Travel Tips for Europe Part I: Research & Plan

This is the first in the series on Travel in Europe, part 2 is all about how to pack for Europe and part 3 is what to expect once you land in Europe.

Come summer  when the schools close down for the long vacation most Indians pack their bags and set off to explore the world. Summer trips to Europe are getting more and more popular. When temperatures are soaring over the Indian subcontinent, parts of Europe are still cool with moderate temperatures. Also days are long which allows to pack in more sightseeing. 
Over the years friends have been asking me about travel tips to Europe. Emailing the same information to different people gets a tad boring, so I have decided to create a post with all my accumulated travel wisdom & the feedback that I got from friends post their trips. I hope this will help you plan your travel to this part of the world. 
I am no expert, but travel I do. For the last 5 years pretty extensively around Europe. Hence for this series I am sticking to Europe in general and UK in particular. 
Putting down some travel tips  & tricks which took me a while to figure out. Now this is not an exhaustive post by any means. If you have more points to add, please let me know in the comment section below.
Since I have a lot to say on the subject, I have decided to break up the posts. Today I am starting with the first step ~research & planning.

PLAN & REARCHThe key to a satisfying trip is to throughly research the places you want to visit and plan ahead. If you want a smooth vacation with no ugly surprises or being caught unawares, specially if you are visiting a country for the first time please spend at least 4 to 5 hours researching the places you are planning to visit. 
If you dread researching break it up into smaller chunks and you would be surprised how interesting it gets once you get started. Personally I love the research and planning phase of a travel because it builds up the anticipation. 

Before the travel:
i. Start early: To get the best flight & hotel deals start your planning early. Now some people are super organised and plan their dream trips for several years. If you are not one of them, it's okay to start your research & planning about 6 months ahead. Also since Indians need visas to travel around Europe starting early means you can cut down on the last minute visa arrival stress.
i. Research: a. Most cities, attractions, landmarks in Europe have their own websites so researching for your trip should be a breeze. If you want more information check out the travel websites, blogs, reviews. 
Information to note: opening times of the attractions, days when the attractions are closed {some churches are closed on Sundays}, cost of entrance tickets {sometimes children below a certain age are exempt}, mode of dressing specially if it's a church, how to get to the attraction from your hotel, how long it takes to comfortably check out the place {the reviews come in handy for this bit}.
b. If you are visiting a historical monument it helps to read up on that before visiting it. Also if you share the history with your children it gets them hooked and without realising they have had a history lesson! 
c. The same applies for art museums, it helps to have some background on the artists and their paintings. 
ii. Plan carefully: Since Europe is an expensive proposition for the average Indian plan your trip very carefully. An extra day means extra expenditure. Read up reviews of a place on  independent travel forums like and schedule the days carefully.
iii. Be realistic: I know when you travel all the way, the urge is to see everything and pack in as much as you can. It's a great way to see a place if you are young and full of energy.  Start your day early, climb a hill, watch the sunrise from the top, after breakfast visit a castle,  check out a museum in the afternoon, spend the evening exploring some interesting urban  corner. But if you are tight on time, have kids or elderly people with you or you are not feeling very energetic, be realistic. Fight your instincts and plan only as much as you can pack in. Make a list of the essential must-see attractions and plan the extras around that. Be prepared that you may not get time or energy to see those extras. That way you won't feel too disappointed.
iv. Choose wisely: If you are not coming on a conducted tour, you are in a unique position to choose what you want to see. Go through the list of top 10 attractions in a particular city and ask yourself which ones interest you and your family the most.  For example the city may boast of a fantastic motor museum, but ask yourself are you really interested in checking that out? Europe has a lot to offer, so it is important that you choose wisely what you want to see in that limited period of time. If art fascinates you spend more time in the museum than rushing through it in just  half a day.
v. Strike a balance: Don't just plan for yourself. Take into account the interests of your family members. If you are travelling with your wife make sure to keep some time in your schedule for her to go shopping or explore a shopping street. Or throw in a trip to the amusement park for the kids. 
Or split up for the day, let your partner/friend do their own thing while you gaze at Impressionist masterpieces to your heart's content. And meet up in the evening at your hotel or at a restaurant. But only do this if both you and your partner are very confident and won't get lost.
vi. Schedule a free day: I know I said don't waste days. But  a rest day or two in between all that hectic sightseeing, specially if you are planning to spend more than two weeks, is essential. While planning, people often don't put in rest days, but they are oh so important not only to rest your aching legs but to soak in the atmosphere of a place. Europe in summer is beautiful and the street life is vibrant.  Cities and squares look extremely pretty decked with flower baskets, colourful buntings, fancy street lights. Most cafes spread out onto the sidewalks, musicians play lively music, various artists perform in the city squares,fountains gurgle,  painters often sketch passersby. It feels heavenly to sit with a coffee in one of the cafes and soak it all in. It's an experience you don't get much in India, so while you are here enjoy it.
vii. Book ahead: Everything in Europe can be booked ahead ~ museum tickets, travel, hotels, restaurants, shows. 
The advantages of booking ahead are several~ 
a. You do not have to carry a lot of cash/fill up your travel card while travelling;
b. You can often skip jumbo queues to the attractions like Lourve Museum, Sistine Chapel etc. At the height of tourist season queue times for attractions go up to 4 hours. But if you have pre-booked you just skip past and enter without delay;
c. Tickets are often cheaper if pre-booked online;
d. A lot of booking in Europe is done through automated machines, sometimes it gets a little difficult working these machines. At least that has been my experience, with pre-booked stuff you skip this step.
e. If you are a foodie and are desperate to eat in a particular restaurant it is best to book ahead. Same goes for a show.
viii. Figure out local transport: More on this in the next post.
ix.Schedule your flight: I know it is not always possible, but if it is within your control, book a flight which lands during the day. This is especially important if you are travelling for sometime after the flight to get to your destination. I remember our flight from India reached Heathrow around ten at night, by the time we cleared customs, got our luggage, figured out where to buy tickets for the bus to Oxford, the bus had left. We had to wait for an hour or so for the next one. We reached Oxford about one in the morning and figuring out how to enter our residence which had a code was rather difficult. We had a really kind Pakistani taxi driver without whose help I think we would have had to spend the night on the pavement.

In the next post we will talk about what to pack for your  Europe trip.

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