With airline trip promos left and right, accessible accommodations bookable online, and truckloads of travel information available through websites and blogs, more and more Filipinos are falling in love with the art and joy of traveling.
Though Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan have been popular out-of-the country options over the last decade, many Pinoy travel junkies are now ready to kick it up a notch and travel to their dream destinations on the other side of the world: Europe.
But before being able to sail away in a gondola in Venice or enjoy those heavenly, buttery croissants in a boulangerie in Paris, everything starts with one simple task: research. Here are some planning and budget tips on how to make traveling to Europe from the Philippines one of the greatest adventures of your life.
1. Choose your destinations carefully. Before anything else, schedule one quiet, relaxed evening for travel planning or travel brainstorming (if you’re traveling with a bunch of people), and list down the cities you’d want to visit for the trip. This initial list may change as you go along with your research, but you need a working rough draft at least.
The duration of your stay in each city depends on local attractions, as well as how long you’d be travelling. Average package tours to Europe usually last two to three weeks, so that’s a good gauge (Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines – 2018).
In travel forums like TripAdvisor, many North Americans and Australians advice against visiting multiple cities per trip; instead, they suggest “immersing oneself in the local culture” by staying in only one city for a week or two.
In my opinion however, those travelers’ currencies fair better than Philippine Peso giving them the luxury to immerse in the culture longer because they could always go back to see other cities the next time they visit. This may not be the case for average Filipino travelers (and other Southeast Asian travelers for that matter). Airline tickets to and from Europe are bought with hard-earned money, so most Pinoy travelers would prefer to visit at least three cities during their trip to make the most out of their airfare.
Once you have the list of cities you’d want to see, locate them on Google Maps and try to create a possible route that would connect your chosen destinations. Your travel route should be realistic; research for transportation options between your chosen cities.
One thing you could do is browse existing tour itineraries by international travel companies like Trafalgar or Globus and mimic their itineraries. However, you have to note that these travel agencies use their own buses to transport clients, so you might need to adjust your itinerary depending on available commute options.
2. Travel agent or DIY trip? If you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t have the time or doesn’t enjoy the legwork of planning an itinerary and booking arrangements yourself, availing the services of a travel agency might be the better option. You need to shell out extra of course. I’ve been on a tour package to Europe before and below are my list of pros and cons:
Tour Package Pros:
- No need to open that Google Maps app. A private tour coach will herd you from one attraction to the next. The coach is comfortable enough for sleeping especially during long intercity drives (an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, and noise cancelling headphones would help a lot).
- A tour guide will fill you in about the attractions you’d be visiting for the day including its history, where to take the best photos, where to eat, and what local delicacies to try.
- As your luggage will be stored in the tour bus’ compartment every time you check out of a hotel, traveling light need not be a priority.
Tour Package Cons:
- You have no choice when it comes to what attractions to visit because there is already a planned itinerary.
- The whole group is working around a tour schedule, so you don’t have the luxury to explore at your own pace. The tour guide will give you one to two hours in an area, and that’s it (except for “free days”). The bus needs to leave on time to remain on schedule.
- Travel companies encourage clients to avail of “optional tours.” Though you can always say no to these add-ons, there is a possibility that you would be stuck in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere if you choose not to take an “optional” tour like a river cruise.
If you’re traveling to Europe from the Philippines on a budget, DIY travel could be a better option. Aside from saving on agency service fees, you also have the freedom to book the most affordable travel arrangements for your trip like promo airline tickets, or an AirBnb instead of a hotel room.
DIY Travel Pros:
- You can adjust your itinerary to your own taste and interests. If you’re a bookworm for example, you could add a visit to popular local bookstores in your itinerary (such as Shakespeare & Co. in Paris or Atlantis Books in Santorini). Or if you love beer, you can allot time for a Heineken experience tour in Amsterdam or a Belgian Beer tasting tour in Brussels.
- You can travel at your own pace. Despite having a planned itinerary, you can always modify it on the spot – something that you can’t do when you’re traveling with a whole tour bus.
- You can experience how the locals do everyday stuff like riding the Metro and shopping for food at local markets, allowing you to immerse in the culture.
DIY Travel Cons:
- It requires a lot – and I mean a loooot – of research. Once you’re in a foreign country, you have no one else to rely on but yourself, your research, and Google (if you have WiFi access, that is).
- You need to organize your bookings and itinerary yourself. You have to be proactive – you have to make sure that your time conversions are correct and that your booking expenses are all within the budget range.
- There’s no one to herd you from one place to the next, so you have to keep track of time to be able to keep up with your planned itinerary.
3. Plan your trip ahead of time. When planning a big trip such as traveling to Europe from the Philippines, I’d say it’s best to prepare around six months before your intended travel dates. The first three months would mostly involve light reading on possible destinations, drafting a rough itinerary, and planning which embassy to apply Schengen Visa in.
The next three months would be spent for Schengen Visa application, booking air travel, and arranging accommodations and tickets to tourist attractions.
Your itinerary should be final two weeks before your flight. A week before you fly out to your destination, take the time to sort out your bookings and categorize everything into two piles: booking confirmations that could just be saved on your phone, and booking confirmations that need to be printed out (believe me, there are still museums and tour buses that don’t acknowledge screen shots).
4. Prepare to go off your itinerary in case of unplanned situations. Despite how well you drafted your itinerary, no trip is perfect and there will always be a possibility that things wouldn’t go out as planned. Weather, construction works, transportation maintenance and other factors might get in the way, but that shouldn’t prevent you from having a great time. Be sure to allot extra for a contingency fund.