You can approach the planning of a trip in a number of ways. For me I narrow it down to where I badly want to go and then figure out how much it will cost. From here I can add or subtract locations or side trips. As I'm currently beginning to plan a trip to Europe I thought I might walk through the process and demonstrate at least how I begin to put a trip together. Do be aware that the costs listed below are from internet searches I performed on January 30th 2008 and should be understood to be samples of potential prices only.
Recently my Dad (who has never been to Europe) asked me to go with him and show him around at the end of April. After prodding for specifics his only request was that it be Italy, Spain or Germany. With only about 10 days to spend overseas I decided against Germany. Although Germany is probably my favorite country in Europe, Italy or Spain can really give the first time traveler to Europe a sense of being in Europe in a small amount of time. In Italy you have the normal circuit of Rome, Florence and Venice all within relatively close proximity to each other, making for easy and quick train travel. In Spain, my favorite cites Barcelona, Girona, Granada, Seville and Madrid, are likewise relatively close and inexpensive. Personally, there is so much about Germany I love which is at different ends of the country a quick 7-10 day trip would not be enough time.
With my location dragged down and a trip duration in mind I begin with the most important part of a trip to Europe, the flight. Using kayak.com I start by plugging in the major airports I would like to fly in and out of. Since we want to go to Italy we can start with (for simplicity wounds) New York to Rome with flexible dates during the time frame I can get off work. Of course you will want to plug in the nearest international airport to you. Searching within the last week of April through the first week in May I found the cheapest flight to be: NYC- to – Rome from the 29th through the 9th = $ 756 With this as my working number for ticket prices I look into other possible cities to fly into for cheaper tickets NYC – to – Florence from the 29th through the 13th = $ 956 —- nope NYC- to – Venice from the 26th through the 10th = $ 850 —- nope NYC- to – Milan from the 25th through the 9th = $ 852 —- nope Not finding anything cheaper I then start thinking about flying into one city and flying out of another. This has the benefit of saving the time (which is limited) of backtracking as well as the cost of an extra train ticket back. Since my working plan is to fly into Rome and visit Venice last I check these two cities on the dates of the cheapest flight above. NYC- to – Rome: Venice- to -NYC from the 29th through the 9th = $ 852
For $ 100 more I can eliminate 4-5 hours of travel as well as a train ticket that will cost at least $ 100 one way. So far this looks like a better deal. Just for the sake of argument then, why not check into what it would cost to throw in a wonderful Spanish city, Barcelona. My Dad wanted to see Spain and an over night ferry from Barcelona to a city near Rome is reliably fun and cheap when you will think about the cost you will be paying for accommodation anyways. NYC- to -Barcelona: Venice- to-NYC from the 29th through the 9th = $ 816
Well, we almost saved 40 bucks and get to see Barcelona. If we can get from Barcelona to Rome for around $ 40 we are actually making money (well not really but you get the idea). Sticking with the ferry idea for now a quick check of directferries.co.uk gives me: Barcelona -to – Civitavecchia (near Rome) (20 hours overnight) = $ 65 on Grimaldi Ferries Considering accommodation is going to be anywhere from $ 25- $ 35 in Rome or Barcelona and we saved $ 36 on the flight by going into Spain this sounds reasonable for a quick visit to Barcelona and does not cost us more at all. For even more savings we can try to fly from Barcelona to Rome but we must keep in mind that 1. It will not be an overnight flight so accommodation will be an issue again and 2. Budget airlines do not usually fly out of the major airports, making travel outside the city and issue. None-the-less checking clickair and ryanair for a few samples does not hurt. clickair has Barcelona- to – Rome (Fiumicino) on the 2nd = $ 29 (the 2nd though is a bit late) ryanair has Barcelona (Girona) – to – Rome (Ciampino) on the 1st = $ 20
All in all we now know that stopping in Barcelona is a great idea and getting to Rome will be cheap and easy. With our air plans figured out we can start to look at what this trip is going to cost us in ground transportation. I prefer trains over renting cars in Europe; I just can not relax in a car and the cost of gas and concentrating on the road usually outweighs the freedom. With that in mind it's time to figure out if buying point to point tickets is cheaper than buying a rail pass. My rough plan is to fly into Barcelona head to Rome (fly or sail) then go from Rome to Florence to Venice. Ill check the cost of point to point tickets between these cities as well as a few side trips to get a spread of costs using the worksheets at noambit.com Rome- to -Florence (1-2 hours) = $ 65 Florence- to-Venice (2-3 hours) = $ 58 Rome- to -Pisa (3-4 hours) = $ 47 Pisa- to -Florence (1-2 hours) = $ 19 Florence- to-Rimini (1 hour) = $ 50 Rimini-to-Venice (1-2 hours) = $ 70 With these numbers we can see that our simplest trip, Rome, Florence, Venice, is going to cost roughly $ 123. Our most expensive plan, Rome, Pisa, Florence, Rimini and Venice is going to come in around $ 196. A quick look at rail pass prices shows us that we will only really benefit if we want to do the longer trip and then only barely. A four day rail pass (you can travel for any four days within two months) runs about $ 202. About the same as our long trip but also with an included 20% off discount on the ferry from Barcelona. The problem I see here is that traveling that much, especially since we are adding the city in Spain, is not going to give much time to see anything. At this point I'm going to opt to pay full price on the ferry and buy point to point tickets in Italy. Even adding Pisa on is only going to cost about $ 134 total.
To this point, assuming we throw in Pisa (a day trip) on our way to Florence and pay full price to take the ferry over from Spain we are looking to spend about $ 1015 to spend 10 days and see five cities in two countries in Europe. Its time now to figure in accommodation. A rule of thumb for me is to plan on spending a minimum of $ 50 a day for a bed and food. Sometimes this is high (not very) sometimes this is low (more and more each year). For the sake of demonstration however I looked up budget hotels and hostels for the locations I plan on visiting to get a rough idea of what I will be spending. 30th April – Barcelona = $ 20- $ 35 1st May – Boat to Rome = already figured in 2nd-4th – Rome = $ 20 (camping) $ 30 (hostel) 5th-6th – Florence = $ 15- $ 25 7th-8th – Venice = $ 45
What we end up with is a range of $ 200- $ 265 that I need to budget for accommodation. Adding in food takes a bit of guess work but $ 15 dollars a day is a good workable number. If need be you could eat twice at a Mc Donalds and "live" or grab some bread and cheese from a grocery store and still have some left over for a couple slices of pizza or Doner Kebab. Of course if you are going to Italy for the food or wine you will have to plan on spending more money but $ 15 should get you by. Our final cost is going to be the sight seeing and extras (taking the metro, bottle of wine, train reservations). Since my Dad has never been there I will want to show him the Vatican museum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, The statue of David, la Sagrada Familia and a variety of other things. For a trip like we have planned above, in Italy for only 10 days, $ 150- $ 200 should be fine.
When all is said and done I can count on spending around $ 1365 – $ 1480 for the whole trip. This, as we have seen is rather bare bones so there is not a lot that can be cut if this were out of my budget (which it is very close to being). I could of course opt out of going to Pisa but extremely in terms of trains this only saves me $ 10 and that does not seem worth skipping a city I have never seen. What you will decide to cut (sometimes the duration you're overseas or how many cities you can see) will depend on what is important to you on this visit to Europe. What is important is that you find a way to fulfill your dream of traveling to your country of choice and I hope that this article helps you find a way to make it work with a limited budget.