This past summer I got the incredible, amazing, unbelievable, (insert more adjectives here) opportunity to live and travel through Europe for two months. It was the experience of a lifetime. Not only did I learn so much about the cultures of other countries and groups of people, I learned a ton about myself. Typical statement, I know. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”…“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things”…“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”. I could go on and on with quotes I’ve pinned on Pinterest about how much traveling teaches you. But as cliché as they may seem, they are all completely accurate.
One thing these quotes don’t mention, however, is how much you can learn before you even step foot into that new city, country, or continent. Planning my two month adventure in Europe was by far the most rewarding thing about my trip, because despite all the stress, huge deficits in my bank account, and countless hours of researching, it all somehow worked out in the end. I didn’t get taken (my parents’ biggest concern). I didn’t overdraft my debit card (my bank was happy). And most of all I have an album of pictures that could rival a Fodor’s travel guide (obviously what I was more worried about). When I go back through these pictures, I still can’t believe I actually pulled off the trip. People constantly ask me how I did it, so I figured it was time to share a few of the things I did while planning Eurotrip (the name my friends and I came up with in the early stages of the process).
- Keep a secret stash: I started saving money when I was 10 years old. (Okay, I know that’s a long time and that is impossible for you to do now since most, if not all of you, are well over 10.) BUT do not get discouraged….there is still hope. And a lot of it. Because I have a fool-proof system for saving that is sure to get you that dream trip in no time at all. Here’s what I did: Every time I made money (babysitting, note-taking, tutoring, lemonade stands…keep in mind I started this when I was 10) I put HALF of it away in what I like to call my secret stash. In the beginning I didn’t have much money because, hey, I was 10 years old and when I made $10 at a lemonade stand I thought I had won the lottery. So for the first 5 years or so, my secret stash made it up to about $350. But when the babysitting jobs started piling up and the college note-taking opportunities arose, I took them. My secret stash was beginning to get bigger. The second part of my saving routine was that every time someone gave me money for birthdays, Christmas, just because, etc. I also put HALF of that into my secret stash. I know it’s hard to see that money you get just “disappear” but you have to be diligent because it all pays off in the end, trust me. After you do it a couple of times, it gets a lot easier. And there is one rule to the whole secret stash thing. You can NEVER under ANY circumstances EVER take out a single penny. You can make change for yourself if you’re in a crunch, but never ever ever get any money out of this savings. That may mean forfeiting that once (or three times) a week trip to Chickfila, but traveling is better than chicken any day…which says a lot coming from a girl whose parents thought she would grow feathers because of the amount of chicken she consumed.
- Start planning early: I knew I was going to study abroad about 5 years before I actually did it, but I really started planning the whole traveling part of my trip about a year before. First things first: pick your must-see destinations. These are your non-negotiables, the places you will not end your trip without visiting. Then start planning your trip around that. Once you know where you’re going, you can plan the order in which to visit them so that you can get the most bang for your buck. And along the way to your non-negotiables, you might just happen up on somewhere amazing. Book your flights as early as possible, and your hotels about 4 months in advance. If you book these two things, you at least have a way to get to your destination and somewhere to sleep once you get there. The rest of the trip can be planned a lot later (or you can even fly by the seat of your pants once you get there)…I recommend this sometimes, but having a planned schedule does help make the trip a lot easier.
- Booking flights: When looking for cheap flights, it is SUPER important to clear your cookies after you do any kind of searching. Any time you look for flights, your computer saves that information in your history and websites will jack up the prices you see if they know you’re searching for flights a lot. If you don’t know how to clear your cookies, then do your searches on different computers. Use websites like StudentUniverse to get good deals on flights. Easyjet is a great European airline that has reasonable prices for flights within Europe. Side note: the best time to buy flights for anywhere is on a Tuesday after 6pm.
- Booking hotels: Don’t be afraid of hostels or bed and breakfasts. These types of places were actually the best accommodations I had while I was traveling, and the prices are usually considerably cheaper. Hostels have options of private rooms and private baths, but it’s always cheaper to stay in the dorm-style rooms. Most of the time, this is very safe and you meet some really cool people with some really cool stories.
- Start buying and planning your wardrobe early: There is nothing worse than scrambling around the night before a huge international trip trying to pack a suitcase in 50lbs or less. You are guaranteed to forget something, and the stress right before what is sure to be an exhausting plane ride is just not worth it. Once you figure out your destination, start researching the typical weather forecasts for the time you will be there. Plan your outfits around that. If you know you are going to need to buy something in particular, try to plan far enough in advance to buy that item when it is on sale. Buy clothes cheap so that if you purchase too many souvenirs, you’re not out a fortune if you leave some of your clothes behind. I did this a lot when I was traveling Europe. During my 10-day extravaganza, I threw away all of my underwear and socks after I wore them to save room. Packing deserves a whole post for itself, but the most important thing to keep in mind when planning a wardrobe for a long international trip is that everything you pack (or almost everything) must be able to be worn together. No exceptions.