I have to admit it. I’ve never really been out of the country.
My high school Spanish class planned a trip to Spain and I decided I’d rather visit family in Texas, because my family couldn’t afford both. In retrospect, I should have totally chosen Spain. But, I was awkward and somewhat troubled, so spending time with kids in my high school really wasn’t comforting.
Anyway, years down the line, I finally met the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. So, I got married and did what a number of newlyweds do … chose to get out of the country by way of cruise ship.
If we’re being honest, it didn’t really feel like we left the country. We ate normal food on and off the cruise ship until I got so tired of it that we barged out of the gates unattended in Jamaica to cross the street for a Jamaican lunch. And it was some of the best food I ate all week.
Hubby, however, was raised in the Navy and then became a Marine when he graduated. So, he’d had some experience traveling overseas. Though, aside from the family trips growing up, his experience with anything outside of the U.S. was mainly through deployment.
So, when hubby and I decided to do something special for our 10 year anniversary, we agreed on taking a European vacation.
Without the kids.
This is how we planned our European Trip.
How to Plan a European Trip
1. List Your “Must-See” Attractions
For starters, we decided Spain was going to be our primary adventure and that Barcelona was the city we would stay in. But, just hours away from Germany, he’s always wanted to visit and race on the Nurburgring. So, we added a couple days to our trip for that experience as well.
Once we had an idea of the general places we wanted to go, we began looking into all the sight-seeing attractions within (and within driving distance) of the city/cities we chose.
We began making a list of interests in our Trip Advisor account and then rated them by order of importance. This is where I found creating a spreadsheet to be helpful, where I listed the must-see activities first, then added activities I’d like to see if time permits.
We began this process almost a year in advance, and glad we did, because half a year flew by in the blink of an eye! Before we knew it, it was time to book flights and even 6 months out, some hotels were booking up.
When deciding on tours, you can certainly choose to have everything done for you by purchasing tours that last several hours, half day, or even a full day. Transportation and sometimes snacks will be provided.
We chose a good mix and opted to rent a car to do some things on our own, which essentially saved money and sometimes shortened a trip so that we could take our time getting up, getting ready, and leisurely see the sites along the way, stopping when and if we wanted to.
You can use the following places to research and book tours:
We recommend waiting to book these closer to your actual travel dates. You’ll likely want to plan according to weather instead of hoping the weather holds out because you booked too far in advance.
2. Research Travel-Friendly Dates
If you have some flexibility in your travel dates, this will be really useful. For instance, if you see that peak season for your chosen destination ends a week before your special event, it might be wise to hold off for a week or two.
One really good site to check out all kinds of important stats for traveling is US News. This is where I found average temperatures, info on peak tourist season, and when hotel prices are lower (just to name a few).
As it turns out, August ends peak tourist season in Spain, so we chose to hold off on travel until September. The weather can start to get cooler and we’ll hopefully deal with less tourist traffic on our trip.
Additionally, we lucked out by having family available to watch the kids and shuttle them to and from school while hubby and I are off enjoying a long anniversary trip.
3. Learn A Little About the Culture
As it turns out, Barcelona wants to be viewed as a modern, but modest city. I found out that dressing like a tourist in the city (shorts and tanktops) is not only frowned upon, but baring shoulders or low cut tops are forbidden at certain attractions (like cathedrals).
At the same time, though, if you want to visit the beach, baring as much skin as possible is expected. I guess all the modesty in the city has people feeling more adventurous and wild at the beach.
Even more importantly, dressing like a tourist will make you a target for pick-pocketing, which is apparently big in touristy areas of Spain.
So, planning what to wear was a little extra work. Ultimately, I decided to buy this dress on Amazon which covers my shoulders and chest, while offering some laid back (but not remarkably touristy) comfort for a day around the city.
4. Book Your Own Flights or Use a Travel Agent?
We had grand hopes of booking individual one way flights to get us to and from Spain and Germany on the cheap. However, after many grueling hours of research, we realized booking our own flights to save money was going to cost us extra time (and aggravation) we weren’t looking forward to.
By booking individual flights on our own to get the best deals, we were going to have to claim and re-check baggage every time we landed for our connecting flights.
If saving money is a major goal of yours, this approach can work, but you have to have patience and give yourself plenty of time at your layovers to claim your baggage, re-check it, and go through security before boarding your next flight. This can also extend your travel time significantly to get really good deals.
For decent deals where you can obtain information about flight ratings, using Expedia was a good option. But, if you want to spend less, I found Cheap-O Air to be a good option, though you have fewer airlines to choose from. Additionally, Cheap-O Air will charge for extras like choosing your own seats (which is essential if you’re traveling for an anniversary trip, IMO).
For this adventure, we decided booking our flights through a travel agent was the best choice because we wanted our Anniversary trip to be as stress-free as possible. This option:
*saved us some travel time
*cost more than booking ourselves on longer flights, but slightly less than the more direct flights
*kept us on flights where our checked baggage would follow us
5. Get Travel Insurance
Now, we’re not typically ones to purchase travel insurance, however, with children and the major expense, we opted for travel insurance this time around.
Booking our travel 6 months in advance is a bit risky, because you just have no clue what life will throw at you. Plus, with my own health constantly in question, we felt safer.
After having looked into the coverage provided by our credit cards on travel, we decided actual travel insurance was much better for peace of mind.
Our credit cards offered trip insurance on our booked flights, but if one of us got sick, the other was still obligated to travel. Kind of defeats the purpose of an anniversary trip, wouldn’t you say?
So, total travel insurance was a better option. This way, we can cover the entire trip (flights, hotels, etc) and opt to include travel medical insurance in case we get sick or have an emergency while overseas.
6. Get Travel Sized Items
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you know your personal hygiene items (like shampoos) have to adhere to special TSA size requirements.
Stock up on travel-sized items at places like Walmart, Target, or your local health food stores. I purchased most of my travel size toiletries at Target, personally.
For my makeup bag, I’m saving even more space by packing my Stowaway Cosmetics!
Aside from their convenient travel size, I find that with Stowaway Cosmetics I get quality (and better-for-you) make up that you can actually finish before it expires! Plus, they’re transparent about the cost and have a recycle program where you can earn credit on future purchases.
Ultimately, how to plan a European trip for your Anniversary really comes down to what you dream of doing. Are you budget conscious or prefer to take some of the stress off?
For us, we were sort of middle of the road, but ultimately decided we’d prefer some details to be handled for us to save us travel time and the hassle of chasing luggage. Though, we will still be looking for deals on some of the attractions and activities we’ll be seeing while at our European destinations.