After my first trip to Austria and paragliding experience on Alps, I decided to take my family on Europe vacation. The biggest challenge always to do Europe trip is COST…It can be super expensive to travel in Europe. I had to find ways to save money, so that we can cover best of Europe. We managed to cover key places in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. Below is our plan and experience, including how we packed, booked tickets, flights, local travel, etc. We did not take help of any tour guide or any vendor, we did online research and managed to do the plan.
Our Group : We were a total of 4 people (two couples) and 1 child.
Where to stay – Hotels or Airbnb ? Service Apartments ?
We did all the cost calculations in all the locations for hotels and figured out, it is cheaper to stay in Airbnb. You need to check Airbnb ratings and book the right place with good reviews. We only took something that had at least 4 or 4.5 rating. We saved a LOT of money on hotel. Usually, we would book a full house with two bedrooms at least so that we all can fit in and can have some privacy when you sleep. Also, we always booked house with Wi-Fi, full kitchen. The key thing is having full kitchen.
Food – Cooking vs eating out : We used to pick up bread, eggs and fruit, etc. as needed in nearby grocery store in each of the place we stayed and had breakfast at home. Also, most of the times, we would end up cooking another meal either Lunch or Dinner. Nothing fancy cooking, just some noodles, fried rice, biryani rice, etc. We packed Indian spices for our trip with us and a small electric cooker for rice. Of course, you can eat outside, but it can be very expensive and the challenge is that our families are not used to eating out a lot, so we used to cook. When we had access to Indian restaurant, we used to eat there, but it was quite expensive. You find fast food chains like McDonad, SubWay, Burger King all over, but we tried to eat in local places.
Car Rental, Train, Flight : We did all the cost calculations for driving, train tickets and all options..trains are expensive to travel..finally, picked up Car from Hertz to drive around in Germany, Austria, Switzerland. Make sure you take the car with GPS included in it as it is really helpful. In Switzerland, you have to use Train to go up to Jungfraujoch ( highest peak in Europe ). In Rome, we used public transport. We rented car in Germany as it is cheaper in terms of rate than Switzerland. Also, in Paris, Berlin & Rome we used local transportation of Train and bus.
Buying Tour, Attractions tickets, Local Commute Tickets : We booked most of the attractions tickets online, so that we do not have to stand in lines, especially in Rome and Vatican City. Other places are quite ok. We did not book tickets for Jungfraujoch in Switzerland because we want to assess the weather and then buy tickets there. For local commute in Berlin, Rome and Paris we took day passes or 3 days passes that cover everything from local commute. You can buy these at any train station in these cities. No need to buy ahead.
How did we keep track of the itinerary, directions, Picking Food places : We used Tripit Mobile app and sent all our confirmations to that, so that we were on track with what to do when. Also, we downloaded Google Maps offline for these cities to move around. For walking directions, we used Here WeGo Mobile App, you can download cities maps offline too and great for directions, better than Google Maps for walking directions. Also, every city, there are free maps, make sure you pick them up from train station or the hotel. Also, we used Google Places in Google maps for restaurants reviews. We would do research at hotel, when we had Wi-Fi. We did not really buy any local SIM card. We had roaming enabled for emergency on our phones, but did not really buy any local SIMs. It was expensive and not worth it.
Overall Cost per person for Euro Trip: Because we booked ahead for flights, other tickets, stayed in Airbnb and cooked home once a day and had breakfast at home, overall per person we had spent about 3,100 USD per person for the entire trip, including attractions tickets, food, travel, car, flights, everything.
Carrying Cash vs Using Credit Card : Try to do all currency exchange in your local country for the best rate you get and carry Euro in Cash and in Switzerland you need Swiss Franc. Sometimes credit card charges can be a lot. Verify with your card company, if you are using credit cards. We used cash for the most part to avoid hefty fee and currency conversions.
Health Insurance : You need health insurance to get Schengen Visa. So, it was already covered. All of us had purchased health insurance for duration of our trip with a plan called Atlas America on VisitorsCoverage.com website that has coverage for upto $200,000 USD, which is more than required for visa purposes. It came for about $33 USD per person. It is from a good vendor TOKIO Marine HCC. Also, you have other good options like Europe Travel Plus that covers Schengen Visa requirements and gives good coverage.
What is the Itinerary to cover Best of Europe in 18 Days ?
We did all the calculations for car rental, flights, and realised, it is best to fly to Munich and then drive to Switzerland. So started our trip by landing in Munich, Germany.
|Day||Country||City/ Town/ Attraction||Activity|
|1||Home||Home to Germany||Travel in Flight to Germany|
|2||Germany||Munich||Land in Munich about 9 AM, Rent Car, Drive to Interlaken, Switzerland.|
|We rented a car at the Munich Airport at Hertz, they gave best rate for us. It takes about 8 hours to drive. It is a fun drive. We had two drivers. It is easy to drive, even if you have never driven on the right, you are fine, nothing to worry. If you are used to driving in US, much easier. We stayed in Airbnb about 30 min away from Interlaken on the top of a hill called Axalp, it was super nice of the lake from our home. The main reason is, it was much cheaper for us to stay there.|
|3||Switzerland||Jungfraujoch||Take the Good Morning ticket Cheapest to go, to Jungfraujoch to reach highest peak of Europe. Spend time in Kleine Scheidegg after we came down from the peak, walked around in afternoon and evening drive back to your Airbnb Home.|
|4||Switzerland||Lake Brienz, Grindlewald,Lauterbrunnen, Interlaken||Relax day driving around Lake Brienz, which is a beautiful lake, then go to Grindlewald, walk around and then to Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken. There are many small pit stops you can do and take photos, explore nature.|
|5||Austria||Zell am See||You need to check out Airbnb early and start driving to Austria. It takes about 7 to 8 hours depending on how you drive. If you start early, you can do few things in Austria in the evening. We did the lake explore and boating in Zell am see. We stayed at Airbnb house overlooking the lake.|
|6||Austria||Kitzsteinhorn ( Kaprun), Grossglockner Drive||Start early and drive to Kaprun city and Kitzsteinhorn. You have the best snow experience here, some of the highest mountain we took 4 cable cars to go up the hill and best snow slopes experience. Then we drove back by afternoon to Grossglockner, which is top of Austria and a world known scenic drive of 45 km in Alps mountains. We stayed till evening like 7 pm in the mountains and then drove back.|
|7||Germany||Zell am See to Berlin||We departed Airbnb place in the morning and started driving to Berlin. It is a long drive about 10 hours or so or more. But, we get some nice German Autobahn, where we hit driving 230 KMPH speed as there are no speed limits in Germany in Autobahns. You do not need car in Germany, so drop off your car at rental car place. Take 3 day or daily pass for MRT / Train/BUS in Berlin.|
|8||Germany||Berlin Wall – East Side Gallery, Topography of Terror Museum, Alexanderplatz||Check out the Berlin Wall – East Side Gallery, where you see all the paintings that are popular around Berlin Wall. Then you go to Topography of Terror museum and finally spend some time in Alexanderplatz doing some shopping around malls.|
|9||Germany||Berlin – Museum Island, Reichstag Building||Wake up early and head to Museum Island, take the museum island pass where you can see Pergamon Museum and other museums, then visit Reichstag Building. You need to take appointment booking for Reichstag before 15 days on their website.|
|10||Germany||Berlin Free Walking Tour from Brandenburg Gate||There are free walking tours organized, you need to either show up at a time or register online. We took Sandemans free walking tour. At the end you tip the tourguide for what it is worth. This is great, they will cover all of the history of Berlin in about 3 hours and show the major attractions. Totally worth it !|
|11||Italy||Berlin to Rome Travel||Check out early and fly to Italy. We only picked Rome and Vatican City as they are key places. We took Airbnb and stayed close to Vatican City. First day evening, we went to Basilica Di Santa Maria in Trastevere|
|12||Italy||Rome – Colosseum, City Center||Visit Colosseum and City center buildings ‘Altar of the Fatherland’. You will spend most of the time in Colosseum and outside taking pictures, in line, etc. Buy tickets online. Also, for local commute take daily Travel pass for the day.|
|13||Italy||Rome – Spanish steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill||We took free walking tour by searching online, they cover all the major attractions from Spanish steps to Pantheon, etc. After tour, we went to Roman Forum and Palatine hill.|
|14||Vatican City||Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica||Vatican City has a lot of museums, you take the museum pass and buy tickets online itself at least one week before, it is not worth standing in line outside as it can take an hour or more. You visit allt he museums and Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted famous ceiling. Evening at St. Peter’s Basilica|
|15||France||Rome to Paris Travel, Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris, Boat Tour Pont neuf||Check out early and fly to Paris. We could not find houses on Airbnb, so took a service apartment in Booking.com . In the evening, we went to Cathedral Notre-Dame De Paris, Boat Tour from Pont Neuf|
|16||France||Paris – Arc De Triomphe, Eiffel Tower||Visit the shopping center of the city and see Arc De Triomphe and then head to Eiffel Tower by evening. Make sure you take ticket for evening, so that you can see evening and also night view of the city. Buy tickets online before to avoid queue.|
|17||France||Paris – Louvre Museum||Visit the world’s top rated Louvre Museum, it houses famous paintings like Mona Lisa. Buy the audio guide tour, it helps a lot. It is too big and you can get lost, choose top attractions in the museum and visit them.|
|18||France||Paris – Eiffel Tower, Fly back Home||We went really early like 6 AM to catch the sunrise and Eiffel Tower, it was really nice when you view from Trocadero Gardens. Check for sunrise time and go there. Rest of the day to fly back home.|
Did you travel to Europe ? Anything that I missed ? Share your experiences..