Independent travel to Europe – for the Indian traveller

Gone are the days when a trip abroad meant going through glossy travel company brochures and choosing a package that fit in with your interests and budget. The internet has changed all that.

Every country, state and sometimes city, has its own tourism promoting website. There are sites like TripAdvisor, Fodors, Frommers etc which have real travellers reviewing hotels, attractions, restaurants. Countless apps make travelling abroad easier – apps for packing lists , for storing important travel documents , for street driving directions  – you name it and it’s there. You can book trains , flights , hotels online. You can even reserve a table for two at that romantic Michelin Star restaurant in Paris you’ve always wanted to visit , sitting at your desk in India.

Sometimes , I wonder how travel companies make money anymore , what with everyone turning to the internet for travel planning!

However, with so many options to choose from , so many contradictory reviews , how does one make a final choice? Here are 5 travel planning tips , especially for Europe , that I have found useful.

1) Decide where you want to go

Most of us want to ‘see it all’ when we go abroad. With our weak rupee (69 rupees for one euro , as I write this!) , time constraints and long international flight durations , I don’t blame you at all. But do consider the fact that you can never really see it all and definitely , not  see it well. So, choose one or two countries you really want to visit and then plan your trip accordingly. It is especially easier in Europe because most countries are close geographically and have good railway connections between them.

2) Decide which cities you want to visit

I have heard people say I want to visit Spain or Switzerland but most people have no idea what exactly they want to see in Spain. So , once you have narrowed down your country of choice , do go online and read about it. Sites like TripAdvisor list the most popular destinations in every country. Another source I have found useful is reading trip reports online. You get an idea of what to see in each city , how to travel between cities and how much time to allot for each place.

3) Choose a hotel / B&B/ apartment allows users to book hotel rooms for free , with a pay later policy. However, B&Bs are a personal favourite as they are most often cheaper than hotels and offer a different experience of living in somebody’s home , with a free breakfast thrown in too!

Apartment rentals are good and inexpensive , especially if you are vegetarian like me or if you crave some chatpata homemade food, after days of eating Margherita pizzas and bread with cheese! Airbnb , vrbo are all good places to search for apartment rentals. Just make sure to read all the reviews and the cancellation policy before booking one as bad experiences and frauds are not unheard of while renting apartments.

4) Book your tickets and tours in advance

Attractions like the Eiffel Tower have long snaking queues for tickets so it makes sense to buy them online , once you’ve planned your itinerary and locked your dates. A little research will tell you when the ticket sales open.

If you plan on joining a popular walking or biking tour , again reserve your place in advance as they sell out fast.

5) Apply for visa

Applying for the Schengen Visa is easy as the official website has clear instructions. If you are visiting more than one country , then apply to the Consulate of the country which is your point of entry or the one in which you plan to spend maximum days. Do check the requirements online though , as they change from time to time. Vfs global is the third party agency handling visa applications for almost all European countries , so check out their site and prepare your documents accordingly.

Hope you found this useful for your Europe trip planning! Finally, do plan and research your trip but be flexible to allow for travel delays, unforeseen cancellations and bad weather. Do not make an itinerary carved in stone because sometimes the unplanned things you do on a trip maybe the most enjoyable ones!

Do share any further trip planning ideas !

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