My husband and I are both secondary teachers and coaches. A few weeks ago, the stress from the job reached its peak. We knew we needed a break. With spring break around the corner, we broke out the laptop and started researching budget-friendly vacations that would take us far from the Texas weather (and students!). While researching countless ski resorts within a day’s drive from our tiny suburb town, my husband decided to jump in on the action and tempt me with a, “let’s go to Europe.” Much to our amazement, flights to London proved cheaper than three days on the slopes!
This led to another infamous impulse exploration (remember spring break ’14). I am now proud to say that we will officially be living out our dream of backpacking 32 days in Europe this summer. I’m the frugal one, so before I could back out of the deal, hubby had already pushed ‘purchase’ on the Norwegian air flight to London, for a less than what we would have spent on a measly 4 day spring break ski vacation in New Mexico. Here’s where the fun begins…planning! Note: We began planning our trip only 3 months before departure date
STEP ONE: Sketch Out a Calendar
Okay, 32 days in Europe meant we could see multiple countries. We fly into London, and out of Venice, so we needed to plan our trip around the north-to-south trek from the UK to Italy. To make it a joint effort, we made an online Excel spreadsheet that was shared through Microsoft OneNote so that we could both work on it at work and see live changes and comments made by the other. (I have to admit, this process was extremely cool and will revolutionize how I share documents and edit them with students and co-workers)
STEP TWO: Secure Travel
Once we had the general idea of how many days we would spend in each country, the next logical step was to secure travel. We used Skypicker.com to find extremely affordable flights (more on that in another blog), and rome2rio.com to help map out the best method of travel before booking. My OCD (self-diagnosed) self, and the teacher in me, needed a visual aid. I whipped out Photoshop and created a color-coded map of travel and prices during our stay there. Note: this is a rough draft version.
STEP THREE: Budget Each City
After we knew what travel would cost, we budgeted out how much we wanted to spend on accommodations and food in each city. I will go into detail more about the specifics in another blog, however I will say that we had a general budget of $80 a night for hotel accommodations and an average of $75 in food per day. Probably sounds high to most people, but we figured in an average that included a nice sit-down in each town. Rick Steves suggests that an average 3-star Double Room at a hotel in Europe costs on average $110/night.
STEP FOUR: Research, Research, Research!
We researched the museums we wanted to go to, the times and days they were open. This was a top priority, as I have heard stories of travelers who make it all the way to see the Statue of David in Florence, only to find out that the Galleria is closed on Mondays! We researched hotels, Airbnb, neighborhoods, city transportation, packing tips, restaurants…the list could go in and on. (Notice in my calendar above, I started a section for this)
I emailed a calendar to the family members in case of emergency (and piece of mind for the parentals) that included name, city, and phone number of each hotel and any flights we would be taking.
Before you think “ain’t nobody got time for that!”, Google makes it extremely easy. If you are logged into gmail or chrome with your gmail account, all you have to do it search “flight reservations” or “hotel reservations” and your upcoming reservations will pop up below the search bar. From there, click on your reservation and the address, phone number, flight times, or flight number will show. Honestly, it only took me about 10 minutes. (see picture)
With research wrapping up (not sure we will finish that until the trip is over), we are ready to embark on our journey, and I can’t wait to tell you all about our money-saving tips, must do’s, and absolutely not’s!