Euro Trip - Travel Diary
Hi there! Today I'm sharing a rundown of our recent trip to Europe. I tried to keep it concise yet informative in case anybody is looking to plan a similar trip. It's definitely a long post... So, let's just begin!
Where we went: Athens, Santorini, Milan, Venice, and Lake Como
Trip duration: 16 days
Season: Spring / May
The very first thing we did was purchase our plane tickets. We decided to use Expedia to continue adding points to our account.
• Research •
After the flights were booked, I did a little Youtube and Pinterest research to get an idea of what neighborhoods to look into for accomodations. We wanted to make sure we stayed in neighborhoods that were best for sightseeing, proximity to major train stations, etc. We did this for all cities with the exception of Athens, as we were staying with a group of friends who had luckily selected our Airbnb ahead of time.
• Booking •
Once we honed in on exactly where we wanted to stay, we started booking accommodations. Book according to your specific needs. If your plan is to do a ton of sightseeing and not spend too much time at "home" or in your room, opt for a simple and moderately priced place in a central neighborhood with access to subways or public transportation. You can also google taxi rates ahead of time to get a better idea of what type of transportation you'll be taking. In our case we only used taxis in Athens (more on that later).
We went with Airbnbs in Santorini and Milan, and a hotel (booked through Expedia) for our one night in Venice. More info about where we stayed later in the post.
I also booked our train tickets from Milan to Venice in advance as we were spending a night and had already booked a hotel room. We also wanted to make sure we took an early train there and a late train back to Milan to really milk the hours we had in Venice. You can purchase train tickets at the Milano Centrale train station as well, but I purchased them online JUST to be safe. I booked the trains through this website.
• Apps and Maps •
We downloaded a few apps and offline maps that were really helpful for planning things to do in each city and other general information.
Trip Advisor - I find it's better for international travel than Yelp.
Expedia - To keep track of our bookings and exact details. Flight numbers, etc.
Airbnb - For exact addresses and mainly to contact each host via message. This was helpful as a lot of time they had tips on how to get to and from the airport, and other useful info.
Google Translate - A basic necessity. I love the image feature where you can take a photo of a sign or menu and it will translate for you. This helped several times! Also great for logging key phrases and, of course, help with pronunciation.
Lonely Planet Guides - This app allows you to download offline guides which include maps, information about each of the cities key neighborhoods, transportation routes, and even a phrasebook to help you communicate.
City Maps 2 Go - This is the app we used the MOST. It allows you to download offline maps and create lists of things to do, places to go, etc. Each place on your itinerary gets "starred" on the map. This really helped us plan out what we were going to do each day in Milan as we grouped places and restaurants together by proximity.
Wunderground - By far the best weather app. It has tons of great reviews by travel bloggers around the world and it's known for being extremely accurate. I was slightly skeptical of this on our trip, so I actually checked this app daily and I can report that it was in fact pretty spot on... even down to the hour!
ATM Milano - This app is specific to Milan. It's their public transportation app that has tons of real time information about delays, route changes, metro statuses, etc. You can also map out your journey from point A to point B using different methods - subway, trams, bus, or even a combination of some/all.
Lastly, we used Google Maps daily - mostly as a GPS guide for walking around the city and trying to find a specific store, restaurant, etc. If you don't have international data on your phone, a trick is to map out your route while in a place where you have wifi, to save the route on your phone's app before you head out. Just know you won't be able to zoom in/out so keep that in mind when mapping out.
• Call Your Cell Service Provider •
Check with your phone company about international text/data plans. Your plan might already include that for "free" without you even knowing... which is exactly what happened to us. Thankfully we called to find out before our trip. We were able to use low-speed data and text on our phones throughout the entire trip. It wasn't flawless but a lot better than having to rely solely on wifi for internet the entire time. If not, you can ask about a temp plan for data which will cost you X amount per day. I think it's worth having, at least for one person in your travel group/couple.
Packing for a trip varies a TON, depending on your destination (weather, season, etc) and also the type of trip you're going on (exploring a city vs. lounging at a beach/pool). Obviously the goal is to plan and pack accordingly. Since this is such a grey area, I will just quickly run through some of my points and the things I learned while packing for this particular trip as lightly as I possibly could (or at least MY personal version of light packing) in 1 carry-on suitcase and 1 tote bag:
• Packing Process •
- layout all your clothing in outfits on a bed or a place where you can see them all together.
- make sure each clothing item can be mixed and matched enough to be worn at least 2x.
- edit, eliminate, and re-do the outfit layouts until you are down to the absolute bare minimum. If you're psycho like me, take pics of each outfit and make a folder on your phone so you can reference back throughout the trip.
- aim for 1 MAIN outfit per day. Then add a few night and "plan B" outfits just in case something drastic happens lol.
- clothing in neutral colors work best with 1 or 2 accent colors.
- add interest and color with accessories - they take up less space and totally change the look of a basic outfit.
- less shoes: stick with 1 or 2 "do it all" pairs that go with every single outfit.
- more underwear: pack more than you think you need
- keep your handbags simple too. 1 medium tote (for long days out or day trips), and 1 smaller crossbody purse (for nights or short outings) - both in neutral colors
- make sure your handbags have zippers and sturdy straps for security and peace of mind.
- pack thin clothing that layer well together
- bring a heavier jacket just in case. I wore my "heavy" jacket more often than I thought I would. Wear it or tie it around your waist on the plane to save space in your suitcase.
• Packing Method •
Contrary to popular opinion, I'm a fan of FLAT packing. I tried the rolling method and using packing cubes (those things every travel professional swears by) but it wasn't working out for me. After much trial and error, here's my method:
- start by filling in any weird gaps in the base/bottom of your suitcase (those awkward spots between the bars for the handles) with shoes, hair tools, and anything that doesn't wrinkle too badly, or that you don't mind having wrinkled (pjs, bodysuits, etc.) the goal is to have a nice FLAT surface to start packing on.
- lay everything out... start with heavier items on the bottom and work your way up to lighter pieces. Don't roll anything and only slightly fold to make everything fit the surface area of the suitcase. Basically, keep everything as flat as possible. As you lay things down, tuck them into the sides and corners of the suitcase.
- every couple of layers, press down on everything to really compress it and let out some air.
- pack your belt along the outer edge of the suitcase. It just lays along the sides and is less bulky than rolling it up.
- for swimwear and scarves, pack them in large ziplock bags with the air squeezed out of them - a DIY version of those space saver bags.
- if you are packing closed shoes or boots, stuff them with your underwear. Otherwise, use the ziplock method for underwear too.
- lastly, pack a few dryer sheets in the inside pocket. Great to keep things smelling fresh, and also helps with static cling.
• Don't Forget •
- external phone chargers. We packed 2 just in case, including a small lipstick sized one that fit in my smaller purse.
- universal plug adaptors
- if bringing hair tools or electric items, make sure they are dual voltage (good for both 110-120V and 220-240V). I went with this hair dryer, and this flat iron.
- keep all the chargers, cords, and plug adaptors in a pouch that's easy to grab at any time during travel days, like a backpack or your personal item - not inside your suitcase, just in case it ends up being checked.
- charge everything 100% the night before you leave to an airport or long train ride. With all the craziness before a trip, this can be easily forgotten.
In this section I'll be sharing the details about flights and accommodations, as well as highlighting some of our favorite things we did and places we ate.
Flight from Miami, FL to Athens (Air Canada, with a 3 hour layover in Montreal, CA) - Total travel time: 16 hrs
Athens (3 nights)
Slept in • this Airbnb - we were told by locals that it wasn't the best (or even safest) neighborhood, but honestly we didn't have any issues and were walking distance to the Acropolis which is amazing.
Went to • Athens botanical gardens, Acropolis and it's surrounding village called Plaka, Temple of Zeus, Parthenon
Ate at • a few super cute restaurants in the village called Plaka, but most notably a place called Orizontes Lycabettus which had great food and an incredible view of the entire city of Athen. It was more than decently priced and if you go during sunset, you can see the Parthenon lit up at night which is so beautiful.
Moved via • a local ride-sharing service called Beat. It's basically their version of Uber and works pretty much the exact same way. It was fairly priced, safe, and easy to use.
Flight from Athens to Santorini (Sky Express Airline) - Total travel time: 55 min
Santorini (4 nights)
Slept in • this Airbnb - we staying in the town called Oia, which is the northernmost town on the island. This is where that "perfect" sunset watching spot that everyone talks about is. I really wanted to have that amazing cliffside view from all the typical Santorini photos and our villa had a little outdoor patio with lounge chairs and a beautiful view of the caldera.
Went to • Perissa Beach (one of the black sand beaches), a catamaran sailing tour (100% recommend booking this tour! It was our favorite day of the entire trip.)
Ate at • the Rocabella Hotel in Imerovigli, Kyprida in Oia
Moved via • an ATV. It was so fun to explore the island this way. We rented from this company. They provided helmets and offered additional insurance options if that's something you're into. There are only a small handful of taxis on the entire island (and the distances between the main towns on the island is quite far), so we definitely recommend an ATV if you plan to spend a few days on Santorini and want to move around the island freely.
Flight from Santorini to Milan (Aegean Airlines, with 45 min layover in Athens) - Total travel time: 4 hrs
Milan (8 nights - with an overnight trip to Venice in between)
Slept in • this Airbnb - we stayed in a neighborhood called Navigli, which is near a canal district known as the Navigli Grande. This place is full of great bars and restaurants. It had a really fun vibe on the weekend nights and our apartment was also less than 1 block away from a metro station - very convenient!
Went to • Castello Sforzesco, Parco Sempione, Acquario Civico, the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Ate at • the Navigili Grande district (tons of great spots for both lunch and dinner!), Wickys Wicuisine (we ordered off the chef's table menu and had a bad experience but still think it's a place worth checking out if you order a la cart instead)
Moved via • the subway! We rode the subway literally every single day. Definitely should have purchased the weekly pass (it's worth it!).
>> Note about Milan Malpensa Airport: Because the airport is so far from the city, the standard rate for taxis to/from the airport is 100 euros. We opted for a less expensive option - a train called the Malpensa Express. It's around 13 euros per person. This train takes you into Milan and drops you off at a large station where you can then transfer to a subway line that takes you into your specific neighborhood. This was a little confusing at first but by the second day we were riding the subway like local pros. The ATM Milano app is helpful as I mentioned before. We also recommend taking the Malpensa Express train back to the airport, but be sure to check the train schedules. We had an early morning flight and decided to save some money by taking the last running train out to the airport the night before our flight. This saved us the 100 euro taxi fare, but left us with a 7 hour wait at the airport. So if you have a very early morning flight, it may even make sense to reserve a night at the airport Sheraton hotel, depending on rates. Book in advance because they were fully booked when we tried to get a room on the spot.
Venice (1 night)
During our stay in Milan, we took a 2.5 hour train ride (via Trenitalia booked here) to Venice for 1 night.
Slept in • this hotel - we decided to go big or go home in Venice since it was just one night. Our hotel was beyond incredible - in a great location, very clean, newly renovated, amazing breakfast spread, the list goes on.
Went to • St. Marks Basilica, a gondola ride, T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi (an upscale mall with a rooftop terrace which has great views of Venice)
Ate at • several trattorias and little hole in the wall spots. There's just no bad food in Venice :)
Moved via • our feet! Venice is completely walkable. On the way in we took a ferry from the train station to our hotel, but on the way out, we just walked through the entire maze that is Venice back to the train station.
Lake Como Day Trip
During our stay in Milan, we also decided to take a day trip to Como. We didnt book any trains in advance, and just went on the fly. We purchased train tickets at the Milano Centrale train station. It was about an hour train ride to the town of Como. Once there, we had lunch at a nice little spot off the lake, and then took the cable car (or funicolare) up to Brunate. Definitely recommend doing that for amazing views! You can also have lunch up there, or even hike up the mountain if that's more your jam. To be completely honest, this was near the last leg of our trip and we were pretty exhausted this day... so we didn't take any boat tours or ferry rides (our only "regret" although not really). There's always a next time!
Needless to say, we had an amazing trip... one we planned and talked about for many many months. We aren't the type to have a jam packed itinerary, so although we did schedule things to do and places to see daily, we still left some free time open for relaxing and lounging around. We also weren't "Yelp Crazy" and would often stumble into random restaurants for lunch/dinner without doing a ton of research ahead of time. All in all, I recommend traveling whatever way works for YOU - and forgetting about what you think you should be doing and seeing based on other peoples experiences. At the end of the day, it should be a fun and enjoyable experience - whether it's full of non-stop adventure, or a lot of relaxing/chilling.
Hopefully this post was helpful, inspiring, or simply just entertaining on this Monday morning! If you have any questions or additional travel suggestions/tips please leave them below.