After traveling to Europe during my last year of medical school, I officially caught the wanderlust bug. Unfortunately, as a medical resident, my travel time is limited, l but I try to take at least one international trip per year when I have vacation time. My usual go-to was the Carribean for some much-needed rest, relaxation, and sunbathing. Though the Carribean is amazing, my wanderlust cannot be contained to one region of the world. I need to see the world, so the best way to start was to take a trip across the pond.
I think that a trip to Europe is a great place to start when wanting to expand your international travel experience, but planning a trip to Europe on a budget is quite the undertaking.Most people would contact a travel agency or group travel service to plan an international trip. That is the ideal way to approach international travel if you don't have a lot of free time or don't know where to start with planning a trip. I, on the other hand, have control issues and a type A personality. I choose not to use a travel agent because I want to control every aspect of my travel even though I do not have an abundance of free time to plan. I also want to ensure that I get the best deals and stay within my budget.
My Europe trip included stops in Paris, Rome, and Santorini, with a cost coming in under $2000 for flight and lodging. Many people asked me if I had used any assistance with planning the trip and expressed interest in taking similar trips. I decided to write this post to share how I planned an amazing international trip without a travel agent and without breaking the bank.
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Know when to go...
Traveling during the off-season offers two benefits. First, lodging is more affordable and the more popular places are generally more available for reservation. Second, you can avoid some of the crowds and long lines at attractions since there are fewer tourists visiting at this time. If you are like me and always try to find the best spots for a great photo-op for perhaps an amazing Instagram or Facebook post, then you have fewer people to deal with photo-bombing your picture in front of a historic site.I personally love to travel to Europe in the fall. Most tourist flock to popular European destinations during the spring and summer months. I find it to be too hot and crowded. Fall offers milder temperatures and you are still able to enjoy plenty of hours of daylight.One caveat to traveling during the off-season is that the weather may not be as predictable. Make sure to check the weather forecast for your prospective destination prior to booking flights. You don't want to travel to place during their rainy season.
Flexibility is Key...
Flexibility in regards to your travel dates and/or destination can really increase your likelihood of finding a cheap flight. In general, flights are cheaper when you fly during the mid-week as opposed to Friday-Sunday. Also, flights with long-layovers tend to have lower prices due to the inconvenience. If you have the flexibility to spend an extra day in transit to your destination, you could snag a deeply discounted ticket. Plus you could possibly add an extra destination to your trip by exploring while on your long layover.Many major cities have multiple airports. Many of the more affordable flights fly into the airports that are farther from the city center. If you do not mind making the extra effort to coordinate travel from the airport into the city, you could save yourself some cash. Even if you have a specific destination in mind where you want to travel, be open to flying in and out of another destination that has cheaper flights. Once you are in Europe, it is cheap to fly to other countries within Europe. Budget airline like Vueling offer really cheap tickets between European countries.
Quick Tips for Flying on Budget European Airlines:
If you plan to utilize budget airlines in Europe, here are a few tips to make your experience easier.
Pay close attention to their luggage size policies. Since the planes tend to be smaller commuter planes, most have strict rules regarding carry-on luggage dimensions and weight. I recommend packing light because the fees to check-in luggage could exceed to price of the actual ticket. Paying expensive luggage fees defeats the whole purpose of utilizing a budget airline.
Print off all of your tickets before you leave home, some charge extra for electronic tickets.
Pay close attention to the airport, many of these airlines fly in and out of the smaller, farther out airports so plan accordingly.
How to Use Google Flights...
Unfortunately, I actually do not have very much flexibility when it comes to my travel dates because as a medical resident, I have to ask for vacation time months in advance and I am allotted a two-week break within a specific date range based on the overall residency schedule. Regardless, I am still able to find the most affordable flights within a specific time frame by using the Google Flights website.
Google Flights is a great way to find the best deals and plan your destinations. The best way to utilize this travel aid is to first enter your departure airport/city and the dates you would like to travel. From there, you can scroll down and click the map labeled "Explore Destinations" which displays a map which shows the fares to places all over the world from your departing airport/city. Once you select a destination, you can look at the calendar and see the price to fly the same trip on different days. If you click on the dates grid, you can see the best dates to get the best price for a round-trip flight. You will soon see that if you can be flexible with when you fly like flying out on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, you can save some money.
Once I determine my flight to and from Europe, I then used Google Flights to find flights to and from my other European destinations. Also look into train fares within Europe, they tend to be a bit more expensive than the budget airlines but offer the opportunity to see more of the landscape as you ride to your destination.
There are many ways to find the best flight deals. Make sure to start planning far enough ahead of time to do adequate research. A study by CheapAir.com determined that the best time to buy tickets for a flight from the US to Europe is 99 days prior to your departure date. With that in mind, I would try to start researching flights about 4-5 months ahead of you possible vacation dates.
Optimize your time...
From my previous experience with traveling in Europe, I knew that once you are there, it is very inexpensive to travel within Europe by air or train. So I knew that if I went to Europe, I wanted to visit more than one place and get the most out of the experience. In general, I believe you can see most of the must-see sites in any given city within 3-4 days so you could possibly if you are ambitious, visit about 4 countries in a two-week period. If you prefer to savor a city for longer, I would recommend spending a longer period of time in a city where you have to ability to take day trips to other places. For example, you can easily take a day trip from Rome to Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, or Naples. I personally decided to spend a longer period of time in Santorini because I wanted to have a more relaxed time to just take in the scenery without feeling rushed to site-see.
Where to Stay...
Deciding on where to stay can be tough. Depending on the size of your group and budget, some options may be better than others.The most budget-friendly option is to stay in a hostel. Many hostels offer dormitory style accommodations for a very inexpensive price. This is an ideal option for solo travelers or a small group of people who are open to sharing space with strangers. Some hostels offer private rooms for a slightly higher price. Another option is to use Airbnb. I personally love Airbnb and utilize this service most of the time when I travel. Airbnb offers the advantage of living near locals and having the option to have more space for less cost. When traveling with a large group, booking an entire home through Airbnb is a great option. In general, splitting the cost of staying in a home through Airbnb is more affordable to splitting the cost of multiple hotel rooms. Read more about why I love using Airbnb when I travel.The most tried and true option is a hotel. It is still possible to find affordable hotel options. I tend to choose boutique hotels over chains because they usually have better prices and offer more amenities like free breakfast. Utilizing websites like booking.com can help you find the most affordable hotel options. If you want to stay in nicer hotels but for less, be open to staying in the less touristy areas that may be farther out from the city center.
Bonus Tip: Don't Waste Money on Cabs...
Now that you know how to plan a trip to Europe on a budget, I want to give one quick tip about how to save money while you are there. Don't waste money on cabs or ride-sharing apps. Most major cities have a fairly robust public transportation system. Even Santorini has a bus system that can get you to and from popular points of interests. Download a map of the train/bus system prior to leaving home and use apps like google maps to figure out the best routes to travel via public transportation. If you are staying in an area with no public transportation, it may be more cost-effective to rent a car versus getting a cab to travel everywhere.
In my opinion, the best mode of transportation is your own two feet. Pack comfortable shoes and hit the pavement. Most European cities are very walkable. I think the best way to explore a city is to walk around and discover little nooks and crannies that you may miss while riding in a car or train. Get out and work your muscles while discovering the all the city has to offer. I hope you found this helpful and that this post inspired you to plan an international getaway to Europe, without breaking the bank. Now that you know how to plan an international trip, find out what to pack.