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How to Plan your Slow Trip

Pauline Kenny

Planning your trip takes time and work. Even if you use a travel consultant to help you, you still have to do a lot of reading and preparation yourself. Many people avoid this by taking large or small group tours.

You could arrange a trip where part is an organized tour and then add on another independent week as a way to get you started on independent travel. Or just plunge into it and be well prepared before you go.

Read your Guidebooks

The most important part of planning your trip to Europe is research. Get some guidebooks and start reading. We list our favorite guidebooks and other recommended books in the Planning sections for each country. Read about the country you are planning to visit to get a good idea of where you want to stay.

Book Six Months to a Year Ahead

Europeans routinely book vacation rentals a year ahead, so some of the best places fill up quickly. Start planning six months to a year before your trip. Most places require a 50% deposit at time of booking with final payment when you arrive or a month or two before. Do your research, find a good place and book it. This leaves you plenty of time after you have booked your trip to do some in depth reading about the area and plan your activities.

Think in One Week Segments

The majority of vacation rentals in Europe rent from Saturday to Saturday. You check in Saturday afternoon and check out the next Saturday morning. We plan our trips around this. From the US, we fly into a major city and spend a few days in a hotel (to recover from the jetlag), then pick up a rental car and drive to our first vacation rental. We plan our trips in one week segments; a week in southern Tuscany, a week in central Umbria, a week in Rome, booking a different vacation rental for each week. If you have time, stay more than a week in one place.

Book it Yourself or Use a Travel Agent?

You can do all your bookings yourself, have a travel consultant do everything for you or take an in between route to save yourself some time.

  • A travel consultant can work with you to plan your trip. Good consultants follow the message boards, travel themselves and can offer you good advice for how to plan your trip. Some consultants work out the plan and tell you how to do the bookings, leaving the actual booking process to you. Others will also do all the bookings for you.
  • A vacation rental agency can save you hours of searching for the perfect vacation rental. Find a reputable agency whose listings look interesting and contact them with your requirements. They will send you a list of properties and work with you to pick the one best suited for you. They then do the booking. Some full service agencies will also help you with hotel bookings and car rentals.
  • You can research and book your whole trip yourself. You still may end up using an agency because they represent the vacation rental that you want. You can find places where you book directly with the owner, which can save you money, but be warned that you will spend many hours doing the searching. I have substantial knowledge and experience with vacation rentals, but I frequently use an agency when booking in a country I am not familiar with, because it is worth it to get their advice and knowledge. I also use agencies in countries that I know well because I have come to trust certain agencies and know they have quality listings.

You can get other travelers to help you plan your trip on our message board. We love doing this! Do some planning ahead of time and then post your proposed itinerary or your short list of vacation rentals. You will be amazed at the feedback you get! Take it all with a grain of salt of course; you will find that people have very different opinions on how you should travel!

Open Jaw - Fly into One City and Out of Another

One travel option that works well with vacation rentals is to fly into one city and out of another. This saves you a day of traveling back to where to you started. For example, fly into Rome and spend a few nights. Then a week in Tuscany. End with a few nights in Venice and fly home from there.

Embrace your Jetlag

Travel from the US to Europe can be tiring because it is always an overnight flight. It helps if you live on the east coast, where the time change is only 6 hours. From Santa Fe, NM where we live, the time change is 8 hours and we travel all day long just to get to the east coast for our overnight flight.

Needless to say, when we stumble off the plane in Europe, we are usually exhausted. We always plan our trip assuming we will arrive with very depleted energy levels. I know that many of you get off that plane after having no sleep and hop into a rental car and drive for the day, but we never do this. When we get off the plane in Zurich at 8am, it is midnight Santa Fe time. And we are not heading to bed; we are getting through customs, finding a taxi, finding our hotel, and then heading to bed. Yes, this is what we do: we book a hotel for the night before so that we can get into our room as soon as we arrive. We sleep a few hours, maybe all day, go out for dinner, sleep through the night, and the next day we are mostly back to normal.

The more trips I do to Europe, the more I need this first day of pampering. I think the adrenaline and excitement of those early trips kept me functioning that first day, but that no longer works.

So I plan to arrive in a place where we will spend two nights. Or, have a car and driver pick us up and drive us for a couple of hours to our first place. Try to give yourself an easy arrival. If you do have to pickup your car and drive that first day, be sure to make it an easy drive and give yourself lots of breaks.
>> For more information, read the article Coping with jetlag in our European Trip Planning section.

Car Rental or Train or Both?

Many vacation rentals are in the countryside away from public transportation and require a car. Renting a car adds extra expense but for many countries a car is essential to really explore the countryside.

A notable exception is Switzerland which has an excellent train and bus system to nearly all its small towns. You can stay in a small town in the Alps and never need a car. But a trip to Tuscany or Umbria in Italy or to Provence in France or the Cotswolds in England, requires a car.

You can plan your trip to use a car only for one part. For example, fly into Rome (you do not want a car in Rome), spend some time there, take the train to Tuscany and pick up a rental car, do a week in Tuscany, then drop the car off at a train station in Tuscany and take the train to Venice for the last few days of your trip. This gives you the car when you need it, but lets you avoid long days of driving on the Autostrada. Most car rental agencies let you pick up and drop off in different locations in the same country with no extra charge. You even save money because picking up a car at an airport usually includes a surcharge (a percentage of the whole rental cost). Note that if you pick up and drop off in different countries, there is usually an extra fee, but this is still likely to be less than spending another day driving back to where you rented the car.

Group or Private Tours

If you are new to an area and you do not have the time or inclination to read all the guidebooks, you can organize some tours while you are there. You will find tour guides who can tour you around the major cities or who will take you out into the countryside. If you are new to an area, this can be a good way to learn your way around.

Back to Vacation Rentals

This page has some basic planning ideas, but you will find more in the Planning section for each country. This is just to give you an idea of what you can be thinking about as you start searching for your vacation rental.

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