Fionn and I love to travel (obviously!) but we also live on a budget. Living in Europe is an awesome experience and we really want to take advantage of it without breaking the bank.
Here are some tips I've learned after a few years of planning European trips on a budget!
1. Commit to saving money for travel.
This might seem like a no brainer, but a lot of times when people complain about having no money for travel, I can't help but notice their flat screen TV. Or their habit of eating out 4 times a week. Or their super fancy new shoes.
Travel takes money but it also takes desire. Unless you've got some sweet job that pays you a hefty sum each month, you've got to save your travel money up. It's just that simple.
We don't have TV, we try to keep our food costs down, we try not to buy a lot of frivolous stuff. Sure, we go out and have fun, but we always try to watch our money. You don't need a huge amount to get started, but you have to start somewhere!
2. Make travel expenses in increments.
Whenever we're planning a trip, we try to break up the expenses. One paycheck will help pay for the plane tickets. The next paycheck helps pay for the hotel rooms. The next paycheck sets some money aside for food and fun money.
It does take a little bit of pre planning (you don't want hotel prices to go up while you're waiting on the next paycheck!) but it's really worth it in the end. You can always set money aside in savings in advance so when you get close you can buy everything at the same time.
3. Sign up for rewards programs.
I never liked to sign up for these because I hated them junking up my inbox. Now I love them! Those junk emails can contain some pretty sweet deals.
We're Skymiles and Dividend Miles members, but I always check European airlines to see if they are partners with Delta or US Air. If so, you can also claim those miles too! Sometimes these companies will give you extra miles for buying things from partner companies (even random things like shoes or gift baskets) or for signing up for a credit card (but use it responsibly!)
BUT, be aware that airline companies can be jerks when it comes to award travel. For instance, US Airways will charge you ROUNDTRIP miles for a ONE WAY flight. Pretty jerky, right? Let's hope their merger with United will clear that up. I'm still mad about this!
Hotel booking websites like Expedia, Hotels.com, and Booking.com also offer rewards programs. Hotels.com offers me a free night every time I book 10 nights with them (which I can do pretty easily with all the travel we do) and they'll even give me coupons if I agree to review the hotels afterwards (too easy!). They also have great last minute deals!
4. Shop around for flights and hotels
We swear by Skyscanner.com. They almost always have the cheapest prices. I don't even bother looking anywhere else!
Also, try to be flexible with dates and if need be, airports. Do you need to fly into the capital? Or can you fly into a smaller airport and make your way to another city?
I wrote a whole post on choosing hotels and hostels, but the bottom line is-do your homework! The deals are there, you just have to find them!
5. Be adventurous.
Paris and London are great, but they're also CRAZY expensive. Why not try Portugal or Poland or Morocco or Hungary? Going on an adventure can save you big money on food and lodging.
Also, be flexible with your dates. August is summer vacation time in Europe, and everywhere is packed and expensive. Christmas and New Years is an expensive time to travel. Go during the off season and enjoy the deals and the deserted landmarks! :)
6. Do your research
Before every trip I check out travel blogs, travel guides, Trip Advisor, online forums and ask my Facebook friends for travel advice. It might sound like a lot of work, but doing the research while you're still home saves you big once you're at your destination. What're you really doing in those downtime hours before bed anyway? ;)
Personal travel blogs can give you a true life look at what the destination is like. I love seeing what other people found interesting or exciting. I also love asking Facebook-you'd be surprised at how many people know something about your destination or know someone who does. I've gotten a lot of great advice that way and in some cases, people have hooked me up with their friends or family in that place that took us around for an authentic experience. Locals always know where the deals are. Can't beat that.
Researching also helps you get an idea of how much money to save for food, attractions, souvenirs, and transport. That way you don't have to deal with a nasty surprise!
7. Make sure your travel docs are in order
Passport, passport, passport. Even if you live in Europe and are just crossing the border, BRING IT.
Also, make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport if you're planning on leaving the Schengen zone.
If you're in Europe with the military, make sure you have your ID card and leave paperwork. You definitely don't want to be caught without it.
8. Just go.
People come up with a million excuses not to travel. You got a long weekend? Buy those tickets! Stop making excuses and just go. You can travel!