ability to carry on simple transactions with a two hundred-word vocabulary is a liberating experience.

Author: Caryn
Date: 7/08/1998, 3:09 pm EDT
Message: An excellent place to get travel info is the national tourist board for the country you want to travel to. Most are in NYC with offices in other cities. You can find a list in most general travel guides or call information. They send you guidebooks, complete listings of hotels, bed & breakfasts, inns and/or youth hostels, lists of current special events, magazines, brochures, country maps, regional maps and more! Many of the tourist boards also have websites. I also check my favorite travel guides (Let's Go, Rick Steves and Lonely Planet) for more places to find info.

Author: Paul Rabe
Date: 7/08/1998
Message: First, I pick up either (or both) the Blue Guide or the Insight Guide to the region I plan to visit and read cover to cover. This is the best way for a traveler to get a sense of history/culture of an area, and understand WHY a sight is important. Then I get other travel books noting possible attractions. Michelin, Baedecker, Frommers, Fodors, Let's Go, Lonely Planet, Moon. The important thing is to use MORE than ONE. I have found on innumerable trips that one guide book will rave about a sight than another barely mentions; you need to get as many perspectives as you can.

Based on what I like to visit, what the books say about a place and how much trouble it would be to get to a place, I sort out attractions into "must see", "worth a side trip", "if I have extra time", and "don't bother". Then I group attractions geographically and see if there are areas with more than their share of "must sees". If so, I try to concentrate my trip in that area, with hope for trips to the others. I make a tentative day to day itinerary, making a rough estimate of the amount of time to see and travel between each site.

With this initial daily itinerary, I then check which sites around my "center" I can visit, then plan itineraries for the days after I'm done with the center. I then pick a place to stay in the center and make reservations there.

I check the Internet just before leaving for any last minute new attractions, closings or festivals that may interest me. I do the same at the local Tourist Bureau when I get there. This planning is difficult and probably not for right-brained people, but it has allowed me to maximize the attractions I get to see!

Author: Monica
Date: 7/08/1998, 6:56 pm EDT

Message: I plan about 6 months ahead of time and take a vacation from 2-3 weeks, always in one country as there is so much to see in each country. This way I don't spread myself so thin and I don't have to worry about the different currencies. I usually travel between April 24 and May 31. I think this is a good time of year to travel as Europe isn't as crowded as June-September and the weather is pretty nice (usually a light jacket in the evenings) and hotel prices are still off season. I buy 2-3 travel books. The first one is the Insight Guide which gives me great information on the country I've chosen. It discusses the history and people and discusses each area of that country. It's not like a true travel guide book like Fodor's or Frommer's (it does have a small portion in the back providing travel tips), but it's a valuable book to get a good background on the country. Great photos, too! My other books are usually Fodor's and Frommer's. I go to the library to pick up the Fodor's and Rick Steves travel books for additional information on hotels and restaurants. I also buy a pocket sized language book (Berlitz) and if language classes are available at the local college, I'll sign up.

I write to the tourist offices and request hotel, restaurant, transportation, maps and other information that will help me to decide my routes. I also use the Internet to access train information and addition hotel/restaurant information.

I always chose pensions to stay in rather than "American style" hotels. I send letters or Email the pensions with my credit card number to hold the room AND I GIVE ENOUGH NOTICE IF I HAVE TO CANCEL.

I always travel in Europe by train or bus. I get train information from Rail Europe from which I can determine whether to get point-to-point tickets or a Flexi-pass. For bus information, the travel books have some information, but I'll visit the local tourist office or bus station and get detailed brochures and schedules. I take the bus for day trips and train for longer trips.

Author: Rod Hoots
Date: 7/08/1998, 10.22 pm EDT
Message: I've planned many pleasure and business trips for myself and my wife over the past 50 years. Once we decide where we're going I do all research possible using the web, brochures, advice of acquaintances, etc. We work out a very detailed itinerary including what seem to be the best prices available. Then I take the whole thing to my trusty American Express travel agent and let her put it all together. I've found that a good travel agent can get better hotel and air prices and keep us from making mistakes like visiting places during events which disrupt tourist activities. A major travel company, through their clout, can also get unadvertised price reductions, upgrades, etc. They can also use their influence to solve problems during and after travel such as "lost" hotel reservations and refunds for services not satisfactorily received. Whether you use an agent or not you pay the same price, so why not?

Author: dorothy
Date: 7/18/1998, 11.01 pm EDT
Message: One excellent source that has not been mentioned is the International Travel News. It is published monthly on newsprint and written almost entirely by travelers for travelers. They include prices, addresses, complaints, compliments, suggestions and ads from many companies we might not find otherwise. They will send a free sample copy on request:

P O Box 18940
Sacramento, CA 95818

I keep mine for years and refer back when I start planning a trip.

Author: Adrienne
Date: 7/22/1998, 2:30 pm EDT
Message: I would like to share a tip regarding guidebooks. I agree with others who advise using several different guidebooks since one book cannot accommodate all needs. But I don't want to travel with 3 or 4 books. I usually photocopy the sections I need from books I wouldn't take with me and bring only 1 or 2 - usually a Michelin Green Guide or Baedaekers since I find they're the best for history and information on sights. The photocopies are lightweight and can be easily carried and thrown away when you no longer need them.

I keep accordion folders (by country) with articles from newspapers and magazines, handouts from places I've been and business cards from restaurants. When I plan a trip I pull out the appropriate folder and I have a wealth of information to supplement the guidebooks.

I've also recently begun to keep a travel notebook with jottings of information from this web site and others and from TV shows such as Rick Steves, Bert Wolfe and Pierre Franey. I note the country in the margin (so I can quickly scan the pages and pull out what I need) and a line or two about a town, a restaurant or a recommendation from a friend or co-worker. I think as time goes by this will prove to be a valuable resource.

Old Mar 17th, 1999, 01:35 PM
Posts: n/a
The idea of where to go usually comes to me after reading an article in either Gourmet, LA TIMES TRAVEL. or NYTIMES TRAVEL. ( I once went to Portugal using only Gourmet...excellent trip). I have friends who are travel agents and out of loyalty, however misplaced, have them make the arrangements that I, generally, suggest and plan. I read RICK STEVES, KAREN BROWN,and now this forum, as well
various articles in magazines and newspapers. I book hotels that are centrally located...like to be able to pop-in and leave things off or pick things up. As I travel during Easter time, I try and get a decently priced flight, but I don't stress over it.

Then I tell my husband to start packing.

Old Jan 13th, 2001, 11:41 AM
wes fowler
Posts: n/a
For the benefit of novice prospective travelers to Europe in 2001.
Old Jan 13th, 2001, 03:16 PM
Posts: n/a
Even though our trip is mostly planned, **thank you** for bringing this thread to the top.
Lots of good info
Old Jan 13th, 2001, 05:35 PM
Posts: n/a
Thank you Wes for compiling and then bringing this thread up for others. The consistent theme that I detect is homework, homework and homework. I hope that message comes thru to the novices.
However, I am fearful that we now live in a " sound bite" world and too many desire a quick fix from sources like this forum. It is not a panacea.
Old Jan 13th, 2001, 09:17 PM
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Thanks for bringing the thread, it is excellent and helpful not jus to first timers but to give me a jolt and begin to get energized for our next trip and begin the writing away and reading up on various possibilities. thanks alan
Old Jan 14th, 2001, 03:58 PM
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To the top for others
Old Jan 14th, 2001, 06:27 PM
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Bob -

Just a word of thanks about the usefulness of homework. I confess occasionally to feeling a little obsessive compulsive about the amount of planning I do, but I really do find it frees me up so much when we finally get to take our hard-won vacations.

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