Summer of 2020 was supposed to be in sunkissed Europe, but it all went wrong and now your next holiday won’t be before ’21. Now, that’s no reason to stop planning. In fact, we’ve decided to help you out with our ace guide to planning a holiday in Europe
This article is actually inspired by my close friend. After months of planning, careful calculations of accumulated privileged leaves and arranging for the care of his two parents, he was all set to head to Europe with his wife and two daughters. Their visas, tickets, booking, everything was done when Corona hit. Thereafter, everything has been undone. My friend however is a planner and a man with some foresight. So he got in touch with the embassy in question and the airlines in question and now from the looks of it, is set to make that trip in December. Fingers crossed.
That said, I would wager there are a whole lot of people out there who would aspire to travel to Europe for that posh all-European holiday but can’t really plan as much as my friend does. For them, we have decided to pool in our collective travel experience and present the seven golden rules of planning a holiday to Europe.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM YOUR EUROPEAN HOLIDAY?
Europe is a continent. That means any expectation you have of the place based on Bollywood scenes is superfluous. The continent offers as many different experiences as you can imagine. And no, you will not be able to experience them all at one shot. Not on a regular vacation anyway. So choose what you want from your holiday. Do you want a European beach holiday? Or do you want to experience the continent’s rich and varied past? The answers to these will dictate the place you choose to go to, the time when you ought to be travelling and pretty much everything else.
Having answered the above questions will help you narrow down to a list of places, but you’ll find the going touch even here. If it’s a beach holiday you want should it be the island of Santorini in Greece or the beaches of Nice in France? Venice or Vienna? Paris or Prague? They’re tough calls really. But at least you won’t be trying to decide between Santorini and Prague.
READ THE REVIEWS
Once you’ve decided where you think you ought to be going, it’s time to gather information. At this stage let me tell you that most people who wish to travel to a location do so because they have heard about it from other people. It’s only after they have decided more or less that they actually start researching about the place. Ditch the travel journals and websites where experts seem to want to tell you how to do it. Instead go for the forums where you’ll find user reviews. These are regular people who have visited and will therefore have a more realistic view of a location or a place to stay or even a restaurant. The images they share are less likely to be photoshopped and therefore closer to the reality. Also, look for the most recent reviews. Check the reviewer's profile as well and read the reviews of people who seem to have similar tastes and choices as your own. You won’t get an exact match for sure but there will always be some people who are closer to your own profile than others.
HOW LONG IS LONG ENOUGH?
Always factor in travel time and losses you will incur when you’re travelling back. Depending on whether you’ve chosen to travel to the continent’s western edge or eastern bits, there could be a variation of anywhere between three and a half to five and a half hours. Given that Europe is generally behind us, you’ll gain time on the way to your holiday but will rapidly lose time on the way back. When you apply for your leave, factor it in. If you can’t calculate exact dates, just add a couple of days to what you think you really need. Also, remember that even though most countries in Europe are only as large as some of our large states, they are also packed with things to see and you won’t be able to see all the sights in a country. Choose and make an itinerary based on your interests and that will give you a measure of how long your holiday needs to be.
CHOOSING AN AIRLINE
This should always be decided based on the optimal combination of arrival and departure times, layovers and of course fares. Try and look for flight options that will leave from the origin very early on a Saturday, post midnight on Friday is best. That means you can sleep through the flight (as much as possible in Economy and comfortably in Business and certainly in First) and land at your destination sometime around afternoon, on Saturday itself. This helps you club weekends with your leaves and also saves you time because you will have enough time to squeeze in a walk to a nearby sight on the same day. The duration of stops or layovers is also important. Anything below two to two-and-a-half hours is risky since you might have to switch between terminals. Similarly, anything over five hours can be killing. Especially if you’re travelling in Economy. Finally of course, it’ll also depend on how much of your holiday budget you want to spend on just flying to the destination.
WHERE TO STAY
In Europe, we’d always recommend staying close to the centre of the town. The old town, we mean, for that is usually the one with all the touristy bits. Although the nightly charges maybe a tad bit more, you’ll certainly save up on getting around since most of the stuff will be within walking distance, which in the European context means roughly a radius of about 2 to 2.5km. If the rates are too steep then you should look for accommodation on the outskirts but close to a public transport hub so that you can get into town quite easily. Unless of course you’ve decided to rent a car and have your own transport at all times. That last one will be particularly useful if you wish to craft your own itinerary and head out into the picture postcard European countryside. Speaking of which, if you happen to spend time in a European town or village that is a little out of the way, the suggestion would be to eschew the usual hotel and look for a quaint bed and breakfast. If you’re lucky you might even find yourself in a heritage property for a totally unique experience.
This is of course the most critical part of your holiday planning and everything you do will depend on the amount of moolah you have to spare on your holiday. That said, all of the above will also have an impact on how you should budget for that holiday. Do not forget travel insurance and the visa fees, by which we don’t just mean the fees to get your visa processed by also the taxes applicable, the courier charges, agency fees and so on. Thumb rule is to add a couple of grand to the overall visa fees. Also, assume a rough cost for food per adult per day. Don’t forget the cost of entry tickets to places you want to see. Keep an eye on the exchange rate too. Finally, add a miscellaneous fund to everything anyway for the shopping that you’ll do and any other incidentals. Once you’ve done the whole thing throw in an extra 10-15k anyway. In case you’re travelling with children, like my friend, then you should remember that once they’re past 12, all over Europe you’ll have to book either a family room or two separate rooms. They won’t put an extra bed in the same room.
THE QUESTION OF CURRENCY
The answer to this isn’t as obvious as it looks. If it’s Europe, you should just get your Indian rupees converted to Euro, right? Well, yes and no. The thing is, Euro is great if you’re travelling to Western Europe or any of the big cities and particularly touristy spots in Eastern Europe. If you’re going to travel to the interiors then you’d better be prepared with some old world national currency as well. For instance, if you’re heading into the Czech countryside for a couple of days you’d better carry some Czech Koruna with you. Also, it’s good to split your money and carry a part of it as cash and the remainder in the form of a pre-loaded Forex card. So when you’re factoring in the budget, account for a bit of bank charges too.
From here on, it’s time to book and then, in good time, fly. That’s pretty much Plan E!