01 Jul Travel Tips: How I booked my Europe Trip
Next week this time my friend Tumi Mohale and I will be in Prague chasing warm weather and embarking on a fun filled girls only Europe trip. Travelling with friends, which I wrote about earlier this year is one of those magical experiences I suggest you embark on, if you find friends who have the same level of wanderlust as you and who understand the value of not sweating the small stuff and going with the flow when on a vacation.
Strangely enough, my “go with the flow attitude” only kicks in once I board the plane. Prior to that, I am all about Excel spreadsheets with budgets and I am more than happy to be the person booking the flights, accommodation and making sure that everyone has everything printed out before we leave.
After the first trip I took with friends to New York in 2012, I had a whole lot of emails from people asking about how we found accommodation, what were the timelines we gave ourselves to purchase our flight tickets, spending money budgets etc and one day I will take all my email responses to these people and collate it in one email and do a post on how to book a good trip to New York, but for now, with it fresh in my mind, here’s how my next summer vacay to Europe was planned.
It all started with Tumi wanting to go to Prague and Croatia. We booked our return flight to Prague first in January whilst we still had the money from not holidaying in December. The reason we booked a return flight is because at that stage we were not really sure how many other places we wanted to visit whilst we were in Europe and after doing a rough cost exercise of booking a one way into Prague and a one way out of Dubrovnik for example, booking a return worked out cheaper. We both used our Discovery Vitality to book our tickets and paid an average of R2500 less than what the full price ticket was by doing this.
I used to sleep on these Discovery Vitality benefits and think that I would never get anything out of it except paying R127 at the gym. If you book using your Discovery Vitality, by logging onto www.kulula.com with your Discovery number you can get discounted international flights from both Emirates and British Airways. I guess it isn’t all a conspiracy theory.
With the flight into Europe sorted out, we decided to book out accommodation in Prague and did so using Airbnb after comparing hotel prices and location. When you are in a city for a short stay, you want to see as much as possible, so staying somewhere central or where there are numerous public transport stations etc is important because it means getting around is easier. Trying to find accommodation at a reasonable price near tourist attractions like Old Town Square in Prague is difficult because all the hotels are quite pricey over summer time, so we opted for Airbnb. We found a great place literally around the corner from Old Town Square (I google mapped the place, because I needed to confirm) owned by this great couple who have been helping us out with a cool itinerary since we made the booking in February. They even offered to put us in touch with some people they knew in Croatia to help us with our accommodation search in Dubrovnik. Sometimes, that is the upside of a booking on Airbnb or similar, you have locals who are willing to help you out and give you advice.
Planning Dubrovnik was a bit of a challenge. Not knowing much about the area, partnered with the fact that the places listed on Airbnb all had that yucky floral or turquoise linen and weird looking bathrooms, we ended up deciding that booking a hotel would be the best way forward. After hearing some worrying racially-orientated stories and commentary about Dubrovnik from South African’s both white and black, we decided that the picturesque Dubrovnik would be put on hold until a bigger travel group could be rustled up. So, we looked at Gary Pepper’s blog post on Dubrovnik one last time, told ourselves it was for the best because in reality, our bodies were not ready to frolic around in swimwear anyways.
The rest of the trip is now going to be made of Rome, Paris and Amsterdam. Commuting in between these countries is costing us on average about R3500 for two multi-destination flights with Iberia Airlines and about R920 for one train trip. I made the flight bookings through Expedia because unlike Travelstart or Flightsite, Expedia lets you book your own multi-destination flights. Expedia also has an Expedia Rewards programme that is…well, very rewarding. Our accommodation in Trastevere in Rome was booked at a discounted price because of the flight bookings I had made.
When it came to Paris, the challenge was deciding which neighbourhood to stay in. I spent hours on Paris In Four Months making lists to try and whittle down the list of amazing Parisian neighbourhoods to just a few options. For a while, my search was centered around Quartier Latin and Le Marais because of the places people had recommended we stay in on Airbnb. These places were unfortunately not available so, I used the Neighbourhood search on Airbnb and ended up finding a place in Montmarte. “This iconic hilltop neighborhood’s striped awnings, cobblestone streets, and lively plazas rest at the foot of its pilgrimage-worthy basilica, Sacre Coeur. The neighborhood’s sacred structure and artisanal shops encourage frequent foot traffic, but Montmartre’s ceaseless activity invites more than pleasure strollers along its cinema-worthy streets—entrepreneurial misfits add a picaresque slant to Montmartre’s picturesque street scenes.” – via Airbnb
The wonderful thing about Europe is that once you are there and have your Schengen visa (which we applied for through France, because they are so incredibly organised and quick), you can travel from country to country for relatively cheap. I remember when I went on a Euro Tour in high school, we travelled by bus, train and ferry between The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, France and England. I can’t remember the exact order, but we did it all without getting on another plane. For our last destination of our trip Tumi and I will be catching a 3,5 hour bus ride to Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam we are staying in De Pijp, a former working class quarter described as one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant districts of Amsterdam by The Travelling Dutchman. Home to the Albert Cuyp Market, De Pijp’s lively bohemian vibe is comparable to Paris’s Quartier Latin, and Tumi and I are all about bohemian local vibes on this trip.
- Airbnb and Expedia are great services /apps / websites to help you plan your trip.
- Download them onto your phone.
- Don’t be afraid to email the hosts or owners prior to making a booking on Airbnb to ask any questions you might have etc. Personally I did it just to get a sense via their email etiquette about what kind of people they are.
- Read the reviews on Airbnb and pay attention to how hosts respond to the negative feedback they get.
- When booking on Airbnb start with the places that have verified photos. That basically means that someone who has been there can verify that the apartment or space looks as the photo indicates.
- Google Map that ish using street view.
- If you have people you know who live in that country send them the links to those places so they can yay or nay the location or neighbourhood.
- When booking on Expedia, read the reviews of the hotels. Read them all, especially if the place is not a 5 star hotel.
- Download the Expedia App. I am pretty sure that at some point on this trip, my file with flight information is going to be in a bag I can’t get too, so it will be pretty awesome to just open the Expedia app and check out my flight details.