Crazy to go to Europe without everything planned ahead.

Is it totally crazy to go to Europe without everything planned ahead of time? Is it possible to get hotels, rent cars, rail tickets and tour tickets after getting there? Plans are to fly into London, rent a car see the country for a few days. Then Paris, Berlin and do the same there as our time permits then fly out of Amsterdam. We have 23 days from landing in London and leaving from Amsterdam.
First time trip to Europe.
Thank you!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12566 posts

No, not at all. We have been doing that for the past 25 years or so. Of course, in the early days it was far more difficult to plan ahead than it is today with the internet and computers. Now the big advantage to pinning down lodging and transportation is the discounts, sometimes significant, for advance reservation and payment. Of course, that does lock you into a rigid schedule and you could do a little of both. And now lot of travelers are very annal about reservations so some of the better hotel may get booked ahead. Trains are not as critical because they seldom fill up but air flights do. It is really a matter of your comfort level with unplanning. You can almost always find hotels, B&Bs through the local TI when you hit the city. If you are flexible you will be fine. We tend to reserve our first couple of nights and at least the last night. Often will have a list of hotels in each area that we are interested in using. Will use the internet a couple of days before to make reservations as our schedule firms up. Never had problem. However, you will get the opposite advice.

Posted by gone
2081 posts

@ Noel,

What frank didnt point out was the drawback of winging it.

Trains. yes the trains may not be full, but your ticket costs will probably be more for last minute fairs.

Air fair. Same as above. sometimes you can get a less expensive ticket, but the drawback again, is maybe more $$$.

Lodging. location. For not reserving a place to stay where you may want to stay, you maybe staying in the back 40 somewhere. this could cost you more $$$ by travel to/from the places you want to see and TIME. Time = $$$.

Attractions/Tours. If they fill up, you may not get what you want when you want.

What it all comes down to is if you have the TIME & $$$ do wing it. If whatever you choose to use/do is filled up or you have to wait an afternoon/day or so can you afford to do so.

Just so you know, im one of the anal type that actually plan my trips. Since my $$$ and time is limited, its something i do. So far i havent missed anything that i have planned to see/do. There have been unexpected closures so that cant be know before hand, but there is always next time. An additional comment, is that if you dont know what there is to do/see you cant plan to do/see it.

also, as Frank mentions you can mix it up.

one last comment. There is no right/wrong/best way to travel. Its up to you and how you like/learn to do it. Also, it doesnt mean you cant change the way you do it everytime you travel.

good luck and happy trails.

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
3661 posts

What time of year and where you are will influence how easy or difficult it will be to wing it.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
2637 posts

Susan's absolutely right about the time of the year you're going. Winging it is easier not in the middle of Summer.
I would suggest you get a room reservations for the night you land and the night prior to your leaving.
If you have a notebook, laptop or IPad, you can make reservations on the fly easily thru outfits like Booking.com.
I would suggest you go ahead and have rental car reservations, as you may can save money over their walk in rack rate. Return the car in a different country and they'll eat you alive on drop off fees.

If you're looking for a great place to stay the night before you fly out of Amsterdam, let me suggest the below hotel. It's about 4 miles from the airport, and they have a shuttle van to take you to the terminal. It's the best value of any full service hotel I've ever had anywhere. They have suites with 2 leather couches that have as many as 6 beds--downright cheap.

http://www.hotelschiphol.nl

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8663 posts

If you have a pretty generous budget and don't care if you get deals.. then hey winging it could be fun.

I personally do not have that sort of budget so plan ahead to get the best prices for airfare, trains, and hotels..

If someone gave me a trip to leave tomorrow I would go and have a good time.. but .. I might miss something and I might pay more then I have to..

If someone gave me a ticket to go tomorrow.. i would go .Would I plan to not plan? No.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10381 posts

The only thing I would raise about the rental car is to make sure you reserve if you can not drive manual transmission.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
808 posts

As stated - it depends on when you are traveling - high season will be challenging on all fronts. If you plan on traveling in shoulder season there should be no problem. We did 30 days this way with no troubles - I would book the hotel in the next city the night before we headed there, Booking engines are use search tools, booking.com, venere.com and tripadvisor are great for finding vacancies, rates and reviews but I would always email the property direct or book directly on their website - they do appreciate that - and they may have rooms that are not available to the booking engine.

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For train tickets you will pay more for same day departures rather than booking 60 or 90 days in advance and some very busy routes may be booked for the peak times and/or faster routes. Although I have no first hand experience I would imagine it is much the same with flights.
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The biggest challenge will be tour tickets. The Eiffel Tower has tremendous lines - even in shoulder season - without booking advance tickets unless you book through a tour group which will cost much more than buying tickets direct. Anne Frank house is the same
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So it really depends on your expectations and budget and what you really want to see in each city.

Posted by Neil
Whittington
777 posts

I have read none of the replies - if you are happy to expend valuable time and if your money is of no concern it will resolve almost all situations and problems in the locales you are going.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
5445 posts

I love winging it but I usually don't anymore because of train ticket advance purchase savings. I would suggest booking your first and last night hotels in advance so you know where you'll lay your head after a long flight, and won't be scrambling to find a room the day before you return home.

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
593 posts

"First time to europe" and you want to "wing it".
Currency conversion of U.S. $ is a 30% loss, are you comfortable with not taking advantage of advanced planning to gain some cost savings?
Most important, do you really desire to increase your travel stress by constantly having to take time to find accomodations, transportation and research your destinations "on the go"?
I speak from experience, our first trip to europe was for 30 days and we only had hotel reservations in Rome (arrival point), Munich (point of departure) and a car rental reservation. Did we have fun? Sure. But, we have learned a better more enjoyable method of travel (for us) is to plan an itinerary as a foundation for the journey. Have we chosen at times to deviate from the itinerary? Yep, with great results.
So I can identify with the idea of having a flexibke adventure. The real question is:
"Are you asking this question to obtain information to convince your travel partner this is a great idea?"

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
808 posts

It took me about 20 minutes MAX - most nights 10 minutes - to find a hotel in the next destination. Google is your friend. A quick visit to Bahn.de and I had my train info so I would know what time to head for the train station usually had the platform info too but a quick look at the board would confirm it. Flexibility does cost more but it's not always about the money.

Posted by April
Portland, OR
348 posts

When we go to Europe I usually spend a lot of time researching hotels, transportation, activities, wineries, sites, etc. then I build an itinerary around our likes and yes, sometimes we deviate from it while there. Generally I just end up booking transportation and hotels. We spend thousands of dollars to travel to Europe and I want to know if I am going all the way to the Dolomites or Lake Como that my room has a view of what it is I am going all of the way to see.

We did wing it one year in England and I did spend about three hours total during that trip just checking out hotels. I would much rather have spent that time seeing England.

Especially on your first trip, I would at least make hotel and the rental car reservations, if you get one.

Posted by jturie
Valley Forge, PA
42 posts

Not sure I would wing my first trip to Europe, especially with a fairly complex itinerary. Others here are spot on--enough money and time will solve everything, but you should also carefully read the drawbacks that have been mentioned. "Winging" a hotel in late June, at least a popular one convenient to sights, is probably not going to happen. You're not going to wing a reservation for the Eiffel Tower or the Anne Frank House pretty much any time of the year.

IMHO, it comes down to the type of person you are more than anything. I am a structured (ok ok...anal) person who needs to nail almost everything down to the last detail. My idea of winging it is skipping a train so I can grab a Belgian Waffle and catching the next train an hour later! Free spirits and experienced Euro-philes think otherwise, and that works great for them. Also, if "we" means a total of two people, that's one thing; if "we" means a family of 4 or more, that's another.

Again, for a first trip I would focus on the sightseeing adventure, not the "getting-there" adventure. Enjoy.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
808 posts

"My idea of winging it is skipping a train so I can grab a Belgian Waffle and catching the next train an hour later!"

But then you can throw away your cheap purchased ahead train ticket and buy another full fare for the later train - cuz the cheap ones are for a specific train, date & time.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10381 posts

"My idea of winging it is skipping a train so I can grab a Belgian Waffle and catching the next train an hour later!"
But then you can throw away your cheap purchased ahead train ticket and buy another full fare for the later train - cuz the cheap ones are for a specific train, date & time.

I get the point you're trying to make, but it's a poor example, because Belgian rail doesn't offer advanced purchase discounts, and tickets are never tied to a specific train.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

You've asked two questions: one stated and the other implied.

Can it be done?

Of course it can be done. We do it all the time - - land somewhere with an idea in mind and take off for a thousand miles in the opposite direction. Reservations are for weddings and funerals when we want to stay with the rest of the mob - - otherwise hardly ever. Cost - - a lot less than what I see posted here. Time - - maybe fifteen minutes, max, to find a place to stay. Expenditures - - a hundred bucks a day per person including a car the whole time. Tours - - never taken one except the odd walking tour for a couple of hours.

Can you do it?

Probably not, at least anywhere close to economically. Because you had to ask, mostly. If you'd thought you could pull it off, you would have been long-gone. You have some preconceived idea of where you want to go - - all expensive urban areas except for Berlin. How much self-confidence do you have - - if you don't find a guidebook-listed place to sleep, can you trudge into the far beyond so you don't bust your budget? You say you want to go several places and rent a car for a few days to poke around - - yet you don't need a car for your three cities. Tours - - they're expensive, why haven't you thought to read up a bit and do whatever it is on your own?

Read what Neil said about a thousand times. The money gun can solve any problem.

Simple hint: When you rent a car don't walk up to the counter. Stand outside and internet the reservation before walking in and you'll save a bundle.

Crudely put in a short space, but think about it.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12841 posts

"Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Numerous famous people, including Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill have said this or something like this.

You've already started to plan - London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam. Are you going to just go blindly into those towns and then say, "what should I see here?". I wouldn't advise it. If you haven't already decided what you want to see before you get there, you aren't likely to do a good job of it when you do get there.

At least have an itinerary that includes the towns you want to see. Research the town and have a list of possible things to see. That will help you decide how many days in each town. Make room reservations. Then you will know the days you have to travel between venues, and you can get train tickets in advance. Don't be too rigid - like day 1, 10:00, see this museum. Be prepared to spend more or less time depending on your interest. At worst, you might spend a few hours idly in a pub having a beer and watching the locals, but you'll fill your time better than if you had nothing planned.

On my last trip to Europe, I spent a week in an apartment in the Oberallgäu. I didn't have a day by day itinerary, but I knew a lot of places I might want to see. One day we went to Oberstdorf. I had planned to spend an hour there and then go on to the Kleinwalsertal, but when my partner saw all of the shops there, she wanted to go shopping. So another day we went up to the top of the Kleinwalsertal and had lunch in the little alpine town there. Another day we went down to Oberstaufen. I had thought we might go down to Lindau for a day, but we did other things instead. We'll have to save that for another trip. The rest of our trip was filled so to stay another day in the Oberallgäu and see Lindau would have meant sacrificing something else.

I've often wondered how successful Rick would be if he offered tours with nothing planned. Just get on a bus and go wherever we feel like. No list of thing you will see. I don't think he would sell that kind of a trip to many people; why sell it to yourselves.

Posted by emma
London
871 posts

This might be a bit of a generalisation/exaggeration but I think asking this question on a travel forum( designed to help people plan trips) and one associated to organised tours is going to skew your answers towards the "are you mad? Of course you must plan!" answer!

As has been said the success of such a flexible trip will depend on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. The fact you are even asking the question might indicate you are fine with it.

I would suggest taking the middle route. Do enough research so you know what you are interested in doing and whether it is vital to book ahead, what the likely hotel availability might be in an area, any particular events that might appeal to you or impact on your trip. Then be flexible around that.

As has been said maybe print out hotels in the places you want to visit so you don't have to do loads of research on the hoof. Book the first night and last night so you have some breathing space and then go with it. Some aspects of your trip might work out more expensive, others might be cheaper. Have a look at late booking sites for bargains eg in the UK Lastminute.com, which can have some good deals. Turning up on the day at some hotels might allow you to negotiate a price reduction if you are happy to do that kind of thing ( emphasis on the might!) . That said if you are thinking of travelling by train in the UK do not even think about buying tickets on the day! These standard fairs are ridiculous! Definitely one area to book in advance.

One way to look at it is to think "what's the worst that can happen?" If that thought doesn't make you run away screaming you will probably be ok. And if there is a disaster, on the positive side, you will probably have a funny story you can live off for years when you get back!

Posted by Greg
Billings, Mt
17 posts

Most of us want to maximize our time while in Europe. Our first few trips were planned only loosely as you have so far, making decisions on what towns and cities we planned to visit. But in later trips we began doing a bit more planning, primarily planning and reserving hotels. While this more or less locks you into being in a specific city on a specific day, the big advantage is being able to have a room that is close to the sights you want to see, often within walking distance. In my opinion, it's much better to reserve a hotel in the heart of the area you wish to visit rather than spending time and money to get there from the room you finally found after you arrived in the city. For example last fall in Paris, instead of visiting the Latin Quarter, we "lived" there, experiencing the area at all hours--it was great. The earlier you book, the better location and better price you are likely to get and it removes a lot of stress. And believe me, your first visit will bring enough stress without the worry of "where are we going to stay."

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
729 posts

I've done it both ways depending on season and travel companion. Did two weeks in England with first London hotel and rental car reserved (August 1992 with a mellow 12-year old who, after spending a night sleeping in the car, made me get our room at a B&B by 4 p.m.) Did two weeks in Spain (October 2008 with same companion, now 28 and still mellow) with first Barcelona hotel reserved and RS book in hand, calling hotels from the prior location and booking tours with RS-suggested guides on then fly . (Note: find out how important national holidays are -- ended up going to the TI at the train station to find that "all hotels" in Sevilla were booked for Spain Day weekend but luckily, when I made clear that we didn't need "American style" hotel we were able to get a perfectly adequate bath-down-the-hall hostal near the cathedral.) Yes, we missed some bargains and couldn't get in for some things but overall great trips.

However, my current travel companion likes everything buttoned down so I make hotel and train and rental car reservations ahead for our longer (4 weeks) trips -- especially a Christmas market trip where Salzburg and Vienna were getting booked up in January for December. Less flexible and spontaneous but less anxiety during the trips. And good bargains on the train reservations. We don't book far ahead for most sights -- exceptions were Borghese Gallery (required) and Vatican Museum in Rome. In Paris, we looked at the lines to go up the Eiffel Tower and decided the view from the bottom was OK. Booked a Seine cruise ticket from our hotel wi-fi the day before to get the online discount.

My most flex trip was 1969 in shoulder season where we had a one-way charter to London in September and everything else was on-the-fly including how and when we were getting home from Europe --- but times have changed and there are MANY more people traveling and making reservations using the Internet. (And short-notice or one-way flights are hideously expensive.) Those were the days of "Europe on $5 as Day" and student-budget expectations.

Posted by selkie
204 posts

I would say to do enough research beforehand to have a list of possibilities, and then know when it's a bad time to be focusing on those possibilities. If you're thinking 48 hours in Paris from mid-day Monday to Wednesday, know that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. If you're thinking of a day trip through, say, Monaco, know when Grand Prix weekend is so you can avoid if that's not your expensive thing.

Posted by Mary
Reno, NV, USA
197 posts

Bear in mind that sometimes cities have big conventions or festivals or whatnot and rooms will be scarcer than hen's teeth. This happened to my husband on a business trip where he was sidelined to Copenhagen with no room reservation. He was lucky, really lucky to find a room in a hostel.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3096 posts

Can you do it? Yes... should you? Depends.
First trip to Europe...1998... I rented a car beforehand as I needed an automatic because I had my right arm in a cast. No reservations, a copy of ETBD and a map of Europe.... and 3 weeks. Late May/early June and it was an incredible adventure. I never even though about making hotel reservations ahead of time because how did we know where we wanted to be till we got there? Is this type of travel for everyone? No, but there are lots of people who do travel like this to Europe...there just aren't a ton of them on this site. 30 trips later I sometimes make res. but often not, but usually have a car. Big city stays I will sometimes book things ahead, but traveling small cities, or villages usually not. I doubt I have paid more for most hotels because I did not prebook.

There is a lot of stress for me knowing that I am on a 'schedule' and have to watch the clock for trains, etc. or to move on to a new location because I have a reservation somewhere. If you can't imagine this kind of travel to be fun, spontaneous and adventurous, then it's probably not for you. I have traveled on a tight itinerary a few times and did not like it.

Posted by jturie
Valley Forge, PA
42 posts

Sorry if I was misunderstood....I reread my post and it was poorly worded. I was not talking about prepurchased, reserved tickets. My specific example was a Ghent-Brussels train. I arrived at the station, purchased a ticket for a train that was leaving in 10 minutes, and was captivated by the heavenly smell of waffles. So I just took the next train.

As I said, I'm a detailed planner, but generally not when it comes to trains--they're just so easy. I did prepurchase my Brussels to Paris run (1st class!) for the discount, and would never skip it, not even for a Chimay.

Again, sorry for the unclear post.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
678 posts

Not sure when you are going, but you have chosen some of the more expensive cities in Europe. The cost factor would give me pause, since even as an experienced travel planner I have a hard time finding places to stay with reasonable value in Paris and London months in advance. I have never been to Amsterdam but have checked into it and found it to also be expensive, Berlin I think is relatively reasonable on prices. (I try to stay for $140 a night for a double if I can). As many here have heard, my wife and I have done 15 Europe trips in as many years. It has gotten more and more expensive, and the margin for error is much less. If you don't plan ahead, you will sacrifice location, quality, or money. As others have said, if money is no object then you will not have any problems. Spend fifteen minutes looking at prices on booking.com and you will see what I mean about these cities being expensive. If you don't want to spend the time to plan now, why would it be a good idea to figure it all out on the road, carrying your bags, upon arrival in a huge foreign city? Two weeks ago if you had done that in Barcelona, you would have been up against the Mobile World Congress hoards, and who knows what you might have paid. ($250 a night was a great deal when we booked our rooms two months ago). The last time we traveled in Europe without every night booked was Portugal in 2008, which is a cheapish country and it was only in Nazare where it's common for locals to meet people at the train stations with rooms to let. Before that it was on our 2003 France trip, and that too was only for a few nights on a 14 night itinerary, and even that was in outlying areas and not in Paris. Be aware that pricing in Europe is not as rational as in the U.S., in the sense that perfectly ordinary room may be crazy expensive. With my values, being fairly cost-conscious, yes I would say it's crazy to visit big cities on this basis. In smaller towns you might do a lot better, but that's not the trip you are planning.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3994 posts

Yes, it's possible. Full disclaimer - my husband and I don't travel that way, though.

For instance, you could travel on Eurostar between London and Paris for either $68, or full fare/walk-up $196-$483 (fares down to $196 are often sold-out, so $483 is a real possibility). Likewise, if you traveled by train (daytime) from Paris to Berlin, you could pay $129, or $393. Granted, that's a full day of travel; you might prefer an airplane if the time and route is good (same advance-purchase considerations usually apply). I don't know if you're traveling alone, or with several people in a family, but this kind of money can add up. For us, it means how many days we can afford to spend in Europe.

You could plan your more expensive, long-distance travel...but wing it when it comes to on-the-ground activities.

"This might be a bit of a generalisation/exaggeration but I think asking this question on a travel forum( designed to help people plan trips) and one associated to organised tours is going to skew your answers towards the "are you mad? Of course you must plan!" answer!"

FWIW, the people who volunteer their time on the Travel Forum, formerly known as the Helpline (sigh), aren't employees of Rick Steves' company. The vast majority are very pro-independent travel, although several here have taken one or more of Rick's tours. While RS offers tours, his compamy is far and away based on teaching the skills one needs for independent travel. So, most of us probably DO plan our time and try to travel as inexpensively and smartly as possible, but that's a far cry from being skewed towards organized tours.

Noel, at the very least, I'd book my first city's room, and perhaps my last city's; it's well worth it to simply hand your taxi driver the address of your hotel after the long flight (or if making your way on public transportation, you know you've get a bed waiting on you)...It typically is possible to get seats on trains, depending on the route and how flexible your plans are, and you can find accommodations. Definitely do some research on where you'd like to stay before leaving home, though, so you don't end up in Timbuktu and nowhere near the town center/train station/city attraction.

Posted by emma
London
871 posts

Eileen sorry if my comment caused offence it really wasn't the intention. I wasn't trying to say that people that contributed to the Rick Steves site were in some way in the pay of Mr Steves I was just making the point that it probably wasn't the first point of call of the determined independent traveller who was happy to throw all plans out of the window.
The general gist of the site and the forums content tends towards planning a trip, to a varying extent, rather than flying by the seat of your pants and hoping for the best.
Rightly or most probably wrongly the reputation of the " typical" Rick Steves traveller is that they are perhaps slightly more risk averse than other travellers who use other guide books and websites.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4075 posts

I think that perhaps what Emma is saying is that many, if not most, of the people who contribute to the Helpline, (AKA Forum) have the planning gene in their make up. We like planning. It's part of what gives us pleasure in our travel. There are people who want to be free if not to eat the waffle, to perhaps stay an extra day on Skye rather than stay on schedule for Mull. I've got a strong dose of planning gene, but also enjoy the edginess that not having the entire trip booked from NYC taxi to the airport through to the last dinner in Glasgow. :) So, I'm very empathetic to the need to include some flexibility in your plans. What if you are done with Paris early? (I know many would say that is not possible!) What if you meet someone and they invite you to their canal boat in Amsterdam? It all really comes down to your flexibility. You need to be able to accept a hotel that is not perfect. To stay somewhere that is not central. To move on before you want to as the hotel is booked for the next night. Or conversely pay more money.

Pam

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
612 posts

In relation to what Emma posted about the type of person who contribute to the website, not only is that the case but the requests for help are skewed toward people who like things organized/planned. Every day there are posts from people who request to have their itinerary critiqued, and almost everyone is broken down to the day if not the hour with no flexibility built in at all, and rare is the case where the itinerary is doable. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with planning, it shows they're really attempting to make their trip about what they want to see and do, being proactive but maybe a little naïve or overzealous in their planning. I too believe that some flexibility needs to be taken into consideration, take time to not only smell the coffee but enjoy it too. As Pamela mentioned, if someone you met somewhere along the line invited you to their canal boat that to me would be a priceless opportunity and memory along with a great story once home, not the five museums visited in three days. In all honesty the posts that bother me (I know I shouldn't let it) are those requesting help where the person doesn't do any research or planning at all, saying "I'm going to Madrid, what should I see, what should I do", or "what are the must sees in Paris?" As the contributors know part of the fun is the research, I won't say it's half the fun but a good bit! And lastly also in regards to what Emma said and I mean no offense by this but when people can quote train fare prices to the euro or dollar or quote the hours and or days that a certain museum is open, then yes, you are a planner, not that's there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
3994 posts

Emma - no offense taken, nor assumed ;-) Many a poster has assumed that they are talking to an employee of ETBD, or even to Rick himself. We never know who may be reading this, so...Just setting the record straight!

Except for the 'money belt/pickpocket/need cute shoes' questions, most of the others concern planning their trip - how to get the cheapest prices, which days are best for Versailles, car vs train, which hotels are our favorites and how to prebook them. It would be really difficult for someone to answer the question, 'how do I not plan my trip and allow for serendipity?' LOL!

I was just pointing out the vast differences in prices for Noel's trip, so he can ask himself how much serendipity he is willing to allow himself. Many of us would choose to prebook where it made the most impact $$$ - usually the more-expensive transportation and hotels - and then follow our whims (if desired) for the rest of the trip. On the off-chance I get asked to stay on someone's yacht, I'll eat the (cheaper) cost of those pre-booked train tickets and the occasional non-refundable hotel reservation. Until then, I'll come out waaaay ahead by continuing to buy my advance-purchase tickets. I'm not holding my breath for the yacht thing... ;-)

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
808 posts

There are some of us here that are willing to pay the extra for flexibility as that is the type of trip we are looking to have. There is NO right way to travel - people have different styles and comfort levels. There is a difference between "touring" Europe and visiting one, two or three cities for prolonged periods. I have done both types of trips and enjoy both.

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It irks me when I read things like "you must pick one place or the other" or "you can't do that city justice in 2 days" or "here - I've totally re-worked your itinerary and deleted those stops I think are unnecessary" or "the only thing you'll see is the inside of the train" etc... Making a poster "wrong" about their choices is not helpful in my book - I'd rather point out the pros & cons of something and share my experience and then the person can make a more informed choice.

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I happen to enjoy train days - I get to see the beautiful countryside, catch up on my travel blog, review our plans for the new destination, relax a bit and meet others. We have met some very nice folks, both locals & other travelers, on the train The time on the train really allows you to have a conversation with folks rather than a brief chitchat you might have if sitting in a cafe somewhere. Even a 6 hr train ride can put you in your new location by 3 or 4 in the afternoon - It takes me about 30 minutes at most to get from train station to hotel get checked in & drop my bags - that still leaves time to start seeing my new destination, take a walk, get oriented with where things are, have a nice dinner and perhaps some nightlife - not a wasted day in my book. Was Salzburg to Venice a long train day? Yes but we thoroughly enjoyed the trip through the Alps - it was snowing there - sure glad I didn't break up my trip with a stop there but it was lovely to travel through.

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It's not always about the money - sometimes the journey is the destination!.

Posted by Jill
Silicon Valley
17 posts

I've found it best to have a plan for your route. (So you don't backtrack.) And know what you're willing to give up. If it's summer & you're going to those high tourist places? You might want to consider some level of planning; at least calling from the city before to make a reservation. It also depends on how picky you are about your accommodations; will you stay in a hostel? can you afford a high priced hotel? (if that's all you could get,) how do you feel about sleeping on a bench in a train station if it came to that? (I did it once, it sucked.) But one of the funnest places I've stayed was in a room above a pub in Bruge. Arrived when most things were closed, it was raining, we were tired, our map sucked. We stopped in this pub to get dry, eat & get directions. Found out they had few rooms for rent & grabbed one. It wasn't fancy. In fact, it was beyond tacky & hilarious. But that's the adventure part of the trip. We ended up loving it. That would make the skin crawl for some people. Make sure everyone traveling can deal w/spontaneity. You're about to be out of your comfort zone. That's good, but not everyone deals well with it.

The one thing I would consider knowing more about is my transportation. The difference in cost between a rail pass & multiple single destination tickets can be quite large.
Have fun!!!

Jill

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3845 posts

One thing I have found out and observed in traveling is that I don't do well when traveling with someone when confronted with something outside their comfort zone. That accounts for my traveling solo in Europe most of the time, esp in Germany and Austria.

@ Christi... well said, well put. True, that after a 6-7 hour train ride in the summer you can arrive at the destination prior to 16:00 and still do something on the outside, very true of Munich, Paris, London, Berlin, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Salzburg, Wien. Museums generally close at 17:00 but one can get to other sights before dinner.

@ Noel....no need for a rental car in Paris and Berlin when the public transportation system will serve you well. I would say unless you want to cover certain villages ( I can think of some worthy of your time and effort) in the greater Berlin area, ie., to see that countryside in Brandenburg presumably in one long day, then a rental car is more advantageous.

Posted by bealeg
11 posts

When we took our children to the UK and the USA we booked all our accommodation in advance but now they are older we go by ourselves and usually wing it. We have had a few trips to Europe and the UK and will be going again in June. I will book accommodation in Dubai for a stop over and our first night in Milan as we get in quite late, but after that we are free to do and go wherever we choose.

Of course we plan. We map out a route and find out what to see in each place but we don't book. We rarely take tours preferring to do it ourselves. Accommodation can be found on he internet along the way, stopping at an Internet cafe. We are not fussy about staying in fancy hotels because we only sleep there and most of our time is spent out walking and exploring our destination. We don't like being locked in to being in a particular schedule. If we change our mind and want to stay in one place for a few days, no problem. Or if someone tells us about something else we should see we don't mind changing our journey. Every now and again we lash out and stay somewhere special - a five star flashy hotel in Monaco etc. On one trip we stayed in a very nice historical home in the UK and got talking to a lovely couple from the Yorkshire dales. The next morning they invited us to visit them later in our trip. It wasn't part of our intended journey all good plans are flexible. We changed our journey a little, stayed with our new friends and saw things we would have missed if we had booked all our accommodation ahead of time. We usually travel in the European summer to escape canberra's winter, but we h ave never been without somewhere to stay even though we travel in peak season. I always recommend winging it.

Posted by Jean
Mill Creek, WA, USA
506 posts

Hi Noel,

Would I do it? Absolutely not. Should you do it? Definitely! I perceive from your question that you like to be completely spontaneous, so pack a good travel guide and go for it. I plan & study the towns/areas we'll be in detail with reservations for hotels & trains before we go. Then we're completely spontaneous when we arrive, knowing what's available in the area.

But, i think you're more the type who enjoys the journey and each experience will be just another good memory - even trying to find a hotel in a small town around London will give you a chance to talk to more locals.

Enjoy your adventure!

Posted by Wil
IJzendijke, The Netherlands
478 posts

It’s a question with many many answers but I think it’s usefull how good to know your wishes and how your character is. If I read well you want to do it the adventurous way, but have some doubt in what extend and as a first timer is it doable already now.
Obviously always plan the basics like intercontinental flights, budget, insurance, health and things like that. I also like the adventurous way, but I usually book the first two nights to get used to the new enviremont and to orientate myself for the next days and the last night in the neighbourhood of the airport. Everything in between can be planned in detail on paper at home, but book nothing and take the planning with you. As a first timer you can do things at the safe side and book some places ahead or if you feel confident enough and once on the move just go the spontaneous way. You can use the planning as a back-up.
Important for the extend of planning to know if you travel during high or shoulder season and if the area is a touristical one or not. For hotels and B&B’s in Great-Britain look at the website of the Automobile Association: www.theaa.com. In France for B&B’s consult www.gites-de-france.com, for Germany I’m lesser sure, but you can try: www.bandb-ring.de and for The Netherlands look at www.bedandbreakfast.nl. English can be selected on all websites.
About travelling by car, be sure you know all the ins and outs before hitting the road, there are general European traffic rules but still every country has different ones you have to be aware off. Happy travel!

Posted by Mike
Fishers, IN, USA
111 posts

Never been to Europe before, think twice about driving in the UK. You'll spend more time learning to drive on the left side of the road than enjoying the sites. Likewise your partner will be nervous as well. Take the train, taxi or just walk.

Posted by Jan
Spokane, WA, USA
151 posts

I spend many hours ahead of a trip making all the arrangements that I can, and researching the things I want to see. My daily "schedules" are suggestions, and totally flexible except for a few tours. I always reserve our accommodations, major transportation and special tickets or tours, for example, I reserved a specific early morning tour of the Vatican, and just made a reservation that will take my family to the "3rd ring" and the underground of the Coliseum in Rome, both tours that sell out months in advance. When I go to Europe, everything is new and unique, and I like to be prepared.

The reason? Well, as some others have suggested, it takes lots of the stress out of travel -- you know you are going to be able to get where you want to be and not miss some of the world's greatest sights. Why take chances when you are spending so much to get there? Wouldn't you want things to go as smoothly as possible? I do not want to waste one minute of vacation making travel arrangements that I could have done before leaving home!

Good luck. Let us know what you decide to do and how it goes!

Jan

Posted by Jim
Slidell, LA
365 posts

Did three two week trips for three including my MIL who was 83, 88 and 89 when we landed in Europe and planned almost everything to the T. Now I'm trying to plan a three week solo trip for me in September and your questions are exactly what I've been asking myself. Fortunately I do not have any time or financial issues to deal with, but part of going solo is the flexibility I haven't had in the past and that's the part I'm having trouble with. Flying into London and out of Amsterdam is a great idea. Have you driven in Europe in the past, and especially in England? Did it for the first time a couple of years ago in Scotland (Edinburgh to St. Andrews) and for the first couple of days it was challenging. If you're not comfortable there are many full day bus tours out of London After that it was easy. I rented a car in Normandy and Provence for 12 days and it was a piece of cake. I am planning a hotel the first and last night, with the flexibility to change or cancel the last night is I change directions or get lonely during the trip and want to cut it short. Attraction and rail tickets can be done on the fly, but don't get too close before booking and paying for them. Anything inside of a week can get dicey. All of our trips have been in September (Rick's shoulder season) and anything after mid September should be easier to navigate on the fly, same with April and early May, depending on where you go and when. Consider the weather forecast as well when choosing when to go where. Regardless, enjoy.

Posted by Ray
Saint Helens, OR, USA
213 posts

Do your homework before you go. Read everything. Then let the vacation come to you.

Posted by Noel
Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia near Atlanta
5 posts

Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I'm actually trying to prove to my daughter that we need to do more planning instead of just landing in Europe and then deciding what to do! Your suggestions were very helpful in seeing that we could do a little of each. In the US, neither one of us to plan. We like to play it by ear......but....Europe? She may be confident enough to do no planning but I need to know what our options are. We are going the end of May for 23 days.
I will take your suggestions to heart.
Thanks,w
Noel

Posted by gone
2081 posts

@ Noel,

Its not cheap to go over there unless you have some bonus miles/points to use. For me i have to spend ~ 1k+ USD to get overthere so im want to make sure i have the time to do/see what i want. Not that i wont go back, but i want to make the most out of my $$$.

Since it appears your daughter has some influence in your decisions, why not let her do here thing in one city of her choosing.

also theres no reason you all cant split up and do your own thing once there and settled in your lodging.

happy trails and it would be interesting to see how the trip comes out.

Posted by Terri Lynn
Nashville, TN, USA
617 posts

It all depends. The really excellent hotels need to be reserved. Some rail passes can't be bought by non-Europeans except in the USA (or online to be sent to the USA). There are other things you might want to reserve in advance (such as good restaurants, symphony tickets, good seats to plays, etc). Personally, we like to have our reservations made and you can often get lower prices by reserving in advance.

Posted by leah
3 posts

Not crazy, it depends on how comfortable you are with the random. And how flexible you are with where you stay, etc. I prefer to plan everything out, then keep my mind open for anything wonderful that comes up. It's much less stressful for me to know where I'm going to stay, and have a few things in mind I want to do (I'm not big on tourist sites). Accommodations are the most important thing to me, and transportation from one place to the next. The daily stuff is wide open.

The actual planning can be stressful if you are juggling a complicated itinerary. Still, I get that out of my way at home, then I can relax on the trip and not waste time on that stuff.