London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, New York City, Tokyo, Athens, Prague … the list goes on. These are all major cities that millions of people travel to each year to experience the myriad of sights, sounds, cultures, and foods. Some go just to say they have been. Others go for the immersion; living among the locals. My wife and I went to do a little of both.
Our dream of traveling the world started in college, pre-wedding cake. We both went on mission trips to different parts of the world for over two-and-a-half months. She went to Thailand and I went to southeastern Europe. When we returned from our trips, we were both inspired to make this type of travel a consistent theme in our lives.
Over the course of the next few years, we visited Jamaica, Mexico, Grand Cayman Islands (via cruise ship with her family), and Costa Rica. We were glad to have gone to those places, but we wanted to go on a big overseas trip before we started to settle down, e.g. buy a house, have kids, etc. Our goal was to plan a two-week trip with a reasonable budget and visit as many places as we could. We started the process by deciding our destinations.
Aside: My wife grew up in Germany. Her family had taken her to see many European places of interest as a small kid. We would either be overlapping some places she had been or going somewhere new to both of us.
Week in and week out, we mulled over many different places. We finally landed on a few options: Amsterdam, Paris, and Italy. We chose Amsterdam for its canals lined with industrial brick-littered houses, dense Germanic culture, tulip-filled parks, and the Van Gogh Museum. Paris tugged at our hearts with its Eiffel Tower, French cuisine, Arc de Triomphe, and the famous Louvre Museum. Lastly, Italy lured us with its worldly acclaimed food genre, romantic charm, rich history, and animated culture that uses the hands for everything.
The original plan was to fly into Amsterdam and spend a few nights there. After Amsterdam, we would hop on an early train to Paris and make a stop in Brussels along the way to snag a delicious Belgian waffle for breakfast (because…waffles). We would then spend another couple of nights in Paris and hop on an overnight train to Venice, Italy, to explore a few nearby cities for the remainder of the trip.
At first, we wanted to visit all of them. We soon realized it would be too much ground to cover, and the budget would be busting at the seams from the transportation expenses alone. However, throughout the planning process we knew one thing for sure: we wanted to spend most of our time in Italy.
We racked our brains to try and figure out the best possible route to minimize costs while getting as much out of the trip as possible. After much debate, it was settled. We decided to cut everything else and embark on a grand tour of Italy. We knew exploring one country would give us a more immersive experience than crossing multiple borders. Moreover, it would give us a chance to learn a little bit of Italian instead of attempting three different languages (and yes, you do not have to learn the language to get by. I just think it is more fun when you do).
Things started to get exciting when we checked this big thing off our list. The trip was slowly becoming a reality. Our destination mystery was solved. Now we needed to start booking the travel and housing. We decided to purchase the airline tickets first; to get the best deal and also prove to ourselves that we were actually going (because when you throw down thousands of dollars on something, you tend to take it seriously). Later that week, we mapped out all the cities we would visit and bought train tickets for each leg of the journey. The last action item on our list was to find places to stay.
Luckily, we had already tried out Airbnb in prior months for the sole purpose of understanding how to best use it during the trip. We picked out a place to stay in each city and reserved them (we were surprised how cheap it was). Now that we had taken care of all the essentials, it was time for the fun part.
We had done it. We were going to Italy. It was time for the fun part: to figure out what we were going to do when we got there. We asked our friends, our family, and did research on our own. Only time would tell what would happen. We could already smell pasta in the air.
Keep your eyes peeled. Each future post in this series will highlight a single day of our journey to share the amazing things we got to do and see while there.