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First trip to Europe

My wife and I are saving and planning a trip to Europe in spring 2019. We’ve budgeted for 2 full weeks. While we very much want to visit Italy, we are open to taking this, our first trip, somewhere else. We’ve considered Great Britain + France, or Germany + Netherlands. Would love some opinions and thoughts!

We live in Ohio and are looking for the most cost effective flights to get over there and back. So please include that in your response if applicable.

Posted by
4640 posts

Many like to ease into Europe by visiting Great Britain so as to not have to contend with another language. But with some rudimentary knowledge and practice using key words, phrases, numbers, and such it's not as big a problem as it was years ago. If you very much want to visit Italy then by all means do so. You might want to consider on of the many Rick Steves tours so you can enjoy and leave the logistics to someone else. Just a thought. With regard to cost effective flights, look at flying into one city and back from another. That will also save time "lost" while backtracking.

Posted by
7048 posts

I don't think you can get good advice on comparing entire countries (or country combos), some of which are quite large and can offer enough to do for more than 2 weeks. These places have very different histories, cultures, architecture, etc, so it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Ideas about cost effective flights are also putting the cart before the horse. Someone needs a lot more info to give any guidance, like what airport you're flying from and your ultimate destination (which is totally up in the air at this point). So start at the 30,000 foot level before trying to get in the weeds.

What I would do is get a bunch of books at the library and reading about your potential destinations. What are you interested in particular? What appeals to you about the countries you listed? Is there a reason why you combined two countries together? Research will help you refine a big list of places to a narrower list, which you can then further drill down.

It would really help if you can string together at least a mocked up itinerary that someone can respond to. Guide books are very helpful with this by giving sample itineraries. Google maps is also a decent tool to create a sample trip plan that's logistically sound (not too much time or distance between your points of travel is ideal, so you can maximize "on the ground" time). Right now, your request is just too open-ended, if that makes sense.

Posted by
13702 posts

Gosh, if you want to go to Italy, you should go! Fly in to Venice (easier to fly in to than out of) and out of Rome. You'll arrive the day after you depart the US, in general, then your final day will be consumed with your departure so you'll have 12 nights and 11.5 days.

I'd do 3 nights in Venice for 2 full days, 4 in Florence with one day for a day trip, 5 nights in Rome with one day for a day trip.

Get the Rick Steves Italy guide book. Look at the itineraries of the RS tours to Italy and see what they do, but know that you can't do the same itinerary as you will not be as efficient as a tour group, especially with this being your first time.

All of your combos are good, just depends on where you want to go...first. You'll be hooked so don't think you need to do everything the first time!

Have a wonderful time planning!

Posted by
1224 posts

I agree. If you want to go to Italy, Go! I don't think that 'easing' yourself in is necessary, but maybe thats just me. Many people understand some English, and with some effort on your part, you can learn enough to communicate anywhere. As for flights, decide on a budget, and then think about whether driving to a farther airport would be worth it to save on the flight (if indeed that could help). In our case, there is an airport 6 hours away from us that has much cheaper flights than our airport, so we drive there for flight to Europe. But I have a limit of 13 hours (I drew a radius around my city and consider all major cities within that radius. If the city 13 hours driving away had a stupidly cheap flight, I would drive there! As it happens, the city 6 hours away always has the cheapest). My friend in Columbus drives to Toronto for this reason. Then you can go to a site like Skyscanner or googleflights and enter in various departure cities with various arrival cities and see which is cheapest, and then cross-reference this with your ideal itinerary, or an itinerary that could work. It all depends on budget. I also agree that with 2 weeks, you wouldn't want to try to see too much. We spent 11 days in Italy and "just" visited the Cinque terra, Florence and Rome. There's so much we didn't see!

Have fun planning,

Posted by
19354 posts

If you are driving distance from Detroit, Delta has nonstops to London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Rome. If Cincinnati, just Paris. Since Delta knows they have monopolies for nonstops on these city pairs, they will want a premium price.

I see that Icelandair and WOW have nonstops from Cleveland to Iceland a few days of the week. Iceland is about 2/3 of the way to Europe and they have connecting flights from there to all over Europe. They will often be the cheapest flights coming from Ohio.

Otherwise, you will need to connect somewhere on the east coast. Washington, Philly, New York or Boston. Also connecting through Canada at Toronto may be an option.

Do you need to take vacation weekend to weekend, or can you fly mid week? Midweek flights are often a bit less than weekends.

Posted by
6205 posts

I'm with Pam and Jessica: if your heart says Italy, go to Italy!

Take Pam's tips very seriously. 2 weeks is not 14 days of sightseeing. And assume you'll be pretty wiped out the first day on the ground. Also, when you're calculating time in various places, allow at least half a day for travel. Say you're in Florence, and are moving on to Rome. You have to check out of your Florence hotel, get to the train station, train to Rome, get to your Rome hotel, check in, unpack, and orient yourself to your new neighborhood. It will take longer than you think, and can eat up the better part of one of your precious days.

But Italy is wonderful; you'll have a great time.

And be sure to ask us all the questions you want. All we ask is that your share your experiences - good and bad - when you get home.

Posted by
489 posts

This is terrific! Your first trip to Europe!

I would ask yourselves and make a priority list.
What is calling to you in Europe to see the most?
Do you like landscape or would like to spend time in cities?
Can you handle crowded cities?
Does other languages scare you?
Are you interested in a type of food in particular?
Are you able and willing to drive yourself (without the knowledge of the language)?
Do you love art/history/architecture?
Do you want to connect with the local people?
That seems like a lot of questions, but focusing in on your priorities can help in finding the right place to start. You have't told your ages or whether or not you are open to a tour.
You may want to try one of RS tours for a part of the time you are in Europe and do a bit on your own on either end of the tour. RS tours (in my mind) are very well planned out to optimize the time you are traveling and allow you quite a bit of free time for exploration. They also take the worry about hotels and travel out of your planning.

Not sure were you are in Ohio, but Detroit has many non stops to Europe. We always try to fly non stop to Europe (my friends who fly to the east coast cities and then try to get a direct to their choice city in Europe seem to have troubles. We fly from Chicago to a major city (like Munich ) (HATE Heathrow!) then we have a short layover and fly to our destination city and arrive in early afternoon.

Posted by
6965 posts

Go to Italy; it’s a great choice!

To save money, pick up the Rick Steves Italy book which will give you lots of information that will maximize your trip. We enjoy taking the trains in Europe, and the Italian trains are inexpensive.

Fly into one city and back home from a different location to save time and money, I.e. into Venice and out of Rome. Rome is more hectic, so end the trip with Rome. Also, be sure to include a smaller town- they’re charming.

We took the RS Best of Italy as our first experience (have been back several times), and it was an excellent tour!

Posted by
4199 posts

I've been to Europe 10 times and Italy is still my favorite (3 trips and I'm starting to feel the need for another) with London and surrounding areas being #2. If I could only visit one place in Europe, it would definitely be Italy. Don't drive-use the trains.

Posted by
8496 posts

I love the UK and would suggest that BUT you've expressed a desire for Italy.

Then go.

Use the trains. Fly into one city and out of another.

Italy is fabulous and in 2 weeks you can see and do, explore and enjoy.


Posted by
53 posts

Thanks everyone for your wonderful help! We are definitely going to pick up the rick Steve’s guide...but to the point some of you have made...we need to “hone in” on what exactly we’re looking to do in Europe.

The person that provided the checklist, thanks a bunch! That is good for helping us make up our mind

Posted by
440 posts

Where do you most want to go, have you always wanted to go to Italy, if so then go maybe start in England then on to France and finish in Italy.

Posted by
1319 posts

Since your trip is a year off, I agree with the idea to buy a few guidebooks now and start to see what attracts you. I haven't been to Italy yet. The art attracts me and I do like Italian food. But, for some reason, the country hasn't drawn me yet. That might be a country for my first Rick Steves tour.

I do love the UK. I've mentioned in a couple of other threads that the Rick Steves guidebooks do tend to leave out a lot of cities. If you want quite and quaint, Rick's books are perfect. For a more urban trip, I'd suggest Lonely Planet.

If you don't already have Europe Through the Back Door, I'd suggest buying it immediately. It is dated in spots, but it is an excellent introduction to the practicalities of Europe. Rick is not a God, he's just an excellent writer, so feel free to disagree with him when you're reading his guidebooks and Europe Through the Back Door.

Posted by
8334 posts

What do you define as cost-effective? What are your major airport choices?

I'd go to Italy, if it were me. Its just as easy to go there as any of your other choices.

Posted by
444 posts

I'll add my vote for Italy-it was our first trip to Europe and we loved every minute of it! I already want to go back someday and see more of it, what a fun country to visit! We did use a travel agent as it was our first family trip overseas. (I'm planning my own 2nd trip). I wouldn't worry so much about ease of getting there, unless you are in a major city, you will have to connect somewhere.

I am not quite the seasoned traveler that most on this board are, but we will be going to Germany (and Prague and Amsterdam) in a couple months so I can report on that then!

Have fun planning-I don't know if anyone mentioned this but you can watch Rick Steves videos to get an idea about different destinations (sorry if it was already mentioned).

Posted by
6205 posts

Based on lots of posts from lots of folks on this board, I would suggest either Italy or Ireland. Although every country has its devotees, those two seem to be the most popular.

I haven't been to Ireland, but many of my friends have, and they love it. I myself love Italy - I'd love to go back every year, if I could.

Posted by
103 posts

So exciting to begin this planning! My husband and I are about to go on our first trip to Europe ourselves. We're in our retirement years before grandkids, so the time is finally right. While we haven't gone yet, the planning and air reservations are done, and I have some thoughts on your planning. First, do you have a copy Rick's Europe Through the Back Door? Lots of practical advice and how-tos for planning and traveling. For dreaming purposes, too, it's fun to check out RS guidebooks from the library, but be sure to purchase your own current guidebooks when you decide where you are going.

I've always wanted to go to EVERYwhere in Europe, while my husband has most wanted to see Spain and Italy. As we began to talk about the trip, we focused on what we saw ourselves doing (wandering streets to find interesting spots where we could sit and enjoy some wine and good food in a lovely setting, hike the trails in Cinque Terre, wade in the Mediterranean), what historical sites we wanted to visit (ancient Roman ruins, the home church of the Jesuit order, Montserrat), and what cultures we wanted to experience. We know we can't possibly see it all, so using the Rick Steves philosophy, we assume we will go back and have sketched out our itinerary with an eye to not overdoing it and giving ourselves time to live it. For your trip, I think you should go where you dream! If you very much want to go to Italy, DO IT!

On your own, or a tour? We are doing some of each. We are taking the RS Heart of Italy Tour from Rome to Volterra, Cinque Terre, and Florence with an extra night on each end of the tour. Before the tour begins we are spending four nights in Barcelona to see another place we've always wanted to see and get over our jet lag before the tour begins. I've probably spent two or three times as much time on the four nights in Barcelona as the 11 days in Italy. I'm still stressing that we have over-scheduled and will be exhausted before we get to Italy AND (paradoxically) will be missing something in Barcelona. But we remind ourselves that we will go back. Here's the take-away: if there is a tour that matches your dreams, take it. It's reassuring to have so much mapped out for you and tours arranged. And there's a good balance within the tour itself between touring and personal time. For a rookie, there are lots of advantages in a tour. We hope to gain the skills and confidence to strike out on our own on our next trip. And now we have everything planned, I wish we were going for three full weeks. Next time.

For airfares, check You can set up notifications for the flights you are interested in to keep up-to-date as fares change. I watched for several weeks to get an idea of rates so I knew when to buy. Be creative about your departure airport, too. We live between Seattle and Vancouver, BC and found it was significantly less expensive to fly out of Canada. Remember to factor in the cost and ease of getting to and from the airport. I recommend you book with a single airline, so if (as happened to us) a leg of your flight is cancelled, they will rebook you on another flight for no charge. If you've booked separately with different airlines and one changes their time, your connection could become impossible and the cost of change is on you. That also happened to us on another trip. Costly rebooking, much stress, lesson learned. We took the recommendation from several others that we book into one airport and out of another, known as open-jaw. You save back-tracking when you are on your way home.

Happy planning and even happier travels! - Polly

Posted by
6205 posts

pollyhrae, Great advice! I especially liked to recommendation to read "Europe Through the Back Door." With our last RS Shop credit, we bought the new edition, and reading it got me excited all over again.

I also want to suggest (gently) that if you think you're overscheduled in Barcelona, you probably are. Our best memories of Barcelona are stumbling on a Saturday evening holiday celebration in the Cathedral Square, full of sardana dancers and gigante puppets. Wonderful! And of course, just wandering around. I do recommend Sagrada Familia, which is - and this is not a term I use lightly - awesome.