Congrats, friend! You’re going to Europe! You’re about to experience some life-changing moments—not to mention eat delicious food, meet incredible people, and see some wicked views.
PS: Follow @sideofkail for more pics of my European adventure
Planning a European adventure might seem overwhelming at first, but follow these steps and you’ll be saying “Ciao!” or “¡Hola!” while strolling through villas before you know it.
First things first, you need to be honest with yourself and your bank account. Taking a trip should never take you into debt—the point is to explore, not be poor.
Personally, I’m a big saver no matter what, so I had enough money to plan a trip without setting aside anything extra. If that isn’t how you roll, you’ll definitely want to plan ahead and start a “vacation fund.” Maybe it’s a coin jar, maybe you give up your daily coffee or say “no” to drinks with your friends for a few weekends—whatever it is, find a way to stash some cash.
Now it’s time to budget. Remember when I said, “be honest with yourself?” That happens now. How much can you really spend? This number will look different for everyone—and that’s OK!
Things to consider:
- What you’ll still be paying for while you’re away: rent, utilities, insurance, etc.
- Pet care: will you need to board your pet or find a sitter?
- Plane tickets, trains, other transportation, food, accommodation, currency exchange fees, shopping, misc.
- Will this be during PTO? Or will you need to make up for lost income?
Personally, I budgeted $2500. I knew I could make a little bit of money during my travels (from writing) and I planned on finding budget-friendly accommodation through Airbnb. But I also didn’t want to go too cheap and give up a few luxuries.
Here’s a breakdown of my 2-week trip to Europe (London, Edinburgh, Malaga, and Porto).
- Flights (including to Europe and between each country): $730
- Accommodation: $400
- Trains/taxis: $155
- Food: $300
- Currency: $200
- Shopping: $50
- Other: $100
Though I came in under budget (hooray!!!!) there were definitely a few things I could’ve done to save even more money:
- Grocery shop and cook instead of eating out—we didn’t cook once… whoops
- Stay at lower-cost places like hostels—our Airbnbs were all 4.5 to 5 stars
I think $1000 for every week you’re planning to be away is a safe number to shoot for. Of course, some countries are more expensive than others so keep that in mind.
Picking a route
Now’s the fun part! Where you want to go. Europe is a HUGE continent and each country has different things to offer. When deciding on a route, think about these things:
- Weather: Are you wanting a warm getaway? Do you want to experience the Alps in the middle of winter? Does rain bother you? Consider what weather you’re looking for when choosing countries.
- Time of year: Avoiding peak travel times (summer and other holidays) saves you tons of money and also cuts back on the number of people you have to share space with! For instance, we visited London in the middle of January and the museums/castles were basically empty—meaning we got better tours, better pictures, and didn’t feel crowded.
- Proximity: On a map, Europe looks really close together. But you need to think about how much time you’re willing to spend traveling (in a plane, on a train, taking a boat, etc.). Even if your plane ride is only 4 hours, by the time you get to the airport, check-in, take your flight, get transport to your hotel, and get situated, you’ve spent an entire day just traveling. Look for countries clustered together that allow for short trips and lots of actual enjoyment time.
- Reason for trip: Ask yourself whyyou’re going to Europe. If you love history and want to spend days on end in museums, you’ll want to visit somewhere else than you would if you want to kick your feet up on a beach and drink sangria. You wouldn’t go to Boston for the same reasons you visit San Diego—don’t make that mistake in Europe.
- Language and other cultural differences: Language barriers should never keep you from visiting a country! There are always ways to get around these: translation apps, using your hands to talk, etc. However, if language and other cultural differences (food, religion, politics) make you uncomfortable, you’ll want to keep them in mind.
- Safety:There wasn’t a single country I felt unsafe in while visiting Europe. However, it’s definitely a good idea to check on the safety status of a country before you visit it. For instance, are they in the middle of a war? Are there protests going on?
Once you have an idea of the type of trip you want to take, pull out a map and start piecing the countries together. There are a few different websites that can help you do this! I’ll add some more in the “resources” section at the end of this article.
Another note: We chose to fly in and out of London to keep things simple—and good thing we did—our route changed a few times, but we always knew we’d be starting and ending at Heathrow. If you want to fly into and out of different countries, make sure your route is solidified before buying any flights.
Buying flights seem to make a lot of people nervous. I get it—how do you know where to find flights, which airlines are legit, and how do you handle connections?
My simple formula is as follows:
- Go to Google and type in “Flights from ____ to ____”
- Take a look at the cheapest options and verify they’re legit airlines
It’s that simple! Yes, there are tons of other sites you can use like Kayak and Trivago, but Google Flights keeps it simple and even has a feature where you can type in “Flights from ___” and see which countries have cheap tickets!
That’s exactly how we decided to visit Spain. I typed in “Flights from Edinburgh” and saw that tickets to Spain were $20—the price of dinner and drink? I’ll take it!
If you decide to go this route, make sure to check the baggage policies! They seem to be always changing, and if you don’t follow them, you’ll end up paying loads of fees at the gate. We always chose the “priority” option so that we could bring 2 pieces of luggage on board, pick a nice seat, and board first. Even with these options, our tickets were relatively cheap.
PLEASE NOTE: There’s a new policy with some airlines that non-EU citizens must: 1) print their boarding passes—not have them on their phones and 2) get their boarding basses stamped with a “VISA” stamp at check-in. DO NOT FORGET TO DO THIS. READ ALL OF THE RULES, PLEASE.
As far as connections—don’t worry about it. International airports always have English signs—you’ll be OK.
Traveling between cities
We chose to fly between each of our cities because it was cheap and fast. However, a lot of European cities have fantastic railroads that can get you from country to country relatively quickly.
I suggest getting online and buying these tickets in advance much like you would a plane ticket. Simply Google “train tickets from ____ to ____” and do some research to find a good price.
Everyone’s accommodation wants are different. Decide which of the following sentences sounds like you—A, B, or C—and then find what type of accommodation you should stay in.
A. “I like everything I need laid out for me. I enjoy consistency and simplicity. I want to come home to my own space at the end of the night and know what I’m getting into. The idea of staying somewhere new, without a lot of reviews, or with other people freaks me out. I’d rather spend more money on a nicer place than use it to explore.”
B. “I like to have my own sleeping space but don’t mind sharing some spaces with other people. I want to stay in a neighborhood and see what it’s like to live in the city—maybe meet some locals too! I’d like to have the option to cook and possibly do laundry. I’d like to save a little money on accommodation to use toward other things.”
C. “As long as I can put my head down on a pillow at night—I’ll stay there! I want to immerse myself in the city and meet other travelers. I’d like to spend as little money on accommodation as possible…even if that means staying somewhere kind of crappy.”
If you answered:
- A: You should stay in hotels, 100%
- B: Airbnb is the way to go!
- C: Hostels will be your new best friend!
After deciding what type of accommodation suits your needs, it’s time to figure out where you want to stay. Big cities like London have tons of neighborhoods to offer! And each of them gives off a completely different vibe.
When choosing which area to stay in, you’ll want to ask yourself a lot of the same questions you did when picking a country: what’s your reason for visiting, what’s your budget, how safe is it, and how close will you be to what you want to see?
It’s almost always a safe bet that staying as close to “City Center” as possible will work out well.
My biggest piece of advice is this: If you’re feeling stressed, you’re probably taking it too seriously. Planning is supposed to be fun—not make you want to tear your hair out. Trust me, things never go completely to plan, so give yourself some wiggle room and take a step back if you need to.
Transport in cities: Get used to public transportation like trains, subways, and busses. They’re basically everywhere in Europe. A lot of places, like London, have travel cards you can “fill up” and use while you’re there. You simply buy one, put some money on it, and scan it every time you hop on and off the train. Do some research into your countries and figure out how the locals get around.
Walking Shoes:Pack them. You will be walking a lot. And honestly, this is my favorite way to get around the city. If you’re able to skip the train or taxi, do it!
Tipping:Believe it or not, not every country follows the same basic etiquette laws the US does. Research your country’s tipping rules before you go so you know whether or not you should leave nothing, 5%, or 20%.
Currency: Almost everywhere you go will accept credit cards (MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ONE THAT DOESN’T CHARGE FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES!!!!!) but it’s also smart to have some cash on you. You can exchange USD for other currencies before leaving the states at banks and airports.
Bags: Packing for a Euro-trip is a whole other blog… but if it’s possible—try notto check a bag. Grab a backpack and a carry-on bag and stuff away.
Travel adapter: Invest in a good travel adapter to make sure all of your devices stay nice and charged!
A few of my favorite trip-planning resources are below.
Travel Blogs—type in your destination city and read away!
If you’ve got more questions, pease don’t hesitate to ask! And please share all of your Europe stories and advice in the comments!