This is going to be extremely useful post for anyone thinking of plan-it-yourself trip to Europe. What will follow is details of all I had done for my Europe trip !
To shortlist, get ready for the following tasks:
- Deciding on Travel Dates and Destinations
- Visa process
- Flight tickets
- Train Tickets within Europe
- City wise itinerary
- Shopping & Packing
- Mobile & Internet
- Suggestions from my experience
The first thing you should get on deciding is “when to travel”! Depending upon the destinations, the travel months can be decided. Deciding early would also help you get lower airfares and train tickets. In general, summers are the most “touristy” time for travel. I personally don’t prefer it because its crowded and it can get very very hot. I prefer spring or fall – which is called “Shoulder Season”. The weather is gentle during these months and it’s less crowded.
Shoulder Season months – April to June. September to October
Summer Seasons months – June to August.
For Switzerland, summers is the best time to visit. The clear view of mountains during summers is breathtaking. Taking cruise on lakes of Brienz or Interlaken are beautiful experiences. The views cannot be described in words. Just Experience it!
Tip: September offers some discounts on travel passes 🙂
Paris: Avoid winters. Summers to Shoulder Seasons are best months. If you like little rain, try August-end to September.
Venice: It’s crowded anytime, more so because it’s a concentrated place. You will do a lot of walking here. Summers are humid. Shoulder season the best time.
Pisa, Florence and Rome: Avoid winter months i.e November to March. Rest of the year it should be fine. Again summers are very very hot.
To summarize, pick Shoulder season to travel. I prefer walking around more. If it’s hot, you will dehydrate quick and that will take the fun away from your travel.
For Europe, most the countries can be toured using a single VISA: Schengen Visa. You don’t have to apply for seperate Visa for each country. This single Schengen Visa is applicable for most of the European countries. When you are crossing the international border while travelling via train/flight, you may be asked to produce your passport with the Visa stamping. That’s it. No hassles.
Countries covered in Schengen visa: http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/schengen-visa-countries-list/
Schengen Visa Information: http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/
Above websites have clear information about how to apply for Schengen Visa.
Note: Even though there is a single Schengen visa, you need to apply visa for a country where you will be staying most. E.g., If you are travelling to France, Switzerland and Italy. And you are staying most number of days in Switzerland, you need to apply for Schengen Visa in Switzerland consulate.
There are 3 ways to apply for Visa:
- Go to an agent like MakeMyTrip or ThomasCook or any other local agent: These people will charge you double of what is charged by the Visa office. Avoid them.
- Via VFS Global (http://www.vfsglobal.com/): They are like the official agents for Visa. They will charge you Rs. 1-2k more than what Visa fees are but are more reliable than local agents. Plus it equally convenient. Just go to the website link, select which country you want to visit and your residential country. Note: For Schengen visa, select the country where you will be staying for most number of days.
For Bangaloreans, there is a VFS Global office in Shivaji Nagar. Google for “VFS Global, Bangalore” or simply search for “Prestige Atrium”. Go early to avoid long queues. The staffs in VFS office are very helpful and professional. This is the best option if you are applying visa for the first time.
- Apply directly at the embassy: Go to this link http://www.schengenvisainfo.com/how-to-apply-schengen-visa/.
Download the forms. Find out the location of the embassy where you want apply visa. Post them the filled visa form with required docs.
Documents for Visa (Check the websites for detailed list) :
- Passport sized Photographs: There are specific requirements of how photographs should be. Check on the VFS Global website for details.
- Flight tickets
- Hotel/Accommodation receipts
- Bank Balance/Statements.
- IT returns of last 3 years.
- Travel Insurance
- Employment Letter/Visa Covering letter
Travel Insurance can be bought online. I bought it from HDFC ERGO. It cost me around 1k. There are other companies too. Just buy it whichever suits you.
I had applied for Schengen Visa in Switzerland Consulate in Mumbai via VFS Global. I was charged around 5k and got the Visa in 5 days.
Book early. Earlier the cheaper. The travel time from India to Europe would be around 16+ hours.
But here is the interesting thing: Paris is 3.5 hours behind India. So even though you will be travelling for 16 hours, the time you will be wasting travelling on flight will be only 12.5 hours!!
But while coming back, you will be at loss of 3.5 hours 🙂
Don’t forget to adjust your watch!
I booked about 2 months ago. The flight from Bangalore to Paris cost me around 28k INR. Ensure your book refundable tickets for just in case situations.
Check this website: http://www.skyscanner.co.in/ – It finds out the cheapest flight rates from all websites. Prefer overnight travel.
Note: The boarding/landing times of the flight in the websites are local to the boarding/landing country. So don’t overthink!
This is where you can save a lot! Hotels in Europe can be atleast 10k per night for a very tiny room. If you are travelling with your spouse, kids make sure your accommodation is very comfortable. No matter how much you roam around during daytime, when you come back at the end of the day, you got to feel relaxed.
Airbnb is the best website I found for rented accommodation. It’s much cheaper than hotels. Here you can find apartments/rooms for rent. It can be shared or completely yours. You can read the reviews to select the best option for you. Most of them has kitchen, washer, breakfast facilities to give you that complete holiday feeling on a foreign land!
Use the following link to sign up in Airbnb and you will get around 1.3k credit. Njy!!: https://www.airbnb.co.in/c/anjans?s=8
You can still look at www.booking.com for hotels.
Hold On.. Looks like Too Much of Planning You will have to Do. Watch these Videos and then say that again 😉
Trains are the best way to travel between cities and countries in Europe. Flights are another option. But with flights you have to check in more than an hour ago. Check out is another time consuming process. There are luggage size and weight restrictions. Extra luggage is charged.
With trains you have to be there just minutes ago. No luggage restrictions. And it ultimately takes about same time as flight. There are many websites, even country wise, from where you can book trains.
Train tickets can be printed out at home in normal A4 sheets and show it to TT on train. You don’t need to validate it before boarding. Just carry your passport for identification.
Look into these websites and find the cheapest rates before booking. Italy trains provide some early booking discount. I was able to get 2 tickets on price of 1 for some train travel within Italy!!
From my experience, I found trains in Switzerland very prompt on time. Trains in Italy were late by 30mins sometimes. So when you are booking train tickets, keep 30-45mins gap between trains.
For Switzerland train tickets:
Other websites for train tickets in Europe:
Here is good website to know all about train travel within Europe:
Useful website to plan your train travel:
It’s important to plan out your activities before you start your trip. There are many things to see around in a city. But everything may not interest you. So pick what you wanna see and how you wanna spend your time.
I would suggest spread out your activities. Prefer “living” in the city rather than just hoping from one tourist spot to another. If you got a kitchen in your accommodation, try out local cuisines if that excites you. Or try out food markets early in morning. Paris has some great food streets. Our stay was near to Rue Mouffetard, Paris. It’s a beautiful street food market.
There is a “Big Bus Tour –Hop On Hop Off” available in most of the European cities. If you are short on time, you can take these bus rides to cover all tourist spots in a single day or two. You can board on and off these buses in any of the tourist spot. But usually Metro and Buses are also available.
A major expense will be visiting tourist places and travelling within city. Most of the tourist spots charge entrance ticket. To go to top of Eiffel Tower, for Lourve Museum, any mountains visits in Switzerland, Vatican Museum in Rome etc – all are charged. And there are massive queues. First to buy the ticket. Second queue to enter. It takes around 2-4 hours on an average to buy ticket and enter Lourve Museum for instance.
But worry not, you can buy most of these tickets online :). So, atleast one queue will be skipped. What more, buying online will cost you less! Moreover, with passes or online tickets the queue is much shorter!
Try to find out online tickets for every museums and cruises. Most probably online tickets should be available. Buy it!
There are passed available for train travel.
Check this website: http://www.raileurope.co.in/
Here you can find out information about various kinds of passes available for your train travel. Some of it includes visits to museums and other tourist activity. Select one which suits your itinerary. You can get it delivered to your address. Else check the local office of Rail Europe in your city and go and collect it from there.
I had bought Swiss Travel Pass – it included free travel in all trains in Switzerland. Almost all museum were free. Some mountains like Rigi were free. Visit to Jungfrau– top of Europe was discounted to 25%.
Don’t be a fool not to take this seriously!
Dining out is expensive in Europe. 30-40€ for two. And that includes just one drink each and a dish each. Imagine spending that much 2-3 times a day, every day of your trip!! And after you spend that much, you realize the food doesn’t suits your Indian taste buds!
Solution: Take packed food from here ;). I travelled with my wife. We had 2 big bags. Out of which one bag was only for packed food. Rice, noodles, pre-cooked packed foods (like Poha, paneer, daal makhani ..),small juices packs, snacks etc etc. It saved a lot of euros for us plus it kept my Indian belly happy 😉 .
But of course you must try out local cuisines and street food. It’s an amazing experience to sit at an outdoor lake side restaurant in Lucerne afternoon having good food with chilled beer. Amazing crowd. Great weather. But keep it economical. As we Indians surely indulge mostly in foooood.
There are many options here – Cash, Credit Card, International Debit Card, Forex Card etc.
What you would want to do is to mix all these options. For my travel – I carried some cash. I had my international credit and debit card but I didn’t use them. The charges on these cards are high. For e.g. Since you will be using these cards to pay in foreign currency, the conversion charges from INR to foreign currency will be applicable.
The best option is to use prepaid Forex Card. I had carried HDFC and ICICI forex cards and they both worked fine in Paris, Switzerland and Italy.
How to apply?:
- Walk into the Bank branch which issues Forex card.
- Carry your passport and visa
- Submit the application. Mention the currency which you want to put in the card e.g. Euro
- Submit cash or cheque
- Walk out with your forex card within minutes
The activation may take a day max. The bank currency conversion rates are skewed in favor of the bank. So just check the conversion rates for the day before putting money in the Forex card. You can also transfer more money online later. At the return of your trip, just walk to bank and submit request for transfer of balance to your account. The card will be valid for around 5 years. So you need not submit the card back. You can use it again for your next international travel.
Using the Card:
- Avoid using the card to withdraw cash at ATMs. There are charges applicable per transaction. If at all you have to withdraw cash from ATM, withdraw large amount at once.
- While swiping the card in the EDC machine, you will be asked to choose the currency to pay in. Choose the same currency that you opted for while filling the money in the card. Other currency option may also work, but you may be charged by the bank. Using your card on EDC machine is usually be free though.
- Try to use card wherever possible. Keep cash for emergency. Moreover when you return you will get better deal while converting foreign currency cash to INR.
- Carry Cash
- Carry atleast 2 Forex Card of different banks. I have heard of cases when a particular bank forex card doesn’t works.
- You may carry your debit and credit cards, but use it only in case of emergency
Say That Again.. Too Much Mehnat.. Take a Break and Watch This. This is where we stayed in Switzerland.
Keep the following things in mind before starting on packing:
- Take your trolley luggage bags. No haversacks. Wherever you go, you can comfortably roll your trolley bags.
- Check the baggage limit on flights. Flights within Europe have more restrictions on size and weight of luggage. Anyway I suggest you take trains to travel within Europe.
What to pack:
- Travel Money Bag – I bought one from American Tourister. Can be worn under the shirt. You can keep cash, coins and Passport.
- Good pair of shoes – Don’t be a miser here. This is the best investment for the trip. Go for comfortable walking/running shoes. I bought Reebok shoes for around 5k (it was 9k offline 😉 ) and I wore it for almost every day on the trip. I prefer walking a lot. It was absolutely worth it.
- Travel Adapter – Your mobile phone charger will not work in Europe. Buy a 2 pin travel adapter. It’s a must.
- Check the weather where you are going and pack clothes accordingly.
- Carry smaller bottles of your shampoo, sunscreen etc. instead of big ones.
- Carry bottle of water. Tap water is Europe is drinkable. So you need not buy water. Just refill every time.
- Snacks and pre-cooked food.
- Carry extra memory card for your camera. Or find a way to make sure you can transfer your pics to some external device and clean up space in your camera.
- Carry atleast 2 photocopies of every paper document. Passport, hotel tickets, train tickets, passes etc.
- Don’t forget your mobile and camera charger and batteries!
- Socks. Extra socks! And put them inside your shoes to save space.
- Buy TSA locks.
- Power bank – to charge your mobile on the go. Very useful!
- Medicines – Headache, Cold, Fever, Stomach Upset!
- A travel bag – This is the bag that you will be carrying around while you are touring. You can find lots of options in Wildcraft. Carry lightweight with good space. It should have enough space for your DSLR, batteries, some snack food items, mobile charger, travel adapter, umbrella., water bottle.
Activate your international roaming on your Indian sim card. You should not be using it in Europe but just in case.
To communicate from/in Europe you have two option:
- Buy the international sim card from India itself e.g Matrix
- Go to Europe and then a buy a local SIM.
I bought Matrix sim card before leaving. Make sure you take prepaid card. Postpaid bills can be inflated to any extend. Recharging is easy and can be done online. Moreover WiFi connections will be available at your hotels/accommodations, airport and some restaurants as well.
I had bought a prepaid card from Matrix for around 3k. It worked well. It connects to different network operators as you change countries.
You will need Google map while touring within cities. Use the offline map feature in Google Maps. Just save the important landmarks you are planning to visit and save the map. Remember enabling location service eats up your mobile battery. So disable it when you know your way and don’t need Google map. A charged mobile with internet on is vital in any circumstance!
Try to clean up your mobile device by deleting apps which eats battery and data. And download apps which are useful for your travel. Here are some apps I used:
- Currency Converter
- Free WiFi Finder – It finds Wifi around your location.
- SBB Mobile – Switzerland train routes and timings
- RATP – App for metro, RER, bus routes and timings in Paris
- Trenit! – App for train timings and schedule in Italy
- Trip Expenses – To keep record of your expenses
- City guide apps – with city maps
Ofcourse this would be your first concern. And rightly so!. It’s important that you estimate your expenses and ensure you are ready for it.
We did our 11 days trip – Paris, Switzerland, Italy for 2 people for 3.2 lakhs INR. And it includes everything – from visa to trains and accommodations and food.
Some tips to save:
- Book flight as early as possible. Book refundable tickets.
- Book train tickets/passes online. There are always some discounts online.
- Book passes for tourist spots. Here too you can find online discounts.
- Food – as I have mentioned earlier, this is a major expense area. Carry pre-cooked food and ensure you have a kitchen in your apartment. Here you can save a lot!
With all the money saved, may be you can extend your trip by a day or two 😉
- Guys, carry a light jacket or half sleeve jacket with safe chain pockets. I found it extremely useful. It’s very important that you carry your passport, cash and card with you all the time. And it’s also important to keep them safe. Crowded place like metros/buses in Paris, Rome, Venice etc are prone to thefts. The money bag under your shirt is an option but I found it very uncomfortable. My half-jacket was very useful to keep my essentials safe. It had chain pockets and inner pockets. I wore it almost in all places. Otherwise I would put my essentials in my bag and would keep it close to me all the time. Girls, carry bags that has chains/zips to close.
- Don’t keep wallet in the back pocket of your pant. Just get rid of that habit in Europe! Otherwise you will be center of attraction of all thieves.
- Carry small pack of juices and some snacks to munch when you walking around or are in train.
- Buy souvenirs from every city you visit 🙂
- Try out local food.
- Spread out your activities. Don’t hassle yourself with tight schedules.
- Pack light. The lesser the things you carry, the lesser the burden. Also, you will be packing and unpacking multiple times as you change your accommodation.
- Don’t forget there are duty free outlets at international terminals 😉
- Share your stay and travel details to someone in your family and friends.
- And remember, if you have done backpacking in India, travelling in Europe is a piece of cake 😉
Hope all this information helps you guys to decide on your travel. There is just too much of information on google. It gets confusing!. I have tried to accumulate what I could find the best to make your travel affordable and comfortable. Hope this will inspire you for a plan-it-yourself trip :). If you have any questions, drop in your comments I will try to help you out.
Have a memorable trip! Bon Voyage!
Note: Country wise posts will follow soon. Below is our Day 1 Diaries at Paris