European Grand Tour 2.0

Delta Flight Departure

The time has come. After over two years of planning and delaying an entire year due to pandemic restrictions, we are going to Europe. As I’ve written before, my wife and I planned for an epic four-month road trip through Europe to celebrate her retirement from the military and our change of course to new careers. That was, of course, until COVID stopped the world and forced everyone to play in their local sandboxes. 

We turned the lemons into lemonade last year when it was clear Europe would not be open in time for our planned adventure and pivoted to a spectacular US road trip through some of the country’s best National Parks. It was a completely different trip than our Europe one would have been, but it was still a bucket-list trip and one I cannot encourage people to do enough. 

Once we decided to transition our focus from Europe to the US, we agreed to accomplish whatever portion of our European plan we could as soon as we could. That time is now. We don’t have the same timeline or budget as in 2021, but that doesn’t mean the trip will be any less stunning. 

With about nine weeks to play with, we are cherry-picking the most anticipated portion of our original plan and touring through Spain, southern France, and central and northern Italy. Our original plan included a short-term lease of a brand new car to drive through a fantastic program offered by Peugeot, which is still the linchpin of this trip. I can’t wait to pick up our Peugeot 308 hatchback, hit the road keeping our own timelines, and stop whenever we see a beautiful vista or charming village. 

We’ve made some significant changes to where we plan to stop on the European Grand Tour 2.0. A positive side effect of being delayed was more time reading travel blogs and learning about different areas to fine-tune our plan. We’re still hitting the big targets, Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, Florence, Milan, and Lake Como. Still, now we are spending less time lounging in one area and more time exploring some of the sites along the way. 

Destinations aren’t the only change in planning we’ve had to make. We intended to make this trip rather seat-of-the-pants and not book our next stay until we were ready to leave the current one. This was a considerable departure from my ordinarily detailed planning and something I was eager to try. However, it became clear in the last two weeks that plan was not going to work. Every time I looked at lodging options in our planned stops, the availability kept shrinking, and the prices kept rising. We are not the only pent-up travelers flooding Europe this early summer. 

I have spent the last week furiously searching credit card travel sites, Airbnb, booking.com, etc., trying to lock in the best places (that offer parking) at the lowest prices. The loss of spontaneity is something I regret, but I think it will work out just fine as I was able to reserve some charming places for us to stay. 

Our excitement has grown over the last few months as we realized it might happen this time. We take nothing for granted and have been waiting for travel restrictions to pop up and hinder our movement, but so far, so good. I’ve got my camera gear ready and will try to capture some stunning images. No propping up the leaning Tower of Pisa pics, I promise. I cannot wait to explore the history, art, and architecture of the countries we visit. 

Another significant change from our original plan is the time of year. We would have traveled the Mediterranean regions in early spring and been in northern Europe by June and July. We would’ve been lucky to see temperatures over 75 the entire trip, but not so now. We will experience temperatures in the 80s and 90s right from our arrival in Madrid, and I doubt we’ll see any daytime high under 75 degrees the entire journey. This created the need for some changes in mindset and packing. 

The type of clothing we planned to bring changed quite a bit, but somehow we still managed to fill a couple of bags each. We probably could’ve gotten away with one large suitcase and a smaller bag each (minus my camera bag, of course), but the cargo area of our hatchback isn’t exactly cavernous. We split everything up into smaller bags to make packing the car a less stressful experience. We’ll see if that plan works out when we get the car.

I’m sure we will be an entertaining sight to some locals as we schlep our bags up flights of stairs in an old building with no elevator, but that’s just part of the charm of traveling in the old world. As much as I try to be a minimalist packer, at some point, I need to accept that it isn’t in my DNA and make room for the extra pair of shoes. 

While our trip will hit many significant historical and cultural cities and sites, it will also include as many jaw-dropping winding roads as I can find. I already have day trips planned for parts of the Route Napoleon and several alpine passes on the Italian and Swiss border, where I plan to put the Peugeot’s manual gearbox and tiny diesel engine through their paces. It may not be a proper hot hatch or sports car, but it can still be driven like one, at least that’s the plan. 

Stay tuned to this blog, and my Instagram accounts for updates and photos along the way. I realize how lucky we are to go on such a long adventure, and I intend to share enough to make people feel they are along for the ride. Not to rub it in or make people jealous (travel should encourage and enlighten, not build division) but to make you feel like you’re experiencing something extraordinary and to inspire you to plan your adventure. It doesn’t matter if you have two months or one week; you can make a trip you will never forget happen with the correct mindset and a little effort. 

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