Travel planning is different for everyone. Some people prefer to have the entire trip planned before they go, while others book a flight and figure the rest out along the way. I have tried both of these methods – check out my Munich trip for my unplanned travel experience – and can say that there is a time and a place for both! A longer trip (such as 1 month in Europe) is better to keep open and purchase cheap flights/hostels along the way. Plan-as-you-go travel is great if you want to see more small towns, and it allows you to really be a traveler instead of a tourist. However, for my Eurotrip I decided to plan ahead, as it is cheaper to do so and any wrong turn in a short two weeks could mean missing my flight home…
A couple people have asked how to plan a trip or how to plan an itinerary, so I decided to get more detailed and write a post about it! I’ve included tips for travel in general, and below each category I mentioned how I specifically used those tips to plan my solo trip to Europe.
- Scheduling: If possible, look at ticket prices before solidifying the dates of your trip. Sometimes that is not possible (like if you’re traveling on a holiday weekend), but flights range in prices by hundreds of dollars over the course of one or more days! To find the price differences, look for flexible fares and be sure to have your search settings as “my dates are flexible.”
For my two weeks off in June 2017, I was planning to take a trip to New York but all the tickets were $600 to $800 round trip. Hostels/hotels and airbnbs were also ridiculously expensive (as expected in New York), so I decided to look on SkySkanner.com to find cheap flights around the USA. I ended up seeing even cheaper flights around Europe, so started looking at flights from SFO to every major airport in Europe. As it turned out, there was a roundtrip flight to Dublin for $600 on United, and hostels were cheap so I’d end up saving money by going to Europe! I tried to use my miles to get the tickets (yay budget travel), but I was 5,000 miles short. Because of that United priced the plane tickets at $500 total, which was $100 for the tickets at $400 for the remaining miles. This was still cheaper but obviously not by much, so I looked at the price for purchasing miles directly. TRAVEL TIP: buy miles directly from the site, THEN go purchase the ticket! United sold 6,000 miles for $200, so I bought the miles first and then went through the process to pick my tickets again, for which I was only charged $100! I cut my airfare IN HALF by purchasing and then using miles!
- Flights & Tickets: Start looking for plane tickets as soon as you know when and where you want to go. The cheapest time to buy is usually 6 weeks before your trip. To find flights, I’m an avid user of Sky Scanner, but when I find a cheap flight I always go to the airline’s website to book it! Many travel agencies and booking websites offer great deals, but if the flight info changes or your flight is cancelled it’s not worth the trouble of talking through a middle man to handle the issue. Also as I said before look at the days surrounding your intended travel before you book. Traveling one night earlier may save you a couple hundred dollars.
I decided to take my trip only a month before my departure date which allowed me very limited time to research and book everything. If I had planned better I could have saved even more money! Hopefully I made up for that fact with my flight times though, because I picked a flight that left at 12:30pm and arrived at 10:00am. This meant I would be sleeping on the plane (and saving money on the first night in a hostel), and I’d still get an entire first day to explore Dublin!
- Lodging: I only use HostelWorld, Hotels.com, and Booking.com. Honestly these 3 sites are all you need. If hostels are available they are way cheaper for a solo traveler, so it is well worth it to buy a bed for a couple nights! If there are no hostels or it is cheaper to buy a hotel room for 2 than two hostel beds, hotels.com and booking.com are great places to start looking. I always use the map function to find my hotel (because budget travel means not renting a car which means inner city hotel), and then I look for the cheapest and least sketchy option. Hostels also pop up on hotels.com – how I found my hostel in Galway! The deals offered are worth taking usually, but if there are no good deals then go to the actual hotel’s site and book through them (similar to my advice on budget plane tickets purchasing: it’s just easier if anything goes wrong).
I created an account with HostelWorld so it keeps all my reservation numbers, dates, and information organize in chronological order! Since I booked 5 separate hostels for my 2 week trip, this resource was MUCH appreciated. I also found a half off deal on booking.com for Cork, and since the hostels in Cork are very poorly rated I’m treating myself to a hotel stay in my last city. At that point I’m sure I’ll appreciate the clean towels and real bed so much more!
WANT TO SAVE MONEY? If you’d like to also book on Booking.com to find great deals, they gave me a rewards code at this link – https://www.booking.com/s/teryn635 – for $25 off your next booking! Everybody likes a discount!
- Budgeting: You’ve now picked your dates and booked your flight and lodging, so the next step for your dream vacation is being able to afford it. Your destination and duration have a lot to do with how much you need to save, but a friend once told me to start by putting 75% of your paycheck into savings (after paying bills and necessary expenses). I know that is a lot of money, and that is not always possible, but I was mostly able to keep up with this goal by cutting back on my food fund (sushi took most of my paycheck), and by not shopping. Try and calculate how much you are willing to spend during your trip and then set a goal for when you should have the money by! Remember, even if you don’t reach that goal, you can still have a great time.
My savings goal when studying abroad was $5,000, and before I left I cherished every paycheck more than I’d like to admit. I did not spend a dime of that money just so that I could live comfortably in Spain. Luckily I’ve had two years to replenish my travel fund, and my total budget for my current trip is $2,000. This includes all flights/transportation, rooms, tours, and food for 2 weeks around Ireland and Prague. That is what I proudly call budget travel!
- Packing: Only. Bring. A. Carry-on. I will do a whole other post just on packing, don’t worry.
Yes, I packed 2 weeks worth of hot and cold weather clothes + toiletries and shoes in a 46 liter backpack that is smaller than most carryon bags. No, I do not plan on doing laundry during my trip because I was able to pack enough of everything. Again I plan to elaborate on what I brought and how I decided on what to bring in a separate post.
- Itinerary planning: This tip is one of my favorite because planning your itinerary is one of the most fun parts! I use Pinterest to do ALL of my planning, and I start by typing the city/country name into the search bar. From there I open 5-10 tabs of blog posts or articles with suggestions, and then I go back to the Pinterest search bar and pick a new search term. The new term could be “(city name) at Christmas” or other specific terms that give you more detail about your destination. I open about 5 more tabs with that search term, and then I go through and read each of the articles while writing down the places/events/must-see items for my city!
When planning, I don’t write every suggestion down because I tailor each trip to what I actually want to see instead of just what is popular (for example, I’m so sick of museums so I always skip those). Once my list is finished, I open Google Maps and plot everything to see what is close to each other! I group items by area and then make it a goal to spend each day doing things in close proximity. Usually I can create a 3 day suggested itinerary this way, but more often than not I end up doing 2 or 3 days worth of sight-seeing in 1 day and then spend the next couple days listening to local’s suggestions.
- Currency Exchange: This tip is the one I’m most proud of!! Travel Tip: every airport accepts payment in every currency! And they give you change in the currency you need for that country! This means when you land at an airport, instead of taking out a hundred dollars and paying $25 to do so, you could just bring a hundred dollar bill with you, purchase a water upon arrival, and then get $98 back in change in the currency that you need! No extra fees or withdrawal fees either! Banks are always the safest option when taking out money with your card, but for converting cash airport purchasing is the best and easiest option.
I brought a $100 bill with me and when I landed in Dublin, I bought a water and then had enough money to get to my hostel and pay my hostel fees, along with extra for some authentic food!
That’s all the tips I can think of for now, but if you have any questions or other suggestions I’d love to hear them in the comments section!
Life is an adventure, so keep exploring it!