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Forums » General & Multi-Country » 3 months in Europe

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3 months in Europe

by vandyke5 »

My husband and I are starting the planning for a 3 month trip to Europe in 2020. We are retired, mid-50's, good to excellant health.  My husband has alot of overseas travel experience, me none.  Looking at doing 3 separate locations for 1 month each and then branch out.  Looking for suggestions on locals,  best time to go, best credit/debit cards, how to stay in touch with adult kids.  My husband wants 1 location to be Florence, and then go from there.  Would like to see as much as possible without over doing it.  Touristy things as well as non-tourist stuff. Food, wine, beer, history, art, etc.  Travel agent or book ourselves? Not looking to rent a car. Any and all advice would be welcome.

Thank you!

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by Road Crazy »

If you want ideas on locales to base in, it would be helpful to have more information - for example, what countries potentially interest you?  Your list of interests is general enough that it could be met in dozens of places. Can you be more specific?

 

Florence is a good start - lots of great places that are reachable from there for day-trips.  If you're going to be there a month, I assume you'll want to rent an apartment.  Even with an apartment rented for a month, you might want to spring for an overnight or two in Rome and an overnight in Venice - it's possible to day-trip there, but there is so much in Rome that you'll likely find a day-trip too limiting, and Venice is at its best in the early morning and in the evening when the day-trippers and cruise passengers are gone.  You might also want to look at Bologna, which has great train connections to a myriad of places, including Florence, but is less dominated by tourism.

 

You say you don't want to rent a car, and that makes sense if you'll be spending your time in places well served by trains and buses.  However, there are fabulous countryside areas that can really only be explored by car, for example the Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany (Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza).  You might consider renting a car for just two or three days to visit areas like that.

 

As to when, generally you will find shoulder season a good mix of not-too-crowded and pretty good weather.  My personal pick is spring because I like the longer days, although I think you may get more rain in spring than in the fall.

 

Find a debit card that doesn't charge a percentage fee for converting and doesn't have charges for using ATMs other than your financial institution's.  I have Schwab, which charges nothing for withdrawals anywhere in the world and rerfunds any fees the other machine charges, plus they have awesome customer service.  You also want a credit card that doesn't charge beyond the standard 1% - Capital One is one possibility, but there are others.  Call and ask.  For sure, before you go call your banks (ATM and credit card) and let them know when and where you'll be traveling so they don't deny your charges as possible fraud.

 

My T-Mobile plan has unlimited data and text from Europe, and free wifi calling, so it costs me nothing to call from the hotel or apartment where I have wifi.  The per-minute charge for calling not on wifi is 10 or 20 cents per minute, can't recall, but nothing that would stop you from making a short call home while you're out and about.  It is possible to get a cheap phone and phone plan in Europe, which others can tell you about, but it would depend on where you expect to be calling.  If you think you'll be calling mostly other places in Europe, that might make sense, but most of my calls are home, and I don't really feel constricted in sticking mostly to wifi calling.

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by Road Crazy »

One VERY important thing I forgot to say:

 

Unless one of your stops will be in a country not in the Schengen zone (most notably the UK), you can only spend 90 days out of 180 in Europe legally without a visa, so a few days less than three full months.  Google to see which countries belong to Schengen.  This is for all countries in Schengen combined - for example 90 days total for Italy, France, and Germany.

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by mushroom »

The "best time to go" really depends on your interests and your reactions to things, both positive and negative.  For instance, I really don't like dealing with rain and chilly weather when I travel, so I avoid those months UNLESS I am going to a destination where the main atttraction for me is museums, and then I don't care. In fact, I often pick lousy weather months to go to someplace like London or Amsterdam, because there are much fewer tourists in the museums.

 

But also be aware that it can be 100F (40+C) in Florence in the summer (and most of central Italy), plus loads of crowds.  It can also snow quite a bit in Florence between the middle of December and the middle of February.  

 

There are definitely some types of travelers who truly don't care what the weather is so long as they are in Italy (or Paris, etc), and who never mind sharing space with other tourists. The more the merrier! But if you have negative feelings about extremes of weather, or if you really don't want to be in peak tourist season (the crowds in Florence can be intense, every day, between June 15 and Sept 15), then plan accordingly.

 

As to where to go for your other 2 spots in Europe, if you don't want to rent a car, then look for "bases" with excellent train connections to the types of experiences you will want to have over 30 days time.  For instance, someplace like Antwerp is actually pretty astounding for beer, food, art, history, nightlife, music, shopping, terrific train trips to Amsterdam or Paris (you can go more than once to each city) -- and yet, it is off the radar for mass tourism, so you can have a pretty fascinating experience of Europe, unwarped by travel commercialism. 

 

On the other hand, 30 days in Paris or London is non-stop excitement right outside your doorstep every day, but also with the possibility of some wonderful day trips by train to Antwerp or a few nights in Amsterdam or parts of Germany.  

 

Something else the weigh into your thinking is how much you want to see the most famous sights of European history and how much you would like to be spending time in places that are NOTHING LIKE wherever you come from.  The most famous sights of Europe make it easy for visitors, by necessity, and it helps make sightseeing relaxing and rewarding.  Some parts of Europe are very modernized, and you'll find many of the same chains found in America and the UK serving coffee, pizzza, etc.  But there are still many parts of Europe that dance to their own tune -- surprisingly, a great deal of Lisbon remains that way.

 

Lastly -- then I will stop! -- the European continent has some extraordinary scenery -- and if you like walks and rambles, or swims and boat rides, you can enjoy some blissful times with wonderful food and drink, usually plenty of history under your feet, and not necessarily all that far from some amazing art.

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by vandyke5 »

Thanks so much for the great advice.  Regarding the 3 "bases", our countries of interest are Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and Netherlands.  Definitely want to do the occasional 1-3 night branch out trips.  Is renting a car for a few days easy? We are planning to AirBnb.  Is that the easiest? How far in advance to you recomend booking flights and lodging? We are super flexible with months of travel as well as countries.  My husband has done Germany a lot, so not sure if that fits at this point.  Thanks again for your help!

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by vandyke5 »

Thank you for the great advice and information! The countries we are interested in is Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and Netherlands.  Whatever the "bases" we are interested in doing occasional 1-3 night branch out trips as well.  Lisbon sounds great! I will look at Antwerp.  We are flexibile on travel months, but it sounds as if Spring is a good time to go, with cooler weather and maybe a few less people. How far in advance do you recomend booking flights and lodgeing? We are thinking AirBnb. Thanks for all your help!

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by mushroom »

Thank you for the great advice and information! The countries we are interested in is Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium and Netherlands.  Whatever the "bases" we are interested in doing occasional 1-3 night branch out trips as well.  Lisbon sounds great! I will look at Antwerp.  We are flexibile on travel months, but it sounds as if Spring is a good time to go, with cooler weather and maybe a few less people. How far in advance do you recomend booking flights and lodgeing? We are thinking AirBnb. Thanks for all your help!

 

First thing you need to know is that some cities in Europe (Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam) have fairly strong restrictions on short-term AirBnB-type vacation rentals.  You really need to do research to make sure you don't end up renting an apartment through AirBnb that is being illegally rented.  The biggest danger is booking an apartment in advance, and believing you have a place to stay, and then just before you are ready to leave, the owner sends you an email that the apartment isn't available -- and you are really stuck trying to find another place to stay in a very popular destinations for tourists.  

 

That doesn't mean you can't go to the places or rent apartments there.  But once you've decided which destinations you want, be sure to ask around here and on other message boards about how to best go about renting an apartment in those destinations.  I can tell you know that Florence is no problem.  As of today, the city has no restrictions on private individuals renting apartments to vacationers.  You do of course need to research and read reviews to make sure you get what you want and the apartment is "as advertised", and doesn't have hidden problems like noisy streets or bad heating/plumbing.  But places like Paris are much more complicated, so be sure you know the rules.

 

Looking at your wish list of countries, if it were me,  I would pick  Amsterdam, Lisbon and Florence, just for the sheer variety of experience.  Those are 3 very different cultures, yet they all have played a very important roles in the history of Europe (and the world).  All 3 have many beautiful, well-preserved neighborhoods of historic architecture.   Amsterdam is an expensive city, and has restrictions on apartment rentals. But if you plan well, you can learn where to eat cheap and enjoy the sights for little money.  Also, check out the possibility of staying in either Haalem ,Utrecht or Den Haag instead of Amsterdam proper.  These towns are very short train rides from Amsterdam and are quite lovely, and they have good connections for visiting Belgium as well.  Utrecht is a bicyclers paradise (much less hectic than Amsterdam) and if you would prefer a small town feel with lots of cafes and student life (music, fun shopping, etc), it's quite enjoyable.

 

By contrast, Lisbon is quite an inexpensive city, with no restrictions on apartment rentals, and several easy day trips out of town. (I think you'd probably enjoy 3 nights in Porto, rather than just a day trip).  It is not hard to rent a car, but make sure you rent with it a dashboard device that keeps track of the electronic road toll fees when you use the highways, and automatically charges your credit card.  Because Lisbon itself is not an easy city to drive around, if you want to see more of Portugal than just Lisbon, one way to make it easy is to spend a week at the beginning or end of your time in Portugal doing a little road trip, rather than keeping a car in Lisbon and using it for day trips.  Porto airport has loads of connections to other parts of Europe (as does Lisbon).

 

But of course if your heart is really beating faster at the thought of visiting somewhere in Spain + France, it's your trip, not mine!

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by Road Crazy »

That's very helpful information!  Mushroom's advice is spot on, especially as to short-term apartment rentals.  Paris for one has really been cracking down and renting an illegal apartment there is risky - shouldn't do it unless you're prepared to lose your lodging on short notice and be scrambling for a place to stay.

 

I too would vote for one of your locales to be the Netherlands.  With the difficulties of renting an apartment in Amsterdam, I'd be inclined to base in a nearby smaller town such as Haarlem.  The Netherlands is such a small country and the rail service so good that you will be able to zip around to most of the country from nearly any base on day-trips.  From there it would also be easy to take a foray or two into Belgium for a few days - good for your love of beer, as Belgium is one of the very best places in Europe for beer.

 

I think car rentals for less than three days are more expensive and possibly more difficult, although not impossible, to arrange, but often that's a good time frame anyway.  You will get better rates if you book in advance.  My go-to rental agency is Autoeurope.  They are an aggregator and will set you up with an established company:  Hertz, Avis, Europcar.  If you have any troubles with the rental car company, they will go to bat for you and get it fixed.  Their rates are almost always better than you can get going direct.  They work in all the countries you are considering.

 

When should you buy your flights?  That's the $64,000 question!  It's almost impossible to say, as it can change from year to year.  I recommend checking the routes you are interested in once a week or so starting now, so you have an idea what fares tend to be and will know when it's a good one.  Since you're so far in advance, use dummy dates as close as possible to the season you're considering.  If you watch 2018-19, you should be able to buy with confidence in 2019-2020.  Accommodations really depend on where and when.  In a city like Paris, finding a legal apartment is something that should start quite early (legal ones have a registration number in the listing - no registration number, it's not legal) - I'd be looking starting a year out and booking whenever I found what I wanted.  In cities where legal apartment rentals aren't at a premium, I'd look 6-9 months out.  Keep in mind that looking that far in advance, some places will show as unavailable when they're actually open because the owner hasn't decided on the rent that far in the future.  But the thing about rentals is, the rate isn't going to change from whatever you're quoted in the way that airfares do, so if you find what you want, there's no reason to delay booking.

 

 

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by mushroom »

I would add to what Road Crazy has already said about purchasing plane tickets that if you know what airline you'll be flying, most airlines have a subscription system whereby if you sign up for their newsletter you will get e-mails alerting you to sales.  You can save a lot of money.  Also be aware that you can sometimes save money using airports as far away from Florence as Rome, Milan, Bologna or Pisa instead of Florence airport (if that is your first or last destination) or it can make sense to fly into Brussels and go from there to Amsterdam. Just be sure when you calculate the cost of your savings that you include the price of train tickets to the town where you really want to be.  Sometimes people will jump on a great fare to Switzerland thinking it will be cheap to go from there to Italy -- and it's not. 

 

Also, regarding apartment rentals in Paris, the city government recently began helping tourists by publishing lists of landlords who legally rent apartments.  Also, landlords must obtain a registration number in order to rent their apartments, and that number needs to be on display to renters on their advertisements.  Barcelona and Berlin appear to be in the process of using the same system -- so as long as you learn about how to find a legal apartment in those cities you do have protection against scamsters.  Unfortunately, AirBnB and FlipKey and Booking.com do not have systems in place for eliminating people advertising on their sites who are skirting the law,  so you have to do your own research.

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RE: 3 months in Europe

by Road Crazy »

Airfarewatchdog also tracks airfares on all airlines on routes you choose and notifies you of particularly good deals.

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