We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
If you are on a budget, British Airways combination airfare and hotel deals (particularly in off seasons) are very reasonable. Since BA has the most generous carry on allowance you can bring everything for your trip without wasting time checking luggage. They have hotels from budget to luxe. Good if you are staying in one capital city like Paris and museum prowling.
The best way to see a place on a budget is to go to one city w a discount fare/hotel combo, then get a city card to get into various sights who includes transport. These are better deals in some cities than others. In some cities the pickpockets and gypsies make the subway a bad bet so you should walk everywhere or take hop on hop off busses, wh makes the transport piece less valuable. London and Copenhagen cards are fantastic deals. Madrid you just about break even. If you get a city card, carefully map out how you will get from sight o sight (the cards are time limited) without walking 20 miles in one day (as we did one day in Paris)
If you want to have fun for hours, configure a trip on European Destinations.
Another useful site is Viator, wh is a great place to find day tours, shuttles, or even a 5day bus tour of, say, Andalusia, w hotels, entrance fees, breakfast and dinner included, all for less than the hotels if you were traveling solo. If you are not a snob, you can enjoy seeing some spectacular stuff, albeit rushed, then enjoy a few days on your own in a capital city. This is a way to avoid having to rent a car which only braver souls than me will do in Eurooe (I grew up there--I am not nearly aggressive enough as a driver).
It is not really necessary to go on these high priced tours with scholars and lecturers. If you're rich, go ahead and spend your money but I have to earn my vacations...Books can supplement an ordinary tour. A cheapo tour I took recently had really interesting people on it, amongst them: a speaker at a cardiology conference and her family, lawyers, a Saudi patriarch, some Lebanese young professionals, graduate students. The only obnoxious people on it were an American family with a toddler and kindergartner(a tour for adults--there was one European family w a toddlerbut they took good care of him and didn't demand that the group accommodate them as the Americans did)
My point is to avoid the Harvard tour syndrome where one gets ripped off by tour operators because one falsely assumes that spending more will buy more interesting companions.
I recommend avoiding luxe hotels like the plague. I stay in low to moderately priced ones that include a huge breakfast. These are where people from the country itself stay. Another way to learn about the place. I got to know some bright and well behaved Andalusian school children in my Madrid hotel who were on a school trip to see the art museums. Dedicated teachers, and saw them later when I was in the Prado. Definitely different from your average American middle schoolers
Make an effort to learn at least a few phrases of the language. Defeat the stereotype of th Ugly American and be considerate and appreciative of the local culture. People like Americans, but they like us more when we are NOT loud complainers, when we're not high maintenance, when we don't indulge in vulgar rhetoric about politics, when we visit w an eye to learning something as opposed to proclaiming how much better America is. Also, it really isn't necessary to wear travel safari clothes (as so many dippy catalogues want you to) when visiting European capital cities. Unless you expect to ride a Land Rover, try to look civilized, and not like a backpacker or big game hunter.