Plotting a Route Through Western Europe

Europe is comprised of so many countries it can be overwhelming to even think about a long term plan for seeing it all.  I had always wanted to visit Europe but it was not until my father passed away that I finally felt the freedom and the financial ability to do it.

Now this was a pre kids trip and was in 1998, well before the Euro took effect and before the Shengen Zone visa issues started.  But the countries are still the same; beautiful and incredibly historic not to mention an absolute necessity to visit at some point in your life.

If you are like me you'll want to squeeze in as many sites as possible especially if you have a limited time frame.  I do suggest that you go slow and take your time but with cost factors and the visa restrictions that can be very difficult.  We only had 2 months so we decided to make the most of them.

Back to the plotting...

My trip was with a close friend and she and I were relative newbies to travel and were not even really sure where to start.  Believe it or not we didn't even own computers at the time so unlike today that was no help at all.  Eventually we did come up with a plan, a system, and a path was decided on.  Thanks in large part to actual books, paper maps, and good old fashioned research.

First off you need to be honest with yourself and your travel mate about how fast you want to move, what type of accommodations you can tolerate, how much you want to spend on things like food, and what sites you most want to see.

Once that is done it is time to sit down with a map, a rail map, and a tablet (previously know as a notebook) and plot.  We chose to travel overland as it was less expensive and a better way to see the countryside.  We decided to plot a general path and discussed leaving it somewhat open to explore opportunities as they presented themselves.

Here is the general path we decided on:
  • Fly into London, book round trip tickets so in 2 months we needed to circle back to fly out.  Explore London and surrounding area.
  • Move over to Dublin, Ireland via bus and ferry (be exactly on time, missing this ferry was our first of many travel gaffes) and explore the area.  Travel around Ireland a bit and head back to London.  We decided on the Eurail global flex pass so we could come and go how we wanted.  Watch the fine print though, many things were not included.
  • From London take train/ferry over to France.  Explore Paris over several days.
  • On to Madrid, then Barcelona where we stayed in an apartment for a few days sick as dogs actually.  An apartment when you are feeling bad is a wonderful idea and this was just one instance where we were thrilled to have some flexibility.
  • From Barcelona we were planning to head to Italy but a strange twist of events in the train station and an incorrect boarding led us to Switzerland.  We explored the area, skied the Alps and were so glad for that gaffe as Switzerland ended up being one of our favorites.
  • From there we went to Italy.  Italy was the country we planned to and did spend the most time.  We planned to go to Rome, small trip to Pisa, back to Rome to explore for days, then to Florence, and finishing up in Venice for Carnivale.  We arrived later than we expected after the Switzerland side track so we had to cross Greece off our original plan.
  • Italy to Vienna,Austria for a very short visit.  We were not feeling it completely so only stayed a few days.
  • Next we planned the Czech republic but again just were not feeling it.  Perhaps we were at burn out level, exhausted, and needing a break.  Either way we were nearly arrested and so left pretty quickly.
  • Since we were basically traveling in a loop to get back to the UK for our flight out our next stop was Germany where we spent a week or so traveling aroud and really enjoying the Beer halls and stunning sites.
  • After Germany the next logical stop would be the Netherlands where we spent a week in Amsterdam.  Truth be told we spent a fair amount of time in the Red Light district relaxing.
  • It was hard to leave (and we knew it would be, that is why we did the loop in the order that we did it in) but we had to make our way back so the next stop in our plan was Belgium, where we spent our last few days before taking the Chunnel (extra cost) back to London to fly back to North America.
In hindsight it was really wonderful plan. The only think I would have done would have been to add more days so we could have seen Portugal and Greece as we had originally planned.  It worked so well because it allowed us to spend our 2 months there with some direction but also allowed us to stop in places that we heard about along the way in a somewhat organized fashion.

Have you backpacked in Europe?  How did you plot your path?

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  1. My girlfriend (Morgan) and I are gearing up for a year-long RTW trip...starting in Dublin and working around Western Europe for about 4 months. We will be doing a lot of jumping around too, but the main thing is that we stay case we fall in love with a place and want to stick around for longer! Awesome post!

    1. Thanks Wade and so happy to hear about your trip. That will be amazing! And I agree the most important is to be flexible but with a basic idea of a plan. You may hate a place or love it or simply run into someone who tells you about the next great spot that you had never even considered. Or you may hop on the wrong train like we did:) Have a blast!

    2. 5 weeks 18 countries... planned was actual URL too long and URL shorteners won't shorten from:Kirkenes to:Tallinn, Tallinna linn, Estonia to:Vilnius County, Lithuania to:Riga, Rīgas pilsēta, Latvia to:Warsaw, Poland to:Krakov, Poland to:Poprad, Slovakia to:Budapest, Hungary to:Slovenian Parliament, Center, Ljubljana, Slovenia to:Zagreb, Croatia to:Pula, Croatia to:Venice, Italy to:Pula, Croatia to:Salzburg, Austria to:Munich, Germany to:Zermatt, Switzerland to:Geneva, Switzerland to:Lyon, France to:Paris, France to:Brussels, Belgium to:Amsterdam, The Netherlands to:Copenhagen, Denmark to:Stockholm, Sweden to:Haparanda, Sweden to:Kirkenes Done in an old Toyota and car ferry. Best bang for buck EVER!

    3. Great route! Wish I had gotten to Eastern Europe but there is always next time.

  2. Hiw does one go about financing a trip like this, and what would a round about figure be. Just the idea of how much a several month trip for a family to me is staggering.

    1. Well travel is a lot less expensive than you think especially if you do not keep a home base. Get creative and if you realy make it a goal it can work. I have written many things about financing and how we make money so search around:)

  3. That was a great plan for Europe. We haven't done back packing with the kids, just the road trip. Did you ever make it to Portugal later? We loved Porto and Lisbon. About 20 years ago I backpacked Bangkok to Singapore, so it will be interesting to go back and see how things have changed.

    1. Nope haven't goten back yet but it is next on my list anyway. I bet Thailand and malaysia will look loads different now!

  4. If your planning a trip to Europe, it's recommended to do a little research on affordable travel companies & hotel locations.