Dear Lifehacker, I was wondering if you have any tips you can give someone trying to organise a brief one month trip to Europe. I'm very keen to go, but I'm finding it hard to get started. Thanks, Budding Europhile
That's an enormous question: Mainland Europe has 50-odd countries. We won't pick out which ones you should visit (my personal biases would be all too clear), but we'll cover some key areas to think about as you're planning your vacation.
One thing to bear in mind: I'm an organisation freak, so I'll be talking advance planning. I know plenty of people whose schedules for a European holiday didn't amount to much more than "book a ticket to somewhere, land and then make it up as you go along". That can work, but if you fell into that category, you wouldn't be asking the question, would you?
1. Recognise that you can't do it all
There's no way you can realistically cover all of Europe, or even a fraction of it, in a single trip. While you can certainly cover a lot of ground in 30 days, sticking to the "one country a day" coach tour model means you'll spend more time seeing freeways than actually experiencing places in any depth. Identify a handful of countries that appeal to you, and stick with those. For the surprise element, add in a country that's in the area but which you might not have considered initially. Try looking up the airport in one of those countries and seeing what flight options it offers to get some ideas.
2. Choose your time of year carefully
Work or study circumstances might restrict your options here. However, if you have any choice, try and avoid the busiest periods: July/August (European summer) and around Christmas. At these times, prices will be higher and crowds will be larger. While snow can be appealing, the brutality of European winters (and the shortness of daylight hours) can be a shock to the system for Australians. April and May can be good times to travel, but double-check for Easter breaks.
3. Use your initial airline as a trigger
Flying to Europe is a competitive business, and many of the cheaper options won't land you in the obvious (for Australia) option of London. If you haven't yet determined where you want to go, letting your initial airfare determine your first country can be an interesting way to go. Use a flight comparison site such as Zuji or Expedia to identify possible choices. (You can search for a specific destination such as London but note which European cities you get routed through on the cheaper fares to pick out possibilities if your European geography isn't up to scratch.) Picture by Mark Harkin
4. Take advantage of transport options
Don't bring an Australia-centric "I want to fly to places and then drive" mentality with you. There are plenty of areas of Europe you can only see by road, but on a first trip, I wouldn't be focusing on car hire. In particular, Europe has well-developed national rail networks, and getting between cities by rail is often faster than flying, especially when you factor in transit times to and from the airport. (Taking the Eurostar between London and Paris is a much better choice than flying, for instance.)
The Eurail Pass is a good option for getting around on the mainland, and easier to organise if you book in advance. You don't have to book on all services, but it can make sense when travelling on busy routes. There are also good ferry services in many locations, and coach options if you're looking for cheap alternatives. We're big fans of rome2rio for identifying non-flight options for getting around.
One note about flying: when using budget airlines, check carefully for where they land. They'll often be a secondary airport for a major city, which means a longer bus trip at the other end. It can be worth it in money-saving terms; just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Picture by Les Chatfield
5. Think about how you'll communicate
Using your Australian mobile number in Europe is a sure-fire route to an unpleasantly massive bill. We've discussed the issues before, and our advice boils down to this: use free Wi-Fi whenever possible, and consider investing in a prepaid SIM once you hit Europe. Checking for free Wi-Fi is normally at the top of my list when I choose accommodation (with proximity to railway stations often a close second).
Enjoy your trip, and enjoy the planning — it can be a big part of the fun. Readers, feel free to chime in with additional suggestions in the comments.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right. Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman can't believe he hasn't been to Greece yet. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.