European vacation planning

I'm noticing a pattern, essentially I only blog now after I've gone on long trips. I guess you could say that I should have tried to blog about the restaurants I eat at or events I've gone to but I don't exactly have a smashing social life. Also, there are better food blogs out there.

So back to the core of this blog post which is that I went on a vacation in London, Paris and Rome! Trust me, this was a long time coming and in fact it took me nearly a decade to convince hubby to go for it. Once we both reached a certain age, I felt that we really had to pull the trigger on this or else we'd be too old and won't have enough stamina to visit all the places we wanted to visit.

Even though this trip was mostly for me, I wanted to detail how we planned it so that if any of my readers, however minuscule that number is, would like to do the same things at least you'd have a sort of guide.

Where do you want to go?

First and foremost, you've got to decide where exactly you want to go. I definitely wanted to go to Rome. Not only do I love Italian food but there's also the Vatican, the Colosseum and lots of other sightseeing options there. Hubby on the other hand, proclaimed that we had to put London on our itinerary as well because if we were going on a trip then there had to be something in it for him. In his case he was very interested in some historical war museums such as the Tank Museum in Bovington and the RAF museum in London. "But wait!" you'll say, "I thought you went to Paris also?" Uh, yes we did. I'll get to that part...

How long should your trip be?

Now, after you've established where you want to go you will need to decide how long you want to spend in each country or city for that matter. Ask anyone and they will have a ton to say about what to do, where to go and what to see. However, never forget that you get to decide on this trip and you should do a cost-benefit comparison. Yes I did just say do a cost-benefit comparison because this is going to cost a lot of money. You want to have a trip that is long enough so that your airfare doesn't go to waste but you don't want it too long or you'll spend all your money *cough*

One route to take is to have a travel agent arrange it for you. They can book your flights, hotels and tours. All you'd need to do is give it a cursory glance and get your checkbook or credit card out. The reason we did not do this is because though Rome can have a standard itinerary, London's war museum focused one is not something a lot of people want to do. I felt it was better to be fully in control and not be reliant on someone else. Also, I'm sure we'd save a lot of money. I was able to do this because I had a lot of time on my hands and technically planning is my job.

We identified that two weeks worth of vacation was feasible and 5 days in London would do the trick for Hubby so that I could plan the rest in Italy.

Visa requirements

Now, if you're a Filipino like me, you need to get 2 visas unfortunately. You will need a UK visa for London and a Schengen visa for Italy. You can get more information on each country's website but the pertinent information here is that you can only apply for your visa application starting at 3 months before your trip. This means you need the tickets for your visa application. For some people this gets tricky because why would I pay for tickets when I don't even know if I'll get a visa? For our part, we've had our share of travel and have had visas already for other countries so we took a risk and bought our tickets at an airline sale.

Once we had our tickets, I commenced compiling our requirements for our visa applications. I used Google sheets to make a visa application tracker. I suggest you do the same :)

Visa application

I have nothing but praise for the VFS visa service because we got our UK visa in 6 days. It was even delivered to our home for an extra fee. However, the VIA visa service for Italy was a nightmare. They actually say on their site that you don't need to set an appointment and there is a walk-in line. I thought maybe they were extra efficient so we opted to just walk in. It was horrible. We maybe fifth in line and watched as the people ahead of us allow other people to cut the line. Not just one or two but sometimes around 5 people for each person ahead of us. We complained to the guy at the entrance and he shrugged saying that these people used a travel agency. I was aghast. Then we noticed that even with those who cut we should be 15th in line but the number he gave us was 28!! In short, he even saved some slots for other people. That was the last straw and we walked out.

Hubby was furious and muttering about it being a scam and I agree. However we already  booked our ticket with a return flight from Rome so we needed to figure out if we'd pay for the premium visa application. I checked and it would cost 3k which is not something I want to pay these inefficient schmucks. Then I realized that VFS also services the French embassy and that it didn't matter where you got your Schengen since it covers multiple countries. That's when I suggested we enter through Paris and Hubby agreed. I had to redo the itinerary and visa application I made and reduce the number of days in Italy in order to have a majority in Paris but it did mean we visited an extra country that others told me was the most romantic city in the world. Since it was VFS, the visa application process was painless and best of all we got a 1 year Schengen!!

For my next blog I will talk about how I created our itinerary.

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