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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