Planning a trip to Europe can be overwhelming at first – although it might appear small on the map, there are so many places to go and things to see! Chances are you’ll have to make a few trips to Europe before you see absolutely everything on your bucket list (I’ve been three times and have barely scratched the surface of mine!), but nonetheless, Europe is an amazing place to travel to and who wouldn’t want to take multiple trips there anyway?! Everyone plans a little differently, but here is my typical method & steps on how to plan a trip to Europe!
*Planning a trip can be a long (and sometimes frustrating) process, and it may take quite a bit of evaluating & re-evaluating your options, places you want to go, and budget! You may have to revisit certain steps, or skip some steps I suggested. Everyone’s planning process is different, but here is my process on how to plan a trip to Europe!
How to Plan Your First Trip to Europe
Step 1. Figure out your budget, when you want to go to Europe & roughly the amount of time you want to go for
If you know when you want to go, you can estimate how much money you can save in the time leading up to your trip. If you have a job you’ll want to know roughly the amount of time you want to go for. A three-week trip to Europe will most likely require more funds than a one-week trip. If you’re leaving in a month from now that gives you way less time to save than 5 months from now.
If I know –
- I can get 2 weeks off of work sometime in May
- May is roughly 6 months away,
- I estimate that I can save around $300 per paycheque
- I get 2 paycheques per month (can save around $600/month)
I can save around $3,600 by the time May comes around and I’m leaving for my trip. Flights from Canada (where I’m from) typically cost around $1,000 for a round trip to Europe, so if I factor this into my budget, it means I have around $185 to spend per day (this is quite a large budget for my style of travel, but it is just a jumping-off point/goal to start out with!).
We will investigate flight prices more in step 4!
Read more: Costs to Consider in Your Travel Budget
Step 2. Start thinking about where you want to go & gain inspiration
Europe is huge, so to start off with your planning you might want to start out broad. Where do you actually want to go? You can use what you calculated in Step One to help you figure this out too. If you’re on a tighter budget ($50/day) I would check out places in Eastern Europe (think Prague, Budapest, etc.). If you have a higher budget, then places like Paris, Germany, and Italy would be perfect!
For Example: Right off the bat I might know I’m interested in Paris, Germany, and Prague. I’ll head to google maps and “star the location” of where I’m interested in traveling to. Then, I head to Pinterest and look for specific places in Paris, Germany and Prague I’m interested in and star those as well on google maps.
After that, I might scan Pinterest and look up “Europe”, “Eastern Europe”, “Prague Gems”, “Can’t miss Europe” and so on. Whatever other locations I come across that look interesting and I might want to visit, I’ll add those to my starred locations on maps as well (this is just brainstorming right now!).
Read more: My Top 5 Favourite Cities in Europe
A Few Things to Keep in Mind When Gathering Inspiration for Your Europe Trip:
- An idea of the season you’re hoping to go in & the weather in different destinations (summer, winter, spring, fall)
- Are you looking for more of a city experience, nature experience, mix of both?
- Are there any festivals or seasonal activities you’re hoping to do?
- Keep your budget in mind – typically, the more West and “popular” the country (France, Italy, Spain), the more expensive. Whereas the more East you go in Europe (Budapest, Prague, Czech Republic), typically the cheaper it is.
Step 3. Determine your “must-sees” vs “won’t be devastated if I miss it this trip”
Usually, when I’m planning a trip to Europe, there are a few places that I know I really do not want to miss. These would go on my “must-sees” list. You might know you need to go to the Eiffel Tower, and also really want to see the canals of Amsterdam and Big Ben in London – these are your “must-sees”.
Step 4. Narrow down where you want to go & start to form a route
Once I know my “must sees” and have most locations I’m interested in starred on google maps, I try to narrow down the area and form a route. This is where google maps comes in handy because you can start to naturally see a route formed between the places you’ve starred!
If I only have 2 weeks to travel Europe and a lot of places I want to go, I’ll either be spending not a lot of time in each place and feeling very rushed, or I have to make some hard cuts.
In this part of the process, you’ll want to start looking up flights and where you’ll want to fly in and out of. Maybe a roundtrip is the best choice, or maybe you’ll want to fly into one city and out of another? Play around and try to find the airports that make sense for where you want to go.
Tip: The (typically) cheaper cities to fly into in Europe are Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and London.
Monitor the flights & prices, because they can fluctuate! While monitoring, make sure to use an incognito window so you’re cookies aren’t being tracked.
Write down the rough cost of flights and the ones you’re most interested in.
Step 5. Place your route on a calendar – figure out the amount of time you’ll spend in each place, and how long it takes to get between each place
This is where your initial planning will come in handy again. From your initial research, you gained an idea of where you want to go, but you might also have an idea of some things you want to see/do in each place. At this part of the process, I like to allocate the amount of days/time I want to spend in each place on a calendar. After doing this, you might realize you have to make more cuts, or you might find you have extra time!
This is also where you’ll start to figure out how long it takes to get between each place on your route, and where you’ll determine how you’ll get between each stop, and may have to revisit your budget/alter your route a bit.
If you have fairly spread out stops – flying might be the best choice because it’s typically the fastest option. If your stops are fairly close by, then taking the train or bus might make the most sense. If you need to cross a body of water, then flying or taking the ferry might make the most sense. Investigate all options, and budget the travel time into your calendar (a 12-hour bus vs a 2-hour flight makes a huge difference in the time you have to explore!).
Write down all of your options, the travel time you’ll need, and the general cost.
Resources for Transportation –
Flights: Google Flights (tp find flights, and then I book directly with the airline on their website)
Ferry: I have only ever used Stenaline and have always had good experiences! There are other ferry companies as well though
*A lot of budget airlines in Europe have restrictions/hidden costs, do your research before booking
Wondering how to get around Europe? Read the Pros and Cons of each type of transportation here.
Step 6. Start looking up the specifics – accommodation, tours, visas, vaccines…
For each place you’re visiting, you’ll want to figure out where you’re going to stay (hostel, hotel, air BnB, etc.), and how it works into your budget. I usually stay in hostels when traveling Europe, but I look at all options to find the cheapest place, that is pretty central and has good reviews! I write down all of my options for each place, the price, and the rating.
You’ll also want to keep in mind some extra costs that might come with travel – do you need a visa to enter this country? Do you need to apply for this visa in advance? Are there vaccines you’re required to have before you can enter the country? Are there specific tours you might need to book well in advance? (Example – if you want a tour of the Reichstag in Berlin). Is your passport valid for the dates of your trip and a while after?
Step 7. Evaluate the rough cost of your trip, and compare that to your initial budget
Now that you’ve done all of this research & planning, you can add up everything you’ve estimated for a daily budget and compare this to your savings goal.
For your daily budget in each place, you’ll want to factor in:
- Accommodation cost
- Daily food cost (I usually try to book accommodation with free breakfast, eat at the grocery store for lunch, and either make or splurge on dinner)
- Activity cost
- Transportation cost
Are you well under budget? Maybe you can extend your trip? Spend more on accommodation? Are you way over the amount you’ll be able to save up? Maybe you’ll have to make some cuts or choose cheaper options?
It’s always good to be under budget and have room with your expenses. While on your trip you might come across a tour you really want to do, or something you didn’t budget for. Maybe you’ll want to spend more on a nicer meal? I always leave wiggle room, because I always end up spending more than anticipated!
Step 8. Start booking! Flights, transportation to & from the airport, and your first night’s accommodation at least!
Once you feel good about your route, budget, savings goal, etc., you can start watching prices and book when the price seems right. Some do like to book as they travel, and some like to have everything booked before departing. There are pros and cons to both – but if you have a set itinerary, budget, and amount of time, I like to just make sure everything is booked so I don’t have to worry about finding wifi to book things, places/tickets selling out, or missing out on something I really wanted to do.
Thanks for reading!
So there you go! It can be a long process planning a trip to Europe, so hopefully, these steps on how to plan a trip to Europe have helped! Any questions left unanswered? Send me a message on Instagram!
More Inspiration For Your Travels
Hey! I’m Kat. Based in Alberta, Canada I love to travel to the Rockies and explore new places around the world. Follow along on my adventures and find inspiration and tips for your own travels.