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31 Days of Traveling to Europe: Day 2 - Preparations

When my sister and I decided that we were really going to go on our big adventure, we spent a day together working on the details. Each of us had bought books and done research on our own so this was a chance to compare notes. It's one thing to talk in theory about making a trip like this but when it comes down to the particulars, you want to make sure that the person you are traveling with has the same expectations. We first wanted to make sure we were on the same page as far as priorities for the trip and the amount of money we wanted to spend on lodging. Once we got the business side of things taken care of, we could get down to the fun stuff - making this the trip of a lifetime!

My sister is a schoolteacher so we knew we would be going in the summer. We filled out a calendar with all the events of the summer that we could think of and picked a block of weeks that worked best. We had it in our minds that we wanted to spend a week in each destination but to make sure that was a good plan, we thought about the things we wanted to do and see in each place.

We looked at guided tours through a website called Viator and how those fit into our plan. We chose day trips for London and Paris. We wanted to visit several places in Italy and found a tour that started in Florence, traveled by bus to Venice, then ended in Rome. This was appealing to us because someone else would be worrying about how to navigate the waterways of Venice.

Picking hotels was fairly easy. My sister was very happy with the hotels she stayed in when she visited Paris and Rome three years ago so we decided to stay there again. We wanted to stay in Notting Hill for our time in London so we researched options in that neighborhood. For Florence, we chose the hotel from which the tour departed. The plans for Venice were made by the tour company.

With all of this information in hand, we visited a travel agent about three months before we wanted to leave U.S. soil. We probably could have made all the plans ourselves, but it was nice to have someone who does this 40 hours a week to manage the details and think about things that we might not have considered. The travel agent did some advance research and once we sat down with him, all of the plans were made in a couple of hours (except for the Italian train tickets, which weren't done until about three weeks before we left, cutting it a little too close for our comfort but evidently that's the Italian way.)

The benefit of purchasing plane tickets and tours so far out was that the cost was spread out over a couple of credit card billing cycles. The majority of our trip was paid for by the time we got on the plane, the only bills we had when we got back were for hotels, food, and souvenirs.

We did buy travel insurance. It is based on the total cost of your trip and while it would be nice to have that money back, the peace of mind that it brought was worth it.

The months between buying our plane tickets and leaving for our trip were a mix of emotions. I was excited to see the places I had dreamed of but often found myself panicking about visiting places where they didn't speak my language, wondering if I was wrong to spend that kind of money when there were things I needed to fix on my house, and worrying about two women traveling on their own. Now as I look back on it, I am so glad I pushed down the panic and took the chance to realize a lifelong dream - stamps on my passport from Europe.

Here are some of the books we used for our research:
DK Eyewitness Travel books on each city like this one for London.
DK also has Top 10 books like this one for Paris.
Frommer's has books called Day by Day that are very useful. Here's the one for Rome.
And of course, we consulted books by Rick Steves. No trip to Europe would be complete without his advice.


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