The most frequent questions I get asked about my trips are how I pay for them and how I plan them. The answer to the first question is pretty simple in that I started my own small business whilst at university full time to fund my contribution to our savings and Paul works to fund his. If I can do it, anyone can. We save incredibly hard for the eight or nine months that we’re not travelling and to have people pass remarks suggesting anything otherwise really offends me. Saving is something I learned at an incredibly young age and something I’ve been able to show Paul the benefits of, and now he’s a fully fledged convert.
The second question is not so easy to answer because it entails a plethora of answers, so I’m going to try to break it down into what I feel are the most important aspects of planning a European trip of any substantial length.
- Agreeing on locations: If the person I always travel with wasn’t so lax I would probably be writing an entirely different post right now, but thankfully when it comes to choosing places to visit as long as either of us gives the other proof enough that it’s worth visiting a place then usually we do. For me, I like to visit places with a lot to offer in terms of history and usually I don’t like to visit the same place twice. For Paul anything really goes, but he is really interested in history, sport and politics so he’s happy if a place has any of those to offer.
- Organising how to get from A to B: I truly cannot begin to articulate how many hours of my life in the preliminary stages of trip planning I spend staring at Google Maps. For this year’s trip, the most logical thing for me was to start in the furthest West location (Lisbon) and end in the furthest East (Oslo). From there, we both culminated our lists of must visit places; Rome, Florence and Budapest were high on the list of priorities as well as some other Italian and Eastern European cities. With our lists in hand, we used to FaceTime one another across the country and make lists upon lists of travel options, one of us checking the train fare and the other flights until we finally came to the cheapest option. It is beyond time consuming and frustrating to plan a twenty stop trip, but once you do it one time the next seems so much easier.
- Coming up with a budget: This year we had a much better idea about budgeting after our experiences last year. There are so many things we didn’t take into consideration like transport to and from the airport, unexpected flight charges and the absurd international fees on our bank cards. Instead of planning a five week trip then striving towards funding it, we found it easier to agree on a monthly amount we both equally save, calculate what we will have by the time we travel and outline a trip based on what we can afford. For me, I find it easiest to break down an individual budget for travel (after you do all the math based on where you’re going or pay for your pass) and then split the remaining funds up by the amount of days I’m travelling.
- Budgeting for emergencies: I always bring a credit card with me on any trip we go on, because we’ve encountered way too many disasters for me to trust any trip will go smoothly. If I didn’t have a card, however, I’d take a section out of our savings pot and give it to someone safe so that if something did happen, the money to fix the issue didn’t eat into our travel pot. If you don’t need it, get it back at the end of the trip or when you get home and treat yo self.
- Budgeting for travel: Interrail versus individual tickets: Our biggest ‘dilemma’ when planning the European leg of our trip was whether or not to book an Interrail pass. In the end we decided against it as we actually spent less money on individual flights and train fares than the cost of the pass. Websites like The Train Line and Skyscanner are incredible for finding the cheapest air and rail travel not only in Europe, but worldwide. As well as this, the pass limits what trains you are allowed to take in terms of number of trains and times of day. I enjoy the freedom of writing my own schedule, so for me it was the better option to go it solo. However, if you are considering a European trip I would really look into the pass because of it offers trains between cities you want to visit then it’s probably going to be worth your while financially.
- Budgeting for accommodation: Contrary to what you might think, sometimes hotels and Airbnbs are significantly cheaper than hostels. If you’re a solo traveller I would really recommend staying in a hostel because everytime I have stayed in one I have met some really incredible people and that’s really the name of the game when you’re on your own. We usually stay in cheap hotels we find via Booking.com, a comparison website which gives an immense amount of detail about each of the hotels and hostels it advertises. If you create a daily budget for accommodation then you’re also able to input your maximum expenditure per night on the site, allowing you to filter out any properties outwith your budget.
- Budgeting for locations: One of the most important things to take into consideration in Europe is the cost variation from place to place. I’m writing this piece from Salzburg, a relatively expensive place when compared to our next stop, Prague. A two course meal including two drinks at a decent restaurant will set you back around €35 in Salzburg compared to €20 in Prague. There are endless websites and blogs such as Trip Advisor where people who have visited the place before you give a detailed account of pricing.
- Budgeting for excursions: This year we have visited a number of European cities that offer free or discounted excursions to students, under 25s or European Union citizens under 25. Places like Versailles, Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre in Paris are all free to EU under 25s, and the same group are offered 50% off at the Colloseum and Galleria Borghese in Rome. Train and bus tickets are also available in some places at a discount, for example in Hungary. If you’re planning any day out that involves paying for a ticket I can’t stress enough how much you’ll save if you look at the small print. The money we saved in Rome, for example, meant we could spend more either on a meal or in another place. It totally pays to do your research.
That’s pretty much all the ways I organise my trips. Below is our European itinerary for this summer, which ends next week before we head to Bali for the rest of August.
June 29th – Lisbon
July 1st – Porto
July 3rd – Barcelona
July 6th – Rome
July 9th – Naples
July 11th – Amalfi Coast
July 15th – Florence
July 18th – Pisa
July 19th – Venice
July 21st – Budapest
July 24th – Vienna
July 26th – Salzburg
July 28th – Prague
July 30th – Kraków
August 2nd – Warsaw
August 3rd – Oslo