I just traveled to five countries in Europe in two weeks. That might sound like a lot, but people always do it in Europe!
For most US-Americans, one of the biggest barriers to international travel is our relatively small amount of vacation time. If you only get 2-3 weeks of vacation from work (which is the unfortunate standard for many of us), using that time to travel across the pond to visit one place can seem like a waste.
I get it. However, if you plan it carefully, you can explore three or more European countries in as little as ten days without feeling rushed. After all, Europe isn’t that big!
I recently returned from one of my many international excursions that span 2-3 weeks. I work a full-time job, so a couple of weeks at a time is average for me when I go abroad.
In 13 days, I made it to 6 cities in 5 countries, which looked like this:
- Explored the streets of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Went snowboarding in Chamonix, France
- Ate fondue in Geneva, Switzerland
- Drank wine in Lisbon, Portugal
- Recorded a podcast in Belfast, Northern Ireland
- Celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland
Then I flew home! While this is a pretty aggressive itinerary (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this route for everyone), I will share five strategies that helped me design this itinerary and how you, too, can craft a pretty rad, multifaceted Eurotrip in two weeks or less.
- 7 Countries, 13 Cities, 6 Weeks, 1 Eurail Pass
- When a Eurail Pass is Worth It and When It Isn’t
- 3 Things to Help you Sleep on the Road
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1. Know What You Want to See
Europe has a lot to offer, so figuring out what type of activities you prefer will help you select destinations that fit your style.
Are you an urbanite who wants to see what “big city Europe” is about? London and Paris are a must.
Are you into nightlife? Spots like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague know how to party, and they each have their own style.
What do you like to eat? This answer will tell you whether you should prioritize tapas near the beaches of Barcelona or scarf down pork knuckles and pretzels in Munich.
Knowing what you like will help you narrow the scope of a continent like Europe with various cultural experiences.
Travel Planning Tip: Order a prepaid SIM card before you travel!
2. Pick a Logical Itinerary
Now that you’ve got an idea of what you want to see and experience match that up with a few cities that cater to your interests.
Europe is pretty dense. Nothing is far apart, but if you only have ten days, it’s nice to select nearby destinations that minimize the complexity (and associated time!) of travel logistics.
Fortunately, Europe has one of the world’s best continental train systems, and this is one of the most hassle-free ways of getting from one place to the next. Several bus companies do long-distance bus routes across Europe when trains aren’t the best option. FlixBus is a great place to start, and don’t forget Busabout!
Here are some sample routes:
Paris > Brussels > Amsterdam > Berlin
Madrid > Barcelona > Paris > London
Berlin > Prague > Vienna > Bratislava > Budapest
Or, as Jackie did once, you can rent a car in Europe and hit eight countries in two weeks! Ireland > Germany > Czech Republic > Austria > Slovakia > Hungary > Slovenia > Italy > back to Austria and Ireland
There are plenty of combinations beyond these, and if you want to take your “travel game” to the next level, the next tip will do that for you…
3. Night Trains Are Your Friend
When time is limited, why not skip a night in a hotel or hostel and magically wake up at your next destination!?
If you’re hesitant about sleeping on a train, hear me out. Sleeping on a train is way more comfortable and spacious than trying to get a good night’s rest on a plane, and – if you’re willing to splurge – sleeper cars are available.
Remember, you’d be paying for lodging and your train ticket the next day if you weren’t on a night train, making the ticket price of most night train upgrades even more appealing.
Expert tip: Use Rome2Rio.com to compare all modes of transportation between cities.
4. Fly! European Budget Airlines Make It Possible
Forget everything else I just said! If you want to visit Switzerland and Portugal, or Germany and Greece, all in the same trip, DO IT!
In addition to a great train system, Europe has several budget airlines. On my recent trip, I flew TAP Air from Geneva to Lisbon, which only cost me about $65 USD and 3 hours of my time in the air.
Other notable budget airlines include Ryanair and EasyJet. While they are notorious for charging extras and hidden fees, you can still save a bundle with the right preparation if you’re careful.
Don’t let geographic barriers prevent you from visiting a city that is an absolute must on your bucket list! Just do it!
- 6 Tips for Using Budget Airlines to Get In and Around Europe
- How to Use Your iPhone in Europe
- How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe in the Fall
5. Don’t Try to Do It All. Instead, Plan to Come Back!
Whether your trip is two weeks or two months, travelers often want to experience it all.
Even if you’ve limited yourself to four destinations in two weeks, there is more than three or four days’ worth of stuff to do in any city. Don’t try to cram visiting every museum just because it’s there. Don’t try to run from your walking tour of Rome to the Colosseum to St. Peter’s Basilica all in one day, only to end up exhausted and feeling stressed and rushed.
Instead, skip one of those. For now, take some time to sip a cappuccino in the piazza and soak in the friendly bustle of everyday Italian life.
If you love a spot after you get a taste of it, plan to return someday to experience more of it! Europe is a magical place, and if you make traveling there a priority, it won’t be the last time you spend two weeks experiencing so many different cultures that this one corner of the world has to offer.
By Chris Luecke
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