On our first trip to Europe, we relied on books and friends to plan our trip. Before the internet, these were the best options besides a travel agent. Just like any planning method, ours had its pitfalls.
A big goof – not making all our hotel arrangements until we arrived in Europe. Friends suggested we do Europe their way -- make two nights’ hotel reservations at each end of the trip and then see how it goes. If we liked one place better than another we wouldn’t be locked in.
We made hotel reservations for Paris for five nights while in London. We loved Paris and attempted to book two additional nights, but our hotel was fully booked. Instead, they put us up at a sister hotel, literally on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was half the price and we had their day-old croissants for breakfast. Spontaneity may work for some people, but not me. I’ve learned never to leave home without having all lodging booked.
No matter how often we travel, we make mistakes. Some make for a good story, but others are frustrating. Here are some planning tips we’ve learned to avoid disappointments:
Plan your days. Sure, you can leave a day or two open for spur-of-the-moment activities, but if you have places and activities you’d like to do, draft an itinerary.
Check museums and attractions of interest for the days and times they’re open.
Do some of your sightseeing at night to fit in all you’d like to see; museums are often less crowded and the city and countryside look entirely different when the sun sets and the lights go on. You can find wonderful concerts at historic churches and synagogues in the evening.
Explore restaurants located near your hotel with an app like Yelp, and then read reviews. It’s always helpful to have a few restaurants in mind; check to see what dates and times they are open, especially holidays. We got stuck in New Zealand on New Year’s Day without a reservation; the restaurants, except in hotels, were all closed.
Find out if the city, town, or museums of interest have special celebrations, exhibits, or tours while you are in town. For example, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., or the Floral Carpet in Brussels, Belgium.
Determine if you need to pre-purchase tickets. Some popular museums, like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome, can become fully booked. Reserve your admission tickets to save time and ensure you’ll get in.
Check online to see what performances will be in town during your visit. It’s a lot of fun to view a performance venue, like the Opera House, by way of a performance.
If you want to attend a specific show, know what days it is available and whether you need to pre-purchase tickets.
If you are near a body of water, find out whether there are ferry boats or cruises and their schedules. Everything looks different viewed from the water and some require pre-booking.
Don’t let bad weather spoil your vacation. Plan for it and have several things you can do indoors on rainy/snowy/overcast days.
Editor's note: The author of this story has no financial interest in the companies, products or services discussed and has accepted no gratuities, payments or free merchandise. Any samples provided for research purposes were returned immediately upon conclusion of the research.