During its term 1 session, Exeter University gives its students a month off in December for exam preparation, A.K.A. James and I were traveling Europe during that time. We managed to score a killer deal and were able to visit a total of 9 countries for about $12oo total. That’s about $600 ea. Flights, accommodation, food, transportation and attractions included.
How in the world did I manage to arrange this you might ask?! A lot and a lot of research.
I booked ALL of our flights for our December travels months in advance. Obviously buying flights in advance saves you money. Additionally, we did have a few factors that we used to our advantage. The fact that we were already based in the U.K. made hopping to and through Europe affordable – it would have definitely cost us much more if we were departing from the States. Also, travel between countries in the EU is far cheaper than travel between states in the U.S. It would cost me roughly $300 to fly from South Carolina to New York round trip. In contrast, it cost me £20 to get from England to Ireland!
- Budget airlines – First off we flew budget friendly. Every flight I booked, with the exception of one, was on a budget airline such as Ryanair (p.s. click here to learn how to survive any Ryanair flight), Vueling, Transavia, and Wizz Air. The only flight that I splurged on for was Air France. The main reason I splurged for the Air France flight was because after I purchased my Transavia flight I found out Transavia was experiencing many strikes causing delayed and canceled flights and I didn’t want to book any more flights with them and increase our chances of a missed flight – thus I opted for a higher priced flight of Air France.
- Private Mode – Secondly, I utilized some money saving tips when searching and buying my flights. First things first, ALWAYS search in private mode/incognito windows. Due to cookies, sites can track when you have looked at a flight route previously and will not always display cheaper routes to you. Soooo annoying.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner was a massive friend to me while I browsed. Essentially Skyscanner allows you to toggle around with their filters and make searching easy! You can search for a flight leaving from JFK going to ‘everywhere’ for the month of December, and see what the cheapest flights for the entire month of December that are leaving JFK. Additionally, you can search on a round trip basis leaving one month and returning in the same/another month, or you can even search specific date searches. If you don’t know what airport you want to depart from you can make it broader and just choose a country! What I like about Skyscanner is that it gives you a lot of options and helps you start with some sort of plan based on cost.
- Google Flights – The tool that I utilized while searching for flights the most was Google Flights. I used Google Flights in a similar way to that of Skyscanner. At the time that I was searching Google Flights didn’t have the feature where it tells you when is the optimal time to book 😦 but it did have another handy feature – its map feature. Essentially you can input your departing airport/city and pick a specific date and then click the world map and it shows you every single flight route in the world from your departing city/airport you selected. You can then filter them by a price and/or flight duration. To put it simply, I knew we were living in the U.K. so I picked London as my departing city and picked the first day after classes ended(Dec 10th) and searched for one-way flights under £50. I was immediately provided with tons of options. First I picked one flight route at random for city #1, decided how many days I wanted to spend in that city. Then I changed the departing airport to that of city #1, changed the date for when I wanted to leave that city (ex Dec 12) and repeated the process of looking on the map for a new destination. I repeated this step about 7 or 8 times until I had an itinerary of about 7-8 cities. My goal was to have an itinerary that had as many cities as possible – with enough time in each city, and a total cost of roughly $300. The first itinerary I came up with cost us each about $450 for 6 cities. I basically just redid my itinerary changing the order of the cities, adding/removing cities, and the number of days I spent in each city until I finally settled on an itinerary that gave us 9 countries for $301. I think it took me about 2 weeks, lots of headaches and over 15 different itineraries before I committed to one and bought our flights.
P.S. Our flatmates in Exeter, Eli, and Jocelyn decided to join us on our trip and they booked their tickets in early October with quite similar prices. Eli joined us for the entire trip and I think he ended up paying about $350 total.
Our final itinerary that I settled on consisted of:
- 12/10/16 London, UK -> Warsaw, Poland (click to read now)
- (STN 12:05 – WMI 15:20) RYANAIR
- 12/11/16 Warsaw, Poland -> Budapest, Hungary (click to read now)
- (WAW 10:35 – BUD 11:45) WIZZAIR
- 12/12/16 Budapest, Hungary -> Athens, Greece (click to read now)
- (BUD 19:55 – ATH 22:55) RYANAIR
- 12/14/16 Athens, Greece -> Rome, Italy (click to read now)
- (ATH 7:10 – CIA 8:05) RYANAIR
- 12/15/16 Vatican City (click to read now)
- 12/16/16 Rome, Italy -> Barcelona, Spain
- (FCO 9:05 – BCN 11:05) RYANAIR
- 12/17/16 Barcelona, Spain -> Munich, Germany
- (BCN 7:00 – MUC 9:10) VUELING
- 12/18/16 Munich, Germany -> Paris, France
- (MUC 15:35 – ORY 17:10) TRANSAVIA
- 12/20/16 Paris, France -> Amsterdam, Netherlands
- (CDG 12:40 – AMS 13:55) AIR FRANCE
- 12/22/16 Amsterdam, The Netherlands -> London, UK
- (AMS 7:00 – LTN 7:05) VUELING
Going into this trip James and I knew we would not be staying in five-star hotels. Sure I would have loved to do that, but one we couldn’t afford it, and two it didn’t make sense to spend a ton of money on a hotel and barely spend time in it since we were planning to sight see every day. Also considering in some cities we were only staying one night it would’ve been a huge waste of money. We ended up staying in 4 hostels, 1 air BNB, 2 couchsurfs, and 1 airport overnight.
- Hostels – For those who don’t know hostels are budget accommodations. Typically younger travelers utilize them, but with more and more people traveling the demographic has been changing where older travelers and even families frequent hostels. If you want the cheapest rooms possible they’re usually the rooms with 18 bunk beds crammed in and mixed genders. If you want a little more privacy and breathing room you can have that but at a higher rate per night.There were single rooms, same sex rooms, or rooms with fewer bunks per room i.e. a room of four. Obviously, James and I took the cheapest option – max bunk beds per room. While saving money can be important – so is sleep. If I were to do this again I definitely would consider paying a little more each night for fewer people in a room. I did make sure the hostels we stayed in had decent reviews as far as wifi connections/amenities/safety/hygiene/location to city center.
- Air BNB – Air BNB is essentially homes or apartments that are rented out by someone. You can rent an entire home/apartment where you’re the only person in the accommodations or you can rent with the host staying there as well. We managed to score an apartment for four for about £48 in Athens. If you’re plannig to use Air BNB click here to use my code and save yourself a whopping $40 on your next trip! Save that mula $$$$
- Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing is a site where basically a host will let you sleep on a couch, the floor, a spare room, or whatever they have available for FREE! The idea is you pay it forward, and if one day they’re visiting your country and city maybe you could offer them some accommodations! Also, it’s geared more towards travelers looking to meet locals and make friends – if you’re just looking for a freebie then it’s not the site for you. Obviously, always err on the side of caution. I felt quite comfortable doing this because I had two guys traveling with me. If a host asks for monetary payment you shouldn’t stay with them because the sites rules specify no payment is necessary. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t bring a gift as a token of gratitude! A tip with this site – hosts that live in large tourist sites get tons and tons of requests a day, and have the ability to pick and choose which people they want to host. I highly recommend reading hosts profiles and to send them a personalized message about what you have in common with them and why you would be a great guest for them. If they see you put in a little effort that may encourage them to select you over someone else who requested to stay during the same time.
- Airport Sleeping – While this a great way to save some money, be aware some airports have STRICT rules on passengers sleeping in the terminal. Also, it’s not really that comfortable – trust me I know. You could be stuck in a drafty cold terminal – i.e. Barcelona Airport is drafty and cold. We opted to sleep in the airport for Barcelona because we had an early flight the following morning and we wanted to stay out late and experience the nightlife of Barcelona.
Something that many travelers are unaware of when booking budget flights like Ryanair is the actual location of the airport in respect to the city. Many of the airports are at least an hour away from the city center – hence they can afford to have low budget airlines. When booking flights like this keep in mind the cost of getting from airport to city and back. Taxi fares will be notoriously high. However many European cities have great public transportation and often many have trains, buses or trams that depart right from the airport to the city center – however, they are often longer commutes than say a group shuttle. Since James and I were trying to minimize costs we opted for the hour long public transportation costs, and in some cities, we did travel cards that offered transport and attraction bundles! (I.e. Budapest Card)
There are tons and tons of things that you can do in a city that’s free! I went to London and managed to find 100 FREE things to do (click to read now). This is not an anomaly. There are so many parks, museums, galleries, and shops that are free to enter! Plus many of the large tourist landmarks are SO large that you can see it for free outside of the boundaries. Now if you want to go in an attraction you may have to pay but you can still see and admire many from the outside! Also ALWAYS ask for discounts. As a student especially, there are so many free things or discounts available to you. If you visit Athens, the entire Acropolis is free for EU students. Non-EU students may not get the perks of ‘free’ – but there are still discounts available! Even though the U.K. did vote to leave the EU they are technically still in it for the next two years – so our English student cards were still valid, though we did get a few dirty looks, sorry.
There are so many ways to eat authentic and cheap while traveling. As a rule of thumb, NEVER eat anywhere that’s near a tourist site. They will charge you more because they can. Often the food isn’t that authentic of great either.
- Budget Restaurants – There are tons of budget friendly restaurants available. Spend 30 minutes on TripAdvisor searching for best cheap eats or budget restaurants in a city you want to visit and you’ll get hundreds of options. I often frequented Pinterest and found blog posts just like this one for references on where to eat. Another tip for those looking to eat on the cheap but maintain some authentic cuisine is to eat during lunch! Tons of restaurants even the $$-$$$ restaurant do fantastic lunch specials geared towards tourists. You can have an entree and side for just €5 in many cases
- Street Eats – Another way to sample the cuisine of the country you’re visiting and not hurt your wallet – street eats. There are so many good things I can say about street eats. They’re often on the go, cheap, authentic and delicious! If you see a lot of locals frequenting a food stall – you know that’s the place to go.
- The most obvious and I think the most glossed over option of eating cheap while traveling – grocery stores. You don’t need to eat out for every single meal. I get it you may not have a kitchen in your hotel/hostel to cook food but that doesn’t mean you still can’t buy some pre-cooked food to munch on. James and I often munched on store bought granola bars or a bag of fruit during the days and then treated ourselves to a restaurant meal. Sometimes we bought deli meat, rolls, and cheese and made ourselves sandwiches on the fly as our lunch to save a few bucks here and there.
With all of these tips, I managed to score James and I a trip lasting 12 days, 9 countries, including flights, accommodations, transportation, attractions, and food! At the time the euros and dollars were almost 1 for 1, so roughly we spent about $600 ea for our trip. Another thing that benefited while traveling was that the pound was stronger than the euro, so when we converted our money from pounds to euros we ended up getting an extra 200 euros to play with. We ended up supplementing that 200 euros to our food and attraction budget because those were more important to us!
Total Cost for James and I: $1202 total, $601 ea
- Flights: $602, $301 ea
- Accommodation: €100, €50 ea…roughly $100, $50 ea
- Transport/Attractions: €200, €100 ea…roughly $200, $100 ea
- Food: €300, €150 ea…roughly $300, $150 ea
- Additional €200 gained from currency exchange not included in calculation.
LOVE THIS POST?! PIN AND SHARE IT NOW!