September Vacation: Prelude

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After a two week temporary assignment on a tropical island, I went back to work for two weeks prior to leaving for a long vacation.  Life is rough.  There was a little bit of concern with delayed official approval of my vacation and potential for hurricane disruption but in the end, I was set to go.

Parts of this vacation has been planned for the past year.  My parents-in-law decided to rent a villa on the Umbria-Tuscany border in Italy for a week.  SMS and I decided to plan a large vacation around it.   Ours plans ultimately coalesced around a European road trip in a Porsche Cayman 718.  I know, this is the year of ultimate road trips!  We decided to start in Germany, travel to Lichtenstein, explored the Romansch area of Switzerland, enjoy a week in Italy, head East towards Slovenia and, finally, end up in Germany for the last few days.  Although there are many aspects of this vacation that feel completely luxurious, one of the nicest is having such an extended vacation.

I really enjoy pre-trip planning and this trip was no exception.  Packing-wise, I was limited to a carry-on so I was really careful to pack items in a capsule-wardrobe style.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job at covering most situations, including two dressier items that I haven’t worn yet but I think will be good for Slovenia and Berlin.

Our lodging is a mix of Italian villa, AirBnB and a few hotels.  Transport is taken care of although I had to learn about vignettes, pre-pay toll stickers that are required for our itinerary in Switzerland, Slovenia and Austria.   Italy has toll booths along the autostrada.  Germany and Lichtenstein did not have tolls.

I did a fair bit of research with some last minute curveballs thrown in.  The biggest was SMS’ return ticket is cancelled due to the airline’s insolvency.  What?!?  Another smaller issue was that I mixed up the villa check-in date so I quickly booked an AirBnB for Cinque Terre.  As you will read, that was more of a driving adventure than I realized (or wanted, really).

I also thought I’d try to keep up with the blog since I didn’t for the Switzerland trip and that took a year to transcribe from my notes and post.  So far, failing grade but let’s see what I can do over the next few days.  I’ll also go back and edit these posts since SMS brought his big camera and I should have some nice pictures when we return.

Five Trip Planning Tips

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Trabi Safari (image source)

So…I didn’t really have anything planned for this weekend so I decided to plan our September European Trip.  I am so excited!!!  SMS and I will vacation with his family for a week in Italy.  A few days before and a week after, we’re going to travel around Slovenia and Germany.   I am so excited!!  Wait, I just typed that but really, it is true!

I thought I’d write out a few tips for the planning process as well as list some resources (read: blogs) that I’m digging right now.  You can find the blogs on the updated Trip Planning tab.

  1. Create a system.  My current M.O. is to make a spreadsheet with various headers and tabs to keep me organized.  I’m not sure if I ever would have thought of this pre-SMS but he has converted me into (somewhat) loving Excel/Numbers (Apple equivalent).  Since I failed a genetics lab report in college due to my inability to comprehend Excel, it took a lot for me to give it a second chance.  I’ve also made an email folder in my Gmail account for all trip related emails.
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    Here are my current columns: Date, Time Activity, Location, Travel Time, Lodging, Notes.  The notes column can get a little hodge-podge but it works for me.

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    Here are my current tabs.  The itinerary is my main go-to for now.  As the time approaches, I’ll probably copy my reservation info from various programs (email, AirBnB, etc) into the spreadsheet.  My to-do list is in use.  The packing list I’ll make really close to departure and use it the night before (when I’m packing, haha) to try and help me not forget anything.
  2. Travel blogs are great.  This time around, I’ve mainly looked at the ones I’ve used in the past but then looked at the comments section.  I’ve found a lot of treasures and amazing tips from expats/locals who comment on posts featuring places we’d like to go.  My favorite so far is the Trabi Tour we’re going to take in (former East) Berlin!  Trabis are the old taxicabs and we’ll ride caravan-style with our guide leading the way, directing us via instructions transmitted through the radio.  Yeah!  I never would have found this without getting lost in the travel blogger interwebs!
  3. If you have a credit card with an associated travel service, give it a try!  I have an AmEx and I’ve been really impressed with the website.  I booked my flight through it in order to get more points.  I also booked a hotel where we’ll get a $75 credit for services/food during our stay.  [And heck, even though I only have two readers on a good day, if you want me to email you a referral link, let me know!  We will both win with extra points!  AmEx will also waive their fee for active duty.  If you’re interested in more info, my friend Andy has a great blog The Military Frequent Flier]
  4. I think this means I’m getting older, but I like using some of the more established Travel sites to get an overview of the area.  Fodor’s has really solid itineraries.  I found a great one in Toyko a few years ago and, currently, it’s been really helpful to make sense out of the different Italian regions.  The Italian provinces are somewhat large and cities can be a little farther apart than I would expect given their location in the same province.  Also, I’m really worried about ruining any cool kid cred I may have, but Rick Steves has excellent area overviews.  I’d be hesitant to follow one of his tours exactly because you’re likely to have a lot of company but it’s a good reference.
  5. Two words: Google. Flights.  This will search all airlines (except Southwest) and find the best fares.  You can also track prices for your itinerary which can help you take advantage of any significant drops in price.  It will also look for multi-airline flights which can occasionally help me save big (e.g. our Austin trip, I took one airline there and another back which saved me about $200).

Ok, that’s all I’ve got.  Don’t worry, I’m looking forward to Summer and all the fun events between now and the September trip but I have so much fun planning that it’s really been a treat!