Travel Series: Europe {Planning the Trip}

In 6 weeks I will be en route to Vienna, Austria to embark on a whirlwind two-week adventure with my youngest sister who is studying abroad there for a month. Her and I have talked about this sort of trip since we were very young, and it’s finally come to fruition. After what feels like months of planning, I think I’m ready to just be there.

As I’ve been asked by a number of people how the planning process is going, I’m going to do a recap before & after the trip, to document what I’ve done so far and what worked (after the trip).

{Our Route through Europe}


Planning- my process

Step 1. Determine your budget.

Do you plan on staying in hostels or 5 star resorts, train or car, buy from market or eat out? Your budget is a good starting point to determine the length of the trip, as well.

Step 2. Set the dates of your trip. Make sure you can take this much time off from work/school.

Step 3. Set up a spreadsheet, calendar, list–whatever your preference is–to jot down ideas and places you want to go. Some people choose to know their arrival and departure dates, and determine the rest when they arrive. This is not me. I would much rather know that I have a nice hotel to sleep in and things to do and see.

I utilized Google Docs (now Google Drive) to create a calendar spreadsheet of each day and where we’d be staying. Since we have 14 days to cover 6 countries, we will be busy girls! (Feel free to email me if you would like a copy of my spreadsheet.)

Step 4. Research. Gather info. Plan. soon became my favorite website and app. As did Rick Steves’ Europe. I utilized these forums for tips on planning, packing, what to wear, what to see, etc. I also can’t thank my friends & family enough for the countless emails I’ve sent to those who have traveled through these same regions.

It’s also crucial at this time to figure out if you will be traveling by car or train through Europe. We chose car, as we’ll be going to many ‘off the train route’ areas.

Another great tip during this phase of planning is to find a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees or mastercard/visa fees. I got the Capitol One Venture and couldn’t be happier. This article helped me make my decision.

Oh, and how can I forget Pinterest!? My sister and I made a board where both she and I could post our ideas. We actually chose our stop in Slovenia simply because of a photo of Lake Bled.

Step 5. Talk with your travel companions.

In my case, my sister and I had many Skype conversations to figure out what exactly we wanted to do and see. I wanted to make sure we were on the same page, and if one of us wanted to see something really badly–I made it happen. Luckily, we have very similar interests. 🙂

Step 6. Make reservations

I chose to book everything in advance of our trip, as we’ll be in some popular destinations in June. I was very particular about where to stay in Cinque Terre and Lake Como. Who am I kidding, I was pretty picky about every single location–but I really wanted to ensure we got the best hotel for our $$. When making reservations, I utilized my good ol’ buddy (for cash back) and (they simply offered the highest amount of $$  back).  I used Economy Car Rentals for the car reservation, as they had the easiest process for the Eastern European countries (Slovenia) that we’ll be visiting. During my research I realized that many other car rental agencies had high fees hidden in the terms & service. Read that closely! Another perk of the Capitol One Venture is it does cover the car insurance, so I can waive that with the rental company. Oh, and avoid the pick up and drop off locations being in different countries. The fee for that is pretty outrageous (sometimes over 500 Euro/$650). That’s more than our 2 week car rental total!

Step 7. Start thinking about what to pack/bring/wear.

I already had a recent passport, so I was all set there. I did, however, need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) as this is required by some car rental agencies. Not all require it, but I’ve heard that if you have an accident, they take your US Driver’s License. I’m fine with them taking my international driving permit, instead. 🙂 You can get the $15 IDP from your local AAA office in person or by sending in a form and two passport style photos. Don’t act too fast though–the permit should be issued within 6 months of your trip, and it does expire after one year. You can read more about IDPs here.

I plan on packing only a carry-on rolling suitcase and a large cross body tote that will fit under the seat in front of me on the plane.

I won’t be bringing my MacBook Pro, but instead will try to create a workflow for photo management using my iPad 2, CF to iPad converter, and Dropbox/Google Drive/cloud storage. I will have my Canon 7D body with, and only my 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 and my 24-70 mm f/2.8. I don’t think I’ll have much use for my 70-200 mm f/2.8 while I’m there.

As for what to wear, I’ll let you know when I return how my clothing selection went. I know it’ll be HOT in Italy, but may be cooler up in Austria.


This should be a good start…stay tuned for my next Travel Series post about where we’re heading. A post before we go, followed up by a review after we return. Does pinterest make it look better than reality? We shall find out!


Dan Tyler - April 26, 2012 - 11:36 am

Great article! Exciting and informative, both – I travel in much the same way.

Mike Runnells - April 26, 2012 - 1:02 pm

So jealous ! Enjoy your trip

Annika Swenson - April 26, 2012 - 1:20 pm

Dano, I can’t thank you enough for all of your tips and suggestions!

Europe Highlights {video} » Driftless Living Photography | Southwestern Wisconsin Lifestyle Photography | Annika Swenson - January 19, 2014 - 9:27 am

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