Skip to main content

Planning a trip to Europe | 5 lessons I learnt planning my trip



Having spent the last few months planning and organising my first trip to Europe, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learnt during this process so that hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes I made and save some money and/or time in the process.

1. Don't book your flights too early

One of the first things I did was to book my flights (Auckland to London via Los Angeles and Amsterdam to Auckland via London/Los Angeles). The assumptions I made was that the cheapest fares would be made available early on with the price rising as the number of available seats dwindles closer to the departure date.

With this in mind I used a couple of travel booking/flight comparison websites (Webjet and Skyscanner) to have a look at all the flights available for my travel period, and ended up deciding on Air New Zealand. It wasn't the cheapest airline available (middle of the pact in terms of pricing), but it had one of the shortest flight durations and would allow me to minimise the time I spend in an airplane or airport.

Having bought my tickets 7 months in advance of my departure date, I continued to track the price via Yapta and made the following observations:

  • 1 month after purchasing my flight tickets, the price of my Auckland to London flight dropped by about NZD$300 as Air New Zealand was having a big promotion. (Unfortunately the cancellation fee combined with the fact that flights are not refunded at the purchase price meant cancelling and rebooking wasn't a viable option)
  • During the months after purchasing my flights, I also noticed regular fluctuations as the price moved up and down.
Flight Price History NZ2 Auckland to London
Price history of Air New Zealand Flight 2

Although I haven't seen a hard and fast rule yet of the best time to buy flight tickets, I think it is worth pointing out that it would be wrong to assume that you'll automatically get the cheapest tickets by buying your tickets very early.

2. Opening of international train sales varies from one country to the next

Train
photo credit: HST near Finsbury Park via photopin (license)
The next significant task on my list was to book my rail transport to get me between cities/countries in Europe. (I did consider buying a rail pass to give me some flexibility, but I found it wasn't significantly cheaper for my scenario). What this process taught me was that rail tickets from different countries opened up for sale at different times. This means you need to plan accordingly to ensure you can buy the tickets at it's earliest point.

  • England (Eurostar) - 6 months
  • France (Voyages-sncf) - 4 months to most destinations such as Switzerland, but can vary. Check out their website for more information. 
  • Switzerland (SBB)  - 1 month
  • Italy (Trenitalia) - 4 months
  • Germany (DB Bahn) - 3 months

3. Buying rail passes will not always be cheapest from the national railways websites.

Two Tracks
photo credit: Double track via photopin (license)

In most cases buying directly from the national railway websites would be the cheapest option. But sometimes it would be wise to check out rail booking sites such as Rail Europe. In this example, I was having trouble buying the online ticket option of the 1 month Swiss Half Fare Pass for 120 CHF (187 NZD) from the SBBwebsite, and checking back again on the website indicates they have removed online ticket as an option.

The alternative option was to have the ticket posted to New Zealand for an additional 85 CHF (133 NZD) DHL shipping charge (Is that crazy or what?).

Checking in the Rail Europe website, I was able to buy the same ticket and have it shipped to me for 190 NZD. That's a pretty big savings !!! (If I was a bit more adventurous, I probably could have bought the half fare pass in the first Swiss train station I arrived in).

4. Foreign exchange is unpredictable

Euro
photo credit: Creating A Global Status Symbol Post via photopin (license)

The fourth item on my list was to convert some local NZD Currency into Euros to lock in the exchange rate for my trip. Having researched some of the local travel cards available in New Zealand, I settled on Air New Zealand's OneSmart travel card as it allows you to have 3 free ATM withdrawals per month.

Early on, all indications were that the New Zealand Dollar was going strong and the Euro was weakening, so I decided to hold off on doing the conversion so that I can get a better exchange rate. Unfortunately I was proven quite wrong as the New Zealand Dollar weakened whilst the Euro remained consistent (and at times actually strengthened).

At it's most favorable point, the exchange rate was 0.71 EUR to 1 NZD whilst it is now running at about 0.59 EUR to 1 NZD. So you can imagine my disappointment at "losing" out on the opportunity to lock in the exchange rate when it was at it's most favorable point.

5. Packing for one carry on bag is not easy 

Backpack
photo credit: Mobile Edge ScanFast Onyx Backpack top view via photopin (license)

The last major activity on my list was to pack my stuff for my trip, and for this trip I decided I wanted to only bring one 7 kg carry on bag with me. Seeing as I didn't have a good carryon backpack, I bought myself a Kathmandu Litehaul Pack - 38L. (I'll try to do a review of how well this bag worked for me during my trip in a few weeks.)

The main reason for travelling with just a carryon was really for me to have the flexibility and portability when traveling between cities and countries. The following benefits really appealed to me: 

  • I will not have to wait for your checked in bag in the airport baggage carousel, and go straight to immigration.
  • Although I'm not using flights to get me around Europe, I wanted to keep that option open so that I can book budget flights and not have to pay extra for a checked in luggage.
  • I can keep my bag with me in trains and not have to worry about any checked in bag being stolen from the baggage storage part of the train
  • I can explore the city whilst waiting for my hostel to open for check in without lugging around 2 bags. 

Unfortunately the packing process did not prove easy, and there was a lot of re-adjustments and concessions in order to get the weight down to the carry on limit of 7kg. In general, I found:

  • I could only bring about 4 to 5 days worth of clothing
  • I had to swap out much of my initial clothes clothing for lighter alternatives e.g. jeans and cotton based t-shirts for lightweight pants and shirts using synthetic materials
  • I needed to sacrifice some of the nice to haves, just in case items or items that could be bought easily in my destination e.g. no extra shoes, minimal electronics, toiletries, umbrella.....

Next Steps

Check out my travel resources page for more links to travel information and tools that I've found useful.

Do you have tips and gotchas on planning a trip to Europe? Please share them in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

An intro to conditional validation and formatting in PowerApps (using SharePoint as a data source)

The Problem What if we need to create a form that changes it's behaviour based on the answer entered by the user.

For example, we need to build a leave request form that: Shows the comment field if applying for a sick leave, but hides the comment field if applying for a annual leaveRequires the requestor to write a comment if their sick leave is more than 1 day, but is optional if sick for just 1 day.  The default form interface for custom lists in SharePoint Online can be used for basic scenarios, but doesn't provide an easy way to add business logic described above (unless you want to write some javascript)

In the past InfoPath would have been the tool of choice for many, however this tool is now in maintenance mode and whilst it will still be supported for a wee while there will be no improvements or enhancements to the platform.

The Solution This is where PowerApps come in. PowerApps is now the platform that is recommended by Microsoft as a way for business users to create…

Uploading a file from a SharePoint document library into an Azure Blob Storage with Microsoft Flow (or Logic App)

The Problem One of the things that I've been experimenting with lately is Microsoft Flow. The service allows you to build process automation to facilitate transfer of information from one system to another easily.

One scenario I wanted to try out is to be able to copy/move a file from SharePoint to an Azure Blob Storage. There are a number of reasons that you may want to do this:

Archive files that are no longer neededUpload a copy of a file (usually an image) into a Blob Storage so that images can be hosted in a CDN to optimize page load performance In the past doing something like this would have required some form of custom development e.g. a remote event receiver. However the introduction of Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps has created another alternative that is worth exploring....

Update 30/09/16: If you are looking to put your assets into a CDN to make it load faster, then it's worth checking out the new Preview Release Office 365 Public Content Delivery Network (CDN) capab…

Only show a control to an employee's manager in PowerApps (using SharePoint as a data source)

The Problem In my previous blog post, I wrote a basic tutorial on configuring PowerApps to conditionally show/hide and make mandatory/optional a control based on the answer provided in a previous control.
In this blog post we will expand on that scenario to create a form that only shows a control called approval status to a user if that logged in user is the manager of the user specified in the employee control.
This means when the manager is using the application, they can change the status to approved. Meanwhile, a user that is not a manager of the person specified in the employee cannot change the status to approved. The Solution Aside from containing a variety of native functions, PowerApps also allow us to add connections to add functionalities into our app. In this case we will add the Office 365 Users connection so that we can get information on: The user that is logged onThe manager of the user specified in the employee controlNote: Whilst this solution makes it difficult for …