Last August my best friend, her boyfriend, and I set out to take an 11 day trip around Europe. It started with a simple question the in November 2015 “You wanna see a play in London next August? My friend accidentally got too many tickets.” (By the way, the Play was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it was amazing.) And without hesitation, my answer was YES. We decided to ask the boyfriends, but my relationship did not last much longer so I ended up going solo, and hers turned into an engagement while on the trip (more on that later) and a wedding just last weekend.
So since we had a mere 10 months to save, plan, and book things, we got cracking! We started a joint Pinterest board on places to see, and destinations to visit advice from locals on bars and restaurants, and advice on what to pack. Since the trip centered around London for only a 1-day long play, we decided to stretch the trip to 3 countries, and 3+ days per country. We all agreed that less than 2 weeks was good with our jobs, and our budgets. We started in Scotland (her boyfriend’s bucket destination), renting a car and doing a full on Scottish road trip, went to London for 3 days, then Paris (my bucket list) for 3 more before flying home. He planned Scotland, we all planned London together, and I planned Paris’s destinations. This took the heat off of butting 3 heads together. If we had a bucket list item, we aimed for it, all else was fun, and we kept things open.
Here’s how the planning went:
- First of all, get a notebook/binder to write things down, keep print offs, maps, lists. We had our itinerary, calendar, lists of clothing, what to pack in a carry on (all in future posts). It was great to have it all in one spot. We got our cute tiny sized binders at Target in the $3 spot.
- Flights: We got our flights from the google flight matrix. You’re like, what is that? WELL friends, thank me later. It finds you the absolute cheapest flight out there. Better than ANY travel site. My travel companion did a search for at least 5 hours away from Green Bay and instead of flying out of Chicago, we flew out of Sault St. Marie, Canada (same drive distance, WAY less hassle) we found plane tickets from Canada to Glasgow, then Paris back to Canada for only $800! Round trip!
- Lodging: ALL of our rooms were booked through Airbnb. The site is so easy to use, easy to communicate with homeowners, and we found locations exactly where we wanted to be, and prices split between the 3 of us made each room an average of $30 per day. Sure we checked travel sites for hotels, but the Airbnb was cheaper, and we got rooms to ourselves and met locals who gave us advice on places to see and eat.
- Car: We knew we wanted to drive around Scotland from Glasgow, then up and around clockwise, ending in Edinburgh so we got a tiny car with Enterprise. This was the only time we rented a car, the rest was on foot or via Uber around town. We only needed to take 3 uber rides total, which was really cheap in Europe.
- Trains: We planned to get our train tickets early once we locked down an itinerary, and booked our train from Edinburgh to London via Virgin Trains and then booked our train from London to Paris via Euro Star and printed ALL confirmations and kept them on us. We checked the difference between flying between these destinations, taking a bus, renting a car, but all in all, the trains were the best choice financially.
- Passport! Make sure to apply for your passport early, if you don’t have one. They can take up to 4 months to arrive! And make the appointment with your post office ahead of time also. (Which is how I got mine)
- Budget: I set a “this is probably going to cost me xxxx dollars, we leave in 10 months, so I need to save xx each month to get there” rule. This kept me from spending too much in the months leading up to the trip. I would constantly ask myself things like: “Do you need to spend this $5 at Starbucks or do you need coffee in Paris?” That helped me save my money!
- Guide Books: These were the BEST travel books we found! Tiny, light weight, and we were ablt to take them with us. There are color-coded neighborhood maps, and pull out street maps in each guide with recommendations based on where you are. We got Paris and London.
I did not set an “I will not spend over this amount of money on this trip” rule. I figured it was a once in a lifetime trip, just GO. Damn how much it will cost! But I’m also not stupid and didn’t want to go broke because of it. We were incredibly frugal, got great deals on things, and split costs 3 ways which made this trip doable. I DID set a budget on food once we got there and it wasn’t even a problem at all. We found grocery stores for breakfast items, packed snacks for walking around, and really only ate out for dinner and sometimes the occasional lunch, keeping spending low. We had next to NO room in our backpack to bring things back, so we kept souvenirs small. I also had my portion of the trip completely paid for when we got there and only used credit cards or a debit card once we actually got there for food or small items. That felt good, knowing the trip was paid for by the time I got on the plane!
Next time: How to pack for the trip in just one backpack! AND what we did each day. Happy travels!