I first fell in love with trip planning back in 2009, when my parents offered me the trip of a lifetime. To celebrate some recent family achievements, they wanted to take the whole family to Europe for two and a half weeks. But when they suggested a guided all-inclusive tour, I balked. In 2004, I went on a school trip to Greece booked through a travel company, and while I fell in love with Greece, I absolutely hated the way the trip was planned. The restaurants were tacky, the guided tours were mostly terrible and the transportation was poorly planned. So I told my parents, I'd love to, but you have to let me plan it.
We decided to take advantage of Eurorail's pass that (at the time) allowed you to travel between three bordering countries. So armed with travel guides to Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic, I set to work. Here are some important strategies I learned along the way.
How to bargain for hotel prices
If you're hoping to get a lower price for your hotel room, you need to do at least two of the following things: book well in advance, travel outside of high season, book a large party, or stay for 3+ nights in a row. If you meet most or all of these criteria, you may be in a place to bargain. You can email the hotel owner outlining the number in your party and your preferred dates and ask "What is your best price, considering the size of our group and the length of our stay?" Often, you'll get a lower price. A please and a thank you never hurts either.
Where to find the best restaurants
When you're travelling in popular European countries, most of the restaurants right by the main tourist attractions are pretty lousy. The prices will be higher and you'll find the suspect quotations marks hovering around words like "Authentic." Do your research, or ask a trusted local for their suggestion and find restaurants with good reviews that may be just a block or two out of your way. The best tiramisu of my life was eaten just a ten minute walk from Rome's Piazza Navona at a tiny, open air trattoria.
When to book in advance
It really pays to buy tickets for big tourist attractions like the Vatican or Prague Castle before you leave. Yes, you'll have to pay a fee for the convenience of printing out the tickets at home, but waltzing past those winding lines is well worth it. Booking in advance also helps you get into more exclusive attractions, like the Galleria Borghese in Rome (one of the most amazing art museums I've ever seen) where a very limited number of visitors are allowed in at a time.
If you have any other tips or tricks to share, feel free to respond in the comments below!