How to Plan a Last-Minute Trip Fast (My 6-Week Europe Trip Planned in 1 Week)
Last weekend, I decided that I wanted to go to Europe to spend my last two months of summer before I return to normal life in September. When I looked at plane tickets on Google Flights last Sunday, I found an amazing one-way flight from Vancouver to London for $275 CAD. July 19 (today) was the last date that was offered at that price, so I quickly jumped on it. But that meant that I would be leaving in nine days. So much to do, so little time!
I bought my flight Sunday night, so I had exactly eight days to research, plan, and book everything for the trip. I’m usually a very organized person who likes to complete things way ahead of deadlines. Of course, I would have liked at least a couple of weeks to plan for the trip, but alas, nothing could be done at that point. I decided that I would only stick to the essentials these eight days.
This post will be useful for those of you who, like me, sometimes may find yourself having very little time to plan a long trip, but also for anyone who’s planning any trip with multiple destinations—these are the bare essentials needed for travel planning. Even if you’re not planning a trip, I think this post will be a fun read because you can read about how I scrambled to get everything done. (And I hate scrambling to do things.)
I’m writing this post on the plane to London right now!
Day 1-2: Research which cities to visit and get general Europe travel information
This will be my first Europe trip. Although I’ve physically been in Europe before (read my mini-trip to Amsterdam), I’ve never actually done an entire trip there before. I booked my flight to London and my flight back to Vancouver, but what now? There are so many countries I could visit! Can I go to all of them?
I knew for sure that I wanted to go to France because I went to a French immersion school before and always wanted to practice my French—I’ve yet to visit Quebec, but I will sometime. So I had two countries: the UK and France. What now? I started typing in questions like these in Google and opening 15-25 tabs at one time:
Most beautiful countries to visit in Europe
Coolest cities in Europe
Most popular countries in Europe
Most popular countries in Europe for young people
Must-see European cities
Biggest cities in Europe
Small Europe cities but beautiful
First trip to Europe which countries to visit
3 week Europe itinerary
4 week Europe itinerary
6 week Europe itinerary
Must-see attractions in Europe
I decided that since I was going to be in Europe for 6 weeks, I should visit some countries in Western and Eastern Europe. Then, my searches became:
Must-see cities in Western Europe
Must-see cities in Eastern Europe
Most beautiful cities in Western Europe
Most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe
And you get the point. These were extremely useful for helping me decide which countries and cities to go to. I also had Google maps open so I could search where the cities I was interested in were located, so I could think about if it made sense to travel there. For example, Poland was on my list, but it was a little out of the way geographically, so I’ll save it for next time.
I went to the library and borrowed two books about Europe and quickly skimmed through it.
Also, I met up with some friends who visited or lived in Europe before, and asked them for recommendations.
In the end, I decided on the UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, and France.
I also did some research on a few other things:
1) What kind of backpack and what size I should use to travel around Europe
2) The climate of the countries I wanted to visit
3) Double check visa requirements (Thankfully, as a Canadian, I can go to all the above countries without a visa)
4) General travel tips for Europe (for example, I learned that a lot of the public washrooms charge a fee)
Day 3-4: Finalize itinerary and make a rough packing list
After I figured out where I wanted to go, I made a rough itinerary on Excel with the dates I was planning to be in each city. Using very simple formulas, I was able to input how many days I wanted to stay in each city and Excel would figure out the dates for me. I’ll be in Europe for 45 days, so I made sure that my itinerary was exactly 45 days.
It also took me quite some time to figure out how many days to stay in each city. I would Google things like “How many days to spend in Cesky Krumlov” and read people’s blogs and travel forums. I also did some preliminary research on transportation options, to see how I would get to one place to another and work that into the finalized itinerary.
I messaged my European friends to ask if they were around for the dates I had planned and also asked my Canadian friends if any of them were visiting Europe the same time as me. Then, I made adjustments to my itinerary as necessary.
Earlier in the week, I had thought about any bigger purchases I would need to make in preparation for the trip. According to my general Europe research and from friends’ advice, I needed a sturdy backpack. On the morning of Day 3, I found someone selling the Lowepro 35L AW backpack on Craigslist and I asked about it. In the afternoon, I bought it! It was an amazing steal. It’s a backpack for photographers and has a removable camera case that you can access via the front-opening. I scrapped the removable camera case and voila! I now have a super convenient backpack for travel! The size (35L) was perfect for me, it was new, and it was cheap—it retails at $300 but I got it for $85! Not bad, eh?
The backpack made me very excited for packing, so I started a packing list. Throughout the week, I would add to the list whenever I thought of something.
Day 5: Research transportation between cities
Researching transportation between cities gave me an incredible headache. In Europe, there are so many different ways to get from one place to another. I didn’t understand how the train system worked at all so I did a lot of research on the different kinds of trains in different countries. I also researched flights and buses between cities.
Day 6: Book transportation and accommodation
This day also gave me a headache. After all that researching, I decided to book a flight from London to Berlin, an overnight Thello train from Venice to Paris, and an Eurostar train from Lyon back to London—yes, I’m going a roundabout way from Venice to Paris to Lyon to London, but I’ve got very good reasons. The rest are not such long distances, so I will figure it out when I get there.
I also spent the whole day researching accommodation and booking them. Since this will be a solo trip, I’ve decided to stay in hostels because I can meet some cool people who can go sightseeing with me. I’ve had great experiences in hostels in South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, so I’m excited to stay in more hostels.
One of the most important things I take into consideration when looking at hostels is the location. The closer to the center of town, the better. But how do you know where the center of town is? For example, if I want to book a hostel in Budapest, I Google “Budapest main tourist attractions” and look at the images. Then, on Airbnb or HostelWorld, I will search hostels and view by location.
I also look at the reviews: How clean is the hostel? How helpful are the staff? How flexible are they with check-in times? What’s the neighborhood like?
I also have a couple of very generous friends in Europe who were willing to “put me up” (a term that I learned from Anna, my British friend who lives in Lyon). So thank you!
Day 7: Start packing
With the l intense research and evaluating I did in those past three days—I also think I had a little lack of sleep—I decided to take it slow on Day 7 and just start packing.
Day 8: Go to bank, exchange money, buy last minute things, charge electronics, and continue packing
Nothing too fancy here.
Day 9: Do last minute things and go to the airport
My flight today was in the afternoon, so I had the whole morning to do some last minute things. I packed my toiletries, made an emergency contacts document for my parents outlining the addresses and phone numbers of each place I’m staying at, and printed my itinerary and other booking documents.
Sherry drove me to the airport today to send me off. We had a frosty, chicken nuggets, and bacon poutine—c’mon, I need my little Canadian fix—before I went through the security check-in. I was telling Sherry how with everything packed and everything booked, it didn’t feel like I was going to Europe yet. This week was so hectic and busy that I totally forgot to be excited for the trip. Even on the plane right now, it doesn’t feel real yet.
Day 10 Update: I made it to London!
Other things I forgot to mention while writing this post on the plane
Before I bought the round-trip plane tickets to London, I made a rough budget. Always a good idea.
I didn’t do extensive research on attractions I wanted to see in each city and make a daily schedule, which stressed me out. I usually research things I want to see in a city before I go there. I met up with a friend this past week, expressed how anxious I was to her, and she told me to just look up attractions the day before I arrive in a new city. Well, I ain’t got time, so I guess that’s my only choice!
Another thing that stressed me out was not knowing how the public transportation worked in each city. Usually, I would study subway maps of cities and check out roughly how to get to each thing I wanted to see. After arriving in London, my British friend Jasmine called their subway system “the tube” and it took me some time to realize that she meant the subway, haha. You learn as you go.
Good luck to everyone who’s planning a trip!