one of my most asked question is about this remarkable gem of an airbnb that we stayed in while visiting rome last summer. we booked the room very last minute, and ended up extending because i truly fell in love with the view. so here’s your warning, if you book this airbnb, you will want to spend every second on the most magical balcony in all of rome. i recommend doing a two night stay (minimum) and just enjoy the apartment during that time. have breakfast on the balcony, people watch during the day and have drinks and apps before walking to dinner.
the number one topic i get questions about is travel. i started writing this post and realized it quickly became information overload. so, i pumped the breaks and found a way to break my top travel hacks into segments. i hope this helps you save a buck or two on your next european extravaganza, or gives you a little tip on how to make the most of your trip. so, here it is… travel hacks, europe edition.
booking your flight
book your flight at least 2 weeks in advance. 3 months is ideal, but get any closer than 2 weeks and you can expect to front a little extra cash to get to where you want to go. this could also be the complete opposite. if an airline has tons of seats left, you may be able to score an incredible deal at the very last minute. however, chances of that are slim to none and i do not advise you leave an international trip to chance unless you have ample amount of time off and are great with spontaneity . [kudos if that’s you].
booking your flights early can not only save you money, but also allow you to choose a seat next to whomever you will be traveling with. this will make your flight so much more enjoyable. it also helps with the prevention of getting stuck next to a chatter box who does not get the hint after you plug in head phones and pretend to be sleeping. [we’ve all been there].
another perk to having your flights booked ahead of time is that it also frees up your time prior to your trip so you can properly plan for your actual stay.
flight hack: if you are traveling overseas, take a look at layover locations. london, germany, and prague are just a few of the most common layovers. if you want to get see an extra city, take the flight with the longer layover. this flight is usually the cheaper option and you can check your bags at the airport and go and experience the new city/country with enough time to hit some of the major hotspots. think of it as a bonus day.
if it’s a city/country you want to spend extra time in, you can typically search for a “multi-city” flight and there would be no additional cost for extra time. for example NYC to London to Paris to NYC would be the same cost as NYC to Paris to NYC because london is a natural layover destination. in other words, if you can expect to have a layover in that city regardless of whether or not you want to spend a little extra time there, you can typically add that city into your itinerary at no extra cost. this will not be the case with every city, and every time, but leave yourself a little time to play around with ticket searches so you can choose the flight that suits you best.
to save money, you can also look to fly out of a major city such as New York, Houston or Dallas. this does add time to your travel day, however if money is a constraint, look into domestic flights to a major city from your home and then international tickets from the major city. my husband and i have done this numerous times [while using southwest companion pass] and saved over $600 on our tickets, as well as snuck in a little new york visit. weigh the cost of extra travel time. if it’s a $50 difference, scrap it. also pay close attention to boarding times. international flights require additional time for check-in and if the major city has multiple airports, make sure you are domestically flying into the correct one, or have a method of transportation. [most airports have shuttles to and from, but confirm this before taking this route].
don’t plan it down to the wire, but have a general idea of where you want to be and what you want to do. i typically make a list of the things i want to see and do in order of priority. then, i pull out a calendar and try to fit as much as i can on there. europe can be explored in two ways. you can spend all of your time in 2-3 cities and really explore them or you could see 4-5 while there on one single trip. if you choose staying in 2-3 cities you are allowing yourself more time to really enjoy the culture and see all that the city has to offer. if you choose to ambitiously see 4-5 cities during your trip, know that you will have to choose the highlights of each city.
when i travel, i always opt for seeing as many cities as possible. this can be exhausting, but i always say, i can sleep when i get home. 🙂
activity hack: let me introduce you to my friend named rick steves. he’s quirky, informative, tries to be funny and will save you a bundle. i recommend purchasing his corresponding book for every city you plan on traveling to. even better, save yourself some money and check them out from your local library. his books will act as your personal tour guide and give you incredibly detailed tips and information on where to go and how to get there. where to eat, where to stay, what to see and what to do. seriously, cannot recommend these books enough. ideally, it’s best to snag the book prior to your trip and skim through and see what interests you most in each city. that way you know exactly what you want to do when you get there. david and i would read up on the places we were going to visit during our train rides to and from cities. it made the time fly and we felt much more knowledgable about what we were looking at and experiencing in each city.
but wait, there’s more. rick steves has an app that will act as your very own personal tour guide while visiting all of the hotspots. you can purchase audio tour guides [in english] or hire your own tour guide [that speaks english] in most locations while in europe. it does not cost much, but it all adds up. $10 here and $25 there will come out to hundreds before you know it. and best of all, you don’t need to spend any of that. download the rick steves app [it’s free] before and pre-download the audio tour of your choice. rick has it down to where he even gives you walking directions while in the museum/landmark. seriously, amazing.
if you forgot to download the audio tours while having free roam to wifi, you can download the audio tours using free wifi on trains, or find your nearest mcdonalds and connect there. when my husband and i travel we carry a headphone splitter and headphones for this exact reason. we will use the headphone splitter to plug in both headphones to one phone so it’s as if we’re taking the tour together. it’s cheesy, but it works for us :). *do bring a powerstick with you so you don’t drain your cell phone battery throughout the day.
shop rick steves’ books
shop headphones and headphone splitters
this is where the bulk of your travel cost comes into play. you can opt to stay at a very nice and fancy hotel that you will enjoy all the amenities at. for some, this is what a vacation is all about. consider the extra cost for amenities as an additional cost for activities. or you can find a highly rated hotel that may not include a spa and nice restaurants, but is still clean and comfortable. then there is always the airbnb/vrbo option.
personally, when i know my planned travel is ambitious, i spend very little time in my actual hotel room. i like to be on the go so for the most part, i am okay if my hotel does not make the top 10 in travel + leisure [bonus points if it does].
for me, the biggest question comes when choosing hotel vs airbnb/vrbo. if you choose to be in the same hotel for 2-3 nights minimum then airbnb/vrbo can typically save you on cost. especially when you are in a group. do keep in mind, when choosing this route you will have to meet up with the owner to get keys, or find the apartment on your own. hotels are a little easier to find because they are more well known within a city, whereas someone’s personal home may have you on a hunt. not to mention, if you don’t have access to wifi then calling, texting and searching for directions can become a real challenge. so if you’ll only be in a city for a short time, consider the amount of time it will take out of your day to locate the home and gain access into it. most have specific hours for check-in as well and add additional costs for checking in late. you will come across owners that enforce this and others that are extremely accommodating and will coordinate and adjust to your travel schedule. again, this is hit or miss. and if you have limited time to explore a city, you do not want to spend half of your day just trying to get into contact with a home owner while you have a new city to explore.
directions hack: load google maps whenever you have wifi access and put the starting point as your drop off point and the ending point as your hotel or accommodation. hit start and let the directions load. google maps will work offline so once you lose your wifi connection, you will still have a way to find where you are going. you can do this when walking to a site, or anywhere really. as a back up, screenshot the directions as well as the map just in case.
the train system in italy in particular is absolutely incredible. each city and country varies a little bit on this one, but if you have 4+ people renting a car is probably the most cost efficient. however, this is not the most time efficient. also, using public transportation also means you don’t have to navigate through a foreign country.
weigh your options. think about how long you will be in each location, whether or not public transportation is safe/reliable, whether or not it is a walking city and the costs of additional plane tickets/car rentals. every european location has options, you will just have to choose what is best for you.
sorry- no hacks here.
this can go one of two ways. if you are a big foodie and the highlight of your vacation is trying the best local cuisine, you want to budget your top notch meals under activities. also, consider making reservations ahead of time so you don’t waste hours waiting for a meal when that time could be spent exploring.
i personally plan meals around activities and look for restaurants near the activity of the moment. some switch this around and plan activities around meals. [one way is not better than the other, it comes down to complete personal preference].
meals hack: to save on one meal of the day, find a hotel or bed and breakfast that serves complimentary breakfast. also, if visiting italy, try the house wine! it’s fabulous just about anywhere you go. splurge on a glass or two here and there because, you are in italy! but don’t feel like you have to at every meal. every house wine i tried was spectacular!
most importantly… remember you’re on vacation and ENJOY IT!
i wish i could say i had pizza in pisa but what i did do is more important than what i didn’t do. so no, no pizza in pisa but i did enjoy a delicious cup of espresso [something you can find every where you turn in italy] and got some great snaps of the leaning tower. rick steves [best europe travel guide series] led me and my group right to where we wanted to be. we lucked out with an amazing parking spot and found the leaning tower with no troubles at all. the leaning tower that has been titling since completion circa 1372 has its very own charm. it is just as it sounds, a leaning tower, but with so much more. as i am sure many can imagine, it is a hot tourist spot. i took a good moment to just people watch and enjoy my surroundings. everyone, i mean everyone was standing and pretending to hold up the tower while a family member or friend turned into their photographer and directed them where to go. the directions all may have been in various different languages, but what they were saying was easily known.
my stay in pisa consisted of that earlier cup of espresso and a quick walking tour of the leaning tower of pisa, piazza de miracoli and the duomo pisa. from there we drove through tuscany enjoying the sights along the way to florence for a leisurely lunch. florence is filled with stunning structures and flooded with a great amount of history. the beauty of the florence cathedral will take your breath away. we walked all around the square [you do a lot of walking in italy] and worked up an appetite before enjoying a little vino and italian dishes.
from florence we headed to verona. verona wasn’t originally on our itinerary but we somehow squeezed it in. verona is best known for being the home of one of shakespeare’s most well known plays, romeo and juliet. for as long as i can remember i have always loved shakespeare [yes i am that person, i can nerd out with the best of them]. so naturally, i was beyond excited for this little venture.
in the heart of verona you can find juliet’s home and legendary balcony [which is much smaller than i imagined]. it is a very crowded little courtyard filled with tourists and people lining up to rub the breast of the bronze juliet statue found beneath the balcony. myth has it that whomever rubs the breast of juliet will have good luck in love. however, the statue that stands there today is a mere replica. one breast rubbing tourist too many caused the original statue damage. it was removed and is now housed in the museum castelvecchio where is has been restored and is on display. the story of romeo and juliet is fictional, so there aren’t really any montagues and capulets battling it out to death, but the experience was very enjoyable and i soaked in every second of it.
aside from romanticizing about the star struck lovers and gazing at the colosseum look a-like opera theatre in verona, the ponte pietra bridge offers a beautiful and picturesque view. the bridge was built in 100bc making it verona’s oldest. you will encounter a number of tourists stopping to take a picture, but wait around for your turn and enjoy the moment. the view is worth it.
i had a very adventure-filled day filled with incredible sights and scenery. there was plenty that i did not get to see, but am very thankful for the glimpses i did catch. train is the easiest way to travel through italy [and not very costly either]. we had a group of four on this day which made a rental car well worth it and gave us the ability to travel from place to place so quickly. gas is rather pricey in italy but if you have a larger group, splitting the cost and being able to travel on your own time is a hands-down winner in my book.