In addition to figuring out what time of year to come to Europe and what places to see once you get here, another important thing you have to figure out is whether or not you are going to plan every day of your trip ahead of time or just figure it all out when you get here. Both of these strategies have benefits and drawbacks, but from my experience, one of the bits of Europe trip planning advice I can offer is a combination of the two.
I call this compromise the “booking the bookends” method of European trip-planning.
Essentially, you book the first portion of your trip and the last portion of your trip, but you allow yourself a good chunk of wiggle room in the middle for spontaneous places and things to happen.
A couple examples:
On my second trip to Europe, I knew my opening bookend was a week in Ireland and then working my way to Barcelona via Brussels and Paris. My closing bookend was Oktoberfest in Munich a few weeks later, and then flying out of Germany home.
I purposely made no plans for that time in the middle.
Sure, I had places penciled in for that wiggle room time like Switzerland, Hallstatt, Cinque Terre, but nothing was set in stone. Having this wiggle room allowed me to overhear and then fully jump into a conversation some guys were having at my hostel extolling the virtues of Croatia. I ended up working Croatia in to the trip, and it was one of the best destination decisions I’ve ever made.
When Julia and I decided to spend a couple weeks travelling around Europe’s Christmas Markets last year, we did the same kind of thing. Our opening bookend was set in stone as Berlin, Leipzig, and Annaberg-Bucholz with our closing bookend being a purchased flight out of Italy a couple weeks later.
We left the big center of the trip entirely empty.
Because of this, we were able to work some things around to be in Salzburg for Krampus Night (cool Alpine Christmas tradition) and then ended up spending the next night in a place called St. Johann Im Pongau that we certainly didn’t plan on going to ahead of time, but ended up being a fun and snowy stop on our Christmassy tour.
Booking the bookends allows you to change your mind or be inspired on the fly, and that is priceless. Can making last-minute decisions cause a teeny tiny bit of stress? Well, maybe, but in today’s age of online booking and credit cards, it’s really easy to book a hotel or hostel a night or two before you arrive.
Trust me, I speak from experience.