How I Travelled 5 Countries in 5 Weeks for $5,000
Everything you need to know to take a break from your job and travel the world too.
I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to settle down just about yet. As a recent graduate from a prestigious college, I've had a certain amount of pressure from society to get my life together and prove myself with a career in a corporate office. However, the longer I sat at a desk typing my life away, the more I realized society is wack and you can literally do whatever you want - you just have to DO it. So I quit my job, and spent 5 weeks traveling Europe with my best friend and hardly any savings. Sound a little too good to be true? Here's how I did it!
Before I jump into it, I would like to discuss what ignited this idea in the first place. My birthday is in December and this year my boyfriend, Cj, bought me a roundtrip ticket to Paris...yes you heard that right, Paris! (I'm still in shock). No he is not wealthy. Yes he is the greatest boyfriend in the world. At the time, he worked a contract job with Amazon, with middle class pay and an expiring contract. I still have no idea how he did it. We were set to leave in May for a week trip and I had absolutely NO savings.
As I worked my life away for the next four months, the thought of just one week in Europe didn't seem long enough. Three weeks before our departure date, I pitched Cj the idea of ditching our flights home and seeing how far the money we had been saving could take us. To my excitement he was all in, and our 2 week notices were the last of our commitments in the U.S.
We left for Paris on May 1st, and nothing else was planned beyond our week there. We spent the next 5 weeks spontaneously wandering cities throughout France, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. We ate a lot, saw a lot, and experienced even more. So here's what we learned:
Let's talk money, since this seems to be the number one thing holding many of us back from traveling. Almost everyone who's asked me about our trip has asked me how we afforded it. Cj and I both live at home with our parents, and this honestly was the biggest factor allowing us to save money as quickly as we did. If you are living on your own and paying rent, these tips can definitely still help you, you may just need to save a bit longer. Like I mentioned, we had 4 months to save for, what was supposed to be, a week in Paris - which was really, 5 weeks throughout Europe. I really had no idea how much money I would need so I saved almost everything I could. I do have student loans, and other adult responsibilities that I had to pay for along the way, but for the most part I could save the majority of my pay checks for the trip. I worked overtime most weeks and by the end of the 4 months, I had almost exactly $5,000 to spend on our trip. I set aside $1,000 that I wanted to save for buying a return flight home. That left me with $800 a week. I then budgeted $50 a night for hotels and $40 a day for food. That meant I still had $400 left over in the week for whatever else was presented to us. We both planned for $800 each, which meant in total we had $1,600 a week to spend - and let me tell you, we were living large!
Next on the list are flights. These are usually the largest investment when traveling and the reason many of us think traveling out of the country is unreasonable. Awhile back I met a business man from Scotland who travels every other month to Seattle for work. He told me his secret was to fly into and out of Vancouver, Canada with an airline called Air Transat. If you are from Seattle, like me, then flying out of Vancouver is a great idea to save some serious money! You can find flights as cheap as $350 for a one way ticket to London. The price definitely depends on how early you are booking before your trip, the season you are booking, and the exchange rate. I was looking back in March, which is considered "shoulder season" in Europe, which may be the reason for the low cost. Once you get into Europe, it's incredibly cheap to get around! I like using Ryanair for traveling between countries in Europe. We were able to find all our flights for around $50-75. Be sure to pay attention to baggage fees for each flight before you book.
**By missing our flights home, we had to purchase all new return flights to Seattle. If you plan ahead of time (which we did not) you can find round-trip flights for less than a typical one-way ticket to Europe.
Speaking of paying attention to baggage fees, packing light can save you a ton of money! I don't know about you, but I'd way rather spend my money on food and activities while I'm traveling than stupid baggage fees. To take advantage of this, Cj and I both packed everything we could in one carry-on size suitcase each. We also brought a personal item, which was a large tote bag for me and a backpack for Cj. By avoiding checking our bags, we were able to save up to $100 every time we flew in between countries. Yes, it killed my soul a little bit not having a fashion blog worthy outfit for every day possible, but I made it work with what I had and got creative with how I re-wore items. All you really need is a staple pair of jeans, a few tops, and a great pair of walking shoes. Also save some space and ditch the hair products - you can live with natural hair for a few weeks.
Cj and I chose to fly from country to country, but our main source of transportation within each city was our two feet! There were days that we walked 35,000 steps...our feet ached, but the places we went were always well worth it. Walking was always our first option since it was cheapest and we could stop and see more, however if the trek seemed a bit too far we would turn to Uber or Uber pool. If Uberpool is available where you are, definitely take advantage of it! There were times we took (what would be) a $50 ride for only $15. Talk about a steal!
Biking is also a fun and cheap option for getting around the city efficiently, and you can rent bikes easily in many cities. To travel from city to city, within the same country, Cj and I found the trains to be our best option. If you are planning to travel by train several times in the same country, you can buy a train pass to save a few dollars. The train system is amazing in Europe and only cost us around $80 for our longest trip.
It's amazing to live in a generation with so many options for accommodations. By now, we've all heard of Airbnb, and this is a life saver when traveling cheap! Cj and I set a budget of $100 total for each night, which we split - $50 each. Many will recommend hostels when traveling on a budget, but Cj and I preferred more comfort and privacy. We were able to find the most incredible Airbnb apartments well under our budgets most nights. When we couldn't find suitable Airbnb's, we used search sites, like Expedia, to find cheap hotels under $100. We were shocked at how many great hotels we scored for the prices we paid. We did travel during what was considered "shoulder season" in Europe, so prices were very reasonable and availability was (for the most part) never a problem. Traveling in low or shoulder season is KEY for saving money and traveling spontaneously. Otherwise, high season is way overpriced and overcrowded.
Awe food, where the majority of all my money goes. Luckily in Europe, it is super easy to eat amazing food for fair prices! The way Cj and I looked at it was we would spend the most on dinner and the least on breakfast. Most days we went to a bakery for breakfast and got a croissant. Neither of us drink coffee so our breakfast was usually no more than 5 euro total. For lunch, we would stop at a bistro or another bakery and get a sandwich or pizza. Our beverage of choice was always water, to save money and hydrate from the long day of walking. You do not tip in Europe, but they do have a cover charge for sitting at a table (and water is not free) so our bill typically came to 10-20 euro total for lunch. Dinner prices are usually always a bit more expensive. You can expect to spend around 20 euro per plate, and it's typical to have a several course meal. Cj and I stuck to our budget most nights and enjoyed one plate of pasta or meat dish each. We ate cheaper some nights, so that other nights we could indulge in several plates, drinks, and desserts.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BELONGINGS
Perhaps one of the biggest tips for saving money is to pay attention to your belongings at all times. When you are traveling Europe, you will notice many warnings telling you to watch out for pick-pocketing. This is no joke! Luckily Cj and I had absolutely no problem, but I have been to Europe before with friends who lost hundreds of dollars from pick-pocketers. A few things to make sure of: never leave your phone or wallet on the table in public or in your back pockets, store your money safely on you (under your clothes in a money belt is best), and walk with your purse fully zipped and in front of you. Also, low-key, trust no-one. There will be people trying to stop you to sign a petition or distract you with a street show, and those are red flags for pick-pocketers.
A few last minute details that also helped us during the trip were using an international credit/debit card that had no foreign fees. Ask your bank about your options before you leave. Having an international phone plan can help as well if you plan to be gone for a long period of time. It helped us also be more spontaneous because we could book our hotels on the go!
It's been about 2 months now that we've returned from our trip and there hasn't been a day I haven't thought about our time in Europe. They were some of the most impulsive and excited weeks of my life. This trip to Europe came at the most perfect time and not only changed me for the better, but changed Cj and my relationship for the better. If you are sitting at your desk dreaming of your escape, don't wait! If you have any other questions regarding traveling on a budget, please feel free to leave a comment below and I would be more than happy to help! Cj and I are already planning our next adventure and I can hardly wait!