After I graduated from college, all I wanted to do was travel to Europe. Unlike several of my friends, I didn’t study abroad and I unfortunately didn’t have family living overseas to help pad some of the travel costs. If I wanted to travel outside of the U.S., it would have to be on my own dime.
So once I got my first job, and after I paid off my student loans, I started planning my trip with one rule — it had to be cheap. My goal was to spend no more than $2,500 for the whole trip. I knew I would have to make sacrifices, but it be worth it in order to see more of the world without accumulating debt in the process. Here’s how you can do it, too.
Find Airfare-Inclusive Packages
Flying internationally doesn’t come cheap. In my experience, the cheaper and more convenient option was to utilize a travel agency that offered packaged deals that included round-trip flights. For my travels, I found a great deal for $1,900 that included 14 days, five cities, airfare and Eurail tickets. With those major expenses out of the way, I figured $600 would be plenty for out-of-pocket expenses. Websites like Groupon and LivingSocial usually offer affordable packaged deals for thrifty travelers. Also, it helps to travel during the offseason as cities tend to be less crowded and vacation packages are usually cheaper.
Track What You Spend
Luckily for me, my travel partner was also all about saving money, so it wasn’t hard for us to agree on keeping things cheap. We brought snacks from back home, which turned out to be a huge money saver. I recommend bringing granola bars and a sturdy water bottle, especially on days when you’ll be doing a lot of walking past tempting bakeries and cafes. I was able to get by using my credit card, but there were definitely times when I spent more than I expected to and then had less to spend in the next city. Personally, I think having more cash on hand would have helped to keep my budget on track since I’d be able to physically see how much I was spending instead of mindless swiping.
Ditch the Euro
We decided to add Hungary and the Czech Republic to our itinerary. Since both countries don’t use the euro, but instead use the Hungarian forint and Czech Koruna, this helped our budget tremendously. What we spent on drinks, food and taxi rides was only a fraction of what it cost in other European cities. These were the countries where we bought the most clothing and ate the best food.
The Daily Budget
Before my trip, I had read a blog that suggested budgeting $100 per day for a vacation in Europe. In my opinion, that’s overdoing it. For some people, looking at a monument and snapping a picture is satisfying enough. Others don’t mind spending the extra dough to hear about the history of the landmark they’re visiting (or you know, you could look it up on your phone). Just keep in mind that if you’re sticking to a strict budget like we were, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. We gave up touring through the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but we had two days in Paris and wanted to spend our time seeing other, more wallet-friendly sites. If you’re only paying for yourself, then $50 a day is certainly doable.
Bottom line: If someone tells you Europe is too expensive, just remember that with careful planning and budgeting, it’s more than possible to take that dream trip.