If you are planning your first trip to Europe, it can be an overwhelming experience. Where should you go? How much will it cost? How many places can you visit?
Get your documents in order
If you don’t have a passport, it will take at least four to six weeks from the time of application for you to receive one. Expedited services—either through the State Department or an expeditor such as Travel Visa Pro—can trim the process down to a week or so, but it will cost you an additional fee, so it’s best to take care of this well before your trip.
Already have a passport? Check its expiration date. The last thing you need is to find out your passport has expired while you’re in line at airport check-in. Keep in mind that some countries require your passport to be valid for six months beyond your trip dates.
Establish a budget
When planning a trip to Europe, establish a budget as early as possible—even before you know your destination, travel dates, or itinerary. Some destinations are generally cheaper than others, but there are ways to save everywhere: travel in the off-season, pick budget accommodations, plan a shorter trip. For example, London is an expensive city, but many travel providers and airlines offer affordable vacation packages to the city, and it’s not hard to find cheap air deals to London, especially during the winter.
Pick a destination
Now that you know how much you can spend, where do you want to go? If you’re like many travelers and you have a humongous list of places in Europe you want to visit, this could be tricky.
One strategy is to pick a particular site that’s on your must-see travel list, and plan your vacation around that. Last year I planned a trip to Ireland centered on an excursion to remote Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site I’d dreamed of visiting. The excursion turned into an unforgettable two-week Emerald Isle road trip.
Create a rough itinerary
So you want to go to France, eh? Don’t go ahead and buy a roundtrip flight to Paris and a hotel room—at least, not yet. You’ll want to sketch out a day-by-day itinerary of your perfect trip to France before you book a thing. Research sites and cities you really want to explore, and then figure out which ones you have the time and budget to get to.
Book your airfare
Because airfare will probably be the most expensive part of your trip, you’ll want to book it before anything else (car rental, hotel, etc.). This will allow you to be more flexible with your dates, which is a great way to save money on your flight. You can often spend less by flying on international discount airlines like Aer Lingus or Norwegian.
Book your accommodations
It’s time to go back to that rough itinerary you jotted down and fill in some places to sleep. As is the case with pretty much everything you book for your trip, the earlier you make arrangements, the better—especially during summer high season.
Consider travel insurance
There are several kinds of travel insurance: trip cancellation insurance, flight cancellation insurance, medical insurance, etc. The best time to buy insurance is right after you put down the major deposits on your trip, whether that entails airfare, a package, or prepaid hotels.
Once you know how much money you’ve paid upfront, you can ensure your trip if you so choose. Many airlines and travel providers sell insurance that you can purchase along with your flight or tour package. Always, always read the fine print in your policy and compare it with other travel insurance policies before you make a purchase.
Check your medical insurance coverage to see if you’re covered overseas. If not, you may want to purchase supplemental medical insurance to cover situations like the cost of transportation back home for emergency care.