Planning vacations can seem so intimidating. I feel you. In 2015, my husband and I decided to plan our first trip to Europe, and I wasn’t sure where to start, and tbh I was slightly scared. I didn’t want to use a travel agent, so I figured it out on my own, and now it’s a process I use every time we travel. Here are my 8 Steps to Your Dream Vacation! Make sure you pin the image at the end of the post!
1. Set Your Budget
This one seems pretty self-explanatory but check your savings account or set up a savings plan / travel account. You can figure out the details later on once you price everything out, but I think it’s best to start with an ideal budget in mind to help guide where you’re going (and plan to bring about the same amount you’re spending on flights and accommodations for eating, drinking and tours).
2. Time Frame
How long ya going for? I only had 10 vacay days at the time, so I planned on traveling for all of them in Europe, obviously. We decided to maximize our time by going over Labor Day weekend, making our trip a total of 16 days (plus an R+R day at home).
We each had Bucket List Cities – I dreamed of going to Rome (Lizzie McGuire Movie, hello) and he read a lot of travel articles about Florence online. So we picked those 2 destinations to visit at some point within a 16 day span. Now what?
The next question was, “Now how do we get there?” Our favorite website for flights and hotels is Travelocity.com because you pretty much get a free hotel with your roundtrip flights. So we kept our eyes on flights from Chicago to any big city with easy access to Florence (at a reasonable price) and Zurich was exactly that – so we booked!
Everyone knows that the train system in Europe is the way to go, but when you type that in to Google – it’s seriously intimidating (what? I don’t speak Italian!?). We found Rome2Rio.com and it is actually a website that we use every time we travel, now. It’s similar to Google Maps in the sense you put in your To and From Destination and it pulls up the multiple modes of transportation with the amount of time it will take to get there. But what’s better is they even show you the prices for the tickets – and you can click directly on a route and it takes you to the website of that train line to book. You don’t have to guess if you’re buying a ticket for the right train line, etc. We booked ahead of time because, personally, I’d prefer to take care of everything in English that I can! Plus, it’s hard enough when you get to the station and don’t know where your train is, let alone where to buy tickets. This was ideal for us.
6. Pinterest Pinterest Pinterest!
Once we put Zurich to Florence in Rome2Rio, we saw the trip was going to be 7 hours via train. That’s great and all, but since we had so many days to spend in Europe, we decided we’d rather split the trip up and stay somewhere in between. I looked along the train route on the map and started searching the larger cities on Pinterest! Seriously, Pinterest is such a great resource. There are articles describing hidden gems, photos of all of these beautiful places I wouldn’t have even known existed, and then – the Bernina Express. You know how we thought that 7 hour train trip was out of the question? Well, we signed up for a 10.5 hour train/bus trip instead. Thanks to Pinterest, we found a scenic train that went over the Swiss Alps, and took you from snow and glaciers to sand and palm trees. (It was amazing).
Thanks to Pinterest we were able to find our intermittent stop (Lake Como), and our last stop of the trip – Santorini (those photos tho, how could you not??). So now we have a timeline, destinations, and transportation… next up, accommodations! We are huge AirBnB’ers, so that was obviously where we looked and booked. If you are booking through AirBnB, I’d highly recommend looking as soon as you decide on a location. It always happens that the super unique homes or most conveniently located book up so fast. We started looking for our trip about 10 months early, so we had a lot of options. (I’ll post each destination in individual blog posts later on so you can check them out!)
We love adventures! Laying out and relaxing is fun, too. But you can do that, on a catamaran, in the Greek Islands. Yes, please. If you’re looking for guided tours, I’d recommend Viator.com or Tripadvisor! We’ve booked through both before and have had success each time.
Go & Enjoy!
The last few tips that I have are:
- Use Google Docs to keep organized – then share them with someone at home so they know where you’re supposed to be and when. With this being our first trip abroad, both of our moms wanted copies, with complete addresses and contact info for our AirBnb’s, etc… and it was reassuring for us too 🙂
- Check out restaurants on TripAdvisor! But take the reviews with a grain of salt (as always).
- Check to make sure your destination doesn’t require any vaccines (and if they do.. get them…)
- If you have any trepidation about safety on your trip, know that there is a government program that you can enroll in and let them know which country you will be in and when, so if something were to happen in your area at that time, the US Embassy will try to contact you to make sure you are safe. You can read more here.
- Don’t forget to tell your bank and phone provider where you’re at so you don’t have extra charges / a turned off debit card!