There is no shame in carefully planning a first trip to Europe. We’re not talking about a minute-by-minute itinerary, because all travelers to Europe – veterans and first-timers alike – need to be flexible.
Wherever you go, don’t make the mistake of trying to see too much in too little time. This tends to happen a lot as the euphoria sets in once you’ve made the mental commitment to finally book your ticket and go.
With a Eurail or Inter-Rail train pass it’s perhaps a bit too easy to hop from city to city at a dizzying pace, which often leads to travel burnout.
Statistically speaking (heck, just check our message boards) if you visit Europe once there is a very good chance that you will visit again at some later point in your life. So pick a handful of countries to explore in-depth and leave the rest for a second, third or fourth trip.
If you have a rail pass, make sure your itinerary meshes with its restrictions and requirements. For example, if you visit 12 countries on a 10-day Eurail pass, you may have to cover some additional travel costs. It’s much the same with an Inter-Rail pass, which is divided into zones and may not cover all the countries you intend to visit.
When you’re ready to plan an actual itinerary, consider the following simple strategies for a month-long trip to Europe – but don’t forget that flexibility is the key to a stress-free, enjoyable trip. So once you’ve crafted the perfect itinerary, stuff it in your backpack and do your best to ignore it. Dozens (if not hundreds) of fellow travelers will offer tips and suggestions during your travels, and there is no substitute for their first-hand advice as they’ve most likely been there themselves.
Pick a few major cities that you absolutely, positively MUST visit – for this example London, Paris, Munich, Venice, Florence and Madrid. Budget at least 2 days in each city, and add a day each for traveling between them. So far that’s 20 days. Now spend a few hours researching day trips from your chosen cities. If you budget one day- trip per city, you’re at 26 days. Now add three days for impromptu side trips and/or sleeping late and relaxing, and three days for travel-related delays (slow trains, bus strikes and random acts of road congestion), for a total of 32 days.
The main problem with a city-to-city itinerary is that you will spend large chunks of time on trains and buses, especially if you include far-flung cities (ie Istanbul and Helsinki). Another problem is that city-to-city itineraries mostly preclude small towns and villages.
Pick four to six countries that you want to visit, and budget a week or so each for the larger
countries, four to five days for the smaller countries. Within each country budget two or three days in the capital city, the remaining days for lesser-known towns, villages and regions. A sample trip might include Britain (five days), Holland (three days), Germany (six days), Czech Republic (three days), Italy (six days), France (six days) and Spain (five days), plus a day or two back to Britain, for a total of 35 days. If you can, budget a few days en route between your chosen countries – for example, between the Czech Republic and Italy you could add two days each in Vienna and Ljubljana (Slovenia`s capital).