Studying in the U.K. for the past 4 years has blessed me with opportunities to travel around Europe. Thankfully, I have progressed from being a clueless newbie who barely had any experience planning trips back then, to the more seasoned and confident traveller that I am today. Summer is almost here, which means that it’s time for holidays! I thought I would share some tips on how I plan my travels, and hopefully these will help you as you plan your ultimate getaways too! So let’s get started!
1. Where to Visit?
Sometimes you may already have a destination in mind that you want to visit. That’s great! At other times, all that your wanderlust-ing self knows is that you need a break from real life (this has happened too often for me, because #lifeasaLawstudent). Or you may have a clear budget, but you are flexible with the destination. What I do when this happens:
a) Ryanair – Fare Finder
The first website that I usually check is Ryanair. Ryanair is one of my favourite airlines to travel with because of their more generous cabin baggage allowance – passengers are allowed to bring one cabin-sized bag and one small bag! This is great for people like me, who are incapable of travelling light, but too stingy to pay for check-in luggage. Other airlines like Easyjet have strict one-bag policies, so do remember to check the baggage policy of the airline that you are using before heading to the airport! Furthermore, Ryanair often has cheap tickets to a wide variety of destinations! (This is not sponsored by Ryanair, although I would be more than happy if they are willing to do so.)
After getting to the website, I would click on the ‘Plan’ heading, and select ‘Fare Finder’. This allows me to search for cheap flights all over Europe, and I can filter down the results by adjusting the departure airport, budget, travel dates and even travel duration. This is how I scored my £19.98 return tickets to Marseille, France! This was definitely the most worth-it amount of money that I have spent on travel tickets.
b) Skyscanner – Explore Map
Skyscanner has a map function which many may not be aware of. Similarly, you can search for potential destinations by setting the departure airport, price, departure month, and travel duration, while navigating around the map.
2. How to Get There?
Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight options.
Before booking flight tickets, I would always do a search on Skyscanner first to find the cheapest airline for my preferred departure dates and times. Common low cost carriers include Ryanair, Easyjet, Monarch, Flybe and more. It may be worth using the private browsing feature of your browser (shift+command+n for Macs; shift+ctrl+n for Windows) when searching for tickets, to prevent websites from storing cookies. Occasionally, you may realise that ticket prices increase, if you repeat searches for specific routes and dates. Going incognito prevents that from happening!
Midweek departures (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) may be less popular, and thus cheaper!
Eurostar is a very convenient (and frequently overlooked) way of travelling if you are looking to visit France or Belgium (they also have routes to the Netherlands and Germany). The train departs from London St Pancras International, which is in the centre of London, and brings you right into the city that you are travelling to. Saves you the hassle and cost of travelling between the city centre and the airport! Immigration and safety checks at the train station are also often a lot faster, so you save time too!
Eurostar snap is a great way to get cheap, last minute tickets to Paris, Brussels and Lille. Perfect for that spontaneous weekend getaway! This is basically how it works: You choose a destination, pick a travel date and whether you want to travel in the morning or afternoon. 48 hours before you travel, you will receive information regarding your train times and booking reference. Prices start from £25 each way, which is such a steal!
Companies like Megabus and National Express offer bus services to destinations in Europe, often at significantly cheaper prices compared to flights and trains. However, I personally would not choose to travel by bus, especially if the journey time is long. I once took a Megabus from Coventry, U.K. to Antwerp, Belgium. The journey time was more than 10 hours, the seats were incredibly uncomfortable and unfortunately, we were seated near noisy passengers. The experience was very unpleasant and we arrived at our destination extremely tired. It was not worth the money saved, in our opinions. Nevertheless, if you are on a tight budget, and do not mind travelling in not-so-comfortable conditions, then taking the bus is an option!
3. Where to Stay?
The main websites I use for travel accommodations are Booking.com and Airbnb. I know that there are many hotel comparison websites, but I find Booking.com to be the easiest to use, and they often have the cheapest rates anyway. Hostelworld is a good site if you are looking for hostel options.
I would always do a Google search to find out the best areas in the city to stay in, before searching on each website and making price comparisons. The location of the accommodation is very important to me and I like to stay where the attractions are. I would rather not waste time and transportation costs, travelling to and from an accommodation that is not placed at a convenient location. Time and money are precious!
4. Where to Eat?
80% of my travel photos are food. I love eating. I plan my itinerary around places that I want to eat at. Eating is my priority. Have I mentioned that I love eating? I do my research by Googling for reviews from food/travel websites, bloggers, YouTube videos, online ratings and more.
This really depends on personal preference, but the online rating that is most accurate for me is surprisingly Google ratings. Generally:
4.2 – 4.4: Likely to be above average;
4.5 – 4.7: Likely to be quite good;
4.8 – 5.0: Almost definitely pretty darn good.
I like to go to places where the locals go to, because we are totally about immersing ourselves in the local culture and cusine, right? So I tend to stay away from Tripadvisor recommended places which have most of their reviews given by tourists.
Occasionally, if I am able to splurge a little, I make reservations at ‘fine dining’ or Michelin-starred restaurants. These restaurants may be very popular and require bookings weeks or even months in advance. So do remember to plan ahead!
5. How to Plan My Itinerary?
Tripadvisor gives a convenient list of sights to visit. You can also easily search for recommended itineraries on Google and plan yours according to them. I like starting off from a suggested 2/3/4-day itinerary, and then altering it according to my preferences. This is more convenient because the itineraries often have already mapped out the most efficient route for visiting the sights and attractions, so that there is lesser need to travel between different parts of the city.
I am quite an obsessive planner, so I like to know the list of things that I will be doing for the day and how to get from one place to another. I do this by creating a document with tables for the itinerary and all the essential information that I need. Even if you are the more laidback-type of traveller, I think it is useful to have a prepared list of places, restaurants and experiences, so that you can fully maximise your time there.
Creating a single document containing your itinerary and all the important information ensures that you remain clear and organised.
6. Mapping it Out
I use the app Maps.me on my phone to pin down the places in my itinerary. This map can be used offline, but the mapped area has to be downloaded beforehand. Pinning down the places and colour-coding them gives me a good idea of where they are located in relation to one another, and how to plan my routes.
Google maps also has an offline option. But do take note that only driving directions are available offline. Transit, bicycling and walking directions require a working Internet connection.
7. Google Drive and Spreadsheets
Google Drive is wonderful when travelling with a group of people. Create a shareable folder with your travel buddies and everyone will be able to participate in the planning process. It also ensures that everyone is kept in the loop and has the important travel information. We don’t want anyone getting lost, or worse, missing a flight!
If you are travelling with friends, this app makes splitting bills so much more convenient, especially if you are bad with numbers like me. Holiday trippin’ with friends often means a lot of shared expenses like meals, accommodation, transportation costs and more. With this app, you can create a group for your travel companions. Whenever someone pays for something for the group, he or she just has to add it into the group on the app. The app will automatically calculate how much each person has to pay or be paid. This is an easy and stress-free way to clear off your ‘debts’ after the trip!
9. Staying Safe
Big cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and others are unfortunately notorious for pickpockets. However, you should not let this deter you from visiting these beautiful cities! Read up on some of the common methods that pickpockets use to prey on their victims. Ensure that your bags and pocket zips are always closed. Always keep your bags with you. Refrain from putting valuables in your pockets where they are easily accessible. Look confident and be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas and on public transportations. What is important is to just be alert and stay vigilant!
That is all for now! I hope you found that useful. Regardless of what type of traveller you are, whether you are a rigorous planner or chilled and relaxed, planning well and doing research beforehand can bring you a long way. It’s Summer time, so make full use of the beautiful weather and start planning your next holiday!
Until next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!