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 and I thought I would share some travel tips on how I booked and planned for the trip.
Book the big flight
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 R3500 less than what the full price ticket was by doing this.
In an ideal world when planning a multiple destination trip, you should try and be sure where you end up, because time is also money, and travelling back to a destination just to transit out of it is not funnest thing to do. Unless, you’re weird and like airports and travelling days.
Pro Tip: Book your in between flights using platforms like 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.
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.
Finding accommodation in Dubrovnik within our price range was a bit of a challenge, given that it was the height of summer. 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 to skip Dubrovnik until we were rich enough to go the way we wanted to go there. So now, the rest of the trip is now going to be made of Rome, Paris and Amsterdam and because budget is a consideration we are opting to stay in AirBnBs in preferred neighbourhoods like Le Marais in Paris and de Pijp in Amsterdam, 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.
Pro Tip: Try to book AirBnB’s that have cancellation policies that allow you cancel before a specific date just in case something goes wrong with your visa application. If you are using Booking.com or a similar platform, the same applies
Flying to anywhere in the world from South Africa is such a journey, which is why we decided up front that if we are going to fly to Europe, we are going to do a multi destination trip. We applied for a multi-entry Schengen through France, as it was the destination we are spending the most time, but you can also apply via your first port of entry.
You will need:
- Visa application form – completely fulfilled with the required information. Try to avoid any mistakes, and give correct and honest information. Here you can find a guide on how to fill up a visa application form! After giving the information you are asked to, print the form twice, and sign both copies at the end.
- A South African valid passport or another travel document. No older than 10 years, with a validity of at least 3 more months beyond your planned date of leaving Europe.
- Photo – taken within the last three months. The photo must be taken according to the photography requirements as set by the Schengen countries.
- Evidence of legal residence in South Africa – as a national ID card, or residence permit.
- A cover letter. In which you explain the reasons you wish to enter the Schengen Zone, the countries you are planning to visit and the amount of time you wish to spend in each and other details about your trip.
- Round-trip Flight Itinerary. A booked flight reservation from South Africa to the EU and back. If you will be taking any internal flights, you will have to include those tickets too.
- Proof of Accommodation. A document that shows where you will be staying while in Europe.
- Means of Subsistence. A document that proves you have enough money to financially support yourself during your stay in any of the Schengen countries.
- Europe Travel Health Insurance. A document that proves you have purchase travel health insurance that covers the whole territory of Schengen, in cases of medical emergencies as accidents and illnesses, as well as repatriation to South Africa in case of death, with a minimum coverage of €30.000.
Source: Schengen Visa Info
- Airbnb and Expedia are great services /apps / websites to help you plan your trip.
- 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.
- Consider other in between travel options like a train. 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.