At this time last year, I had no idea that, in early fall of 2018, I would be ticking off one of my bucket list items – a Danube river cruise. We built a three-week European adventure around it. That little adventure gave us some unforgettable moments, a few of which I’ve shared in Our European Adventure Part 1 and Part 2.
Planning a multi-destination trip abroad can be baffling. So in this post, I’m sharing a few little ways that I have found to cut down on confusion and make the most of our travel time – and money.
After I share my travel tips, we will head over to two lovely, old-world destinations in the Franconia region of Germany – the final stops on our European adventure.
Tips for Happy, Trouble-Free Travel
1. Finding Lodging
Find A Common Theme Among Reviews
Like a lot of people, I go to TripAdvisor when I start my search for a hotel. I look at prices, amenities, locations, photos, and, most importantly, ratings and reviews.
But when reading reviews, I keep in mind that one reviewer’s random experience, whether good or bad, might not ever be repeated. So, I look for a common theme among the reviews.
Take, for example, the boutique hotel that I was researching in Strasbourg. The most common complaint was that the rooms were small. So, knowing that, but also knowing that the hotel was reasonably priced given its great location, we decided to book it anyway.
And once we arrived, yes, our room was small. Luckily, it also had high ceilings and big windows, so to us it didn’t feel too claustrophobic.
But how did I really know that the hotel was in a great location? Here’s how:
“Virtual” Boots on the Ground
This doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it often does – and it’s very cool: From the comfort of my own home, I can stand right in front of almost any hotel.
I just go to Google Maps and enter the hotel address. Then I hit “Satellite View” to get a helpful, zoomable aerial shot of the neighborhood. Then, like an eagle swooping down on its prey (sorry, I couldn’t resist), I zoom all the way down to the ground by repeatedly pressing the little “+” button.
Most of the time, this plops me down right in front of the hotel.
From there, I can go on a virtual city walk.
In the case of that hotel in Strasbourg, I could see that it was located on a drab street. But I navigated my way up the street and, a block away, I found a beautiful little bridge. I crossed the bridge and wandered a very charming neighborhood – and I even stumbled upon Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame cathedral – which, as it turns out, was within walking distance of the hotel.
All this and I didn’t even leave my chair.
Even when Google Maps doesn’t work for a virtual city walk, it does give me a general idea of the hotel’s location, nearby restaurants, and amenities (along with reviews).
We Stay At Small Inns or B&Bs for An Authentic Experience
Large hotels can actually insulate their guests from local culture. So we prefer to stay in little inns or B&Bs – which are often less expensive than a hotel.
We get a more authentic experience. We can chat with our hosts and learn things like where the locals like to go for dinner or where the best bike rental shop is.
In the case of our stay in Bacharach, Germany, our hosts told us about a little-known hike that began across the street and offered amazing views and a stroll through ancient vineyards and stone towers.
One drawback, of course, is that these little inns often have stairs instead of elevators. This is usually not an issue for us, as we travel light, but it is worth asking about in advance of booking.
2. We Ask About Free or Discounted Transport to Our Lodgings
If a hotel’s website or online listing hints at providing transportation, I ask about it when I book. I asked the proprietor of our little B&B in Bacharach if she could pick us up at the train station there. As it turned out, not only could she do that, she also helped me figure out the train schedule in advance so that I (and she) knew exactly which train we would be arriving on.
Which brings me to my next tip . . .
3. We Do As Much Practical Research In Advance As Possible
When planning a vacation, it’s important to look into activities, museums, restaurants, night life, etc. After all, it’s the fun stuff that makes a vacation worthwhile.
But I have found that, if we are visiting multiple destinations, it is a good idea to also look into every single logistical aspect.
Way in advance of the trip, I walk myself through the entire vacation, from start to finish. Will Uber be available or would we need a cab? If so, where could we find it? Would it be better to take a plane or a train to get from one city to another? Or maybe a bus? Which direction do we walk from the bus to the hotel?
As I do this, I create a schedule/spreadsheet of everything we will need to know on our trip: Hotel info, walking directions, car rental info, flights, trains, every boring little thing.
It’s a lot of work, but it really pays off later when we’re not standing on a dark street corner somewhere with our luggage, jetlagged and confused.
Once the chart is completed, with everything we need in chronological order, I print it and bring it with us.
Which leads me to my next tip . . .
4. We Bring a Paper Backup of Everything
I keep offline maps, hotel addresses, etc. on my phone. But one thing I’ve learned is that I can’t always count on my smart phone when traveling abroad. And I don’t want to find out while standing in an airport security line that my electronic boarding pass won’t load.
Keeping a paper backup with all our essential logistical information proved invaluable when the international sim cards we got from our cellphone provider didn’t work in Europe after all.
5. We Look for Upgraded Seats on Discount Airlines
For us, it’s an eight-hour flight to Europe. So it’s nice to fly in premium class when we can afford it. When can we afford it? When we use a budget/discount airline.
Some budget airlines offer premium-class seats, with nice amenities, at a cost similar to coach seats on the more conventional airlines. So it never hurts to do a quick Google search and get a list of ALL the airlines currently flying in and out of my local airport. I try to be flexible with travel dates, which can also save money.
Of course, I make sure to read reviews before committing to any airline, and I look at baggage policies and other restrictions.
6. We Get The Foreign Currency We Will Need Before We Leave Home
Our travel card makes it easy to get local currency once we reach our destination. Even so, we always make sure we have a little of the local cash already on hand. You never know how soon you’ll need it.
In our case, almost immediately upon landing in Frankfurt, having Euros in our pockets came in very handy indeed. The train ticket vending machine kept insisting that we enter a PIN for our credit card, and every time we tried to bypass that question our transaction was wiped out. A line started forming behind us, so we finally went old school and paid cash for the tickets.
7. We Are Careful Pedestrians
This might seem obvious but, since I witnessed a tourist possibly saving her husband’s life by pulling him back from a trolley track a split second before the trolley passed, I thought it would be worth mentioning that many areas in European cities that look like they are pedestrian-only are actually not.
What might look to tourists like a narrow cobblestone walkway could really be a street, and just because no cars have passed through for a while doesn’t mean one won’t at some point.
Be careful out there.
8. Useful Links
Disclosure: Affiliate links are used below.
- I like to use Europe travel guru Rick Steves’ packing list as a starting point for packing my luggage. (Believe him when we says that you need to bring your own wash cloth.)
- We would never travel to Europe without a Rick Steves guide book for every destination we visit.
- I love receiving TravelZoo’s Top 20 list every Wednesday. The lists are filled with enticing travel bargains.
- A friend just told me about Scottscheapflights.com, which helped her save a small fortune on her recent flight to Europe.
- If you’re interested in traveling light, check out the end of this post, where I describe how I make traveling with only carry-on luggage more pleasant.
And now we’ll move on to the final two places we visited on our recent Europe adventure.
Our European Adventure Part 3
In Our European Adventure Part 2, we left off in Germany, where our Danube River cruise ended. After the cruise, Chris and I rented a car and drove to a charming and ancient walled city.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
It’s true that Rothenburg is a very popular tourist destination, but that popularity is well deserved.
The shops and restaurants are fun, but to me the best part is walking the city wall.
History seems to seep from every intriguing nook and cranny of this city.
By evening, many of the other tourists had gone, and the city was quiet and romantic.
You’ve probably never heard of this tiny walled village. It’s on a scenic bike route popular with locals, but there is very little here to attract tourists.
It’s pretty darn interesting to me, though, because it’s my mom’s hometown. And we still have relatives here.
Here, as in Rothenburg, I love walking along the inner wall.
With everything we saw and did during our little European adventure, our brief visit with my beloved Mainbernheim relatives was still the most memorable part.
More on Mainbernheim
My mom, Erika, has written a novel, Year of the Angels, based on her childhood in tiny Mainbernheim during World War II.
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