The second I hit the O'Hare tarmac after a summer abroad in France my sophomore year of college, I was figuring out how to get back. Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love to travel, and how much I love to PLAN trips even more! The following year, I made it my mission to save up money from my summer internship for one big graduation present to myself: a trip to Europe! On May 24, 2017, my boyfriend, John, and I packed our bags and headed to Europe for 24 days. I'll be sharing stories and tips from every city over the next few weeks, but for now, here's some advice for those of you thinking about planning your own Europe trip in the future.
1. Get an Early Start on Planning
Keep in mind that a lot of planning goes into these trips, especially if you're doing it all on your own. Make sure to give yourself enough time to figure it out. Plus, generally the earlier that you plan, the more money you will save. To give you an idea, we booked our flights (for May 2017) in the first weekend of October 2016 and got a GREAT deal. The same was true for a fancy hotel on our list. Europe is beautiful in any season, but if you're doing a summer trip, see if you can swing going in mid-late May. The weather is beautiful and you won't be swarmed by the June and July crowd.
2. Set a Budget
With airfares to Europe at an all-time low, it's the perfect time to get over there. Depending on how long/extravagant of a trip you want to take, it may take you a few months/years to set aside the dough for your travels. That's ok. If it's something you really want to do, make it a priority, do some research, and set a savings goal. Figure out how much you're willing to spend and then determine a trip length and plan that fits the experience you want. We started by mapping out the countries we wanted to go to and what made the most sense logistically. Then, we researched activity costs and went from there. It's also extremely important to build up a nice cushion for spur of the moment expenses or emergencies. Things are always more expensive than you think, and you don't want to be counting your pennies!
3. Travel with a Buddy
Traveling by yourself is liberating and empowering and such, but, personally, I think it gets old after a few weeks. Whether it's a friend, sibling, or significant other, you'll be thankful that you had someone by your side to share in the adventure. The world is a crazy place right now, and if you're young, I'm sure your parents will feel much better knowing that you're not on your own. Another perk of traveling with someone, is that you get to split the cost of housing, meaning you'll have more $$$ to do the fun stuff!
4. Vet Your Airbnbs
We stayed in a mixture of Airbnbs and hotels, and loved it. Airbnb was an incredible way to meet the locals and experience the culture first hand, and the hotels were perfect for some well-needed rest, amenities, and recuperation. If you've never used Airbnb before or the idea of it makes you nervous. I am here to reassure you that it's 100% safe and 100% secure. If you want to do it right and avoid scammers, I recommend only booking with "superhosts" or hosts with 10 or more great reviews. You can't beat some of the properties they offer!
5. Don't Overplan
When you pay a lot of money to get somewhere, there's always that feeling of needing to squeeze everything in. When we first started to plan the trip, we had a crazy long list of all the places and things we had to do, but when we got there and tried to do everything we weren't having fun! I recommend scheduling 1-2 things a day, and leaving the rest to fate. We much preferred our spontaneous paragliding, stumbling upon a cute café, and getting local recommendations from our Airbnb hosts. When all's said and done, you don't want to feel like you spent the better part of the trip sifting through crowds to get into an overpriced monument. FYI, we didn't pay to go into the Colosseum (gasp)... The view from the street was just fine.
6. You Get What You Pay For
There are plenty of ways to save money if you're trying to do your trip on a tight budget, but just know that cutting corners every time is probably only going to cost you more in the long run. If you choose to take a bus or regional train instead of a plane or high-speed train, it'll save you a few bucks, but it'll also cut into your exploration time. Also, for every budget airline you fly, you're going to have to pay to bring a bag (like ANY bag) on board (checking is a separate additional cost), so make sure to build those sneaky add-ons into your budget. Most of the time, shelling out a little more upfront, will save you a LOT of time and money down the road. Don't learn the hard way!
7. Stay in Touch (the right way!)
If we had it our way, John and I probably would have "gone off the grid," but since our trip was almost a month long, our family and friends understandably wanted the occasional update to make sure we were still alive and well. With the time difference and sporadic Wi-Fi, we decided to post our updates to Instagram under the hashtag #HoleyFocterTakesEurope. Every day, (John) and I would upload a few quick photos that we'd taken that day to our "story" or main feed when we found Wi-Fi. I heard from grandparents, siblings, and friends that they loved following our adventure and checked back frequently for updates. This was the perfect compromise for us because it didn't take away from living in the moment and we weren't glued to social media.
Who's planning a trip for 2018?