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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Minor

Young, Dumb, & Broke in Europe: Planning Your Trip Overseas!


Hello! So no biggie, I'm only 8 months behind on this post but who really cares. As many of you know, I went to Europe back in May of 2018 with my friend Emily and we visited 4 countries in less than 2 weeks. Yes, it was a lot. And yes, I would do it a million times over.

Since our return to America (still in tact), many of you have asked me questions about our trip, how we planned it, and if I had any tips for your future travels. And while I'm certainly not claiming to be some expert travel blogger or even traveler, I'm quite proud to say we planned our entire trip by ourselves, and it went dang near perfectly. I'm also in the middle of planning another rendezvous, this time, to Japan!!!

Both of us are incredibly organized planners, and I think that was what made us able to have as much fun and success as we did. So I figured I might as well share our planning process, considering that we were also on a budget, in case it's helpful to anyone else.

 

Plan Months in Advance

The biggest piece of advice I would give anyone when it comes to planning a big trip overseas is to start as early as possible. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. Cheaper Plane Tickets

The most obvious reason is because everything is cheaper when you plan further out—especially airline tickets, which will likely be your biggest single expense. We decided to fly into Berlin from Chicago, and upon our return, we flew from Paris back to the states. Altogether, my tickets were less than $800, which to me, felt like a massive steal. I should also mention that though we didn't fly any luxury airlines, we had seats at the front of the plane with early boarding access. On one flight, I had enough room to lay completely flat on my side with my knees curled up!

As we got closer to the day we were leaving, the same exact tickets were running at $2,000 or more. So even though it’s a little nerve wracking to spend that much money so far out, you’ll end up being thankful for the cash you saved in the long run.

I would also recommend getting some travel insurance to protect your flight, just in case something comes up and you can’t go last minute. It’s only around $40 - $60, and still a heck of a lot cheaper than waiting to buy plane tickets.

2. Time for Research

The second reason to start planning early is so you can thoroughly research. I’m going to come back to this later and let you know everything we actually researched, because it’s a lot. But for now, take my word for it that you’re going to appreciate every extra day you get to learn a little more about where you’re going.

3. Secure Lodging

We chose to stay in hostels throughout our stay in Europe (as they were the cheapest option), but regardless of where you’re staying, the longer you wait to book rooms, the less likely you are to get (or spend) what you want. I would recommend booking at least 3 months in advance. Again, I know this may feel premature, but this is especially important for those of you who are traveling on a budget.

In our recent planning to Japan, we had compiled a list of places we’d consider staying. I decided to check in on some of these places about 4 months out from our departure date, and I was shocked to see that 90% of them were completely sold out. So the sooner you can book your stays, the better!

4. Train Tickets

If you’re from America, you don’t need to be told that our transportation system low key stanks. We don’t have any national train lines or services due to our massive size, but train travel is quite popular in other countries, particularly in Europe.

We opted for traveling from country to country by train with a company called Eurail. It was around $300 to travel to 4 countries in the span of a few weeks and it saved us the time we’d spend going through security and whatnot in foreign airports. The reason you should look at getting train tickets in advance is because it might take awhile to get them.

In the case of a Eurial pass, once you buy them online, you’re actually physically mailed your pass, which took a few weeks for me. In our next trip to Japan, we’re buying a similar pass for the Shinkansen Bullet Train that allows us to quickly travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, to Osaka, and a few other places. For this pass, you legitimately cannot buy it once you enter the country of Japan. So again, it’s something you have to do before you actually arrive overseas.

This is part of something that you’ll need to research, but the overarching theme is that if you’re going to be doing any traveling within a country (or to different countries), you may need to get these passes in advance!

Research

Like I said before, I’m a pretty organized person. I don’t like the idea of showing up in a foreign country and going “Okay, what now?” So doing extensive research on where I’m going is a key element for me. I’m going to give you 10 Things I think you should research in your plans to travel overseas, some that may seem obvious, and some that may not!

1. When to Go

When to take your trip is more than just making sure you have nice weather. This also impacts how busy your location will be with tourists and how expensive it will be to travel. Personally, I like to travel outside of tourist seasons because I’m not keen on trying to elbow my way through crowds of selfie sticks, and I also think it gives you a more authentic experience.

When you begin your research on this, you might find out things you didn’t even know you needed to know. For example, we wanted to travel to Japan at the end of April this year, only to find out its “Golden Week” and the entire country will practically be off work and out to rage at festival after festival.

One other thing to consider checking is the amount of daylight you’re going to have in the time you’re going. When we went to Paris, the sun was up until nearly midnight, which made for long and adventurous days!

2. Where to Stay

I’ve already mentioned that we stayed in Hostels when we went to Europe, and we’ll be doing the same in Japan. If you’re traveling on a budget, I’d highly recommend this, and an excellent resource to check dates, view photos, and read reviews is Hostelworld.com. This site also tells you everything each Hostel has to offer, including things like free breakfast, Wifi, and laundry. In many cases you’ll also get very great directions on how to get to the hostel, making it incredibly easy to find.

I have to admit, I was initially a little skeptical about staying in Hostels. I had pictured them to be a dirty place where everyone was piled together on bunk beds. But I was pleasantly surprised at how incredibly trendy the places we stayed were. Many partnered as a coffee shop, bar, or restaurant, and they seemed more like a place for hipster travelers than bums of the street. You can also stay in male or female only rooms and select the number of people you’d like to share your room with. Again, take some time browsing photos on Hostelworld.com before you decide against hostels altogether.

Other options of course are Air BnB or just regular hotels. We looked into Air BnB’s but decided against them because of things like location and language barriers. We also found that hostels had much more to offer for tourists, including maps and guides, as well as being a great place to meet other travelers.

These are all the reasons you research places to stay. In addition, you should make sure that wherever you end up is in a safe location and is easy to access by transportation.

3. Transportation

And speaking of transportation, the biggest reason to research this is to find out if you need anything before you enter the country (like the passes I described previously). It’s also good to know what your main method of transportation is going to be so that you can find a place to stay that is nearby.

Also take some time to check out passes for local trains or busses. If you’re going to be traveling a lot by one method of transportation in particular, you can save quite a bit of money by buying weekly passes (for example) rather than individual tickets for every ride.

I also visited South Africa back in May of 2017, and we took a ton of Uber’s in Johannesburg and Cape Town. And if you are in a place where it’s just easier to rent a car, make sure to check that out as well.

4. Tickets to buy in Advance

Like I’ve already mentioned 8 billion times, the most important tickets you’ll need to buy in advance are for transportation. But other things to consider are tickets for attractions and museums. If there are any major spots you know you want to go to, like the Louvre in Paris, go ahead and grab those tickets online in advance, as it will save you a ton of time waiting in lines, and probably some money as well!

We learned this lesson when we visited the Catacombs in Paris. We actually tried to buy a “skip the line” ticket in advance, but gave up when the website was primarily in French and honestly, really confusing. However, we ended up waiting in line for over 3 hours in the blazing hot sun, and in the end, wished we had made a better effort.

5. Directions

Now I’m not talking about finding directions to and from every place you’re visiting. We ended up using Google Maps a lot with no issues. The directions you’ll need to know in advance are things like how to get to your hostel from the airport or a major train station. In some cases, you can still use maps for these, but in other cases, knowing in advance is going to save you a lot of time. Let me give you an example.

We really wanted to stay in the alps in Switzerland during our trip to Europe, and we found a really cool mountain hostel in a little village called Gimmelwald. While it is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to in my life, it was quite the task getting there.

We ended up taking an overnight train from Austria to Switzerland. We came to the major train station in Bern, where we had to get on another train to head to the Interlaken. By the way, there was an Interlaken East and an Interlaken West, so it was pretty important we got on the right one. Once we got there, we had to take a smaller train to get out of the city. Then, we had to take a bus. To a Gondola. Up the mountain. And then walk a little bit to the hostel.

You see what I’m saying?

These are important things to know, so do a little bit of research on how to get to and from the major stops on your trip!

6. Important Phrases in the Language

This is one of the “no-brainers” I was talking about. Yes, a lot of people overseas can speak English, but that doesn’t mean you should assume everyone you’ll be interacting with does. In fact, if you want do to anything outside of traditional tourist things, it will be helpful to know a phrase or too. Plus, it’s fun! I would recommend knowing:

  • Hello/Goodbye

  • Thank You

  • Simple Ways to Order Food

  • Where’s the Bathroom?

  • Do you speak English?

  • Help

And that’s pretty much it! It’s up to you if you’d like to dive deeper, but people really appreciate when a tourist makes an attempt to learn their language, so I would definitely recommend doing so!

7. Technology You’ll Need

Technology is one of those things that can be super easy to forget. We’re so used to our own phone chargers and outlets that upon arriving in a different country, you can suddenly be faced with something completely different and be totally caught off guard.

The biggest difference from country to country is the voltage and the type of converter or adapter you’ll need to plug in your devices. Don’t assume that if you’re going to a large region (like we did in Europe) that everything is the same. For example, we visited Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France, and we needed one adapter for Germany, Austria, and France and a different adapter for Switzerland. I would recommend getting more than one, in case you need to charge your phone and blow dry your hair (or something) at the same time.

Another piece of technology I would say is essential is a portable charger. As you will likely be using your phone a lot for directions, looking things up, and taking photos or videos, your battery is going to die quick. My friend even brought two portable chargers with her, which ended up being great because mine died on the second day of the trip.

Lastly, you may consider getting a Wifi Hotspot, depending on where you’re traveling. We didn’t do this for Europe but we are doing it for Japan, as we’ll likely be using maps a lot more!

8. Safe and Unsafe Areas

Every city in the world has some areas you probably shouldn’t explore in the wee hours of the night. Of course, there’s no need to be incredibly paranoid, but let’s face it: tourists are easy targets. And when you’re in an unfamiliar area, it’s important to know you’re safe!

Do a quick Google search on “unsafe neighborhoods” in the area you’re traveling to. Most likely, you’re just going to be told to avoid certain areas at night, so if you really want to see a particular spot, just plan to visit in the day time.

9. Food!

When it comes to food, you don’t have to convince me to do some research! I would say the biggest reason to do look into this is just to make sure you try everything. After all, you wouldn’t want to go to a country just to realize you missed out on a meal you can’t get anywhere else. Look up what the local specialties are, and if you really like to plan, find a restaurant or two you wouldn’t mind visiting.

For example, I’ve been doing some deep diving on ramen restaurants in Japan, and I’ve got a few that we’ll definitely be checking out!

10. Museums and Attractions

If you’re traveling on a budget (like myself), I think a good reason to do a little research on museums and attractions is to see if they’re actually worth the cash. There’s no shortage of free things to do in a new country, but there are likely going to be a few things you’ll need to pay for.

For example, we really wanted to go to the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin. Upon doing a little research we found it was only 5 Euro’s to go in, and it only took about 30 minutes to walk through. Worth it! On the other hand, when we were in Paris, it was a pretty penny to go up in the Eiffel Tower, and the line was incredibly long on a very bleak and rainy day. Not worth it. We opted for the steep (and free) climb up to the Sacre-Coeur for a beautiful view of the city.

Read a couple of reviews, and see what people have to say about the places you’d like to see. You’ll also likely stumble onto a few fun things to do you didn’t even know about!

Itinerary

Okay, I swear I’m wrapping it up. But I wanted to make one more point that I think it’s pretty beneficial to make an itinerary for your stay overseas. Considering that in Europe we visited 4 countries in 2 weeks, it was extremely helpful to us so that we could ensure that we’d get to do everything we wanted, as well as make all of our train rides on time. And seriously, I’m not joking when I say that we didn’t miss a train the entire time we were there. Sure, we had to run a few times, but we made every one!

I’m not talking about planning to the hour in your itinerary, but just making a rough outline of where you want to go on what days, which attractions you’ll be visiting, and what time you need to be at train stations, airports, or bus stops. All this is going to do allow you to make the most of your trip.

Of course, don't pack your itinerary too tight, otherwise you won't have any chances to go with the flow. You will definitely come across things you had no idea you were interested in before, and so you want to allow yourself some time to explore!

 

And there you have it! My WAY TOO LONG guide to traveling overseas when you're young, on a budget, and living you best life. If you'd like to see a little bit into our trip to Europe in 2018, check out the Vlog below! Happy travels!



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