Travel to Europe on a Budget

You may have read this title and said, “Cayli, what planet are you on? You can’t even go to Europe right now!” Yeah, yeah, and I don’t know about you but I need a little wanderlust in my life right now and I think some of y’all can relate. [I’m back in Nashville so I think it’s socially acceptable to say y’all?]

Before social distancing and Covid-19 was a part of my vocabulary, in January which seems lightyears away now, I finally went on a trip of a lifetime to Europe. I had been saving up for years and daydreaming about this trip from the time I first watched The Sound of Music.

I knew I wanted to wait and go to Europe until I could do it BIG. Luckily I had money saved for this trip specifically and as a goodbye to my toxic job, I decided to put in my two weeks and take the next step and book my flight.

I’ll be honest. Flight prices to Europe intimidate the heck outta me. That’s why when I was anticipating taking this trip, I had signed up for a credit card with airline miles. I chose the AAdvantage card from CitiBank. [Not sponsored, but I wish] I signed up when they were offering 60k bonus miles and I already had about 6k miles on my account. I [usually not this year] fly American about 4 times a year and wanted to start getting more bang for my buck. It also coincided with the holidays so I put all the Christmas gifts and other holiday expenses I had on this card. I ONLY recommend this if you can pay the balance in full every month before the due date. Not worth tanking your credit score for free miles.

Thanks to my miles, I flew economy to my first stop, Florence, Italy for FREE. I paid $10 in taxes and $50 for my bag. [More on that later] On my way home, I had a free economy direct flight London -> JFK but since it was in the middle of the day, I decided to upgrade for 100£. It was worth every penny. Between champagne before takeoff and comfier seats with more space, I was doing myself a favor because I got a job rejection that I was sure I had in the bag while we were over the Atlantic. Can’t lie, the extra Chardonnay was necessary.

Back to the itinerary. I think the most important thing to consider is that do you want to splurge on and what doesn’t matter to you as much? For me, I didn’t need to eat fancy meals every day [or even in every country]. I bought groceries for breakfasts and snacks and usually ate one meal out a day. I didn’t want to pay money for expensive tourist trap experiences and prefer exploring the city on my own, and I don’t mind taking public transportation vs taxis. I planned my travel between countries ahead and picked the cheapest mode of transportation [bus, train, plane] to get from place to place. Planning travel arrangements a month in advance vs night before saves you BIG TIME! I learned the hard way after missing my train from Venice to Salzburg.

There were a couple necessities while traveling I think are priceless and will always splurge on.

  1. A hotel or private space. I was traveling solo and knew no one on the continent so I didn’t feel comfortable getting a hostel. I know I could have saved a ton of money and that they are safe. I had never stayed in one before and I can’t lie, I just love living alone normally and find the luxury priceless. I stayed in all AirBnBs, usually the cheapest private space in a decent area within walking distance to shops, things to do, etc. I did splurge when I stayed at La Villa Saxe Eiffel in Paris for one night and my stay at Villa Trapp [yes THE Von Trapps] in Salzburg.
  2. Bucket list experiences. Sound of Music has been my favorite movie since I was nine, so I knew I not only had to make sure Salzburg was one of my stops but that I went all out. I stayed at the Von Trapps home, did the sing along tour, bought the souveniers, who nine yards. And it was worth. every. single. penny. My other big bucket list experience? Dinner with a view of the Eiffel Tower and a trip to the top. I don’t even want to talk about the fact that I paid 30€ for a salad. I had a view of the Eiffel Tower and it was worth every single penny.
I mean THIS was my dinner view.

My three weeks in Europe were everything I could have wished for and more. This was my second solo international trip and my first time traveling for an extended period of time. I don’t claim to be an expert but I am hoping post-Covid I can find a way to sustain travel abroad and learn how to be a more economical traveler. At the end of the day, I think that everything in life needs balance including saving vs splurging on vacation. I am grateful to have been able to save up enough money for this trip but I want travel abroad to be an experience that anyone can have. [Post Covid]

How do you travel on a budget?

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