Pre-Europe: Planning

Travel has been a huge part of my life, especially over the last few years. Those who read and followed my Wanderlust recap know that from Dec 25, 2017 – January 29, 2018 I travelled from my home in Sydney, Australia to Europe. I visited 13 countries over five weeks as a solo female traveller. This trip was one I planned meticulously and I was not supposed to go alone (I don’t feel comfortable going into the how/why details at this point). My next few blogs will be about how I planned, packed, and survived the long haul flights. This, obviously, is my own experience and what worked for me. It may not work for you or your destination. But never forget the power of adaptation!

1. Decide where you want to go!

It may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to figure out where exactly you want to visit and how long you want to spend there. Being in Australia, it’s a huge trek to get anywhere in the world, so I wanted to see and do as much as I could. That’s why us Aussies spend so long overseas. We get 4 weeks annual leave every year, and if we’re going to spend 20 hours in the air, we might as well make the most of it.
What do you want to see? What do you want to do? What is your goal, so to speak, for this trip?
My goal was to get a taste of everything, a taste of Europe. I chose to spend some of the trip on a 23 day Topdeck tour, because it went everywhere I wanted to go, ticked a number of items off the bucket list, and if I was somewhere I ended up not liking, I would be stuck there long (I’m looking at you, Venice!). Moreover, if there was a place I really liked, I knew where I wanted to return someday. I doubt I’d do another bus tour anytime soon, but for a first trip, and especially since I ended up alone, it was the best option, and probably the safest for a first time solo female traveller.

The entire trip I visited Hong Kong, London, Paris, Swiss Alps, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, not including day trips and stops in towns/cities throughout the journey.

2. Consider weather, time of year

Summer is tempting, but remember that it’s also peak season and lines/crowds will be horrendous. I chose winter because a) it was the most convenient time for me b) it was off-peak season and therefore a lot cheaper and c) Ok, the idea of snow and the holiday season was very appealing.
I was not used to that kind of weather, but I managed fine, and the lack of crowds and lines meant I could fit in so much more to my schedule, and being on my own I could do a lot more in a shorter amount of time.

3. It’s best to have solid ideas that can be adapted rather than a rigid schedule

Obviously, this all depends on your situation, but when I travel, I find it’s best to have a list of things you want to do, the non-negotiable must-haves and a list of ideas as well before you book. For me, I wanted to spend more time in London either before or after the Topdeck tour, and I wanted to make the most of a stopover in Asia.

4. Trust your travel agent

They know what they’re talking about. For instance, my original travelling partner and I had plans for a three day stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, and meet the tour in Paris, then spend time in London afterwards. He also had the grand idea of cutting costs by flying on different airlines. However, the travel agent was upfront over how difficult this would be. Changing airline carriers adds a whole lot of expenses that you neither need nor want, and Singapore was going to be difficult to do in three days. In the end, it seemed Singapore should be a separate trip altogether. We still wanted to make the most of a stopover, if only to break the 20+ hour journey. Instead, Hong Kong was suggested as an alternative, and with a stopover of close to 12 hours, we could definitely get a good feel for the island. I had never even thought of Hong Kong as an option. It literally never crossed my mind. But I agreed, and will be forever grateful I did, because Hong Kong was a wonderful place and I’m dying to go back!
Travel agents know your destination. They can give you all sorts of tips, recommendations and ways to make things smoother. Trust them, and it may just make travelling better than you imagined.

5.Book your flights early, and don’t forget travel insurance.

I cannot stress this enough. Not only will this save you a LOT of money by booking as far in advance as you can, but it takes a lot of stress off. My original companion kept delaying and delaying. We were meant to leave in December, and didn’t book flights til mid-September. Only a few dramatic weeks later, I made the difficult choice to travel alone. Thank goodness for travel insurance, or I would have been screwed. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you cannot afford to travel.

6. Research, research, research!

This is crucial for a trip like the one I took. I had never been that far away from home, and despite my fascination with history, I knew very little about some of the places I was going to. After my less-than-great first experience with a long haul flight to America, I wanted to figure out what I should do differently next time. I knew Europe was full of petty crime and scams. Being Australian, I’d only ever seen snow twice in my entire life so was unprepared how to dress for a European winter. I needed to know about public transport, the airports I would be flying in and out of. And when it became clear I was going on this massive venture as a solo female traveller, something I had never done before, I wanted to know how to keep myself safe.

Google is your friend. Look up all you can about your destination. There’s some incredible websites about travelling that meets every need. More on that in the next section….

Next time: Packing light!

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