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Bob the Navigator: Planning Your Trip to Europe

Bob Little (Bob the Navigator)

Notes about trip planning and sample itineraries for Italy and the rest of Europe

I get inquiries virtually every day requesting my help in developing a well conceived trip plan for independent travel in Europe. I am always willing to offer the benefit of my experience , but some requests can be a real challenge. Here is a recent example:

"Dear Bob, I have seen your frequent comments on the web and would like your help in planning our family trip to Europe. We are a family of four and will be traveling in August to these places we have always dreamed about---the Cote d'Azur, Lake Como, Venice, Florence, Rome and the Amalfi coast. Can you please tell us where to stay and what to see? Oh yes, we only will have twelve days and we will be on a tight budget. Can you please help us?"

The challenge is to inject a dose of realism without completely dousing the dream. Not an easy task. But, after having planned more than sixty customized itineraries for others, I have learned that the most successful trips are invariably those that are conceived by considering the macro criteria first. You must start with the " biggies " in your planning phase and then the rest will fall into place. Anything less will seriously compromise the eventual trip success.

Tuscany photo by Bob the Navigator

The above scenario is a textbook example of poor planning. It fails to consider these criteria:

WHEN? Pick your destinations based upon optimal seasonal considerations. Avoid most of southern Europe in the hot summer months. Visit Iberia or Italy in April, May and October and save the Alpine venues, Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe for the warmer summer months.

HOW MUCH? Your budget will often dictate which destinations are feasible. Set a realistic budget and then plan accordingly. Avoid the upscale coastal resorts during high season if you are budget sensitive.

ENOUGH TIME? Trying to do too much is the most common planning error. A twelve day itinerary calls for a MAX of four destinations, and three is better. And, try to plan a route with a travel time (by car or train) of less than four hours from each destination to the next.

RAILS OR RENTAL CAR? Your mode of transport will determine trip timing and choice of destinations. Train travel can be efficient but is also very limiting.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL? Trip stress is directly related to your experience in Europe. So, plan your initial trip to minimize the stress factors. Above all, do not bite off too much!

You may not always be able to control these variables, but you do need to develop your trip strategy considering their eventual impact --- it will make all the difference. The worst mistake is to start with the single criteria of "WHERE" and then try to force feed the practical logistics.

My best advice is to start your plan with the assumption that you will be returning to Europe for subsequent trips. Get a good map and perceive Europe as geographic regions. Then, plan perhaps as many as three desired itineraries in advance. You will very likely return!

Five Favorites Itineraries for Italy

After 23 trips to southern Europe, and having developed more than 160 customized TRIP PLANS for others, I am now older and  hopefully wiser. Here is an updated version of my favorite itineraries. I hope you enjoy.

NOTES: These are only intended to be SAMPLE ITINERARIES to help you decide on your own trip plan. The number of days for each stop is included in the format 3 - 2 - 3, which means 3 nights, 2 nights, 3 nights.

1.  Northern/Central Italy

Five destinations in 15 days - car & train travel.

* Arrive in Milan [MXP] & depart from Venice [VCE] or reverse.

* Itinerary to include the Italian Lakes, Ligurian coast, rural Tuscany, Florence, & Venice. Suggested timing is 3-2-4-2-4.

Best time to go: May & June or September & October

Option: Drop the coast & rent a villa in Tuscany [ 3-7-2-3 ]

See my Bella Italia photo gallery.

2.  Rome, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany

Three destinations in 12 to 14 days - car & train.

* Arrival & departure from Rome[ FCO] or arrival in Naples.

* Itinerary to include Rome, the Amalfi coast, and Tuscany.

Best time to go: Easter to end of October

Option: Fly into Naples & stay at 2 locations on the coast

3.  Rome, Florence and countryside

Three destinations in 12 to 14 days - car & train.

* Arrival & departure from Rome - may start trip in Florence.

* Destinations to include Florence, Rome & Tuscany/Umbria.

Best time to go: Anytime, but May & October are my favorites

Option: Consider a weekly rental in Tuscany/Umbria

4.  Sicily

Five destinations in 15 days - car travel.

* Connections to Catania & Palermo via Rome or gateway city.

* Itinerary to include Taormina, Siracusa, Palermo & more.

Best time to go: March to November - May is best !

See my Slow Travel Trip Report.

5.  The Village Sampler

My favorite venues for those who enjoy natural beauty and quaint, small villages.  Arranged from north to south.

* Arrive Milan & depart Rome - car travel - 3 nites for each.

* Itinerary to include Lago Orta, Castelrotto/Ortisei [Dolomites], Portovenere [Liguria], Montalcino [Tuscany], & Spello [Umbria].

Best time to go: May to October for the lakes and Dolomites

Option: Pick 3 out of 5 and stay longer in Tuscany/Umbria.

Five Favorite Itineraries for other European Destinations

NOTE:  These are only intended to be SAMPLE ITINERARIES.

See my travel articles on World is Round.

1.  Switzerland

Four destination in 12 days - train travel.

* Arrive & depart from Zurich - June thru September.

* Itinerary includes Berner Oberland, Lugano, Luzern, Lago Como.

Option: You could rent a car in Lugano to tour Italy lakes.

2.   Germany and Northern Italy

Four destinations in 12 to 14 days.

* Arrive & depart Munich - car travel - May thru Sept.

* Itinerary has Salzburg area, Dolomites, Lago Garda, Bavaria.

Option: Add Venice to the itinerary and drop Lago Garda.

Bonus: Renting car in Germany versus Italy saves about 30%

3.   Paris and Provence

Three destinations in 12 to 14 days.

* Arrive Paris and depart Nice - car & train travel preferable.

* Itinerary to include Paris, Provence, & Cote d' Azur [5-4-3].

Option: Can be done by train, but will limit Provence options.

Bonus: TVG train to Avignon to get car for Provence.

4.  Andalusia, Spain

Five destinations in 15 days.

* Arrive & depart Madrid - car and train travel.

* Itinerary to include Madrid, Seville, Ronda, Nerja, Granada.

Best time to go: April & May are best - avoid hotter months

Option: Substitute Toledo for Madrid & drive the entire trip

NOTE: It really takes 4 trips to see Spain - this is just one.

5.  Portugal

Four destinations in 12 days.

* Arrive and depart Lisbon - car travel - 2 varied itineraries

* Portugal North:  Lisbon/Cascais, Obidos, Minho, Marvao

* Portugal South:  Lisbon/Cascais, Obidos, Evora, Algarve

Best time to go: Spring or Fall - avoid summer months

Option: Combine north & south in 15 days

See my Slow Travel Photos of Portugal


Bob the Navigator is a retired IBMer whose passion for European travel has evolved into a hobby and trip planning business - www.bobthenavigator.homestead.com (Slow Travel Classified Listing). See Bob's Slow Travel member page for a list of his articles.

© Bob Little, 2004

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