📆 Days in Europe
When Nate and his wife planned their honeymoon as a round-the-world adventure, they new they had to begin in Europe. Visiting family and old friends while exploring bucket-list destinations created an unforgettable experience, and one that kept the two of them coming back to Europe year after year. By keeping his plans flexible and searching for places to stay that are well away from the typical tourist trail, Nate enjoys the serendipty that most travelers miss out on.
Everyone should travel to Europe at some point in their lives to experience culture, history, and language that isn't their own❞
Hello! What's your name, where are you from, and where have you travelled to in Europe?
Hi! My name is Nate Marquardt. I've been to Europe 3 times total, and visited Spain, France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Greece, and Croatia. Multiple times, for some countries.
In one sentence, why should someone travel to/through Europe?
Everyone should travel to Europe at some point in their lives to experience culture, history, and language that isn't their own - there is a lot to gain from the humbling experience of being somewhere where the things you take for granted may not even exist.
What motivated you to take your first trip to Europe?
My wife and I wanted to do a round-the-world trip as our honeymoon. We chose European countries for part of the trip mostly because we knew the barrier to entry for Americans would be relatively easy, and we would still be comfortable. From there, we chose a few countries we definitely knew we wanted to visit, and charted a path through those countries.
My wife and I always wanted to see Italy, and she had relatives in France, and old friends from an archaeology dig she did in Greece. These 3 countries were on our bucket list, so we had to go.
What concerns did you face when planning your first trip?
Our major concern when planning the first trip was being able to travel between the destinations, and making sure we had enough time between flights/trains/etc to actually see the places we wanted to see in each country.
What went into planning your first trip to Europe?
We charted the path through all the countries we wanted to visit. From there, we bought our flights between each country, and sometimes waited a bit for deals and cheaper rates. We gave ourselves roughly 5 days in each country.
For traveling within each country, we needed to figure out which methods were best. For example, in Italy, we landed in Milan, but wanted to go to Venice, Cinque Terre, and Rome. So we bought train tickets a few days in advance before we landed. In Greece (Crete, to be more precise) we simply rented a car, since that was easiest. We also booked a ferry while in Crete to hop over to Santorini for an overnight stay, where we also rented a tiny car.
For accommodations, we usually tend to "wing it" once we're there. Most of the time we knew where we would be in the next few days, so we would book Airbnb or hotels one/two days in advance. Not necessarily recommended for everyone, but that gave us flexibility to stay longer or shorter in some places we liked.
If you had to plan one final, perfect Eurotrip, what would the itinerary look like?
It would probably be a road-trip-style trip. The nice thing about Europe is that most countries are relatively small, similar to the size of individual states in the US. Driving can get you to a lot of places. It would need to be a few weeks long.
I've never been up to the northern European countries, so it would be nice to visit those - but the absolute musts would be to hit the Pyrenees, the coast along the south of France, and the Alps. So I would probably chart a road trip starting by landing in Barcelona, then going up through Andorra into the south of France, then head up north to Switzerland, back down to Italy, and back over to France, stopping in Monaco along the way, and potentially fly out of Marseille or Nice. This way, depending on how much time we had, we could potentially extend the "loop" more by going further north to Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Also, you'd be able to hit Venice in Italy on the way south.
What's your advice for first-time Eurotriprs who are just starting to plan a trip?
My advice to first-timers is:
- Try to visit more than just 1 place in whatever country/ies you're going. It will give you a chance to experience some diversity within the country itself, and travelling within your destination country can lead to unexpected surprises which turn into stories later.
- When deciding where to stay, try to choose somewhere that's deeply embedded in local culture. Try to avoid staying in tourist hotspots. Staying in a local place usually means you'll get a more authentic experience. On our first night in Venice, we were tucked deeply away in a little apartment, and out of nowhere a little dance festival erupted in one of the courtyards. It's one of our favorite memories, and we wouldn't have had that if we stayed at a hotel right next to the train station.
- Along the same lines, since you'll be staying in a more "authentic" location, try to engage with the people whose place your staying with. Ask for tips about the area. Ask what their favorite restaurant is. What their favorite activity is, and where they do it. So many GREAT (largely unknown) places we went were recommended by locals.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced when planning your Eurotrip?
Some of the biggest challenges we faced were:
- Easily finding places to stay. Since we tend to travel without having a hour-by-hour itinerary, we usually reserve lodging a day or two in advance, since we know where we'll be by then. What that means is sometimes spending an hour or two scouring AirBnB for openings.
- Budgeting. Make sure you always have more than enough savings reserved for the trip (within reason), so if you are taken by the moment and want to splurge on something, you can.
- Thinking ahead is difficult. In hindsight, it would've been nice to have had a plan for some things, like: How to regularly wash your clothes? If you buy a big souvenir, how will you get it back home? What is the plan if you get injured somewhere? If you lose your passport?
If you consider yourself a luxury traveler, can you explain the pros and cons of traveling through Europe like this?
I wouldn't consider myself a luxury traveler :)
In your opinion, is Europe an expensive place to travel? Why / why not?
It depends on where you go. Like most things, you tend to spend more money than you expect to.
However, that's not to say you can't save in certain areas. If you're travelling between countries, flights/train tickets are relatively cheap. Ferries are rather expensive. If you have time, usually renting a car and driving is cheapest.
It also depends on what countries you travel to. In general, some places just cost more/less at baseline, for everything.
I wouldn't say Europe in general is expensive though.
What are the 3 most important things to consider when packing for a trip to Europe?
Consider that if you REALLY NEEDED something, most things that you'd get in the US are available in most European countries as well.
That being said, we usually pack just as much as can fit on the plane with us (carry-on only). So usually that means one large-ish hiking backpack, and one smaller one. It's easier to go through an airport or train station when you have backpacks - and when you're on-location, you can leave your larger bag in the hotel, and take the smaller one with you so you keep all your important documents on your person at all times.
Since most of the time, we're travelling to do lots of walking and hiking outdoors, we usually just pack two footwear items: Sandals and hiking boots. And as most people will tell you, multiple thin layers are better than one thick coat. They also take up much less space.
When deciding the type of bag(s), consider two things:
- Does it have multiple separate compartments? It's useful if so, because then you can separate shoes from clothing, or even wet/dirty clothing from the rest.
- How accessible is it? Constantly having to dig to the bottom of the bag to get to something is difficult, and it may be annoying to basically have to unpack the whole thing every time. Having a duffel-style zipper that can open the whole thing up is nice. Keep in mind there though, it may mean it's easier for a thief to open it while it's on your back, too.
How would you pack differently for a 1-week trip to Europe versus a 1-month trip?
For a 1-month trip, I would probably be going many more places than in just 1 week. So, I would probably pack a much larger variety of clothing. Shorts AND pants, t-shirts AND sweaters. However, I still wouldn't take TOO much with me, since I know I'll probably be able to wash things. Taking time aside to wash clothes is easier on larger timescales.
For shorter trips, I may pack more for where I know I'll be. If it's warm, maybe I'll pack shorts and t-shirts, but include 1 sweater and 1 pair of pants.
All in all, in both cases, I'd probably pack roughly the same amount, it's just a matter of what the balance of the type of things I'd pack would be.