There are 1001 ways to do Europe. If you read all the blogs or ask any traveller, you will not find two identical routes/plans.
Some people prefer to just focus on one part of Europe i.e. Western Europe, Northern Europe or the Balkans. Whereas for me, I mixed a little bit of everything.
If you look at the map of Europe, it’s huge, it’s overwhelming. So many countries scattered about. How to choose? It’s impossible to visit every country in such a short time. The keyword here is research.
It took me 2 years to plan my routes. You have no idea how many times I’ve changed my routes. I prefer to do things the old fashioned way – pen & paper. So just imagine the number of crumpled up papers within than 2 years. During lunch breaks I would finish my lunch quickly & start to research the countries & their cities. The next morning before work starts, I’d continue where I left off. Jotted down names of places that interest me. Things I want to do, places I want to see. One thing that I can tell you is that the countries on my list are all visa-free for us Malaysians. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of applying for visas in every country. So I eliminated countries that require visa; yes, even countries with visa-on-arrival services because you’ll never know if they’ll approve your application or not.
I list down the countries that I want to visit & went online to find out more about those countries. How to get there, what are the must-visit cities, what attractions are there, what are the things you must do, what currency they use. Then I look at the map & see which countries are near to each other & figuring out the level of difficulty to get to those countries; whether I need to fly or if it’s possible to just take the bus or train. And of course I needed to take into account the transportation costs between those countries. Even if it’s easy to go by land in just 6 hours, if it’s too expensive, it’s not going to happen. I am after all, travelling on a budget.
Basically, when I was doing my travel research, I had at least 5 opened tabs in my browser. One is on the country, one is on the cities, one is on the particular main attraction, one is Skyscanner and one is the country’s rail website. Once I’ve figured out which countries are near to each other & their transportation connectivity, it was a matter of arranging them in a nice little line. It was just like arranging puzzle pieces & figuring out where each piece goes. Slot in, slot out until I’m happy with the plan. And I had to triple checked everything until I was fully satisfied.
I allocate enough time for each country & city. For instance Day 1 in Switzerland, I’ll be landing in Zurich. In Zurich, my interests are the Grossmunster, Lake Zurich etc. Again, I’ll research on ways to get to those places whether it’s from the airport or the train station. And how far those places are from one another, what their opening times are, whether there are any entrance fees.
Then on to the budget, the costs. Transportation, accommodation, food, entrance fees. For accommodation, my budget allowance is €20 per night. For food is €20 per day. Then I need to figure out the costs of getting around in that particular city. Whether I need a city day pass (1-day, 3-day or 5-day) or just a normal ticket will suffice. I research deeper every city day pass & see whether they are cost effective or otherwise such as how many train/bus trips I’ll be making in a day, what attractions are free & if I’m ever going to use all the perks that comes with the pass. Most of the time, a city day pass is not necessarily cheaper unless you are going to efficiently utilise all the perks that come with it. So again, do your research accordingly.
Then it’s just a matter of adding everything up & triple checking every detail in my plan. After everything is complete & I’m fully satisfied with my plan & budget, I’ll transfer every detail from paper to Microsoft Excel. That way it’ll be easier to make any changes & update accordingly. I have a copy of it in my laptop, in my email & in my phone. When the time comes, I’ll just whip my phone out & refer to my plan from there.
All I can tell you is this – a plan is just a plan. It’s not set in stone. It’s a rough guide & it’s good to have a plan; instead of going head first into a wall, make sure you have a helmet on as protection. Having a plan will prevent time-wasting (and money-wasting) when you get to that particular country. At least you know where to go & what to do. My plan & routes did change, albeit slightly, in the middle & towards the end of the trip. But it was fine & I was fine. You can plan all you want but at the end of the day, it’s not you who gets to decide whether your plan stays or otherwise. You don’t get to control the weather, you don’t get to control citizen strikes & you don’t know if the bus you’re on will get to the destination safely & on-time.
Coming up with a travel plan is a lot of work, a lot of research, very tedious & time-consuming. Remember, it took me two years to come up with my plan. But of course I did it part-time & only when I have free time on my hands. But the thrill of planning, the satisfaction of completing your plan & finally executing it is just indescribable. Always remember: You can have the best plan in mind but EXECUTION IS EVERYTHING.