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There is no one "travel season".

There is no one "travel season".

With destinations in mind it is now important to figure out how long the trip will be and what time of year to travel. The length of the trip could be determined by how much vacation time is available (be it from a job or from a school) or by how much money is available. When I traveled I was limited by time, I left after classes finished and had to return when final exams started. Others who I met (mainly Australians and New Zealanders) were traveling around until they ran out of money. I am writing mostly to those constrained by a time limit more so then a monetary limit but I will write about it towards the end of this series.

When you place your trip could already be determined or slightly flexible. If it is already determined then the direction of the trip becomes important. My trip through Europe started on Easter and ended in April. I could have started in the north and worked my way down to Italy except that I had two seasonal events determine the flow of my trip. The first was that I wanted to be in Italy (Florence in particular) for Easter and the second was that I wanted to be in The Netherlands when the tulips were blooming (mid April). So these seasonally dependent events determined the flow of my trip. So when picking out destinations look for festivals or holidays in those locations and plan the trip to follow those events.

Some events to consider:

Those are the ones I can recommend from going myself of being there near those dates. Since I was not in Europe during the summer I don’t know good events around then.

If you are able to pick when your trip will take place then seasons and weather patterns might guide when you go. Since I did not have much choice of when to go I could have had bad luck but I almost always had good weather. Any weather can be good weather if you are prepared for it. I visited Copenhagen in December, it was 1 degree Celsius (34 degree Fahrenheit) the entire time. It rained the entire time I was in Italy and Florence in March. I was rained on at St. Andrews. But I was prepared for bad weather in each case and still had a great time. I have never really had the opportunity to travel “in season”, I have mostly gone out in the shoulder or off seasons. With the right clothes and maybe an umbrella or two traveling to Europe can be done any time (though some places do close in winter due to snow). 

In some countries, such as Scotland, the possibility of rain does not really change at any point during the year. Weather also changes faster then normally expected (for me at least). So if the day starts of clear and sunny rain may still be on its way. Every day for nine months I carried a small umbrella with me just in case, I never regretted it.

The best tip I received was to have militant optimism while traveling. Everything is an experience.

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Need Directions?

Need Directions?

Last spring I took a three week backpacking trip starting on Good Friday and ending in April. It took me a while to plan my trip and figure out all the details. I want to share the steps I took to plan and have an excellent trip through Europe without spending precious travel time worrying about the big picture. After however many segments I write in this I hope the end result is a good solid itinerary for a trip lacking in regrets.

I feel a good place to start is in planning the trip.

The first and most important questions to ask is: where do you want to go? This answer could be specific with a small german town where the family came from as the destination or even a general “Italy sounds lovely”. But in either case it is an important question to ask.

In my case I wanted to travel through Europe for three weeks. That was my answer to the question. So I bought a guidebook for Europe. I tried using online travel resources such as wikitravel, though I prefer to have a real paper book in front of me. A side bonus is the book (or the main book) used for planning the trip can go with you in case plans need to be changed. Plans will likely need to be changed.

For books I have found that those by Rick Steves to be excellent. At least for destinations. I only used the books for city guides and to find destinations; not all my destinations though.

After finding some cities or countries that are interesting write down an itinerary. It can be rough. My first one only listed countries and approximate days. This gives definition to a trip and allows it to be shaped instead of remaining as floating ideas and “I always wanted to go to…” phrases. 

Remember that an itinerary is always flexible, even during a trip. I had initially planned to go to Haarlem in The Netherlands, after talking to fellow travelers a week into my trip I changed it around and decided to stay in Brugge, Belgium for the last few days of my journey.

For an example here was trip itinerary after working on it for a month (not full time of course) and changing it on the fly (destination based on where I spent that night):

  • March 20: East Midlands Airport 
  • March 21 (Good Friday): Rome
  • March 22-24 (Saturday through Easter onto Monday): Florence
  • March 25-26: Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
  • March 27: Night train to Munich
  • March 28-29: Munich
  • March 30-31: Rothenburg ob de Tauber
  • April 1-3: Bacharach (Rhine River Valley)
  • April 4-7: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
  • April 8-10: Amsterdam
  • April 11-12: Brugge, Belgium

A quick note, I started and ended my trip in Edinburgh, Scotland because I spent last year studying abroad at Edinburgh University. Also some days were day trips out of the areas or spent traveling by train if need be

Tomorrow I hope to cover budgeting for the trip, both time and money.

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