I recently came back from a two week trip to Europe and all I can say is that it has been one the most incredible experiences I have had. I have been wanting to write blog posts inspired by my trip and I guess I’ve had writer’s block. There is just so much one could say after something like this. I could also write about one thing in different perspectives and that alone can be overwhelming. After a break from the hustle and bustle of traveling from point A to point Z and reflecting on my experience, I have gathered my thoughts. I decided to try to relive my adventures including the planning process. Here we go!
This is a trip for backpackers and spontaneous people who also are on a budget. I won’t include the total of my expenses but I’ll include essential numbers to keep in mind. I am 22 years old right now and the first thing on my mind while planning this was “Can I afford it?” “How will I pay?” Thankfully I was relieved of stressing about this by a friend who had traveled abroad and shared his adventures. A friend, Michael, went to a retreat that I led a few years back in high school. We kept in touch throughout college and reunited with my best friend, Sophia, in our favorite hang out spot, New York City. We caught up on what our life plans were and Michael mentioned his spontaneous trip to Italy, solo. We were caught by surprise. “You went to Italy…alone?!” I gotta say that was scary when I first heard it, but then he explained how he lived throughout his time there and all the places he saw and that changed my perspective. I was more at ease and Sophia and I looked at each other and said, “We have to go next year. This has got to happen.” We took some of Michael’s advice and encouragement and made it something we had to do. Sophia and I have dreamed and talked about traveling for years. That’s partly the reason we became friends. This was a sign from God saying, “He could do it, and so could you.” So we kept eating our delicious ice cream in Alphabet city and enjoyed the rest of the day.
The summer went on and we enjoyed what we could of our first summer as twenty-one-year-olds. We danced nights away, discovered different adult drinks, and got to visit some neat spots in NYC and NJ.
So what happened next? Well, Senior year started and we rambled on about the topic again at one point. We decided we had to try our absolute best to save money. This was a busy semester for us both with school, work and staying focused to end college on a good note. We each had a few countries and had to research them to later decide which ones we were going to. By the time December came, we put aside two days during winter break to meet up and go over our research and plan it out. The first day was a couple of hours long with deciding if we were going to work our way up or down or east or west. There was so much we wanted to see but with our limited vacation time and budget, we had to narrow it down. We decided on: Spain, Italy, France and Ireland. After we had a few days to research ways of getting to these places and where we would stay.
Europe has so much culture in so many different countries it’ll take some time to be able to see it all. If your plan is to be abroad for about a year or more, then I suggest visiting all of Europe. Try to research what the weather is like for the countries you decide to visit. Sophia and I figured that May would be a good time to visit not just because the weather wouldn’t be too hot, but there wouldn’t be many tourists. If you’ve been on a vacation anywhere, you know that having an infestation of tourists is very annoying and it doesn’t let you enjoy your trip. Add some sweaty weather, and then you feel like poo.
May it is! So where do we start? We wanted to start at Barcelona because plane tickets (one-way) seemed to be cheaper than starting in Dublin or London. The range was $200 – $400. That’s right. I’m not kidding. TIP: Start buying tickets six months or more in advance. They are cheaper during that time frame. ALSO, buy tickets on the Tuesday to Thursday time frame. Airlines drop prices during those days, including early morning. Afterward, we researched how much it would be to come back to the states from England or Ireland compared to the costs of transportation.
Step 2: Transportation & Stay
Many people suggest transportation through train in Europe through Eurail. You get to see the beautiful European views both land and sea. It’s perfect, but only if you have the time. We had factored in our time limits and budgets, and it made sense to transport by air and a few trains. We still would get a few train views of Italy while we stayed there. Airplane tickets throughout Europe are less expensive! Our ticket prices ranged from $30 – $100 each ticket.
We had to coordinate our transportation tickets with our stays. So, this took longer to book because we both were still trying to earn money to spend it on the trip. If you already have the funds, book everything early, that way you get lower prices and better places to stay. Sophia and I stayed everywhere. I have a cousin and her husband that live in Barcelona, so we saved some money there. Afterward, we stayed at Airbnbs, hostels and hotels (the cheapest we could find). The trick to choosing where to stay is you have to do your research. I kept checking Airbnb religiously every day and compared prices through the map view. We checked reviews and how long hosts were a part of the Airbnb community. We checked the distance from Airbnbs to the locations we wanted to visit. We also took into consideration the nearest train or bus stations to the places we stayed. You have to ask yourself: Do you prefer riding everywhere or are you okay with walking a lot? Can you afford a few Uber or taxi rides? How much are the train or bus tickets in each city? Will you consider taking a tour or exploring on your own? When you have your answer to these questions, then you can decide where you will stay and buy your airplane tickets.
Step 3: Finances
Luckily, I worked three jobs during the school year and I had an internship during the spring semester that basically helped pay for my trip. Advice: work as much as you can, even if you have some side hustles. Invest in some savings, if you can, take out a credit card and remember to pay it back every month! During our planning throughout the spring of 2017, sometimes Sophia had enough money to pay for both of us, or I did. So we kept track of our expenses on a spreadsheet. If you don’t know how to work excel, I strongly recommend it, not only for trip planning but also for your career. Excel knowledge can come in very handy when looking for a job.
I just gave some simple steps, but depending on your situation it may not end up being as simple. Stress may arise and it may worry you. Don’t fear, there is always a solution to some troubles. Be patient and make your decisions wisely. Remember this is an affordable trip, if you can spend away without a care in the world, awesome! Sometimes you can research so much during this time that when the day of travel or checking in arrives, things may not go as planned. Have a backup plan (this is when your credit card can come in handy for emergencies). Both our parents advised us that if we ever felt unsafe or unsure about where we were staying or how to get home, we should use our emergency money to get somewhere safe. Luckily, Sophia and I didn’t get into trouble, but we were prepared.
My next few blog posts will include our trips to the six cities we visited during our trip! Stay tuned!