15 days, 8 countries is all I needed for my winter break.
It’s been quite some time that I have been thinking to write about my recent Europe trip, but guess just got loaded with something or other or maybe I was just too lazy to get started. So finally here I am, writing down all the possible details I could, in the limited period of time. Not making it a lengthy post, I will try to keep it as short as possible, yet informative enough to help you plan out your Europe trip without the need of agents and within the budget.
P.S.: The travel was a mix of solo and accompanied one, so if you are also one of those solo female travelers who has been just thinking all the while, it’s time to realize your thoughts :).
P.P.S.: The purpose of this post is not to pen down my feelings / experiences or share my stories, but to help you plan out your trip with the required details. So don’t get bored if you find it quite a bland one. Stories are something I will leave it for later!
Choice of countries
Europe is a beautiful continent and while you may like to see as much as you want, it may not be practically possible to cover all the countries considering various factors involved. So without thinking much, just go and check google maps before you start to plan your itinerary. The maps will give you a fair idea of the distance and time involved to cover the cities and how better you can plan your trip.
My initial choice was to cover Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia and Switzerland, but a look at the maps will clearly show how Spain, Greece and Croatia could not fit well in the circle that I intended to travel. The three locations ultimately got crossed out to include Germany (Berlin), Czech (Prague) and Austria (Innsbruck) and the new choices were fair enough to still make it a worthwhile visit.
For those who may not be aware of it, you need not have different visas for different countries. To travel Europe, all you need is multiple-entry Schengen visa and you can cover all the allowed countries without any hassles. The details to get visa are shared in the later section.
By the way, Netherlands (Amsterdam, Zaandam), Belgium (Antwerp), France (Paris), Germany (Berlin), Czech Republic (Prague), Austria (Innsbruck), Italy (Milano), Switzerland (Zurich) is what I finally covered. It’s much better to cover one city-one country than trying to cover multiple cities and eventually tiring yourself out.
P.S.: Don’t forget to check if your choice of country is covered under the gamut of Schengen visa or not.
P.P.S: If you are on a budget travel, try to limit your stay (or rather shopping) in the expensive countries. You can extend your stay in the lesser expensive countries and still get a good feel of Europe.
The earlier the better! I booked my tickets via www.makemytrip.com but you can try other sites too. www.cleartrip.com , www.yatra.com may also offer competitive prices. The travel sites keep on coming up with their discount coupons. Use them to get the advantage !
P.S.: Don’t forget to read the baggage conditions while booking your flights. The cheapest ticket may not be always the best. I had booked my flight for Air France which allowed one check-in bag for 23kgs and one cabin bag for 8kgs at a cheaper rate, just to realize later that Aeroflot was a better option which allowed 2 pcs of check-in bags for 23kgs in addition to the cabin bag. I had to pay additional 70 Euros one-way (approx. Rs 5,000) for exceeding the baggage limits in Air France.
Schengen visa! I so loved the fact how this visa made traveling so easier within Europe. No offence intended, but it was easier (and safer too) to travel countries in Europe than states in India!
And yes, it’s quite simple and easy to get the visa, if your papers are all good (goes without saying).
I was a solo female traveler from India and got the visa stamped in less than 5 days (it’s a separate thing that I got to know about the fact quite late coz of few glitches with the VFSglobal site). So, if like me, you are also a solo female traveler, then just let go of your inhibitions.
Edit: Just to add, per the official process it takes 10 to 15 working days to get your passport, so better to keep a buffer time at your end before booking tickets.
Logon to www.vfsglobal.com and check the application process of the country for which you want to apply the visa. The choice of country is usually governed by your place of arrival / the place where you intend to stay for the maximum number of days. Here’s the usual checklist of documents required for tourist visa
- Original passport
- Visa application form
- Two passport size photo with white background (face should be on 80%)
- Request letter to Embassy (this is used to mention the purpose of travel and your tentative itinerary to the embassy officials)
- Company NOC (companies are usually aware of this, intention is to support the fact that you are going for tourism and not any other purpose)
- Hotel booking (need not be a confirmed booking, even the reservations will do; I used booking.com to reserve my hotels)
- Travel ticket (again need not be confirmed booking, even the reservations will do)
- Travel insurance (all the insurance companies offer it and there would not be much of a price difference; you can easily buy these online without wasting much of time in comparing)
- Last 6 months bank statement
- Last 3 year ITR/Form-16
- Last 3 months salary slips
Check out the VFS website for more details.
Tip: It’s quite easy to apply for visa without taking the help of an agent. An agent may cost around INR 1.5k to 3k for doing nothing.
Unless you are planning to stay with any of your acquaintances, the best bet is to check out the options in www.booking.com , www.hostels.com , www.airbnb.com (you may try other options too, but that’s not something I will be able to advise upon). All my bookings were made via booking.com as it allows full-refund on cancellation and also provided comparatively cheaper options than the other two. Moreso, unlike airbnb.com, it allows the flexibility to pay on arrival.
Majority of the hostels / hotels include buffet breakfast and Wi-Fi, however, don’t forget to check if your hotel includes these / related facilities for free or if there’s an additional charge to it.
Inter City / Country Travel
GoEuro.com was my best bet to decide on the mode of travel I chose to travel different countries within Europe. While it may be faster (but expensive) to travel via train, I planned my whole journey via buses as it was comparatively cheaper and provided a better scenic view to appreciate the locales. Make your own choice of what suits you :)
P.S.: Traveling via road is a decently comfortable journey in case you may have apprehensions about it. Majority of the buses have the facility of washrooms and Wi-Fi within them, so it may not be difficult to travel via roads as well. Besides, you can make all the bookings online to save yourself the time and hassles for later.
Day pass, just go for it! This is one thing I will definitely advise in favor of if you are planning to stay for a day or more. Majority of the countries offer the facility to buy the day passes which are usually applicable for all the local mode of public transport: trains, buses, trams etc. Moreso, you can buy / recharge these passes from train/bus stations or even from mini/super markets.
P.S.: Don’t forget to check on the applicability and validity of the pass. For example, some day passes may not allow the train travel and some may not be a 24-hr pass. The passes may end at mid-night / early-morning irrespective of the time you bought the card.
P.P.S.: Don’t forget to take the map from bus/train station. It will make your travel much easier J
Food & Drinks
You don’t have to struggle for food even if you are vegetarian or vegan. The choices are easily available across the major cities, though you may have limited options to choose from. Nevertheless, you can survive pretty well if your vegetarian or vegan.
Drinking water directly from taps is quite safe so you don’t have to worry on it. Majority of the markets sell sparkling (or carbonated) water at their stores, which is often more costly than beer, so don’t feel quite surprised.
Euro is an applicable currency across most of the countries. However, some may still be using their local currency. Ex, Prague and Switzerland use their local currencies. While these two countries also fairly use Euro, it gets a tad expensive affair to use Euro for an extended stay. Try to take local currencies if you are planning to stay for more than 2 days in such countries. For one or two days, it may not create much of a difference.
And finally, it’s time to address some of the fears / myths which have been associated with Europe travel. Everyone has their own set of apprehensions while planning their travels. I had mine too, but happy that they no longer exist for me.
- Solo travel is not safe, especially for females – My travel involved both solo and accompanied travel and you bet, it was completely safe to travel solo in Europe. Obviously, one cannot take safety for granted, but don’t let it hamper your dream plans for the fear of it. You can’t travel unless you come out of your comfort zone. And yes, I won’t mind mentioning that European people are quite friendly by nature and sometimes they will go out of their way to help you out :).
- Difficult to get visa, especially if you are traveling solo – I got my visa in a day and that speaks for it!
- Eurorail (and the pass) is cheaper and convenient- A big NO to this. It just does not make sense to buy Eurorail passes with many other alternative options available at a lesser cost and offering almost a similar level of comfort.
- Europe winter travel is difficult and boring – I traveled Europe during the period from Christmas to NYE and that is all I wanted. Nothing could have been better than celebrating Christmas in Berlin and New Year Eve in Zurich :). It was always in my to-do list to experience Christmas in Europe and finally I was able to strike it out without having much to trade-off. Just do a bit of research at your end and see how you can enjoy the place in the given conditions. Pack yourself with additional layer of clothes and don’t expect too many activities to be opened during the vacation period.
I guess that’s pretty much from my side and hope the blog was of some use to plan your Europe trip :)