OK so it seems that nearly everyone is in Europe this year except us!
So how do we make that dreamy Mediterranean summer holiday a reality? We chatted with Maddy from Wonderlust Escapes to get all the hot tips from booking your flights to making the most of every day.
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Before we get started, tell us a bit about Wonderlust Escapes and what you do? What makes you unique to others?
Wonderlust Escapes is a boutique travel agency for laidback luxury travellers with a sense of adventure! We specialise in creating extraordinary holiday experiences to mystery destinations… Yep, you won’t know where you’re going until one week before you leave (don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds!).
Our team gets to know you and your travel preferences through a fun and easy Booking Questionnaire. Here, you set your budget and travel dates, and tell us all about your dream destinations and ideal holiday. Then, we work our magic to design an itinerary that is perfectly tailored to you and your loved ones. The best part is that we take care of all the details and planning, so you don’t have to lift a finger – all you have to do is pack a bag and jet off on your escape.
What makes us most unique, is that you won't find one-size-fits-all packages. No tired tours, or dreary itineraries. We firmly believe that the adventures you embark on should be as unique and special as you are. And the journeys we create for you are exactly that.
And can you tell us about your love for Europe, which parts you’ve visited and love the most?
Ahh, Europe. It’s such a magical place. I think my favourite thing about it is that you don’t necessarily have to “do” anything to enjoy it… The history, art, architecture, food – simply being there and taking it all in is enough.
I’ve been fortunate enough to explore most countries in Europe, during both summer and winter. Italy will always have my heart, but I’d have to say my top three must-visit places for people looking to experience a different side of Europe are:
Ljubljana, Slovenia – the most beautiful town where the locals welcome you like family, people dance in the streets, and every second shopfront is a little boutique shop or cake café. The dream.
Prague, Czech Republic – if you love history, architecture and art, this is the place to be. One of my all-time favourite cities in Europe.
Andalsnes, Norway – for the nature lovers and adventurers, this was the most spectacular and breathtaking mountain landscape I’ve ever had the joy of seeing.
Now let’s get down to it… can you run us through the steps we need to take to get us there!
How far in advance should we book?
This depends on when and where you are going, but I’d recommend at least 6 months in advance – especially if you’re planning to visit during peak season (ie. June to August for the summer, or over Christmas and New Year’s for the winter). This will make sure you have freedom of choice, instead of being limited by hotel availability.
Top tips for booking flights? When should we go?
Post-pandemic, flight fares are expensive – there’s no way around it. Keep an eye out for early bird sales and try to travel during what we call the “shoulder season”, which is the period of time before and after peak season. For example, if you want to head to Europe next year, but want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodation, consider travelling in May or September instead. The cheapest days to fly are typically midweek, so keep this in mind when requesting your annual leave!
How do I figure out where to go exactly and what’s best suited to me?
Everyone is so different, which is the beauty of travel and why I love what I do. My advice is to think about the kind of experience you’d like to have. Do you crave action and adventure? Do you love being in nature and staying active outdoors? Have you had a huge year with work and family, and just need some time out to relax and indulge? Are you a foodie whose idea of a good time is hopping from café to restaurant to bar and back? This is where we start when planning holidays for our clients. From here, you can find the best places to go to suit your unique travel style!
Accommodation, this can be so overwhelming when booking for another country, can you give us some tips?
Ohhh yes, the information-overwhelm and decision fatigue is very real. This is probably the biggest benefit our clients enjoy when booking their travel through us – no more hours wasted on research or trawling through reviews trying to work out where to stay!
I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but steer clear of cookie-cutter hotel chains. We prefer booking accommodation that’s an authentic reflection of where you are, so you can immerse yourself in the culture and experience something different than you would if you were at home. It makes all the difference.
If you are booking your own travel, look for accommodation that has lots of 4+ star reviews and is centrally located or walking distance to all the major sites and experiences you’re interested in.
Tips for budgeting and saving for a trip like this?
Budget for more than what you think you’ll need. Most hotels in Europe charge a city tax or ‘tourist tax’, some restaurants and clubs make you pay to use the bathroom, you’re expected to tip when dining out – all of these little extras really add up over the course of a few weeks, which catches a lot of people out.
A cheeky hack is finding hotels with a great buffet breakfast included, so you can eat a big brunch (and maybe keep a few extra croissants for a snack later on!). Also, keep an eye out for accommodations with great onsite restaurants that offer half-board room rates. This means breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate, which is a great way to avoid the inevitable budget blowout on food!
What other activities should we book in advance?
Visits to major tourist attractions are good to book in advance, so you can skip the queues and save on time. It’s also a good idea to organise other key experiences like boat days, private tours, theatre events, cooking classes (highly recommend in Italy!), etc. so that you can work them into your budget and itinerary.
Should we make a rough itinerary? How much should we try to cram in/not cram in!
Definitely book key things in, and have a structure for your holiday if that helps you feel organised (I’m a planner, so I need this!), but leave yourself time to be in the moment, too. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my travels is that the best experiences are often spontaneous and unexpected. If you have every minute of your trip scheduled, you might miss out on some magic.
For summer, breezy linen sets, your favourite bikini, and comfy flats! For winter, a good pair of boots and a hooded coat with a high neck will be your best friends. I also recommend a cross-body bag with a chain in the strap for added protection against pickpockets.
Do I need to learn the language?
Short answer? No. Most people speak English, especially in popular tourist spots. However, as a sign of respect, it’s a good idea to learn simple phrases like “Hello, how are you?”, “Please” and “Thank you”. If you have allergies or specific dietary requirements, practice how to explain this in the language to prevent any confusion.
Trains and coaches are a great way to get around Europe. Rail passes are super affordable, even when booking the first-class cabin.
Keep your wits about you in the big cities. There are a lot of tourist scams, so don’t accept anything from anyone and always keep your hand on your belongings.
Shoulder seasons are your friend to avoid the crowds and queues.
Choose the path less travelled (literally!) – my favourite experiences overseas have been in the most obscure places. Paris, Rome and Santorini are beautiful, but there are so many other destinations to explore that might just surprise you.
Expect nothing and embrace everything. The magic of travel is that it transports you into a different life and allows you to be completely present in the moment. We need this, especially with how busy we all are these days, so stay curious and see what happens!