Plan the trip

One month European itinerary

One of my favourite things to do when we start planning our trip is plotting out our itinerary. I love sitting down with a map (lol - okay fine Google Maps) and working out where we want to go, how far it is between destinations, and how to make it flow in a logical way.

Our very first trip to Europe was kind of like a Contiki; we did a big loop of Western Europe, staying only a few days in each location. It was a lot of fun, but by the end we were pretty tired, and I was sad we hadn’t spent more time in a lot of the locations.

On our honeymoon I wanted to take a slower pace, visit less places and spend a little longer in them where we could. After a lot of thought I dropped Spain and Portugal from our itinerary. It added too much travel time, and I realised it would be fun to do them as a separate trip later on. I also dropped a visit further south in Italy to go to Pompeii - again because I could see us doing a Southern Italy trip one day in the future (probably in summer).

I thought it would be fun to share our full itinerary so you can get an idea about how we spent a month in Europe in winter. I hope it gives you some inspiration!

Pre P.S. We travel by train as much as possible because it’s in general the most economical way to travel (and a lot more fun than planes) so all times to the next destination given are based on train travel. It’s been a few years since we did this trip so I’m trying to do my best to determine what trains we caught.


Paris - 4 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 4 hours 30 minutes


Lucerne - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 1 hour 49 minutes


Interlaken - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 6 hours 30 minutes


Venice - 4 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 2 hours 5 minutes


Florence - 3 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 1 hour 30 minutes


Rome - 4 days

Weekend Getaway: Rome | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 1 hour 55 minutes (flight from Rome to Athens)


Athens - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 50 minutes (flight from Athens to Crete)


Crete - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Where to go, what to eat & Where to stay

Time to next destination: 50 minutes (flight from Crete to Athens)


Athens - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings
 

Time to next destination: 3 hours 30 minutes (flight from Athens to Paris)


Paris - 2 days

One month European itinerary | Miss Sweet Nothings

Three quick and simple tips for maximising your frequent flyer program

I was pretty dubious about frequent flyer programs for a long time - but in the last few years I feel like I have cracked how to choose a good frequent flyer program.

So why even have a frequent flyer program? I know a lot of people think they are a waste of time that are only valid if you’re a business person who flies every month. I can honestly say that Mike and I fly about once a year (more if we can manage it) and manage to get at least one flight free each time. Now to be clear - we don’t have credit cards we run up each month to earn the points and I don’t make ANY purchases I wouldn’t otherwise make in order to make points.

Important: I personally use Virgin Velocity points so when I’m talking about my decision I am going to reference that program. I am not sponsored by Virgin in any way (I wish I was)- it’s just easier to talk about this in reference to my choice and it is a choice I’m pretty happy with.

Choose an airline you want to fly with

I mean obviously right? The first frequent flyer program I was with was one of the big airlines in Australia (If you’re Australian you’ll probably guess which one). It’s a well respected airline but I really didn’t like flying with them - I only did it because I didn’t understand much about airlines and they were (and are) a well known airline.

When we moved to Queensland I knew our life would change and we would be flying a lot more and so I actually started to research airlines and try them out. In the end I realised our favourite was Virgin; they were a really easy airline to deal with and I never had a bad experience with them. In the meantime my other frequent flyer membership languished in a drawer.

You are going to try a lot harder to earn points if you love the airline and want to fly with them regularly.

See who they are affiliated with

My biggest reason to sign up for Velocity was Virgin linking up with Singapore Airlines - when we fly long haul we always fly Singapore so it made total sense to sign up and take advantage of all the points. If you’re debating between different airlines have a look at what other airlines you can claim points on.  

Work out where else you can claim points

Once you start unwrapping it there are so many places you can grab points from. I definitely don’t recommend buying things you don’t need or shopping places you don’t like just to earn points but so far I’ve worked out that I can claim points from petrol, wine (through their subscription service) and even our electricity bill.


How to hack packing for long term travel

Over packing is the curse of long trips - the first time Mike and I went to Europe I went a little nuts with my clothes because I had never been away for so long and I just didn’t know what I needed.

I learnt my lesson and the second time round I pared my packing all the way back and I still think I could have taken less!

You want less, not more choice when you’re travelling. When you’re heading out every day for an adventure you won't be particularly interested in having endless choices for clothes.

Don’t panic though - I don’t think you should sacrifice style just so you can pack less clothes. It’s not about packing your track pants and sweatshirts - it’s about curating the nice clothes you already have so that you only take the bare essentials.

I’ve tried to make these tips as general as possible but ultimately these tips are based on my personal style + gender. So if you’re not keen on any of these tips feel free to disregard them.

What to pack

  • Only take one or two bottoms: Take your favourite pair of jeans and a pair of shorts or a skirt.

  • Pack a handful of tops: I would recommend prioritising comfort when making your choices

  • Flesh out: With dresses, an extra skirt, shorts or pants. Remember to only pack as much as you need either:

    • To last one week

    • To last between access to a laundry

  • Shoes: Only pack three pairs of shoes - MAX. On our last trip I took my boots, a pair of flats and a pair of fancy shoes because we were going out somewhere nice for Christmas.

How to pack

  • Roll your clothes: I know this sounds like one of those weird myths but you absolutely have less wrinkled clothes and let you pack more into less space.

  • Unpack when you get there: Regardless of how long you're spending in a place the easiest thing to do once you get to your accommodation is to unpack what you plan on wearing for the days that you’re there. It seems like more work but ultimately it saves you rummaging around and messing up your rolled clothes every morning. I love taking a bit of time when I arrive in a new place to unpack my clothes and also my toiletries, shoes and entertainment. Repacking takes a lot less time than you think and it really helps to make a place feel more like home and make you feel less like a guest.

  • Utilise packing cubes: I know packing cubes are going through a bit of a moment right now. There are lots of different packing cubes available but I just use large zip lock bags. I don't use them for my actual clothes which I'm happy to roll but I do use these bags for my underwear, jewellery and chargers/cables. It keeps things together rather than having them loose in your bag.  I also use different toiletry bags to separate my morning face routine, night face routine and make up.

  • Have a laundry bag: It seems so strange but when you're living out of a suitcase it's hard to remember where you're at in terms of clean clothes (particularly underwear). Having a laundry bag handy makes it easier to keep track of when you're starting to run out of clean clothes.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


How to use Trip Advisor effectively

 If you haven't heard of Trip Advisor before, it's a community reviewed website that covers hotels, motels, B & B and hostels. It also has restaurant reviews and travel guides for lots of major cities. It's my secret weapon for booking accommodation, finding restaurants and learning more about fun things to do. I'm really excited to share how I use Trip Advisor effectively to make my holidays more magical.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not being paid by Trip Advisor at all for this - in writing it I realised it sounds like I'm sponsored by them but I'm not. I just really love their website.

Booking your ACCOMMODATION

Finding accommodation that's in budget, in a good location and is a nice place to stay can seem very elusive sometimes. Never fear though, I have a fairly specific method that I use to find a good place to stay and I’m really excited to share it with you. This method has been honed over time and through many, many hotel bookings.

  1. Select your price range (in your local currency): Trip Advisor let's you narrow the search down by price range which is perfect but make sure it's in your own currency - conversion rates can vary a lot and doing this makes sure you stay in budget.

  2. Narrow down by rank: Trip Advisor has different sorting options and I recommend using the Ranking option, this is the rating Trip Advisor users give from highest to lowest.

  3. Now we've filtered we can start investigating what's left: First a warning - the top hotels in the ranking are most likely going to be big chain hotels. They get good ratings because of their size and familiarity but they are a perpetual disappointment - they look pretty but they never have the same level of service or personality as the smaller places. So give those a miss as often as you can and instead:

    1. Start with the highest rating and work your way down.

    2. When you go into a listing read the last five comments people have left. This will give you a great snapshot of the place. It also gives you clues as to any problems with the accommodation.

  4. Check the location: Use the map to see where it is in the city. As one friend told me once - just because a place is called Hotel Venice doesn't mean it's actually in Venice. It also helps with the other end of this spectrum, Trip Advisor comments saying "It's not very close to the city". I'm not sure what most of these comments mean as very rarely is the accommodation legitimately far from the centre of the city.

  5. Go with your gut: Ultimately you could look at 50 hotels and never feel like any of them are perfect. The aim isn't perfection, it's about picking a place that ticks enough of your requirements.

A final point - I always book through the hotel rather than Trip Advisor - even when I might get a deal with Trip Advisor. There are arguments on both sides of this but I like the control I have over the communication with the hotel. When I'm travelling for a long time removing the third party makes me feel more confident.

researching fun things to do

I'm not known for returning to places I've been to previously (Paris and Lucerne are so far the only two repeat offenders out of a possible 14). This means I'm always researching new to me places for all the fun things you can do. The Trip Advisor app comes with travel itineraries for many cities. I've never followed any of the itineraries exactly but I use it as a really good starting point for learning about what I might want to do in the city.

Finding good restaurants

Eating is possibly my favourite part of travelling to new places and so finding interesting places to eat is very important. I definitely think some of the best meals I’ve had were in places that Mike and I just wandered past and decided to check out - highlights include the best ramen I have ever eaten (in Tokyo) and an incredible seafood pasta in Rome (in a place called, no joke, De Niro).

Average meals are the flip side of the taking your chances with restaurants - and that’s where doing a little bit of prep and research can help to out. That way you are guaranteed at least one meal that is delicious.  I know this article is titled "using Trip Advisor effectively" but I actually have a few suggestions for finding delicious places to eat. I hope you don't mind me straying a little from the chosen topic:

  • Trip Advisor: Trip Advisor can be a bit hit and miss because it is relying on the opinion of individuals but you can find some real gems. My favourite restaurant in Venice and my favourite restaurant (so far - I can’t commit to forever) in Paris were both Trip Advisor recommendations. You can also save recommendations so you can start plotting good places to try months in advance.

  • Travel blogs (and vlogs) of people you trust: Local Milk, Smitten Kitchen, A Beautiful Mess and The Cherry Blossom Girl all have travel guides as part of their websites.

  • The hotel you’re staying in: Sometimes they can suggest super touristy places but on our recent trip to our hometown the apartment where we stayed gave us some amazing recommendations - most of which made their way into my Adelaide Bar Guide. So ask for their suggestions, do a bit of Googling to avoid tourist traps and who knows what you might find.


How to budget for your trip: A Beginner's Guide

One of the biggest challenges when you want to travel is money; both saving enough money and ensuring you keep your money safe whilst you travel. It's definitely something that has weighed on me and worried me on almost all of our adventures.  Over time though I've picked up a few different tips to help me budget better & keep our money safe when we're away.

Setting a budget

Setting a dollar figure for your budget is ultimately a personal choice - what’s affordable for me may be out of budget for you and vice versa. So I won’t be talking figures, only about how to work out a figure that makes sense to you. The reality is without funds you can't travel, and I have come to the conclusion over the years that you should aim to primarily travel on your own funds rather than using credit cards or loans. Of course this isn't always possible (it hasn't been for us) but working out your budget early on can help make sure you do save the money you need to travel.

Before starting to plan your budget make sure to take into account the conversion rates. This is the secret killer of budgeting because you can spend all this time working out how much you need to save in your local currency only to realise that it’s worth half the value of the currency of where you are going.

Planning your budget can be broken down into five simple steps:

  1. Firstly work out your flights: This is always the biggest expense for me so it's always the first thing I save for.

  2. Next up work out a maximum you would be willing to spend per night on accommodation and multiply that by the amount of nights you’ll be away.

  3. Now do the same for your daily budget, working out a maximum spend and multiplying by amount of days you’ll be away. Make sure you include food, drink, local transport, entertainment and shopping in your daily spending. Lonely Planet is a good resource to work out what different daily amounts will get you and what different basic items cost.

  4. Inter - country (or city) travel is next and it’s always a bit tricky if you’ve never been to a place before. Again Lonely Planet is a good resource for finding the names of public transport companies and hire car services, and also gives tips about what the best options are (in terms of the time of year and cost associated). Most websites will then give you an idea of how much a ticket  will cost to buy, or how much a car will cost to rent.

  5. Lastly remember to budget for travel insurance - it’s non negotiable. 


Money while you travel

Having money and feeling secure about your funds is very important when you travel - often you're dealing with a huge chunk of money that you wouldn't normally have. I actually have to thank my husband for the tips below - he handles all the money when we travel and he’s got a really good system.

  • Have some of the destination currency on you before you leave: Nothing is worse than landing in a country and just wanting a coffee or a sandwich and not having some cash to buy said items.

  • If you have a layover make sure you have cash in the currency of the country the airport is in.

  • Take cash out in blocks, only enough for a few days at a time - initially we did this unintentionally because we didn’t have ATM’s in every city for our local bank but it did make us feel better because we didn’t have a huge wad of cash in our bags

  • Just put your daily budget in your wallet - at the end of the day anything left over carries to the next day.

So why cash? If you rely on card you can’t guarantee that everywhere will have the capacity to process EFTPOS payments. It also prevents you from overspending because you can see how much cash you have left. Lastly if you’re taking cash out in blocks and then storing some of it safely in your hotel if you then lose your wallet you still have cash you can use.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


Five essential resources to help you travel

When you first decide to go travelling it can feel so overwhelming - there is so much information out there (and a lot of it is contradictory). Never fear; I am here to help! Here are my five essential resources that have helped me to navigate the occasionally murky waters of adventuring!

Lonely Planet

I know it can seem a bit obvious but Lonely Planet has 40 years of experience in world travel and it is still the best place to start when you’ve never been to a particular city or country. It’s always my first point of call when I decide to go on a trip. You can use their website or you can purchase their guide books (or a mix of the two). Most of their guides have the option to purchase a physical copy or an ebook, and often will let you just purchase the chapters you need. Their website has basic details (currency, times to travel, transport options) for most cities in most countries as well as tons of useful articles.

Trip Advisor

I love Trip Advisor for finding hotels and restaurants. It’s peer reviewed so it’s excellent for determining what places are worth your time;it even includes a map feature to help you find places based on location. I particularly like their app - as well as letting you search and save hotels and restaurants it also has city guides. These city guides are available on and offline - meaning that if you've downloaded them you can access them without wifi or data being on (essential for keeping your phone bill manageable overseas). I love using the city guides as a map (no need to carry around giant bulky maps!) and to find good places to eat on the go (vital if you're a foodie like yours truly).

Google Maps

Google Maps has been an absolute saviour on our trips - particularly for working out the easiest way to get from the train station or airport to our hotel. Once you key in your location and destination it gives you options for walking, biking, driving and public transport.

My favourite feature is the public transport option - it’s hard to work out public transport in cities you aren’t familiar with (particularly when you don't speak the language) and Google Maps makes it really simple. It has saved us a ton of money on taxis and helped us feel instantly more comfortable in a new city.

Folder (& a photocopier)

Bear with me on this one  - I absolutely recommend having paper copies of all of your flights, trains and hotel bookings with you when you travel. I know that you have everything saved to your phone (and if you have Gmail it will be on your calendar as well) but what happens if you lose your phone? What happens if you were counting on WiFi to access a ticket and there is none?

Having paper copies seems cumbersome and old fashioned but it ensures you have a back up option of everything in case something happens. Whether you’re travelling for a week or a month you want as little stress as possible and this is one way to guarantee this.

It’s also worth having photocopies of your passport and driver’s license on hand in case they get stolen or lost. This will help you with reporting it to the authorities, and for getting out of the country when it’s time to leave.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is 100% mandatory. No matter where you're going or how long you're going for you will want the certainty of knowing that if you lose your baggage, have your money stolen or get sick that you have something in place to help you. I've been lucky and haven't had to use travel insurance (yet!) but that hasn't made me any less grateful to have it. 

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


Reasons to travel in winter

So far Mike and I have spent two months in Europe in winter and I can honestly say that we love it. So I decided I would put together a short list of reasons of why we love to travel in the winter and why you should consider it too!

Off peak prices

I have managed to score some incredibly good prices - particularly for hotels - because we were travelling in the off peak season. On top of this we have received room upgrades - both where they told us they were doing it and others where we got a really nice room without them explicitly telling us it was an upgrade. In both cases we weren’t charged anything extra. We have also gotten more affordable tickets to museums, planes and trains just because we were travelling in the off peak.

Christmas cheer

I love Christmas in Australia but there is something so magical about Christmas in Europe. It's a lot more relaxed, potentially because Europeans have had thousands of years of celebrating Christmas (and before that - the solstice) behind them. Plus it's nice to see the traditions of Christmas in their natural habitat instead of entirely out of place like it is in Australia. Christmas markets, mulled wine and even fresh Christmas trees make a lot more sense when it’s ten degrees then the thirty degrees in Australia.

Smaller crowds

I would love to say no crowds at all but...well Florence and Rome were still pretty busy in winter so don't get too excited. However the day we visited the Athenian agora we were the only ones there and it was just so peaceful.

Even when you can't get no crowds you do get less crowds and in places like Venice that can make all the difference. You get to experience what the locals experience which makes for a far more pleasant trip.

A different vibe

I can't really say this with certainty (having never traveled in summer) but I feel like people are more relaxed in winter. It's the holidays for them too and I feel like they have more time to share what makes their home amazing. We met so many lovely, friendly, passionate people on our travels - and having worked in the service industry since forever I know that when it is busy you do not have time to stop and chat and give that personal love.

The weather

I adore the winter in Europe - it's so crisp and glorious - even when it's minus 3 and you are wearing all your clothes at once. I have no doubt if I lived in Europe and had to deal with winter all the time I would feel different but I live in Australia so snow will always be a novelty to me.