Guys, I am so excited for this post, and even more excited to share that I bought my plane ticket to Europe a few nights ago, making this whole "Gennean's going to Europe" thing a reality! I've been slowly starting to plan some parts of my itinerary — like a packing list, a spreadsheet of cities/countries to visit and in what order, and getting in contact with some of the people I am going to be seeing/staying with — but I've been hesitating to purchase my one-way ticket in spite checking potential flights daily. Sometimes I can be cautious to make big decisions, and this definitely felt like one, but the other night, I said "screw it!" and bought my flight to London... for $300!!!
Now I will be the first to admit that I am no travel expert, but I have been researching and reading up on news articles, blog posts, and dozens of other sources for almost a year in anticipation of this trip, which has definitely given me an edge when it comes to planning such a big trip like this. Plus, when I realized that my ticket to London cost me just a bit more than a ticket to Nashville (what the what!), I knew that I had to share some of the things I've learned and implemented. Again, not an expert, and you may find some of the things I share are common sense, but they've helped me immensely through my planning process, so I think they will help you, too. Alright, here we go!
Make a Travel Budget
First things first, make a budget for your trip! It's tedious and annoying but I believe absolutely necessary for the overall success of any trip. Being that I paid off all of my debt a year ago, going back into debt for a trip is simply not an option for me, so one of the first things I did was make a budget. I created a Google Sheet with a proposed budget for 3 months of travel through Europe with the following categories:
- Round-Trip Flight
- Food ($x / day / 120 days)
- Lodging ($x / day / 120 days)
- Other Travel (within Europe)
- Entertainment + Fun Stuff
- Travel Insurance
- Recurring Bills (Giving, Phone, Insurances, etc.)
Placing all of these categories into a formulated spreadsheet that showed a total number helped me be super realistic with saving money for my trip. I also made it a point to over-budget, because wouldn't we all prefer to have more money to do more fun things and/or travel longer than run out of money and have to return home early? Exactly. For a template of my formulated budget sheet, CLICK HERE (and if you want one for your personal use, let me know).
Saving For Travel
Okay, once you've got your budget in place, it's understandable to be a little freaked out by the number you might see on your "Total" line. Take a deep breath, it's going to be okay as long as you plan ahead. My biggest piece of advice is this: never ever go into debt for a trip. If you cannot save the money to go somewhere, you shouldn't be going there. This is where credit cards can be so, so dangerous. I am not against credit cards (I have one myself), but I am against spending more than you have in your bank account, so if you're unable to realistically afford a trip right now, don't go. Be an adult; save the money first.
Now let's talk about how to save for a trip. I think that one of the most important things to do first is to set up a fund in your current budget in which you save a certain amount of money per month for your upcoming trip. For the last 10ish months, I've been putting away anywhere from $500-$1500+ per month into a separate savings account for my trip, which I have found helpful for storing such a large amount of money (plus I can't accidentally spend what's in a savings account). I realize the amount of money I've been saving each month could make it seem like I was making bank at my full-time job, but I wasn't. Much as I did when I was paying off debt, I had multiple side hustles on top of my full-time job that helped me to save up for traveling. Trust me, if you want something enough, you can do whatever you need in order to meet your goal. So I worked 70+ hour work weeks in order to pay off debt and then save (which I wouldn't recommend long-term, at all). But like I said, you can do anything if you want to bring your dreams to life.
Need some ideas for small ways to save money? First, always have an active, living budget. I personally use and recommend EveryDollar. It's easy to use, it syncs with my bank (for a small yearly fee), and it has a mobile app that makes it super simple to update. It helped me pay off my debt and has helped me save for trips super easily, so check it out. Regardless of the budgeting tool you use, make sure to make a line item for "Travel Savings," set a designated amount to save each month, and get disciplined in your saving. And then find little ways to save: skip your daily coffee run, eat out less, don't buy new clothes, cancel unused subscriptions, etc. And then get creative with other ways to make money: babysit, petsit, tutor, sell stuff you don't need, sell stuff you make... these are all actually things I did. Trust me, you have it in you to get scrappy if want what you want enough. It's all about discipline, so get after it.
How to Find Cheap Flights
There are so many ways to find cheap flights, many of which I've seen covered by much more experienced travelers than myself. But I'm a simple gal, so here are some of the least-complicated ways I've found to score some cheap flights:
- First: always, always, always search for flights using an "incognito" window on your browser. Otherwise, any time you search for flights, trains, buses, etc., cookies from those sites get stored on your browser, which could prompt increased prices the next time you search. Trust me, this is a big way to save.
- Subscribe to Scott's Cheap Flights email list, It will 100% give you wanderlust every day of your life, but they send out some of the best flight deals from different US and Canadian cities to destinations around the world (and those flights almost always work both ways). They even include the lowest prices available, when to book, and how long they believe those deals will last.
- Two words: Google Flights. This is the easiest and best way to search hundreds of flights on almost all airlines, plus it allows you to search multiple airports at once. For instance, when I was searching for my flight to Europe, I started with SFO as my departure airport and added "Nearby Airports" for more flight options. Then in the destination box, I typed "Europe." I knew that I wanted to leave at the beginning of April, so I typed in one date to see prices across various European cities, ultimately landing on London as my destination. I then searched nearby dates for the cheapest flight. So easy, but remember the price you see probably won't be what you pay, since they are usually budget airlines that have other fees (like baggage, in-flight meals, etc). Also, Google Flights works for both one-way and round-trip flights, just remember to always use an incognito window (see my example HERE). Another great option for searching flights is SkyScanner.
- Don't be afraid of budget airlines. I mean, they're cheaper for a reason (smaller planes, more fees, less amenities) but I think that they're totally worth it. I mean, I would much rather spend less money to get to my destination if it means having more to spend while I'm there. Some popular budget airlines are: Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit in the United States; Air Canada Rouge, Flair, Primera, Jetline, WestJet, Swoop (starting Summer 2018) in Canada; and Norwegian Air, Ryan Air, Wizz Air, Wow Air, EasyJet in Europe.
- There are also plenty of great of apps out there that help users find cheap flights and hotels such as Hopper, Skiplagged, and Momondo.
Unless you're all about the 4-star hotel experience, there are plenty of ways to save money on lodging while you travel. My biggest piece of advice is to have zero shame about asking to stay with people you know, or even friends of friends. I've found that the more I've shared about my trip, the more connections I've made to be able to stay with locals in different cities (like London and Wiltshire, Munich, Amsterdam, Ireland, and even Paris). Often times people in the places you're heading to love to have friends or visitors come stay with them, or even just to show them around their city. So I recommend being willing to share your plans with others and even to ask if you can stay with them. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no, and if that's the case, still ask if they want to meet up while you're in town and then find another place to stay. Easy. Also, I'd recommend giving your hosts a small gift of some kind, whether that be a small trinket from your hometown, a dinner out on you, or a gift of your talent. For example, I am hoping to give each of the people/families I stay with a small photography session as a "thank you" for hosting me.
When searching for cheap lodging, there are so many options. If you're looking for a real low price-point, check out Hostel Worldwide. There, you can search over 33,000 hostels around the world with millions of reviews. A huge advantage to hostels is that you get to meet other travelers from around the world, which can be especially appealing if you're traveling solo. Regardless, hostels are always a great option, just be sure to do your research beforehand. An even cheaper option? Couchsurfing. Designed as a platform to connect home hosts with those traveling through their cities, Couchsurfing is a wonderful option for the super-budget traveler who favors connecting with locals and experiencing the city like a, well, local. Oh, and it's totally free, so there's that. And I would be totally remiss if I didn't mention other home sharing options like AirBnB and Overnight which can both have great and relatively inexpensive lodging options, whether you want an entire home/apartment to yourself or want to save some cash and book a private room.
My personal opinion on lodging while traveling is that you shouldn't need to spend a ton of money here, because the thing you're really going to want spend money on are experiences. And the truth is that you're probably only going to spend a fraction of your time where you're sleeping versus out and about in the city you're visiting. However, if you want to treat yo'self and spend a night or two in a swanky hotel in the middle of Paris, you do you! You know your preferences and budget way better than I do, so do what brings you joy.
Other Helpful Tips
I have a few more tips and tricks to save money for and while traveling. First, there are many ways to actively save money, like skipping unnecessary flight upgrades, choosing public transportation over a taxi or Uber, avoiding banking issues by alerting your bank regarding where you'll be when and carrying a debit or credit card with no foreign transaction fees, and watching out for currency conversion fees — if you're going to get local currency, try to get it before you head to your destination (more money tips for traveling abroad can be found here). Of course, you can also choose to visit less-expensive countries, such as ones in southeast Asia, as well as traveling in off-peak seasons, which vary depending on your destination.
There are also things you need to remember to purchase for your trip, even if you don't want to fork over the cash. You really should prioritize purchasing travel insurance prior to your trip, which can cover things like trip interruptions, missing baggage, illness, and emergency, which are all 100% worth the cost. Two companies I have found that come highly recommended are Allianz and World Nomads. Next, be sure to do your research on visa requirements. Some countries require tourist visas, and others don't, so check online to see what your destination's requirements are. Lastly, do not skip paying your bills while you are traveling. If that means you have to set up automatic payments or pay your bills in advance, do it. The last thing you'll want to deal with with while exploring around the Croatian seaside is your car insurance company. Other things you should remember to buy in advance are power converters and medicines that you may not be able to find in the places you're traveling to. Oh, and please don't forget to make sure your passport is up to date, otherwise you could be facing a hefty fee for expedited processing, if not rebooking your entire trip.
Facebook is a great tool when it comes to travel tips, inspiration, and information on saving money. First things first, follow Rick Steves (also: Rick Steves Europe) and Scott's Cheap Flights on Facebook. Also, if you're a lady reading this, make sure to join the Girls Love Travel Facebook group, where over 500,000 female travelers share tons of helpful info on destinations all over the world! You can also ask for advice or recommendations at any time, and it's proven to be super helpful for me as I've been researching and planning my trip.
Lastly, there are so many amazing blogs out there that share amazing travel information, from tips like the ones you've read here to destination itineraries to packing lists and everything in between, so be sure to check them out!
I hope that some of my tips and tricks for saving money to travel have been insightful, inspirational, and will prove helpful as you plan your next trip! If you have any other tips I should know, please drop them in a comment below, and feel free to share or pin the image below (linked to this page, of course!) to help other future travelers save big money, too.