Be it roaming in Rome or gallivanting in Greece, here’s how you can make your Euro trip better
When I was in college, I realised that the one thing that really gives my heart a flutter and my mind a boost is travelling. If it’s a new location, my excitement is uncontainable. So, the moment I landed my first real job, I promised myself that if my savings gave me the go-ahead, I would visit two new countries every year. And luckily, since the age of 25, I’ve somehow managed to do so.
A year or so ago, my husband and I realised we both had two weeks off but we hadn’t really planned anything. So, we began planning. Where did we really want to go? What was manageable? I started researching. It was to be the longest vacation we would ever have taken together and I needed it to be perfect. I began researching visas and locations that would be ideal in May and we decided upon Greece and Italy. The decision was based on the following factors:
So now that the countries were settled upon, we had to decide on which cities to visit. Athens and Rome were a no-brainer. But upon consulting, everyone began contributing their two cents. We received recommendations to check out the Amalfi Coast (which upon careful consideration, seemed too much of a trek), Positano, Milan and Tuscany in Italy. For Greece, we were told to check out Santorini, Mykonos and some of the smaller islands. The decision was tough. The contenders were strong.
Finally, however, we came to a conclusion. The itinerary would be Athens, Santorini, Rome, Florence, Chianti, Pisa and then Venice. It seemed a bit of a stretch, but I was adamant to make it happen.
We then had to book the hotels and transport. We learnt a lot, and I thought I would share some of the lessons here:
1 ) Use Bookings.com and Expedia.com to book hotels. However, never book unless you run it by Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. I find the reviews on these two to be much more relevant and conclusive.
2) When booking hotels, check the room’s square foot area, availability of a safe, free breakfast, proximity to train stations or main areas (whichever you prefer), and, of course, how secure the location is. We ended up in a room that had no windows (well, a window with a wall in front of it, which doesn’t really qualify as a window), which made the room very claustrophobic. It also didn’t have a safe, which is not feasible if you’re looking to leave your passport and money in the hotel.
3) Book all your travel in advance (before the hotels) but make sure you shop around for good deals. Since we were booking transport after finding the hotels, we were in a bind and ended up paying a lot more in flights and ferries because of the timing/day issues.
4) Ferries in Greece are a very good option because they are half the price of a flight. However, you have assigned seats and no free food. I was imagining something like a yacht, which it isn’t! It’s also quite bumpy so make sure you carry motion sickness medicines.
5) Try and travel light. I say ‘try’ because it’s almost impossible to travel for two weeks with just a carry-on. But try and eliminate stuff you can easily buy at your destination (example face wash, t-shirts, cheap flip-flops). With so much intercity and inter-country travel, it can be a bit difficult to cart around suitcases.
6) Make an Excel sheet to keep track of all the travel because it’s very easy to get confused with so many hotels and travel options.
7) A point I hold close to my heart: if you crave spicy food, carry some spices or spicy chips with you. The food can be pretty bland so you may find yourself craving something chatpata by the end of 15 days. I had chili-garlic sauce and some paprika in my purse at all times.
8) Watch out: 15 days is a long time. It could end up being expensive, a bit too hectic and you may end up feeling disconnected (from electronics/work) for too long. So you must decide: it can be a fun trip only if you are able to switch off and cut the apron strings from life for this long.
9) Seven cities in 15 days are very do-able. You can eliminate one if you really need to, but it’s manageable.
1.The visa to Greece was easier to obtain.
2. Italy is nicest in May. Less tourists (I would later find this to be a complete fallacy).
3. We felt like 15 days were too long for one country so we broke it up into two (this theory proved to be mostly accurate).
4. Both countries are close enough to each other to make travel easy, yet they offer a flavour that’s vastly different from each other.
It’s hectic and long, but once you get on that plane, it can be the best two weeks of your year.
Sarah Khan is a writer and blogger. She tweets @sufipanda
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 11th, 2015.