A European Odyssey (Part I) : The Planning

What, Why, Where & How

As a helicopter pilot flying a particular type of aircraft I’m required to go to Albertville, France for Simulator Training once every 2 years. This year in Apr 2019 I combined my trip with a visit to a few cities & countries of Europe.

As is usually the case, the planning started months in advance. As the territory was totally new & unchartered for me, the research had to be immaculate to not leave scope for any surprises in a foreign land.

The trickiest part of the whole process was to figure out which places I wanted to visit, the sequence in which they should be visited, the number of days to be spent in each & the inter-se mode of transport. Having checked all these steps I would do my commute & accommodation bookings.

Since I generally find myself more inclined towards culture, art, history & architecture, I decided upon Austria & The Czech Republic. Both these countries have a rich heritage going many centuries back. Within these countries, with the help & guidance of friends & colleagues who had been there earlier, I narrowed my choices down to Vienna, Salzburg & Prague. Since I was flying in to Geneva from India on my way in & my itinerary was taking me away from my landing port, I included Amsterdam as my departure city.

SwissAir flight over Geneva
My Swiss Air flight approaches Geneva for landing

The next job was to figure out the sequence. For this I plotted all my destinations on http://googlemaps.com to co-relate them geographically. That gave me a very good idea of my route planning. Since I was beginning my trip from Geneva on completion of the Simulator Training, I decided to head to Vienna first, followed by Prague, then Salzburg & finally to Amsterdam.

The Swiss-French border


View from the helicopter simulator
A computer generated view of the terrain from the simulator cockpit

For step 3 of the planning process, I got onto http://tripadvisor.com to find out the points of interest in each city which directly gave me an idea of how many days I wanted to spend in each. I wanted to restrict myself to the main attractions which satisfied my interests without getting lost in the myriad other offerings of those places. Thus Vienna was allocated 3N/4D, Prague 2N/3D, Salzburg 1N/2D & Amsterdam got 3N/4D again. Within these I booked myself the different tours on http://viator.com that I wanted to take & made date-wise reservations for other attractions.

Now came the most confusing part of inter-city/country commute. The visa was not a problem as one common Schengen visa would suffice for all these countries. Europe is so efficiently & beautifully connected by all means of transport that it can really leave one confused! If air travel saved time, it wouldn’t offer the pristine views of the countryside that a rail or road travel would provide. On the other hand, road/rail travel didn’t offer as many options in timings as those available by air & would also be more time consuming. I also wanted to begin & end my journeys during daylight hours rather than reaching an unfamiliar city in a foreign country after dark.

Here I have to acknowledge my heartfelt gratitude to http://rome2rio.com for being of paramount help. The website lists out all the available options for travel between any two points right down to the flight, train or bus numbers with their schedules! After much head-breaking on the issue & working out the various permutations & combinations I decided to fly from Geneva to Vienna, take a train from there to Prague, a bus further to Salzburg & then a night train to Amsterdam. For train travel I hit upon another gem called http://seat61.com which gave out all the available options, their timings, coach configurations & various other recommendations.

This done, I booked my air ticket from Geneva to Vienna. For the two train journeys that I’d be doing, I explored the option of buying a Rail Europe visit pass. But since I had a pretty set itinerary I figured out that making individual point to point train bookings was working out much cheaper than buying a flexible Rail Europe pass. For the bus journey I again took the help of Rome2rio.com.

Now the last part was to find myself cheap but reasonably decent accommodation. Of late I have been experimenting with staying in hostels when travelling solo. This not only cuts down my accommodation budget drastically thus saving me money, but also affords me a place to stay bang in the city centre which would otherwise cost me a bomb in a hotel in the same area! Further, the city centres are also always well connected by intra-city train, bus & tram routes & so you also save on expensive cab fares when sightseeing. So for hostels I looked up http://booking.comhttp://hostelworld.com & worked out the various choices available. Personally speaking I prefer the former as for most properties it gives you an option of a ‘book now pay later’ facility which gives you a certain amount of flexibility till the last moment. I now created more city-wise maps on google pinning the locations of the train/bus stations, the main attractions I wanted to visit & the hostels in that area. I carefully went through the reviews of the same, the inclusions/exclusions & other residential policies.

Having been a suitcase traveller for all my life, I now wanted to break free from that bondage & live the truly liberal life of a backpacker. I found myself one from the Decathlon store in Delhi which opened up like a suitcase while at the same time had multifunction pockets & compartments & could be carried on the back like a rucksack. With this freedom of mobility, I could choose my hostels at a walkable distance from the train/bus stations.

With all this done, I created an Excel file where I put down all the details in sequence, created folders for my flight/train/bus tickets & reservation confirmations for the tours & attractions that I wanted to take or visit. I was now ready to embark on my journey 🙂


To summarise, I followed this planning sequence :-

Step 1 – Decide the destination countries/cities based on interest.

Step 2 – Decide the order in which its most feasible to visit them.

Step 3 – Decide on what all you want to see/do in a particular place. Make bookings.

Step 4 – Now you also know how many days to allocate to each.

Step 5 – Decide the mode of transport for travel from one to the next. Make bookings.

Step 6 – Book accommodation.

Step 7 – Create an Excel file or note down all the details in a diary as a ready reckoner.










To be contd…



  1. A practical guide for any travel, not only Europe. Worth keeping this as starting reference material if planning a trip. Beautifully written, thank you so much.

  2. Very meticulous….. Iam sure that with such detailed planning the trip would have gone well. The list of URLs is very useful. Any such resource for domestic travel planning?

    1. Thanks Arvind 🙂
      For domestic trips I mainly use Tripadvisor for research on the place, things to see, accommodation listings etc. After having shortlisted the stay I then check those options out on booking.com to compare the rates. Sometimes I even call the proprties directly to check if they were offering a better rate. For flight bookings I check the schedules & prices on Expedia, shortlist the flights & then again check them on individual airlines’ websites. A little tedious procedure, but satisfying at the end 🙂

  3. Flixbus. Com is another option to travel between cities in europe esp the night bus. I travelled during night in these buses from one city to another thus saving hotel charges for night and saving travelling time. The buses are comfortable to sleep and have attached toilet to relieve yourself. Hostel.com is another good place to stay.

    1. Thanks buddy! I’ll check out fixbus on my next Europe trip. And yes travelling by night does save you a lot on hotel stays. As regards hostel reservations, one can book either thru hostels.com or booking.com. The only problem with the former is that they don’t give you a ‘pay at the last minute’ flexibility & so you’re pretty much tied up once you make the payment upfront.

  4. Such meticulous planning….
    Yours detailed description of every step may serve as a very good guideline for anybody who wants to travel these places. Thanks.

  5. Superb! You’ve made it so convenient for your readers with meticulous guidelines that whoever plans such a trip in the future would definitely have a hassle free and enjoyable experience.

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