First Time/Solo- Please help w my Itinerary

Hi all,
I am a 28 year old African American female who is writing a proposal to get funds to travel to Europe next summer. I have to travel for at least 8 weeks between May and the end of July and have the opportunity to be awarded between $5-9,000 based on my itinerary and budget.

I have never traveled beyond the east coast of the US, so this will be my first international trip and first solo trip of this size. I'm interested in visiting France, the UK, Amsterdam, and Spain with a possible day trip to Tangiers, Morocco (via Tarifa). The focus of my trip is visiting Black historical sites within these countries. I want to visit the Moorish architecture of the Andalusia region, sites in France visited/inhabited by the writers & entertainers of the Harlem Renaissance like Josephine Baker, Baldwin, Wright and Hughes, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, and taking heritage tours in London and Amsterdam. Beyond that, I am also interested in fashion, music, and food. I don't drink, so nightlife isn't a huge concern, although I would love to take in some jazz or poetry along the way.

Since this is my first time traveling abroad, I'm not sure how to plan my trip out day by day. Should I travel from Spain and work my way up or start in Amsterdam? How much travel time should I account for in between countries/cities? As a side note, I plan to spend the least amount of time in Amsterdam, if that helps.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1994 posts

I would suggest starting in the UK, so you can start in an English-speaking country. Also, it's cheaper to fly into London than out of London because of a hefty departure tax.

Beyond that, the best way to determine the sequence of cities and travel times is with a map and the transit websites. No one else can do that for you.

In many instances, you may find it cheaper and faster to take one of the European budget airlines, rather then the train. lists those airlines, so plug in some city combinations and see what works best.

The most user-friendly site for investigating rail travel is the Deutsche Bahn website. It will show you what schedules are available, and you can use that to plan. However you can only buy German tickets on that website; to purchase tickets for other countries you need to go to the relevant national websites. And for high-speed train travel from London, also check the Eurostar website.

Also keep in mind that for low-cost airlines and train travel, the prices will be cheapest if you buy them well in advance, nonrefundable, non-exchangeable. The closer you get your travel time, the more the tickets are going to cost.

You ask about how to plan your trip day by day. The only way I know of is to get guidebooks, travel videos, etc., decide what you most want to see, and estimate how long you will need to see each site.

One last thing that people often forget – figure you will lose one-half day to a full day each time you change locations. Be sure to factor that into your planning.

It sounds like you have a really exciting opportunity coming up. The planning can be half the fun. Enjoy!

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
1348 posts

I would start with what you wrote in the grant proposal -- figure out where you need to go to do your research, what you want to see and experience in the context of the grant's purpose.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9478 posts

I agree London is usually cheapest to fly into, but if traveling from may to july I would head south and go north last , because heat won't be bad in south in may and hopefully it won't be cool and rainy in July in July in Amsterdam. ( although I have been there three times in summer and its never been very nice!)

Flying into London and fly home from Amsterdam makes good sense too.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
6600 posts

First off, I'd plan to travel as early as possible in the year. Andalusia gets very hot - 3 digit temps are not unusual in Seville in summer. Even in May, it will be quite warm, which is why I'd start there. Also there are not as many tourists in late spring as there are in summer. Northern European weather is unpredictable. You can have a heat wave in June or chilly temps and lots of rain in July.

Spain and France are big countries (each is bigger than Nebraska and Kansas together to give you some idea). Much of Andalusia is well-connected by trains. So is much of France. I have no idea what parts of France would be relevant to your studies, other than Paris. France has very good high-speed trains between the main population centers. To get from Spain to France, flying on a budget airline may be best, since trains between the two countries are not as fast or frequent. I would either add 5-6 days in Morocco with cheap flights from Andalusia or drop it from the plan. Tangiers is not Morocco - it's been compared to Tijuana or Juarez (i.e., trashy/touristy border town).

It is very easy to travel between Paris, Amsterdam and London by high-speed trains. Tickets usually go on sale 120 days in advance and can be purchased for about 1/4 of the full fare price. Use the German train website for train schedules for all of Europe. You will need to use individual country sites for pricing.

Posted by Beth
Boulder, Colorado, USA
215 posts

So fun to get a travel grant!
Once you have a list of significant places, plot them on a map.
Include current centers of black culture, music, art as well as history.

Most likely you will have too many spots to fit into even 8 weeks.
A map will help grouping and planning a logical route.
Grant approvers love visual aids, even a sketch map like in RS books :-)

Connecting the dots you can begin to find train options for travel times and costs.
This may help reduce yor choices.

Developing a budget may trim your list of places again.

I hope you get that grant!
If not you will have a great plan for future vacations!
Good luck!

Posted by lharrisco15
2 posts

Thank you all so much for your help and the links. The "connect the dots" on the map idea is perfect since I am very much a visual person-I think this will help me immensely in getting more clear on what I want to see/do. Because the grant isn't contingent on an actual research component, I have more leeway in choosing what to do. Also, the committee wants fun activities to be built in as well, so I'm going to start hitting the guidebooks hard. As I get further into my research using all of your tips, I'll come back here and post an actual itinerary to see what you all think, see if I have any considerable gaps, etc.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13909 posts

Good luck with your grant, I hope you are successful.

Remember that in the 26 countries signed up to the Schengen agreement your maximum permissible stay is 90 days, and that doesn't include non Schengen places like the UK. I only mention that because you say the minimum is 8 weeks and don't want you to run into trouble if you stretch it.

You may find all sorts of interesting things in both the Netherlands and France for your grant.

It isn't clear from your profile what your Spring time is like but you might like to see acres upon acres of beautiful Tulip and Hyacinth bulbs in a garden. If so, and you are early enough in May, Keukenhof is just down the road from Amsterdam. Just don't go too late in May. It closes on the 17th of May, 2015 and will be fading as that date approaches.