Getting ready for Europe

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From Innsbruck, Austria, to Munich, Germany
The next few blog posts will be a series of stories about our trip to Europe -- including the preparation for our visa application, our itinerary, and our actual trip.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for our family to go to Europe. What was initially supposed to be a trip for two (me and my sister) became a trip for four when my parents asked if they can go with us, too.

When we searched for a tour company and read their detailed itineraries, I realized that we won't get to do what we actually wanted to do. One tour company included Paris in their itinerary, which is my ultimate dream destination, but we weren't going to go up the Eiffel Tower (which was also at the top of my bucket list), and that we weren't even going to enter the Louvre. Basically, we were just going to take pictures. My sister wasn't going to get to do her wine tasting in Tuscany, and my parents weren't going to see the Pope.

So I convinced them to just let me do the itinerary, I said I'll plan everything, from the train rides to the accommodations to the activities. I'll also do an estimate costing, and research everything on how to get from Point A to Point B. Maybe it helped that they trusted me to get things done (i.e. I planned a trip to Singapore, Camiguin, and Iloilo even though I haven't been to any of these places).

I don't advise doing this unless you're ready for the stress, sleepless nights, and lots of research and paperwork for at least a month. And maybe make up to five train itineraries in case your companions change their mind about which countries they want to visit or what activity they want to do.

I had to change our itineraries several times because

First: Too much time constraint per activity since mama initially asked if we could go to 8 countries

Second: Papa kept saying he only wanted to go to Rome

Third: Mama asked if we can go to Lourdes in France

Fourth: Mama asked if we can incorporate Spain, to which papa said I should prepare two itineraries

Fifth: Ate Mako asked if we can include Hamburg

Sixth: Mama asked me three times if we can include Switzerland because she wanted to see the Swiss Alps

Seventh: I had to figure out the shortest train rides we can go to reach Paris, since we just wanted to take the regional trains to avoid reservation fees (more on this later).

So after all these requests, I had to make an itinerary with the following conditions:

  • Must spend at least 3 days in Rome
  • Must go to the Via Appia in Rome
  • Must have a wine tasting tour (hence, 2 days in Florence)
  • Must see the Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Must go to Venice and see David
  • Must see the Swiss Alps
  • Must be within budget (papa said just P150,000/pax average although our trip was KKB)
  • Must be able to spend time in the Louvre
  • Must be able to ride the Eiffel Tower
  • Must see the Notredame
  • Must see the Sacre-cour
  • Must have free time or time we'll just spend walking around
  • Must maximize our 15-day vacation

The result:
1) A 17-day (including transit to and fro Europe) vacation

2) A trip to 10 destinations and 5 countries: Rome, Vatican, Florence, Pisa and Venice in Italy; Innsbruck in Austria; Munich in Germany; Zurich, the town of Engelberg, and Geneva in Switzerland; and Paris in France.

3) A 30-page flexible itinerary. This included the following:

  • A one-page detailed itinerary that includes the exact time of departure and arrival and station/airport for every train and plane ride.
  • A 25-page detailed daily itinerary, from the time we land in Rome, to the time we departed for Manila at the end of our stay.

Since you never know what could happen, I had the "must-see" activities memorized, so even if we couldn't go to every stop in our itinerary, at least we were able to visit or do all the activities that were top priority for each of us.

Draft of our walking tour in Munich
With the "walking time" requested by my sister, what I did was incorporate that with the sites that we can tour by walking. So I mapped out our walking tour in Google Maps so we can also see the estimated time of our tour, and the shortest possible route.

I also included facts and trivia about the sights we were going to visit. Since we weren't joining any tours or even joining free tours, I had to make notes about the places we were visiting so they know why we're actually going there. For example, since we were going to Rome and see the Trevi Fountain, I made sure to include what makes Trevi Fountain interesting. I also included the artist and details about the artwork we can see for a certain church we were visiting, especially the works of Bernini, Michaelangelo, etc.

I also added pertinent details such as the electricity output, notable scams in Europe and contact details of the Philippine embassy for each country we were visiting.

4) A detailed estimated costing per person
This included the cost for our plane ride, Visa application, museum passes, accommodation, Eurail, Paris Pass, and meals. I allotted 8 euros for every meal, just to be on the safe side. I also included a budget for snacks if the day was going to be particularly filled, or if we were going on a long train ride. What I forgot to allot were the bus/train passes in each city, as well as allotment for water and the toilets! Since we were each paying for our own trip, we needed to know how much exactly we would need to bring, and I also asked them to make an allowance for other emergencies. Thankfully, my parents and I brought more than enough.

I divided the costing per day, per location, per activity, in Euro, total in Euro, total in Peso, and Notes.

Sample of my costing for Europe
Since we pre-booked our accommodation by credit card, I made sure to include the conversion charges that will be incurred. I used BPI because they had the lowest conversion charge at 1.75%. But since we were paying in Euros, I computed the charge from Euro to USD, then from USD to PHP, then PHP x 1.75%. I computed this either with the base amount divided by 4 (since we were 4 in the group) or the total divided by 4.

All other charges that will only be paid in Euro (i.e. meals) are left in Euro. For the subtotal, I just converted the amount straight from Euro to PHP then added everything to get the total amount in Pesos.

Again, Google's currency converter was so handy.

5) STRESS. Lots of stress, so make sure you have the time, patience, and energy if you want to prepare this on your own, for the first time, like I did!

Good luck!

Next post will be about the Schengen Visa requirements.

All notes are based on our experience. These are just guides and tips. If your visa is denied, please don't blame me. I don't decide on the approval of your visa :-)

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

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