This summer, Danny and I are taking a whirlwind tour of Europe. We will be flying into Dublin, renting a car to explore counties Galway and Kerry, skipping across to London, rocketing through the Chunnel to Paris, enjoying a visit with friends in Nice, soaking in the Riviera on a train ride to Cinque Terre, and completing our trip in Rome.
Planning to make this trip a reality has been years in the making… and it’s humbling to share our dream with others, knowing how completely blessed we are to have this experience. My grandfather has traveled all over the world and our most enjoyable conversations center around travel. I once told him that I had a deep desire to see the world and he told me, “I will pray that God will grant you the desires of your heart that he places within you for a purpose.”
Travel is a humbling experience, and we’re not even there yet.
The intended purpose of this post is to share some of the wonderful resources I have found with you, and hopefully, receive some of your tips and tricks in my comments.
1. Budgeting and saving. Nearly 9-10 months before our trip, we began saving like we had never saved before. The travel planner on Mint.com made it very simple to calculate a total budget. We use Mint to keep track of our finances regularly, so it was impossible to forget about our goal. The visual tracker and monthly projection of how close we were was extremely motivating.
We budgeted $100 for hotel, $50 for car (bus, plane, train, ect.), $75 for food and $50 for entertainment. With the trip 2/3 planned, we are right on track to stay within or below our daily budget!
2. Getting the Right Perspective: Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door 2013
I requested a Europe guide book for Christmas, and my little sister, Diana, picked this one up at Barnes and Noble. An element of travel instilled in me by my father is the desire to experience a place like a native… blend in and explore beyond the tourist areas. This book features cultural information, packing tips, transportation tips for within Europe and local attractions and accommodations.
3. Booking the Flight: Skyscanner.com
We had heard from several people that flights in and out of Dublin would be least expensive (and indeed found this to be true by $200-400/ticket during the peak season). I monitored this site 5-6 months ahead of our travel date to find the best flights. Skyscanner has the best “fare round up” for international flights. We ended up booking RT tickets from SFO to DUB for about $1200 a piece through Cheapo Air. (This is also the site I use to book flights home as well. I have great luck with it.)
In addition to using Skyscanner for our flight to Europe, I used this site to book all of our smaller flights within Europe and had excellent results. My friend Robin, from Carry On Beautifully, was the first to turn me on to how inexpensive it is to fly within Europe. We are paying less than $80 per person per flight from Dublin to London and Paris to Nice.
4. Hitting the Books: Once the flights and basic itinerary was sketched out (we knew where we would be and for how long), I began looking for places to stay and things to see. Rick Steves elaborated on the importance of using guide books that were up to date, so there was no way I was going to blow our precious funds on buying books that wouldn’t be valuable the next time we travel to Europe.
My solution: snapping photos from travel books during our regular Barnes & Noble dates (shhh!!) or, more frequently, requesting books from my local library. Did you know that most libraries now allow you to search and reserve texts online, allowing you to stop in a pick up the books you want from the counter? Brilliant. I have probably borrowed 25 books on specific countries, regions and cities I am visiting. Eyewitness and Let’s Go were my favorite series.
5. Finding Hotels: Our trip will provide a mix of bed and breakfasts, small inns, and mega chains. Tripadvisor.com is my go-to resource for reading reviews on potential accommodations. Hundreds of travelers offer their tips, photos and pros/cons. It takes time to sift through the many options, but it was completely worth it to me to get the best value. It’s possible to sort the reviews to find travelers like yourself; “couples”, “families”, “solo”, ect. For most of the trip, we are prioritizing location over amenities. Five star accommodations is not what we’re there for. 🙂
You can also build an itinerary on this site, but I found another tool more helpful…
6. Compile your tips, budget and itenerary on Evernote, an app for your iPhone or computer. Using a table and checkboxes, I can track our daily itenerary, budget, confirmation numbers, phone numbers and addresses.
Of course, this plan is just my way of organizing what is available and possible at these locations. We LOVE to travel spontaneously and stay true to our energy and mood that day. Ironically, I’m told that if you’re willing to plan up front, your spontaneity will be much more successful on-site.
7. Other random tips:
- Reach out to friends and family who have traveled in the area for recommendations! Most people are happy to share their experiences with you! (But don’t be surprised if you get conflicting information!)
- Rick Steves’ travel podcasts, free audio tours, and video clips. (I am completely obsessed.)
- Pinterest, of course, is a visual way to remember what you plan to see.
- A money conversion site is helpful to have bookmarked!
I can’t wait to hear about your travel experiences and planning tips. Broadening this pink-tinged perspective is sure a lot of work, but oh, the fun!