It has been so much fun writing up all these posts from our recent 2-week trip to Europe! They’ve functioned as a really great journal for me as well. I’m not even finished with all the Europe posts (eek!) but we’re getting there! And it’s been nice to reflect back on the experience.
RELATED: Our 2-Week Europe Trip Itinerary
But, in order to have a trip that ran smoothly and efficiently (and consequently, brought us a better experience), we needed to plan ahead pretty well. Today I wanted to share a few of the things that helped to simplify the planning for this international trip!
Let me first mention that we checked no luggage for our Europe trip. (Bjorn did check a bag with some souvenirs in it on the way home.) But, on our way there, and for all of our adventures, each of us only had 2 bags. The guys each brought 2 backpacks and my sister-in-law and I each brought one backpack and one large weekender bag. Not bad! So, as you read these tips, keep this in mind – our goal was to pack essentials but also to pack as little as possible!
Simplifying the Planning Process for an International Trip:
Here’s what helped us, in no particular order! And I’ll keep checking back on this post and updating it if I think of anything else that helped us! (Any Amazon links are affiliate links. I may get a small commission if you purchase using that link, but it would be at no additional cost to you.)
1 // Packing cubes. My sister Maddie (who did an amazing adventure all around Europe herself and has been to Europe a couple times) recommended getting packing cubes.
We got the TravelWise Packing Cube System – a great set! I’m so glad we went ahead and purchased this set (they come in different sizes) because they really helped us to organize our clothing and find it quickly when abroad. I read a few articles on them when I was trying to figure out what they were and how they could help us, and one article explained that packing cubes are like having different “drawers” with you on the trip. You could put all of your tops in one compartment and all of your pants in another, therefore giving you an easy-to-grab “drawer” to pull out when it’s time to get dressed. We packed a couple of our packing cubes in Bjorn’s bags to help organize his items, and the others in my bags.
These aren’t the compression type of packing products – they don’t vacuum seal or anything like that, but we totally loved them. We highly recommend packing cubes! If you’ve got a trip coming up, definitely check out the TravelWise Packing Cube System.
2 // A shared Google Doc. We started this months and months before our Europe trip. If you don’t know about Google documents…they’re amazing! (The school district Bjorn and I work at uses Google Drive for so much, so we’re quite familiar with these neat ways to collaborate.) Basically, if the document has been created by one of you and sent to everyone you want, then anyone can hop on and edit the document, even at the same time.
Things like this are super handy when it comes to planning and brainstorming, particularly if you do not live near the people you are trying to plan and collaborate with!
On our document, we started by brainstorming dates and locations (and then even more specific locations). Later on, I used it as a catch-all place for me to drop links to ticket purchasing sites or other tourist info sites. We even sketched out much of our itinerary preferences on our document.
3 // Airbnb. Aka the best thing ever if you want to save money, meet locals, and experience culture in a special way! I won’t write too much about Airbnb here, but I did write an entire post on why you should use Airbnb the next time you travel! We stayed all 14 nights in Airbnbs in Europe – exactly zero hotels! And it was amazing.
As far as simplifying our trip goes, Airbnb helped in the sense that we saved a good chunk of money each day that otherwise would have gone towards a hotel stay, and Airbnb allowed us to stay in smaller villages and towns where it would have been difficult to even find a hotel.
4 // Guide books. Really! Guide books seem to be one of those things we wonder if we really need. After all, we can Google so many things on the go, right? Well, buying a couple guide books for the major cities ahead of time turned out to be a great idea. I used them ahead of time while planning the trip itinerary, because the books we purchased suggested little 1, 2 or 3-day itineraries that I could use as a basic outline and then tweak! 🙂
We really appreciated the Lonely Planet guide books we purchased. We had 2 guide books – one was for London and the other for Paris. Each had a large foldable city map which came in handy.
I actually circled all the sights we wanted to see on our maps while planning the trip because it helped me find the general neighborhoods or sections of the city we would want to be in for that specific day, and then I could select the location of our Airbnb from there.
5 // Buying tickets ahead of time. Whether or not having tickets ahead of time is mandatory, this usually saves a lot of time – or at least some extra hassle once you’re actually at your destination!
I purchased tickets online ahead of time for: The Tower of London (we loved our morning there!), “Taming of the Shrew” at Shakespeare’s Globe (such a fun night!), our Eurostar train transportation from London to Paris (that trip was an adventure!), the Eiffel Tower (which actually didn’t happen because of a riot!), our Seine River cruise, and our full day at the Palace of Versailles.
Whew! That’s a lot, isn’t it? Purchasing all of those tickets in advance really helped to streamline the trip.
(I printed any tickets and confirmation emails and brought them along on the trip in a folder.)
6 // Utilizing our credit cards’ reward programs. I know that credit cards (and often consequently, debt) are a touchy subject for some. There are programs about financial responsibility that tell people never to use credit cards.
We take a bit of a different approach. My husband is extremely financially responsible, so whenever we use our credit cards, he pays them off right away. Why do we use credit cards? The reward programs can be awesome, as long as you are always immediately paying them off! We made the choice several years ago to use a credit card offering really great travel-related reward points. So, by the time we went on this 2016 Europe trip, that reward program actually gave us enough “free money” that paid for the majority of one of our plane tickets!!
Pretty neat, right? It just took some planning in advance and intentionality.
7 // Pack a Ziploc bag of travel-size liquids. This is kind of a common sense one, but it saves a lot of time in airport and security lines! I always laid my “liquids bag” on top of other things inside my carry-on bag. That way, I could quickly grab it and throw it in a bin as we went through security.
8 // Remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all this time! It’s not a good feeling to be running around your destination, absolutely frantic because you’re so worried you’re missing out. A bit of intentionality goes a long way, and choosing to have an attitude of we-can-save-some-things-for-another-time makes a difference in your stress level! Choose a topic or region focus for your trip and center your trip around that!
9 // Take out some of that clothing you just packed! Like I said earlier, with us having just 2 carry-on bags each, we needed to pack light! From all the traveling that we did, I soon realized that you will actually re-wear clothing more than you think you will!! You won’t need a brand new outfit every single day of the trip. Perhaps you’ll wear those skinny jeans a few times over your trip, or you’ll wear that shirt a couple different times. So, save room in your bags by packing a little less than you think you need!!
What travel tips do you have? Has something helped you a lot on your travels? We’d love to hear your advice for simplifying travel!