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  • Joanne Herd

From Dream to Reality: Planning Your Perfect Trip to Europe in 5 Simple Steps

Updated December 4, 2023

You're ready to get started planning your dream trip to Europe. You've saved dozens of Instagram posts of drool-worthy locations that you'd love to see, your passport is renewed, and you've found some great flight options.

It's time to start planning that trip!

But then the questions and second thoughts begin.

How do I start to plan a trip to Europe? How do I know what I want to see, where to eat, how to get around? Are there places I'll think I want to go that will be a disappointment, or things I'll discover a week after I get home that I'll wish I'd know to go see?

Suddenly travel planning gets complicated, and stressful!

But it doesn't have to be.

There are a few decisions you can make and tips you can follow to take the stress out of planning. That way you can be ready to enjoy the dream vacation you deserve.

5 steps for planning a trip to Europe

1. Know what type of trip you want to take

Are you looking for adventure, wanting to relax and destress, experience museums and cultural attractions, or needing time to reconnect with family and friends?

Each of those options are a different type of trip, and the last thing you want is to come home and feel like that dream vacation wasn't what you thought it would be.

If you're looking for adventure, a hiking or ski trip may be just what you're looking for. A chance to get back into nature, push your limits, and find wonder again.

For museums and culture, a city like London or Rome could be the perfect vacation destination. Take in a show, eat at world-class restaurants, and experience centuries of art and history in the world's best museums.

To relax and destress, sitting on a beach or by a pool may be in order. Everything is taken care of, and more drinks and towels come to you whenever you want them.

For reconnecting with friends or family, a villa rental or cruise may be just the thing. You can stay in the same place, have meals together, and do some activities together, while also having the flexibility for travelers to pursue interests on their own or in smaller groups.

Infinity pool and ocean, Mexico
A beach vacation may be just what you're looking for if you want to relax

2. Know when to go

It's vital to understand both the weather seasons and the travel seasons in the place you're looking to visit. The wrong season or too many people won't make for an ideal vacation.

If you don't like crowds, you won't want to visit most major cities in the middle of summer when its hot and crowded. If weather is an issue for you, you'll need to know when your destination is wet vs. dry and hot vs. cold.

Most destinations have a shoulder season. That's the time between their busy season and their off season. Usually the weather is still good, although it may be a bit more hit and miss, and the crowds are smaller.

London with rain and flowers blooming
London in the spring rain. Fewer crowds, but variable weather.

For example, April-May and September-October are my favorite times to visit many locations in Europe. The weather in most places is beautiful, but you don't have to book tickets for most museums or attractions weeks in advance or risk missing out.

It's also important to take into account local holidays that may fall during your trip. Museums and attractions may be closed, or there may be more crowds than expected because locals are off work for a day or two. Planning around local holidays during your trip is easy, but only if you know about them so you can take them into account.

3. Check your passport expiration date

The last thing you want is to get down to the wire and realize that you need to renew your passport and you may not get it back in time to travel! Planning ahead is vital.

Some countries are fine with your passport expiring soon after you plan to go home, but others require 6 months validity beyond the date you're planning to depart. You don't want to be denied entry because your passport expires in 5 months.

4. Consider travel insurance and understand its coverage

A 2021 survey by AAA found that 31% of American travelers were more likely to purchase travel insurance now than they were prior to the pandemic.

Understanding your coverage is just as important as making the purchase. Read the fine print and know what is covered and what isn't.

Many American health insurance providers don't extend coverage overseas, or if they do it's on a reimbursement only model. However, some do offer coverage, so check to see if your insurance covers you overseas before purchasing additional coverage.

Some credit card companies also provide insurance on travel purchases made using their cards. Check to see what is covered before purchasing additional insurance. It's possible you could have your trip covered simply by charging it on the right card.

If you purchase travel insurance you should expect the cost to be 5-10% of the total cost of the trip, and costs will go up based on the age of the traveler, destinations, and overall levels of coverage.

A qualified travel advisor or consultant can help you understand your options, but keep in mind that they may be legally restricted from advising you on coverage details. Insurance sales are regulated in many states, and doing more than presenting the insurance options could land your travel advisor in hot water.

Review the options and read the fine print, and if you have additional questions on coverage you can always speak directly with the insurance company to clarify anything you are unsure about.

5. Use a travel advisor or consultant

Piazza San Marco, Venice
A good travel advisor can tailor a trip so it's everything you've dreamed.

There was a time, not that long ago, that many people believed the age of the travel advisor was over. But the pandemic changed many people's minds.

Notice that I say a travel advisor or consultant, not a travel agent. There is a difference, and you need to know that you have the right person guiding you through the travel planning process.

A travel agent, in the traditional sense, is simply that. A seller of airfare, cruises, and hotels who gets paid by those businesses when they sell a vacation package, hotel or cruise. They tend to sell budget products in large quantities, although some do sell higher priced vacations as well.

You're not looking for someone to sell you a product. If that was what you were looking for you could go to Expedia or Google flights, book your flight and plan your own vacation.

What you need is someone who understands your needs and desires, and who knows the destination well. Someone who can advise you on what to see, the best places to stay, and things you may want to do on your vacation.

Someone who understands a trip is about more than just the money you spend on it.

It's about the experience.

That's where a luxury travel advisor or consultant comes in. We are professionals with in-depth knowledge of specific destinations and types of travel. We guide you as we work together to plan your dream trip or vacation.

The bottom line

Travel planning is more complicated than it used to be, but it's absolutely possible to plan and take your dream trip.

Once the planning is complete all that's left is packing your bags and enjoying the vacation of a lifetime!


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