I forgot how exhausting it is to plan an extensive trip around Europe; especially on a budget. I currently have 32 tabs open on my computer. Including, but not limited to, Airbnb, agoda, Priceline, Google flights, Vueling, Ryanair, Trenitalia, Eurostar, and even Pinterest. Normally I only stay in one or two cities and never make an agenda, but this time I'm taking a friend with me and it's her first time overseas. Which means I gotta show her what Europe has to offer and introduce her to my crazy friends scattered around the continent. Unfortunately, that means a new city every few days and A LOT of planning. The problem is I hate itineraries.
Detailed itineraries never work for me because I'll find amazing things, get sucked in, and then the whole day is thrown. Or it's raining and everything I planned is outdoors. Or the weather is absolutely beautiful and I'm staring at a list of museums. Not to mention I have no idea what my mood is going to be that day.
So how do I manage? Well Choose Your Own Adventure books were my favorite when I was a kid, so I apply that same concept to my itineraries. For example:
Today's area of choice (i.e. Trastevere in Rome or Le Marais in Paris)
Are you hungover?
Go to X restaurant. It's only a couple of blocks away and they have amazing hangover food and strong coffee. (Plus you won't scare children with your monster like appearance.)
Head to designated area of the day and go to Y restaurant. Try their renowned A and B.
Time to Explore
What's the weather like?
Head to the a beach, park, or gardens.
Stroll the outdoor markets.
Check out the rooftop bat at X for cocktails.
Hike the Z trail or rent a kayak/bike.
Go on a free walking tour.
Check out the desserts at A, B, & C.
Have a few drinks at Y brewery/pub or check out Z cafe.
Live music at X.
Check out Q and R museum.
Go shopping at M.
Cheap & Fast
Classy/Historic & Delicious
Hipster/Instagram Food Porn
You get the idea.
You know you better than I do, so make a list that reflects you and what you like to do. If you're new to traveling and you don't know what you like to do, try new things! Do some stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable. I bet you'll end up finding something you love.
I always want to do a million things in a city, which is impossible on a two or three day trip. Hell, I lived in London for 6 months and still didn't get to do everything I want to do. So on short trips to new cities, I usually plan on being a crazy tourist on the first day to get the "must sees" out of the way. Then I try my best to live like a local for the last day or two. This is completely doable in most cities. Your body may disown you, but at least you'll hit new records on your Fitbit.
The hardest part for me, however, is trying to find room for all of the best foods in the city. I haven't mastered this yet. I feel like the only way to truly enjoy the best restaurants, cafes, street carts, and markets in a city is to somehow obtain a second, or possibly third stomach. For now I'll just have to split food with friends. Ugh, I don't like sharing good food. I'll look into the stomach thing and get back to you.
ALWAYS GROUP YOUR STUFF TOGETHER!!!
Don't waste time traveling back and forth across a city. It's amazing how many people just make a list of major attractions they want to see and just bounce from one to the other. Don't travel 20 minutes east to have breakfast at a cafe you saw on Yelp, then travel 40 minutes west to a museum, and then 30 minutes back east to see a monument, and then 45 minutes north to have lunch. That's just madness.
Instead, plan your days by area. If you know you want to go to some amazing spot for breakfast, try to find at least two other things to check out in that neighborhood. Then move to the next area and check out three more things. This is the absolute best way to experience a city. You'll spend less time travelling and more time getting to know a neighborhood.
This might sound stupid, but everyone's first instinct is to head to public transportation when they're trying to go from point A to point B. But taking a train or bus place to place means you're missing the beautiful details of a city.
I'll admit, the first time I went to London I took the tube everywhere because I thought that's just what you did. So instead of walking 6 blocks to the next place, I walked 2 blocks to the tube, paid a fare, fought my way through a three level maze, waited for the tube, rode for 2 stops, fought my way back up the maze, and then walked 2 blocks to my destination. My God, what was wrong with me?! Although, in my defense, I was young and alone and Google Maps still had to be printed at home.
So walk. Take in a city. If you go into an area with a good game plan, you'll typically only need to hop on public transportation a few times a day.
And remember, just because it's on your list, doesn't mean you have to do it. And just because it's not on your list doesn't mean you should pass it by. Walk into that dodgy pub or that adorable cafe. Check out that little art gallery or that beautiful cemetery. Let the city surprise you.