Once you’ve sorted out both the mental preparation and picking a destination, it’s time to start making concrete plans. At this point, budgeting remains a persistent theme. Don’t get discouraged and keep in mind that your adventure can be the ends to a means of saving and working hard! Hopefully, you’ll find these strategies maximize the value in your travel plans.
Book your Travel:
Once you’ve picked a destination or three, it’s time to start planning. How do you get to your destination and how much money is traveling going to cost?
Some combination of planes, trains, and automobiles will get you where you want to go. The real challenge is determining which is going to be the most cost and time effective. I’m a huge fan of flying. Even once I’ve arrived in Europe, if I’m hopping between countries and I can access a major city or travel hub, flying tends to be the best balance between cost and time efficiency. Trains tend to be a big favorite for many, but I’ve found that traveling on the ground takes a lot longer and isn’t always cheaper. That being said, once I’m in a country like Italy, I rely on the train to get around regionally and between cities. Often, its a matter of scaling your travel. My rule: International = planes; domestic & regional = trains.
There are a lot of options for international flight. For my American readers, I’d strongly encourage using an airline that isn’t one of the big US names like Delta or American and their big name partners like Air France or British Airways. While they typically provide a modicum of stability and partnerships with comparable carriers, their benefits come at a premium which is reflected in their airfare. There’s also a trade-off with these airlines and their options for connecting hubs, which can sometimes be limited. Keeping an open mind to the discount carriers like EasyJet or RyanAir can pay big dividends for your budget and time.
Finding flights is stressful. My go-to resources for finding and booking travel are CheapoAir and Google Flights. The former is one of the many booking sites that provides discounted fares. I’ve found that, out of all the booking sites, CheapoAir provides the best deals. That being said, I urge caution in using any of these sites; they often show competitive fares, but then add a number of “booking fees” and “taxes” which essentially bring the cost to the same amount if you’d booked directly with the airline. I actually had some serious issues booking through Priceline and my bank. They’re on my sh*tlist for now.
Google Flights is a powerful tool for getting creative with your itinerary. You can easily compare prices on different travel days, look at a list of options for each destination, and gather a good sense of all the factors that go into deciding which tickets to buy. In my experience, Google Flights provides the most direct and honest means of finding you the cheapest flights possible.
I’ve got two final tips for arranging the cheapest airfare: 1. Book your itinerary one way at a time instead of booking round trip tickets. For some strange reason, when you break down your trip into coming and going, the combined airfare is usually lower, perhaps because you aren’t always with the same airline both ways. 2. Timing is everything. Google Flights gives you the ability to harness time in booking and in traveling to your budget’s advantage. It shows you which days are the cheapest to travel, and you can set up alerts to watch prices fluctuate. Booking early is typically cheapest. If I booked in February (but unfortunately this season, it wasn’t possible), my itinerary would’ve been under $1000 US.
Where will you sleep?:
Deciding where to stay once you’ve gotten to your destination depends on a number of factors. First you’ll need to consider what it is you’ve come to see on your trip. Are you in it for monuments and museums? What about lounging on the beach or hikes through breathtaking landscapes? Take some time with a travel guide or just scanning around Google Maps and consider the accessibility of the attractions you’ve come to experience. Then begin your search for lodging. You don’t want to end up with an AirBnb that’s a mile walk to the nearest train station that’s a 30 minute ride away from the sites you want to see (just typing that sentence was exhausting).
When I travel, I stick to one of three options: crashing with friends or family, hostels, or AirBnb. You’ll notice that hotels aren’t on this list. With my budget, the only hotels I can afford are going to be atrocious. Not to mention, it’s 2017, and there are much easier, cheaper, and comfortable ways to travel!
- Couch surfing has become extremely popular. So much so, there’s a number of sites and forums that you can arrange to stay at a welcoming stranger’s, or a friend of a friend of a friend’s place. I avoid this option because I’ve heard some less than pleasant stories about drug use, theft, and overall tomfoolery, but I’ve met plenty of fellow travelers who swear by it. Fortunately, I’ve got family and I’ve made many friends in my travels who have offered me an open invitation to stay with them when I’m passing through. Not everyone can be so fortunate in knowing someone abroad; nevertheless, you’d be surprised by who you know, who they know, and the variety of summer homes, rental properties, or relatives out there that you could stay with when you shake your phone tree. As for building that network of friends abroad, be social when you travel. You never know who you’ll meet and bond with, and what kind of extra space they have when you want to visit again!
- Hostels are not what the movie made them out to be years ago. Last year, I actually stayed in a few of them and never left disappointed. They are, however, typically for a younger crowd, despite what their websites may say. Hostels trade amenities like room service and privacy for cheaper, dormitory style living. They’re great if you’re traveling alone and you’re open to meeting new people but if you’re with someone like a significant other, maybe skip to the next item on this list. Hostelworld is an awesome tool for reading reviews and comparing rates and locations for all the hostels available where you’re headed.
- By now, everyone should be familiar with what AirBnb has to offer. Part of the new “sharing economy,” people open their homes to travelers for a modern spin on the Bed & Breakfast experience. There’s a lot of variety available, including both unremarkable and fantastic spaces. The value also varies, but if you do enough shopping, reading of reviews, and comparing locations on the map, you can find some absolute gems at a steal for their price. AirBnb is probably the main reason why I say that hotels are dead. For the same if not lower price, you can get access to a full, locally-authentic home. I typically stick with the “full home” option because that’s where I can maximize both value and privacy if that is what my visit and budget allow for.
At the end of the day, you’re going to have to pull the trigger and book your travel. There are unlimited variables that go into making an itinerary so at some point you’ve just got to set it in stone. Making it through this phase is easily the most stressful part of getting your adventure on. There should be a psychological term for the big rush of emotional relief you get once your travel is actually booked. Stay strong and keep your eyes on the prize. Once your travel is booked, you’re ready to just be there.