Monday, June 30, 2014

The intro to our European Independent Travels

The planning must be done meticulously base on your budget
This posting is about our independent travels around Europe during last Easter holidays (April 5 – 14 2014). The write-up is only a basic guide, written and expressed through my personal experience when we (my family and I) were traveling in our car (driving) to 6 different European countries recently.

Before completing the journey, my references were basically collected from recent experience traveling by air and cruise to European cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Istanbul in Turkey. Other main references included the internet and word-of-mouth from other friends who have been through the same experience previously. It may not be a comprehensive guide, but would suffice if you are a novice traveler.

Included are some important guides for Muslim travelers in finding halal food or suitable hotel locations where you can get access to halal stores, restaurants and eateries or hotels with cooking facilities (or at least ones that offer boiling water facilities, i.e. kettles, coffee/tea/self service).
It's not difficult to find halal food if you know how

By saying independent travels it means you get to plan and set where you wanna go or which country you’d like to visit and the best thing about it is that it can be adjusted within your budget constraint. In a way independent travels help you save cost as much as possible as you are not paying for any tour guide or agency. But if you are really not familiar with the countries in Europe, this independent guide will also try to help you figure out where to go in Europe (which may or may not be the best place of your choice), how to get there  including tips to find the safest and cheapest way to get around.

So, basically this guide is about planning, coordinating and time managing your travels and journeys. By planning and time managing your travels it also means planning it well and early so that you can save time on all your journeys and start to enjoy sightseeing the places you plan to visit and so that you get great bargains with cheap but good hotel rates.

By planning early, it must also be real early - as far as a year ahead so that by 6 months into your real journey you are ready to decide which country, which city and which part of the country or city you want to go visit or stay. After which you can already shorlisted the hotels you want to stay at and start to make online bookings.

The hotel bookings made, printed and compiled
So, within the three months before the journey starts you must have finished making all the necessary hotel bookings and are completely ready to anticipate or prepare other things that you might have missed out like bringing extra amenities that can help ease your travels such as other European currencies, travels adapters, electric blankets if you are traveling in the cold seasons/up north or even electric kettles and small rice cookers.

Remember, not every European countries accept the Euro. The Euro € is the official currency of the euro zone, which consists of only 18 of the 28 member states of the European Union (EU). But if you plan to go to Switzerland, many parts of the Swiss only accept Swiss Franc (CHF) and some parts of Turkey only deals with Turkish Lira (TRY).

Nevertheless, the use of debit or credit cards affiliated to internationally recognized and established names like Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America and such are well accepted. But be prepare to pay the extra charges.

And the most important thing about planning, coordinating and time managing is that it can help you avoid making mistakes that can result in unnecessary stress and significant additional expenses if anything goes wrong.
Bring along your electric kettle and small rice cookers. They can help keep your food budget low
      Planning – You have to have a storyboard or itinerary of your travels. Plan well where you wanna go, what to do there, where to stay and to make sure the place/s you are staying are near to amenities, convenience stores and places to eat, especially if you have constraints on food choices such as consuming only halal food or a vegetarian. Bringing along canned food, noodles, rice and cooking utensils like kettle and small rice cookers can help keep your food budget low especially if you are traveling in a family or a large group. But be sure the place you are staying has cooking facilities. 

     Coordinating – by coordination it means having another person(s) to travel with and share ideas and responsibilities on the planning of the journey. You as the main planner should get him/her to help in to synchronize ideas and integrate responsibilities of activity. For example if you are driving on your travels, you need a navigator or map reader and that he/she will be the added pair of eyes for details such as speed limit warnings, finding gas stations, toilets locations or places you have missed on your earlier planning. In this case the coordinator/navigator should also make him/herself available as a second driver in case the main driver falls sick, tired or sleepy.
Stopping for breakfast at rest areas along a highway in Luxembourg

      Time management – this is very important as you have to plan how many hours of the day you would be driving to reach your destination, and anticipate the time needed for stops and rest or visit the places on your itinerary. Since you already made hotel bookings at the places of your visit, you must reach there on a timely manner so that you can have some rest or you would likely miss your next itinerary. For example, if you start to drive at 9.00am in the morning to reach a city in your itinerary, you need to only drive for 5 hours the most excluding breaks (ETA 2.30 pm), and then rest 1-2 hrs so that by 3.00 or 4.00pm you can start to explore the city or complete the itinerary/tour of the day. If you lag, you’d probably reach there by nightfall and there’s not much to see unless you are really there for the nightlife.

The DFDS seacruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam is a 16hr journey
In this Europe tour, we traveled by sea (cruise) and land (driving) from Newcastle-upon Tyne, England to 6 (six) EU countries starting with the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Germany and ending in Switzerland and back to England through Calais, France. The whole traveling time took us 10 days and in each city we stopped, we only stayed for one night. This is really a budget trip as there were 6 of us traveling together and at some of the cities we stayed we have to book for 2 rooms and share 3 people in one room. But for the most of our stays there were not much problem because we were in a way prepared for the worse.

The sea cruise is smooth sailing all the way to Amsterdam
Apart from the sea cruise where we slept overnight (16 hrs) to reach IJmuiden, Amsterdam, the cities that we stayed for a night each were Antwerp in Belgium, Lille in France, outskirts of Luxembourg City, Daschen and Interlaken in Switzerland, Strasbourg and Arras in France and finally reaching London on the 9th day where we stayed for another night before reaching home in Newcastle on the 10th day.

More details of the journey in my next posting, InsyaAllah.