How to Plan a Europe Trip- Italy and France

How to Plan a Europe trip

When we were going to Turkey, there was a lady sitting beside us in the flight. She had a connecting flight to Europe from Istanbul. When we generally queried her where all she was going to Europe, we discovered she had taken a package where she was covering 9 countries in 11 days. 9 countries in 11 days! We were really horrified to think whether it was a vacation or a marathon. But such are holiday packages. And if you are one of those who are going to Europe for a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip, by all means book a package and cover as many countries as you can. But if you want to have a relaxing holiday, get the feel of the place, do a good amount of sight seeing, and really enjoy Europe, then read this post. 🙂

When we had asked a premier travel company about a customised trip to Italy and France, the rate given to us was at least 3 lakh per person for 10 days. This included flight tickets, accommodation, and transfers. The amount would have been higher for 16 days. So rather than paying 8-9 lakh to the company, I decided to plan the trip on my own. And our total expense for the same (for 16 days instead of 10 days) came out to be INR 1,12,000 (flight) + INR 2,10,000 (hotels) + nearly 1 lakh for all transfers (trains and taxis combined). So we got everything done within 4 lakh. Plus we were able to get the hotels that we liked (we had really got some crappy ones through that company in the past), travel at our leisure (no taxi coming to pickup at 9:00 am), and spend our days according to our will. Our Paris hotel was not up to our liking, but it wasn’t so bad either. In essence, if you want a customised travel, planning on your own would most certainly be cheaper. Of course Rati’s shopping nullified any savings that I was going to make. 😛

Planning For The Trip

The stages for planning the trip to Europe completely include- booking the tickets, planning the places/ cities to visit, booking the hotels, and getting a visa.

Booking Tickets

The first stage, i.e. booking the ticket, should be done at least 3- 5 months in advance in order to get preferred dates and cheaper flights. You can also use Google flights or Adioso to find out on which date you are getting the cheapest flight if your travel dates are flexible.

Planning the Places/ Cities

I am going to describe the process through which I decide the cities/ places to see and visit when I am going to some country. Let’s take Italy for example. I would

The first and second steps would usually crystalize what I want to see. Seeing images on Pinterest usually determines whether I want to see a particular place or not. As I keep seeing the images I like, I keep on marking those places on the map. Google gives me some description of the places. If I like some place because of its historical perspective, I mark that too on the map. Once my basic cities/ places are marked, the map tells me which city should my flight land in and what should be my direction of travel in that country. Rome2Rio gives me the cost and time of trains to travel between the two cities. So I’m able to time my stay in every city. I also make a citywise search in google (for example ‘places to see in rome’) and pinterest to zero in upon the places to see. The more the places to see in a particular city, the longer would be my duration of stay. So in this case, I zeroed in on Rome, Naples, Amalfi coast, Florence, Tuscany, Chianti, Pisa, Venice, Milan in Italy. Amalfi coast was costly so I decided to skip staying in Amalfi and make a day trip there from Naples. Same I decided to do for Tuscany, Chianti and Pisa, i.e. made a day trip there from Florence. So my ideal route now would be (please open the map for this) Naples- Rome- Florence- Venice- Milan- Paris (which we wanted to do also). But I was getting a good flight to Rome so I made the route of travel like this- Rome- Naples- Florence- Venice- Milan- Paris. If I had less days I would have skipped some places from my route.

Booking Hotels/ Accommodations

Hotel requirements differ from person to person. For example, people traveling with children might want a 5-star or a 4-star hotel with good service, swimming pool etc. In our case, the simple requirement was good hotels with spacious rooms and good locations. Since we were going to stay outside mostly during the days, the facilities such as swimming pool, gym, lounge bar etc. were useless for us. So for every city that we were going to stay in, I decided to search for both 5-star hotels and luxury boutique hotels. For example I got this for ‘5 star hotels in rome.’ I started checking individual websites of each hotels, their reviews on Tripadvisor, the rates on my date of stay, location (distances from the airport, train station and places to see), etc. and finally settled on Inn at the Roman Forum. I did the same process for every city. A good accommodation can cost anywhere from INR 10k to 18k per night. You can also find cheaper accommodation if you research well and book well in advance.

Europe Visa Process

To enter anywhere in Europe in the following countries you’d need a Schengen visa.
Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

These 26 countries share a common legal framework and there are no checks on the borders between them. If you are traveling to two or more of these countries, you’d have to apply for visa at the embassy of the country where you are staying the longest. In our case it was Italy.

Our visa process surprisingly took a very short time. We gave the document to an agent who applied for visa on Monday, and we got our passports stamped with visa by Thursday evening of the same week. I think that factors such as good bank balance, having the visas of so many countries previously, and having the complete correct documentation speeded our visa process. Please go through the documents required for Italy visa carefully and prepare them well in advance.

Please keep photocopies of all the documents (hotel bookings, return flight ticket, insurance, etc.) with you during the travel without fail. You’d need them at every immigration check point, especially in Europe.

For husband and wife, do get a marriage certificate before applying for visa. You’d need it for visa application.

Some Basic Preparation Before the Trip

The first thing that you need to do if you are ever making a trip to Italy and France is to buy good sports shoes. Don’t ever miss these. You have to do so much walking during sightseeing that no other shoes would do.

For the same reason, get a good backpack or a handbag with you. We both carried our bags during our sightseeing to carry our big water bottles, things to eat, camera etc. I’d say that it is easier to carry things in a backpack.

Europe is a great shopping destination. People can get a good tax refund also on their shopping (more on that later). Rati wanted to buy some high end bags, makeup etc. during this trip. But using our credit card there would have been costly. That meant we had to take a lot of cash during our trip. There are some limits on how much cash you can carry along with you. So I arranged for 500 Euro notes instead of usual 100 Euro notes that people take. So if you want to carry a lot of cash and don’t want the custom officials to hassle you, get 500 euro notes with you. Remember to take some 100 euro notes also as it’s not easy to get change for 500 euro notes. Only banks and bars are able to provide the change.

Throughout Italy and France people were cautioning us against pickpockets and bag snatchers. Rati was advised always to carry her handbag in the front whenever traveling in a crowd or a metro. For men who want to carry cash with them, it is advisable that you arrange a money-belt that you can tie on your tummy inside your shirt. I took my Hidesign small satchel, which had a lock. That served me well. For ladies, don’t take open handbags; take handbags with zip. It’s been known in metros that there are women who would put their hands inside your handbag and take away your wallets, phones etc. So go there prepared.

One great tip here that helped us a lot- take the photo of your passport and the visa page with your phone and carry your phone along with you instead of your passport. Lock your passport inside the hotel safe. The photo of the passport and visa would be sufficient everywhere. 🙂

You’d also find a lot of artists showing their art on the streets. It’s always a good gesture putting some coins in their collection box. Surprisingly, there are also beggars /homeless people around in Italy and Paris. Well! that you can decide on your own whether you want to offer them something or not.

During the Stay

Europe hotels don’t seem to be providing water bottles, fruits etc. in the room, even in 5 stars. So after checking in the hotel we would go to a supermarket and buy some basic stuff there. Since every room has a fridge, you can buy some yogurt etc. and stock it in the fridge.

Remember that most cafes, restaurants charge you for seats also i.e. if you have your coffee standing it’s cheaper. We didn’t mind paying 5 euros for sitting and having coffee but some people might. But whatever be the case, don’t be surprised to see the charges for seats in your bill. You have been warned. 🙂

From your hotel take a map of the city, especially the metro map. Best way to travel in European cities is through metro. And they have 24- hour or 48- hours pass which you can buy. Buy that for your trips throughout the city. Once you understand the metro system, life becomes easy. In France, we also travelled by Taxis and they were pretty good as well. In Venice, their metro is actually the boat. So experience whatever fits your budget and convenience.

For traveling between cities in Italy, we used to reach an hour ago at the train station and get the tickets from the ticket-vending machines. However, for trains between two countries, it is better to get the train tickets in advance as you won’t be able to procure tickets at the last moment. For our Milan-Paris trip we had to go and book the tickets one day before and then also we got the last two tickets available. If you are going to travel many countries in a short period of time you can also check Euro Rail passes.

There is a good tax refund on things in Europe- around 10% to 14%. Mostly it depends on the level of your shopping, whether below 1000 euros, or below 2000 euros, above 3000 euros etc. Louis Vuitton had 14%. So an LV bag Rati was checking out was for 2999 euros, which after refund came for 2579 euros. In India, the price of that bag was around 3300 euros. So if you are planning to buy high end brands in makeup or fashion, you can save a lot. Remember that in many shops, the tax refund only applies on a minimum shopping of 150 euros or 175 euros. So do ask about minimum shopping for tax refund in the shop. You’d have to ask about tax refund all the time, no shop volunteers the information. If you have done heavy shopping somewhere ask for a tax refund form. Remember, you have to get your refund money back at the airport where you have to go to tax refund counters and show them you tax refund forms. The refund is more if you are asking them to transfer to your credit cards, and less if you are taking cash there directly. Also, do not use the things you buy before you get the refund. Sometimes, the custom officials at the tax refund counter might ask you to show the things you have bought. And the refund is on brand new things only and not on used things. So keep the packings intact till you get the refund. After the refund, if you have done heavy shopping, especially electronics, throw all the packings (and receipts) away before checking in your luggage so that customs at Indian airports do not feel it’s a new thing and levy customs on you. Otherwise your tax refund goes down the drain. Packing wise also, it is easier to carry things back home this way. 🙂

Rati has already covered the places we visited during our trip in her posts on Italy and France. So don’t forget to check those out. 🙂

If you have any more questions regarding the trip. Let us know, we’d try to answer. 🙂

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53 Responses to How to Plan a Europe Trip- Italy and France

  1. joyi says:

    Thank you so much!!! I have always wondered whether is do-able.. to plan your own Europe trip.

  2. pinky says:

    very well written sanjeev thank you for the detailed article i am sure would help people travelling europe a lot.

  3. Madhura says:

    Superbly written article … Very crisp n to the point …

  4. NehaS says:

    Thanks Sanjeev

  5. Vedhyie S Kamaal says:

    What a crisp article Sanjeev!! I have never come across such beautiful and well planned trip!!! You’re a perfecto!!! I am going to use all of your tips…. thanks so much for sharing

  6. Parminder says:

    hmmm…great Job Sanjeev Ji..

  7. Dipshika says:

    Loved the post and the detailing. (y)

  8. Tanvi says:

    Wow. That’s one detailed post with all the necessary points mentioned succinctly. Quite commendable Sanjeev.

  9. Sanjeev says:

    Thank you everyone 🙂

  10. Prianca says:

    I’d heard that a fool and his money are parted soon. Not sure if a popular phrase exists for a polar opposite case too, but if it does, it should apply to you. 9-12 lakhs versus 4-5 lakhs is commendable. Not to forget, the leisure and liberty of time and pace.

    I’m a silent reader of IMBB. Always had the hunch that you are a very intelligent man. This post nailed my conviction.
    This is, by far, the most practical and informative post I’ve come across on planning a Euro Trip. Thank you. Look forward to more such posts on IMBB.

  11. Swati says:

    Very detailed information ….. Thank you ….. A big fan of yours

  12. Sneha says:

    Hello sanjeev

    Thank you for posting this, ive always planned on visiting Europe and your post does simplify things. As you mentioned credit cards being costly for shopping there, you opted for cash. My questions are
    1. Will the tax refund be the same for Debit cards as it is for Credit cards ?
    2. In the case of Credit cards, will the international charges be equal to or more than the tax refund you receive at the end of your trip?
    3. Did you book the hotels, flights etc before you went in for the visa ??
    4. In your personal opinion will rejection of visa for another country make any difference in your application to EU?? For example. If you application to US was rejected would it have made a difference?

    If you could give us information in regards to how you chose a visa agent it would be great as ive heard that many are crooks.
    Thanks and this was a very well written article, will be bookmarking it for reference !!!

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Sneha,

      1. For most big banks these days, Debit cards function as credit cards. But you need to call up your bank and ask if the international remittance would be credited to your debit card without any problem.

      2. For tax refund in credit cards we were getting 12% back and for tax refunds in cash we were getting 10% back. Some of the transactions I opted for credit cards. Although credit card would not levy any charges but their rate of conversion might lower or completely diminish that profit margin. But you can’t guess their rate of conversion so that is that.

      3. In the documents required for Schengen visa you NEED to furnish flight tickets (return flight tickets also) and hotel accommodation for ALL the days you are staying there.

      4. No idea about this one but I think if your documentation is up to the mark they should not be rejecting your visa even if you were rejected a visa from US. A lot of people would have a rejection visa from the US but that shouldn’t invalidate them from traveling. However, you’d find out for sure once you apply.

      5. There are a lot of travel companies in the building of TathaGat, and most of them know us. So no problem for me there. By the way, you can apply for visa on your own also. Very easy process to do so. I just didn’t want to spend time going to visa office (VFS global I think) that is all.

      Thank you for liking the post. Hope it helps 🙂

  13. Savita says:

    The way Rati presents her trip with beautiful pics, it looks so pleasing and easy to manage. But I must admit the clever planning like you do is essence for any good trip. You’re really a genius trip adviser.

  14. Bhumika says:

    This is one helpful and informative post Sanjeev! So well written..bookmarked 🙂

  15. naaz says:

    You are the best Sanjeev sir.. You explained each and every detail so well.. Thank you.. 🙂

  16. Ahlam says:

    I have been wanting to go on a Europe tour for the longest time I could remember 🙂 Thank you for writing such an elaborate article Sanjeev sir! I am planning to make a trip to Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice) in October and the cost for one person, including airfare, hotels and transfers, comes around 120,000 to 190,000 INR through a travel agency. Does this sound reasonable according to you? I’d appreciate your reply 🙂

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Ahlam,

      I don’t know for how many days you are going there. For flights and for trip of one week period, I’m getting a return flight Rs. 36343 for one person Now depending on your choice (hostel, 2- star, 3- star, 4-star, 5- star etc.) your accommodation can cost you anywhere from Rs. 4000 to Rs. Rs. 13000 (October seems to be an off-season month). Rail tickets from one city to another would be around Rs. 3200.

      So now let’s calculate your approximate cost (main game changer is accommodation)

      Flight (around 37000 Rs.) + Accommodation (around 10000 per night x 7 nights) + Taxi (rome to hotel- Rs. 3500) + Taxi (rome hotel to train station for Florence Rs. 3500) + train to florence (Rs. 3200) + Taxi Florence to hotel (Rs. 1200) + Taxi florence hotel to train station (Rs. 1200) + Train to Venice (Rs. 3000) + Venice day pass for any transport in 24 hrs (Rs. 1000)

      So your total cost with a very GOOD accommodation for 7 nights would be 123000 around. Add some thousands more and it would be 130000 with hotels of your choice.

    • Sanjeev says:

      In fact, if you research well on tripadvisor, you can easily get a 4- star hotel in Rs. 5k- 8k. Look for 4- star hotels and sort by prices (low to high) You can bring the total cost below 1 lakh even.

  17. shifa says:

    Awesomely written article …
    thanks for sharing

  18. Neha says:

    BIG waala thnq to Sanjeev and Rati for this wonderful post. 🙂 🙂

  19. Neha Mahajan says:

    Hi Sanjeev, Thanku for such a detailed post.
    We are planning a trip to Europe in November. And wanted to know the number days you spent in each city and is there anything which could be skipped.
    One more question, the above figure of 4 lac, does this include all sightseeing and visits also?

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Neha,

      Please do check out our Italy and France links in the post.. 🙂

      My route/days were Rome(3 nights)- Naples (2 nights)- Florence (2 nights)- Venice (3 nights)- Milan(2 nights)- Paris (4 nights).

      Both the figures given by the travel company and me are only of flights + accommodations + transfers (back and forth) from hotels to stations. Although, since you are going in winters, the figures should be far less than this as it would be an off season for Europe.

  20. ami says:

    Hi, while searching for my upcoming trip i came across this post. Great details provided here.
    Can you please tell me how to go from naples for amalfi coast, positano and sorrento

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Ami,

      We fixed the trip with the driver who dropped us from the train station to the hotel in Naples. In short, you can book a taxi for the full day trip. 🙂

      • ami says:

        I was doubtful if i will get response.. Thankssssss a lot Sanjeev can you please tell me what would be cost for this..Both you and Rati are doing a fab job here….thanks again for you reply

        • Sanjeev says:

          I think it should be around 180 euro for a full day trip from Naples to Amalfi, positano, Pompeii etc. and back. You can negotiate a lower rate also if you want. 🙂

          • ami says:

            Thanks a tonn sajeev…we were able to get cab for 130 euro from naples for Amalfi Positano and sorrento.(dint go to Pompeii).Just wanted to mention we had booked walkaboutflorenece also, after seeing so many good reviews on tripadvisor it was superb experience…thanks to Rati for mentioning their name in her travel post…

  21. chhavi says:

    Hi Sanjeev
    We are planning our trip to Italy in December. I wanted to know that whether you booked ‘The best of Tuscany tour’ in Florence through the website or did you book it there only. And what are the good shopping places in Italy.

    Thanks in advance

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Chhavi,

      We booked it there only. We normally prefer to go anyplace without any set itinerary in mind. It gives us freedom to manoeuvre our time based on our moods then and there. 🙂

  22. Chhavi says:

    Thanks a ton Sanjeev….We have booked our tickets and hotels too in Italy. Hope it will be a good trip fingers crossed. I was reading about Naples hotels review and most of the people have written its quite unsafe and all. Any tips you would like to give us for Naples like timings to get back to hotel in evening in Naples etc. Only Naples hotel is left for booking.

    • ami says:

      From safety point of view you have to be very careful.. my wallet was stolen from my handbag in Rome on day1 itself…:( (:(…fortunately i was not having much stuff in wallet except some money and cards..and when we were in Naples, outside a museum a group of students were talking to police as someone had snatched gold chain and wallet from one of the girls and she was having bruise marks on her neck also…..
      Best of Tuscany(website :walkabout Florence) can be booked online from their site’s hassle free booking and a wonderful experience.

  23. Chhavi says:

    Thanks a ton ami 🙂

  24. Amit says:

    Hi Sanjeev,

    We are planning for a 10 day Italy trip, in 2015 – and all this with our 1 year old darling daughter! So keeping that in mind and that low crowd would be suitable, can you please suggest a suitable time? Much thanks in advance!


    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Amit,

      You’d want to enter Italy when the cold has nearly receded (early 2015) or when the cold is beginning a little (late 2015) if you want low crowd. Keep in mind that low crowd would only be at places where there are beaches; as the water is cold and tourists are less. In cities such as Rome etc. I doubt you’d find much difference in numbers. But as it is, since summers is their best season, you’d definitely have less crowd at the beginning or at the end of summers. So if you want me to pinpoint May/June and September/October are the most popular months. So if you want to avoid crowd, go in March/April or July/August or late October/ November.

      • Amit Jain says:

        Thanks a ton Sanjeev. Appreciate it. Going as per your advice, I think April should be a good bet. Will use Adioso to check for cheapest air travel prices and decide on the dates.
        Will certainly seek your advice and help if we get stuck for any information. Highly appreciate your willingness to share your time and experience with us!

        Amit Jain

  25. Prajakta says:

    Hi Sanjeev,
    Just one question, the cab charged you 180 euros for two ppl to go around amalfi, positano etc. There are sites which show a similar rate per person.

  26. deepika says:

    Sanjeev sir hats off ur a perfecto and a master of all… BOW BOW BOW…… Lovely couple… Would use all the above points for our next travel…

  27. anu says:

    hello sanjeev ,

    may i pl know what does “bank statement” required for the visa actually connote? wouldnt that be the passbook? could you pl guide in this regard. i am planning a trip to italy in august-sept. the agent says its some top matrix printed stuff. he also is asking for salary slips along with form 16…. wouldn’t the pass book/ immovable property returns sufficient to actually impose your good financial health? (i am a govt servant . as it is ,i get a no objection in many days cuz of that 🙁 its a hassle. now to ask for f 16 from my administrative officer is already giving me headaches).
    many thanks in advance and the arduous task of managing the trip which is beautifully etched here is commendable indeed.

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Anu,

      I’m guessing the reasons here, so I might be wrong.

      First and foremost, you are allowed to carry only limited amount of cash money on you while you are going out (around 1.5 lakh per person I think). So if you are going to finance your trip there it would be through debit or credit cards. The visa people need to know that you have enough cash in your bank.

      Second, there are several incidents of people going to Europe for purpose of getting a citizenship. These ‘tourists’ disappear once they reach there even when their tourist visa expires. They stay in Europe incognito, without visa, for eight years (the duration for staying there to get a citizenship), and then resurface to stay there permanently. Obviously the governments of these countries don’t like that and they want to know that you have enough money in the bank which you’d have to leave behind if you disappear. Also, if you’re employed, the statement for the last six month shows that you are receiving a regular salary.

      So essentially, the basic thing is to show that you have sufficient funds to carry on with your travel expenses, and a regular source of income in India with you. Your income tax returns, bank statement, and salary slips are for that purpose only.

  28. anu says:

    Many thanks for your elaborate reply,sanjeev.

    I find the logic quite tenacious. i was wondering why cant passbook cover it? And the declaration to govt that i make regarding my immovable assets. But its about fortification of one’s employment and settlement status,i blv.

    Your reply has quite cleared it all.
    thanks a lot once again.

  29. Pragalbha says:

    I came about this post while researching for the Italy trip I am about to make in June. This is some really extensive information, although, I have some questions regarding the train travel. Did you take the train while travelling from Naples – Rome -Florence – Venice? I am assuming you guys were travelling with huge bags. So is lugging the bags around train stations and boarding the trains with them convenient? Also I had read on some travelogues that there is a separate baggage section in the trains which is largely unmanned. So should I be worried about the safety of my luggage? And any tips regarding the same?

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Pragalbha,

      As long as your bags have wheels no problem at all sliding them on platforms. You don’t have to do any ascending or descending and there’s a space for baggage in every compartment. 🙂

  30. Priyanka says:

    Thanks Sanjeev for this wonderful and very useful blog.
    Me and my husband are planning a 10 to 15 days trip to Europian countries which can be visited on Shengan Visa. Can you please guide me to plan this trip.
    1. Best route for the trip
    2. What is the best mode of commute between the countries and within the countries for sightseeing
    3. How did you decide upon the places to visit
    4. Is it safe for a couple to go there on own
    5. Do you recommend taking Euro rail pass? Or there is any other cheap mode for commute.

  31. Shikha says:

    Hi. I am planning a trip to Italy for about 8 days. How much money should we carry and also what is the cost of food? Please advise. You can let me know approx in terms of total money. The accommodation is already taken care off. I need hindsight on food. Please advise.

    • Sanjeev says:

      Hi Shikha,

      A meal for two can cost anywhere between 25- 45 euros. In good hotels it can run up to 60- 70 euros. Other expenses will depend on your activities and traveling and you’d have to plan that yourself.

      As a general rule by my own experience, I always figure on having INR 15k- 20k per day for running expenses in my pocket. This fairly covers most of the extra expenses.

  32. Sheena says:

    Man oh Man…
    This post really reflects how street smart you are, I cant even express how glad I am I read this one!
    Me and my husband are travelling to Europe for a month in May starting and ending in Amsterdam.
    Im so overwhelmed trying to plan the entire thing and your article is so much more helpful, I have a few queries and I hope you can help me with those.
    1. We are planning to cover 4 or may be 5 countries but Im unable to decide if we should get a Eurail Glabal pass or not; and if we get it how many days should we use, use have mentioned in the article about travelling via metro but does metro cover intercity travel as well or thats strictly Train or flights.
    2. If I apply my visa from say German Embassy but end up not visiting does it affect my travel in any way.

    Thanks in advance.

  33. Beas says:

    Hello sanjeev,this is I guess the most helpful article on this subject I read online…thanku for that.I jst hve one question.Where did u exchanged ur money?

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