Do You Need A Strict Itinerary For A European Tour?

Part of the fun of planning a long trip is figuring out where to go and what to do.  But do you really need a strict itinerary?  I don’t think so, especially for a trip to Europe.

When our son Ben and his buddies went on a six week tour two years ago, they had the trip fully planned before they left Saskatchewan.  All rooms were booked in advance:  Two nights in London, a week in Rotterdam, a week in Lisbon, etc.   They didn’t want to be stressed out finding accommodations while on the road.

Ben’s trip worked pretty well.  One AirBnb host cancelled in the middle of the trip but they had time to rebook.  So they were never searching for rooms.

The biggest problem they faced was that they couldn’t adjust their plans on the fly.  Bordeaux was boring for four young men, but they had paid for five nights accommodations, so they stayed.  Lisbon was awesome and they’d love to stay longer, but their Barcelona apartment was paid for and waiting for them.

For my trip, I want to avoid too many commitments.  If Evora is amazing, I want to stay longer.  If we get invited to a village bakery, we’re going.  I don’t want to say Sorry I can’t go if an opportunity presents itself.

But still, it helps to have some idea.  So this is what we’re doing:

  1. I built a calendar for the 93 (!) days we’ll be away.
  2. I inked in the two fixed dates:  Arrive in Lisbon, depart via Amsterdam.
  3. We marked in key dates from the Real World.  When’s Easter? (Expect southern Spain to be packed Easter week.)  When are any cool festivals we want to see?
  4. I used pencil and sticky tabs to block out week long blocks, going forward and backwards.  At the start of the trip, we want to have time to visit more of Portugal than Lisbon, so that gets two weeks.  At the end, we want time to cycle in the Netherlands, so that gets a week.  We want to linger in Paris on route to Holland, so another week there.

The first run through is like a filled chocolate:  semi-firm on top and bottom, but soft and gooey in the middle.  For example, we really have no clue how we’ll make our way from northern Italy to Paris, although we know we’d like to be in Paris by May 10 at the latest.  And we know that if May is approaching and we’re nowhere near Veneto, we had better re-think things.

As we read through guidebooks and get ideas from our friends, things may firm up a bit.  What’s happening so far is that we’re finding more and more things we want to see. That will increase for sure once we land in a few weeks.  But there are a few people we want to visit so it’s good to at least commit to the month that we’ll be in their country!

Our approach is to go slow and deep into the places we visit, so the lack of a fixed itinerary will help with this.  We’ll need to make a lot of decisions as we go, but that’s part of the fun.

We already know we won’t have enough time to see everything we want on this trip.   Unless we sell the house.  Our kids have instructions of what to do if we call with the “sell” code.

My Kingdom For A Guidebook

One of the advantages of temporary unemployment is there is plenty of time to plan this trip.  

As our route slowly takes shape, I’ve been getting guidebooks from the library.  And as I read through them, I’ve been putting more books on hold.  We’ve got quite a collection at this point. 

One thing I’ve learned so far is that there is way more to do and see than we can fit in a single trip.  So we’re not going to try.  We’re going to go deep in fewer areas, rather than doing a Rick Steve’s “two days per city” whirlwind tour.  

The approach has served us well when travelling in Canada.  Our two weeks in Prince Edward Island is half a lifetime compared to the guidebooks – they’d have you on and off the island in 48 hours.  But there is joy and wonderment in the little villages as much as in the famous cities.  

As for the guidebooks?  I tend to lean toward Rough Guides, even if we’re not going to be staying in hostels very much.  Fodors and Frommers tend to be for people with higher budgets than we have (at least that’s the sense I get.). Lonely Planet might be a good fit but isn’t available at the library much so I haven’t formed an opinion.

WIth our ‘go deep’ strategy, the individual country or region guides (Portugal, Paris, Andalucia) are a better match than Europe in 500 pages.  The regional books have room for smaller, quirkier places in addition to the big names.  

The “general overview” books have been helpful too.  Rough Guide’s “First Time Europe” or Rick Steve’s “Europe Through the Back Door” get you in the right frame of mind for travelling, rather than talking about where to eat and what to see.

But all this book smarts can only give us the basics of a region.  I can hardly wait to get there and see Europe with my own eyes, meet new people, and follow my nose.

Time for a Great Adventure!

Airplane Wing

It’s been too long since Cindy and I were on a big adventure.  After working like crazy at the bakery for the past five years, it’s time to take a break.

We’ve always dreamed of a European Tour, but have never been.  So that’s where we’re going.  Roughly counterclockwise from Lisbon, to Italy and north to Paris and the Netherlands.  Or so we think.

Flights are booked (into Lisbon, home from Amsterdam.)  Guide books checked out from the library.  A few more weeks of dreaming then we’ll be getting on the plane.

Some friends have asked if I’ll be publishing a blog of our adventure.  Well, sure!  Don’t have to ask me twice.

We’re getting started early.  Before we leave.  This blog is all about travelling – getting ready, getting there and getting around.

We’re not travel experts or anything.  We’ve travelled around North America alone and with kids, but we’ve never left the continent.  So I fully expect some of our world traveller friends to cringe while we stumble around our first overseas trip.

It may not be pretty, but it’ll be entertaining.  🙂

Photo by David Becker