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Ultimate European Road Trip Series – Part Two – The Itinerary

We began this adventure with Part One of the series by selecting and purchasing a Porsche Macan S for our road trip of a life time. This segment focuses on building an itinerary that challenges both the car and ourselves while maintaining our slow travel mantra… what is the hurry… be inspired.

Planning the Road Trip

This is going to be our longest adventure to date consuming the entire month of September while driving a new car through four countries… but what a journey it will be! The actual planning of any excursion requires a lot of thought and research as you are investing both time and money for that “special” experience… so build that inspired travel itinerary!

Our favorite time to visit Europe is in early September… the weather is usually perfect and the crowds go away since “vacation time” is over and most schools are back in session. With fewer travelers the flights, and housing options are usually more flexible and negotiable too.

An added wrinkle this year is that the Euro / Dollar exchange rate is so favorable to the USD that more American tourists are heading for the continent so things such as flights and housing options are a bit competitive.

The three most important criteria in this phase are selecting a destination city, determining the number of driving hours between way points, and finally deciding if a vacation rental makes more sense than booking a hotel.

Destination City

One of the most important points of any vacation adventure is to simply understand why you are even going there in the first place. A destination city must offer abundant points-of-interest, an interesting history, culinary options (i.e. Michelin Star rated restaurants) or extraordinary museums to explore – whatever you believe to be important enough to justify the time and expense to get there.

Besides what is in the city be sure to include what is around the location. The proximity to special day trip/side trip sites can have a positive impact. In our case think castles and mountains and lakes and seaside villages… short drives and returning to a familiar place is a big plus.

On this trip we decided to select the more scenic routes and the small, less congested cities as we deliberately avoided as many large cities as possible. An added “must have” is to find a secure parking place or garage at each of our selected lodgings… yes it was simply new car paranoia.

Number of Drive Hours Between Destination Cities

Our go-to driving aides consist of a Garmin GPS, the app “ViaMichelin”, and a really good quality old fashion paper map. Using your smartphone device while on the road is very expensive and subject to a provider’s coverage while the Garmin does not require data roaming charges. WIFI is your friend so do trip updates and searches in your hotel/vacation rental and use a GPS on the road.

Think about the drive time between locations and how much you want to spend in a car… new or not that can get old fast. We use a general rule of thumb… the longer the drive segment the longer the destination stay.

So now you are armed with a few tools so list your selected cities, and plot your course.

Vacation Rental or Hotel Booking

Suggestion one… Vacation rental or hotel? As a rule of thumb if you are staying for more than three nights a vacation rental is the way to go… better value for the dollar and much larger quarters to stretch out and relax.

Suggestion two… When selecting vacation rentals or hotels there are a few key things to take into consideration. Always check the reviews either from the rental’s site (HomeAway is pretty accurate) or the hotel’s site (TripAdvisor also maintains accuracy). A place with no reviews throws a big red flag and you should look elsewhere. If no one took the time to write one… that says a lot.

Suggestion three… Look carefully at all the pictures (they must have pictures or another red flag). Look out for photos with “rounded edges” which usually indicates a fish-eye lens was used to make a small room appear larger. Also look for quality bedding and towels… cheap stuff looks cheap! That sets the tone for the overall condition of the unit.

Suggestion four… Communicate with the property management and note their responsiveness as well as professionalism. Red flags get easy to spot with a little practice.

Our Road Trip Routing

Once again we were pleasantly surprised by the Porsche European Delivery Program Team. After a brief email exchange they requested our “potential” itinerary with the intent of possibly adding some unique suggestions.

Their turnaround was amazing and within 24 hours they sent us an improved itinerary with maps, driving routes with mileage notations, suggested points-of-interest, and dining and hotel recommendations… all prepared by “Porsche Travel Club” experts.

Two of their many suggestions were places that most travelers would miss. The “Grossglockner High Alpine Road” which is one of the most fascinating panoramic roads in Europe, leading 48 kilometers to the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park is an amazing addition to the Ultimate Road Trip plan.

Driving any car on this slope would be exciting… but a performance vehicle? Makes for a great side trip!

Another side trip was near Salzburg… the “Werfen Giant Ice Caves” which are the largest ice caves in the world.

We finally developed our routing through four countries and created a round trip loop beginning and ending in Stuttgart using the ViaMichelin app on our home system. Our estimated mileage is 1,300 miles and fuel / toll expense is approximately $480 USD.

In summary

We are now set with eight destination cities which includes three vacation rentals, five hotel reservations, in four countries for the month of September. We are locked and loaded with reservations, euros, a travel credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees (ie. BofA Travel Rewards), “WhatsApp” for free texting from Europe, smart phone calling plans, and most importantly a positive attitude anticipating the new and exciting adventure that awaits us.

Please follow us for Part Three of the series… The Delivery… which begins with arriving in Stuttgart to meet “Max”… yes we name our cars, too!

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2015 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

Foreign Currency – Exchanging Money For Your European Trip

With the introduction of the Euro, handling your money in Europe is a lot simpler. However, there are still some important guidelines for dealing with currency issues while abroad.

Exchange some money before you leave

Although you can typically exchange money in the airport when you arrive in Europe, it is best to have some Euros before you leave. What if your flight is delayed and you arrive after the airport bank is closed? Or, what if you are starving as soon as you get off the plane and want to pick up a quick snack before dealing with money exchange?  Most local banks can easily exchange dollars for Euros. Having 50-100 Euros in your pocket upon arrival will start your trip off stress free (see the next section for the reason not to exchange all of your money ahead of time).

Use your ATM and credit cards

Travelers checks are a thing of the past! The easiest way to exchange money in most European countries is to simply use your Visa or Mastercard. You will almost always get the best exchange rate when you take money out of an ATM or pay directly with a credit card when you are in Europe. The reason is that banks usually give the best exchange rates to each other, so the this automatic transaction will typically cost you less than going to a money exchange kiosk. Make sure to call your bank ahead of time to ensure that your ATM pin will work in the countries where you are traveling – it us typically best to have a standard 4-digit pin. Current guide books should alert you to any concerns with using cards in specific countries.

Study up

Picture it: Paris, 2001. I had just gotten off an overnight train from Madrid to Paris and…well…I really had to use the restroom! I ran over to the toilette, only to be stopped by a surly french woman telling me that I had to fork over some money to use the facilities. Furiously searching through my purse, I kept pulling out random coins while the woman shook her head. I had no idea which of these foreign coins would comprise the cost of using the bathroom. Although life is a little easier now that many European countries use the same currency, it is still worth taking a few minutes to review the coins and bills ahead of time

Alert your financial institutions

The last thing you want to deal with on your trip is a declined credit card. Make sure to call your bank and credit cards ahead of time to give them a list of countries where you will be traveling. That way, if the company starts seeing many large transactions in a foreign country, they won’t be tempted to deactivate your card for security purposes.

Know the conversion rates

While you’re on your trip to Europe, you’ll want to have a good idea of how much you’re really spending. This is hard to do if you don’t understand the currency conversion between Euros (or whatever currency is used in the countries you are visiting) and your own country’s currency. A good plan is to review the basics before you leave.  Let’s assume that you are from the U.S. and you will be using the Euro on your trip. First, visit a currency conversion site, such as  http://finance.yahoo.com/currency, and determine what one Euro is worth in dollars. At the time of this writing, 1 Euro = 1.34 U.S. Dollars. So, for every Euro you spend, it will actually be about 30% more in dollars. Then get a few more Euro denominations, such as 10, 20, 50 and 100, and note their dollar equivalents. Write them on a small piece of paper and carry it your wallet. That way, when you’re thinking about buying the Italian leather shoes that cost 100 Euro, you can quickly check and remind yourself that you’re actually spending $134.

Explore Manchester on Your Euro Trip

Manchester is not only renowned for its football club but it is also a beautiful city to be visited on your  Euro   Trip . Football is the sport’s original name that the United States now calls Soccer. If you are passing though the United Kingdom on your recreational trip, don’t miss this wonderful and charming city. It is among the oldest cities of the world and has significance in history. This is the city which ignited and initiated the industrial revolution back in 20th century.

The fun starts upon your arrival to the city. Guided walking and open top bus tours are quite enjoyable for the visitors. A cruise around the Castle field is a recommended activity for visitors. There are some activities which are associated with that particular area and Cruising around the Castle field is one of them. It is a scenic way to travel around this part of the city. Concorde, one of the greatest planes of aviation history is at display in Aviation Viewing Park in the Manchester Airport. This aviation park can be visited as well as other places in Manchester. When you are in Manchester, make sure to visit Bridgewater Hall if there are concerts. Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, Printworks Leisure Complex, Fairfield Moravian Settlement and Barton Swing Aqueduct, are among the places which need to be visited during your visit to Manchester.

During your stay in Manchester, you will definitely need a car and what is more suitable than renting a car in Manchester on a cheap rate. Hiring a car will bring convenience to your trip. It is a general perception that renting a car will be more costly but in fact it saves your transportation cost. There are many places worth seeing in and around Manchester which should be visited. Your rented car will be the most suitable option to cover all the places around Manchester. Bugsworth Basin, Imperial War Museum North, Old Trafford, Salford Quays and Brownhill Countryside Centre are the other famous tourist spots. It is never a good idea to miss any of the tourist resorts once you are on a recreational trip. Before leaving Manchester, do spend an evening on Canal Street. It will make your trip memorable. If you have started your trip from Manchester, you have the rest of Europe to discover. Your rented car will save you money and bring some luxury to your trip. 

Planning a Euro Trip

Are you planning a Euro trip? Are you aware of the multitude of formalities that need to be done for getting a visa and then booking hotels and arranging for local conveyance? First, the visa process can be cumbersome if you are unaware of the rules for the Schengen visa. This is a type of Visa that lets you travel all over Europe without having to take a visa for each country that you visit separately. Though this sounds convenient, in practice, getting the Schengen visa is a formidable task if you do not know which country you should use as your port of entry to Europe. For instance, getting the visa from the French consulate can be easier than getting the visa from, say, the Dutch embassy. Hence, you need to choose the port of entry carefully and plan your trip accordingly.

Once you have sorted out the visa formalities, it is time for you to plan your itinerary in such a way that you cover all the places that you want to visit in your tight schedule. This is possible as travel within Europe is easy by rail or air and depending on the budget that you have, you can choose either way. Be assured that travel by rail is not cumbersome. On the other hand, it is one of the most pleasant experiences you can have in Europe. And as for you accommodation, there are enough hotels and motels that provide affordable lodging and complementary breakfast as well. Since, tourists usually spend the day outside the hotel, they can always find food at reasonable rates and this would ensure that you do not spend much on food and your stay.

When planning a Euro trip, you should pick and choose the places that you would want to visit carefully. Europe is full of delights and surprises and hence judicious selection should be your norm. For instance, you cannot leave Paris or Amsterdam out of your trip but may have to make do without visiting Switzerland (more so since it does not come under the Schengen visa). Cologne or Frankfurt are optional but better not to miss. As for London and the UK, it is a different story altogether as these can be the basis for an entirely separate trip. All in all, you should probably concentrate on spending a day or two at each place and tour the countryside as well. As they say, “Europe is God’s own country”.