During my 7 week long trip long trip to Europe with Nick, we visited 7 cities, took 7 flights, 4 trains, stayed in 10 places, took 3546 photos, downloaded 8 language apps, and made 14 (hopefully) life long friends. We didn’t have a lot of money and I don’t think we suffered for it too much (besides Rome. And maybe a little bit of Paris. More on that later). Here’s how we did it.
Budgeting and planning need to happen simultaneously. Google flights is a fantastic tool for this. We knew that we wanted to spend between 6-8 weeks overseas so we started by looking for flights that flew out of Orlando (where my parents live). In Google flights you can set one location (I think we started with London) and then you can use the “Map view” feature to see prices from your set starting point to other major cities. We played around with that and wound up finding a direct flight from Orlando to Manchester, England that left July 29th and got back September 16th.
Once you commit to a window of travel time, it’s a lot easier to figure out the rest of your budget. Most people probably only have a few weeks available or some other constraint but we were pretty unlimited in the options we had available. We knew we wanted to leave when our leases ended (end of July) but the return date was variable.
July 29th to September 16th is 7 exactly seven weeks. It cost about $900 each after all of the taxes and luggage fees (be on the lookout for my luggage lecture coming soon). This left us a little over $4000 for the rest of our trip.
The next step is personal and is likely to change depending on the nature of your trip and the travelers. After pricing out various options, we decided to see fewer cities for a longer amount of time each even though our 7 city journey cost about as much up front as the 14 city one we had priced. This stemmed from a two-fold desire: to spend more time in each city and to account for the added costs and stress stemming from travel.
If your goal is to hit as many targets on your bucket list as you can, it’s a perfectly viable option and these plans will work for that too.
Once we had laid out our window of travel and our entry and exit flights, I made a 2 sheet file in Excel to (1) record all of our expenses and (2) lay our trip out in calendar form. I tried a few different layouts and this is what we found to work best for keeping track of our travel plans.
The next step was about an hour playing around with Google flights. We each listed 3 cities that we really wanted to see (mine were Florence, Paris, and Prague, Nick’s were anywhere in Spain, Rome, and Paris). With this list in mind we started looking at flights out of Manchester. Flying to Paris was cheapest but we knew that we wanted Paris to be our last stop, so that wasn’t an option. Barcelona and Madrid were both possible and made sense geographically since we wanted to work our way north (in case there was an emergency before our return trip and we needed to get back to Manchester quickly and easily-which ALMOST happened!).
As we worked on this step, I kept record of all of the flight prices, numbers, dates, and times so we could find the flights later. We didn’t purchase any of the intra-European flights until we had the itinerary set. Working off of this model, we laid out all of the configurations of travel we were interested in trying. Flights into and out of Florence were exorbitant so we decided to try train travel within Italy. We didn’t want to worry about Visas so the super-cheat flight to Croatia was cut from the list. Eventually we wound up with an itinerary taking us from Manchester > Barcelona > Rome (train)> Florence (train)> Milan > Prague > Paris > Manchester for $300 each.
And there you have it, the first part of our budgeting plan and (terrifyingly) the only part that we completed before we left. Please take it from me, we survived without planning the rest of our trip but things would have been much easier if we had gotten it together before we left. Live and learn.
Come back tomorrow to see how we budgeted the rest of the trip.