How I planned my recent trip to Europe

Planning for a trip? Taking your family? And you want to take your camera as well? This blog post discusses planning a trip that hits most of the sweet spots, making sure the family is cared for as well as your photographic desires.

Some people find trip planning to be difficult, others find it to be easy.

I enjoy planning trips. I am in the group that finds it easy. The trick is to not pack in too many things to do.

I had the opportunity this summer to plan such a trip. My daughter, after spending a year in South Korea having taught English asked to visit Europe. She had a two-week window before returning state-side to begin graduate school.

This was an opportunity for the family to visit Europe after some 30 years. I knew immediately that I wanted to visit Italy having visited there while living in Spain. And I wanted to visit Spain and relive some old memories. I lived in Spain for two years while in the Air Force 30 years ago.

My daughter, added to the short list of countries to visit adding Portugal. I had never visited Portugal during my years in Spain, and to be honest, I wasn’t all that excited to visit.

As I was to find out, I assumed it would be too like Spain to “stand on its own.” As it turned out, I was glad she suggested going. Portugal is very different from Spain although they are neighboring countries.

Time for Photography?

As a landscape photographer, I was torn. Either I planned the kind of trip I knew I should plan versus the kind of trip I wanted to plan.

This trip would not provide me landscape photography opportunities. This trip would be more cultural as we were not visiting famous landscapes. Instead, we were visiting cities and cultural sites. This made my photography more travel than landscape, which is something I am still learning to do.

I made the decision early on that the primary purpose of this trip was to spend time with my family. As well as reconnecting to some places I enjoyed visiting 30 years ago. But, I reasoned, I could also use the trip to reconnoiter for future landscape photography trips.

As I live in Phoenix Arizona, any trip to Europe isn’t something one can do over a weekend. But this trip enabled me to have a better idea of places to photograph when I return for some landscape photography.

Trip Planning!?!?!

The first part of the planning was to establish dates. The second planning task was to figure out what countries and cities to visit. And the third planning task was to plan what to see in those locations.

Trip Planning: When to Go

For us this was easy. We had a three-week period between when our daughter could leave South Korea and when she needed to be school.

For other folks and for other trips I have taken, the timing of a trip may depend on when it is the cheapest time to go. I have found that planning trips three to six months out or during off-seasons is best on the wallet. One can find the best pricing for airfare and hotels.

Whatever you choose, you need to know when you will be going and for how long.

The “when” part will help you determine what is available to you for visiting. As well as how to dress for the visit. Summer dress in Italy is different than winter dress. Northern climes even much more so.

As this trip was tied to my daughter’s schedule, we needed to visit in August. This is not the best time to visit! We were in Italy, Spain, and Portugal in the first weeks of August.

If you are familiar with traveling in Europe, July and August are big holiday months. It seems that whole countries shut down and go on holiday. And as such, it is also prime travel season, so the rates tend to be higher.

In both Italy and Spain, it was noticeable – with many restaurants and stores closed for the month. We didn’t notice it too much in Portugal.

It also is the hottest part of the year for both Italy and Spain, and it was hot and muggy. Not really my ideal time to travel in Europe! But then again, I was tied to a very specific timeframe.

So, the big takeaway here is to know something about the country you want to visit. What is the weather like? Would your visit occur during a time when the locals are themselves on holiday?

Knowing this will help to better inform you what your visit may be like. And better yet, you will arrive prepared for any curve balls to your travel plans.

Trip Planning: Where to Go

As noted before, my daughter asked to visit Portugal. I found out that she saw some websites about the Sintra region of Portugal which interested her.

But the rest of the countries were up to me.

My initial list of countries was Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. But I had to drop Morocco because my three weeks became two weeks and two days. There just wasn’t enough time to do all four countries. And my daughter wanted to go to Portugal. So, I dropped Morocco for this trip with a hope for a future visit.

Once I had my list of countries, I decided that we would begin in Italy. I determined the country order as Italy followed by Spain followed by Portugal.

So I planned to fly her into Rome, and we would fly into Rome a few days later and meet up with her.

Rome became our meeting place and the first location on our itinerary. I knew Rome as I had visited Rome 30 years ago, and knew that places like the Vatican and the ruins were primary on the must see sites.

Photographs from Rome, Italy

And I knew that I wanted to visit Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast and didn’t get a chance to visit the last time I was in Italy.

And knowing my daughter loves art museums, it made the choice between Florence and Venice easier to make. I had visited Florence my last time in Italy and knew that she would love the art museums found there.

I had my places to visit in Italy figured out, Rome, followed by Pompeii then off to the Amalfi Coast, then back up north to Florence.

I also worked in some down days. Knowing we were all coming from different time zones, and that we would need some time out to adjust to being in Italy.

As to Spain, since I lived there 30 years ago, I knew I wanted to visit one of my favorite cities, Barcelona. And I knew I wanted to visit Madrid and go the Prado, Spain’s premier art museum. And Madrid is centrally located for day trips to Segovia and Toledo.

And then on to Portugal to Lisbon, with a day trip to Sintra in the plans.

I planned on a week in Italy, a week in Spain, and two days in Portugal. So I then began to figure out what to see at each location.

Trip Planning: What to See

I knew from my last trip to Rome, that visiting the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Vatican were a must see. And I knew that I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel (which was closed when I was there), and the catacombs. And I knew that all these sites would easily take up all three days of our planned time in Rome. Rome was pretty easy to figure out where to visit.

[As a side note, there will be specific information on what tours to look at signing up for in each of these locations in future blog posts]

I knew that we would have to take the train down Naples, get a rental, visit Pompeii and then head off to the Amalfi Coast. I looked at the map and decided that Priano was centrally located and would be a great place to stay to visit the area.

I then figured out that we would drive back to Naples and take the train to Florence.

Once in Florence, I knew that the Uffizi and the Academy would be necessary visits. Both are famous art museums, with the Academy featuring Michelangelo’s David. And I knew that the Ponte Veccho Bridge would be a place to visit, as well as the Cathedral church and baptistery.

Photographs of Florence, Italy

Then off to Barcelona Spain!

Having lived in Spain for two years, and visiting Barcelona at least once a month on the weekends, I felt that I knew my way around the city. So, a visit to La Sagrada Familia and Parque Guell were at the top of my list, as well as La Rambla, the Mercado, and Pueblo Español. And Barcelona is one of those cities that are a pleasure to just simply walk around!

After four full days in Barcelona, it was off to Madrid. While in Madrid we didn’t do much other than visit the Prado (yes, another art museum) and go out for tapas (for which Madrid is famous). We elected to take day trips to Segovia and Toledo instead.

Photographs from Segovia and Toledo, Spain

Segovia is the location of the Alcazar (one of several it seems). This building is one of the primary castles of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of the newly united Castle and Aragon back in the 12th century.

Toledo is a prime location to see and experience Mudijar architecture. This is an architecture with a blending of Christian, Jewish and Moorish influences. The Cathedral in Toledo also is an art museum, showing works from Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Titian among others.


We then wrapped up our time in Europe by spending a couple of days in Portugal. We based ourselves out of Lisbon, visiting the Moorish castle of St Jorge as well as walking around the old city. Our second day was spent in Sintra. There we visited Monserrate Palace as well as the National Palace and the town of Sintra itself.

Photographs from Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal


This was a pretty packed itinerary, with an attempt to fit in a lot of cultural sites as well as art museums!

I was able to take photographs. But I found that my photography focused on things I normally wouldn’t think of as subjects.

For instance, I have a whole series of images I captured at La Sagrada Familia. I loved the place 30 years ago, and with the central building completed, it is stunning place to visit. I was so enamored with the basilica that I took hundreds of photographs.

Photographs from La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Here are just a few of the photographs I of La Sagrada Familia to give you a sense of what is there. (And yes, there will be a blog post just on La Sagrada Familia and Antonio Gaudi).

I know that this is a long post. But I want to give you an idea of the general steps and thinking I went through when planning a trip from scratch. In the old days, you would go to a travel agency to put something like this together,

Now you can put a trip like this together with the help of the internet. Future blog posts will follow describing what tours I took and what websites I used to get tickets. As well as those websites I visited to learn more about the places we visited.

So, stay tuned for the rest of the story…








David Cote is a landscape and travel photographer who helps aspiring photographers develop the confidence and habits they need to improve their photography skills. If not selling photography at art shows or online, he can be found sharing his love and knowledge of photography with other aspiring photographers.

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