It is hard for me to believe that it took me this long to plan a trip out of the country. I guess I have always been intimidated by the long plane flights, but planning the first trip and the trip itself turned out to be a breeze. Here are some tips that I discovered.
Travel Agent or No Travel Agent?
While I consider myself a savvy travel planner I was completely overwhelmed as I began to research our trip to Germany and Italy. I found myself second guessing everything from plane reservations to hotel rooms. Not to mention the decision about how to get from one country to the next. It was a huge help (an relief) when I consulted with Susan from Twin Horizons Travel. She had been to both countries and gave great advice about location of hotels and travel reservations. She was able to suggest routes as well as pick the best coach seats on the plane. She explained that we would want to be on the side (two seat) rows rather than the 5 seats crammed in the middle. This is common sense but I never would have even considered it and it made a huge difference when we were on the long flights. Susan was also very helpful when we were on the trip and needed support. For example we called her when we had a hotel issue in Rome and she quickly made a reservation in a different hotel.
Planes, Trains or Automobiles
Since we were traveling from Berlin, Germany to Rome, Italy to Monterosso, Italy and the back to Rome for our flight home, the travel arrangements within Europe were very important. We found the subway system in Berlin to be easy, cheap and convenient. We were able to get everywhere we need to go with minimal research. To get from Berlin to Rome we considered a train but instead found a cheap flight that was about an 1 1/2 hours. This also worked well except for the car ride from the Rome airport during which the driver topped 105mph and had a minor fender bender. (The stories about drivers in Rome are true!). Most of the travel within Rome was by foot with a couple of cab rides (only when we were tired).
Traveling from Rome to Monterosso (and back) we opted for the train. This trip required one stop and took about 4 1/2 hours. This was a good way to travel, however make sure you know what you are doing, read all of the rules and know your connections. The Rome train station was overwhelming and finding help was difficult. Luckily we were very early and had time to sort it all out but we spent about 30 minutes wandering around and looking lost.
We opted for personal tour guides in both Berlin and Rome. These were highly knowledgeable individuals who guided only our groups. This was more expensive than a standard bus or group tour but turned out to be amazing and one of the highlights of the trip. Both guides were able to navigate the crowds and provide insights that we would not have had in a larger tour. The ability to ask questions and talk about history as well as the local culture was a definite benefit. (See my description of each tour guide for more info) We did try the walking audio tours at the Coliseum and the Parthenon. These were helpful and gave some basic information but were very lacking when compared to the live tour guide.