I just traveled to five countries in Europe in two weeks. That might sound like a lot, but in Europe, people do it all the time!
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 countries in Europe in as little as 10 days without feeling rushed. Europe just 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 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 am going to 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.
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 that wants to see what “big city Europe” is all 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? The answer to this one will tell you whether you should be prioritizing tapas near the beaches of Barcelona, or scarfing down pork knuckles and pretzels in Munich.
Knowing what you like will help you narrow the scope of a continent that has such a variety of cultural experiences so close together.
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 terribly far apart, but if you only have 10 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. When trains aren’t the best option, there are also several bus companies that do long-distance bus routes across Europe. 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
There are plenty of combinations beyond these, and if you really 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 in 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 also has a number of budget airlines. On my recent trip, I flew TAP Air from Geneva to Lisbon, and all it cost me was about $65 USD and 3 hours of my time in the air. Other notable budget airlines include Ryanair and easyJet, and while they are notorious for charging for extras and hidden fees if you’re not careful, you can still save a bundle with the right preparation.
Don’t let geographic barriers prevent you from visiting a city that is an absolute must on your bucket list! Just go do it!
5. Don’t try to do it all, instead, plan to come back!
Whether your trip is two weeks or two months, travelers often have a tendency to want to experience it all.
Even if you’ve limited yourself to four destinations in a two-week period, there is a whole heck of a lot more than three or four days’ worth of stuff to do in any city. Don’t try to cram in 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, make a 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 get to spend two weeks experiencing so many of the different cultures that this one corner of the world has to offer.
Related: How to Use Your iPhone in Europe
By Chris Luecke