Budgeting Your Overwhelming Trip Overseas

As I demonstrated in part one of this topic (Planning Your Overwhelming Trip Overseas), when it comes to trip planning, Effie Trinket has nothing on me. I charted a course for my best friend and myself through Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice, scheduling in every sight we wanted to see and restaurant we wanted to eat at. In two weeks. On a student budget.

Since my first installment was an overview on how to approach planning a trip abroad, I wanted to follow up with a deep dive on how I budgeted the trip. It can be tricky knowing where to splurge and where to pinch! Again, this article comes from my personal knowledge traveling France and Italy, but these tips can definitely be of use when planning any trip.

When you start budgeting your whirlwind trip overseas, break down your choices and approach them step-by-step as you estimate and add up prices. Naturally, every traveler will have personal preferences on where they want to save money and where they want to go a bit crazy. My friend might have rolled her eyes at me when I laid down 40 euros to make a necklace of hand-blown Murano glass beads in Venice, but I maintain that maybe she didn’t need a ¼ liter of wine at every meal, either! It was no big deal, though, as neither of us expected the other to pay for something huge unless we both wanted to. Make sure to plan what you want to spend the most on, and consult with your travel partner(s) so no one is taken by surprise.

Airfare

This will likely be the biggest price tag, with round trip plane tickets overseas easily going into the thousands of dollars. You can save a lot here by planning ahead! Studies have suggested that the optimal time to buy plane tickets is either weeks in advance and that tickets are pricier in the morning (when business people are typically booking on the company dime) than in the afternoon (when future vacationers come home from work and plan their own trips). Websites like Kayak, Expedia, and TripAdvisor can also help you find cheap airfare by allowing you to plug in numbers and play around with different airports in nearby cities and compare prices from many different airlines. These sites even let you set up notifications for certain flights, so the site emails you if one of your saved flights lowers in price.

Accommodations

Depending on your comfort and safety preferences, the cost of your accommodations can vary greatly. If, like many young backpackers, you are planning on hitting up the local hostels, you still have a wide range of options. Websites like HostelWorld and HostleBookers can be hugely helpful in finding accommodations that fit your preferences and budget. These sites have listings for tons of places and come with reviews, photos, lists of amenities, rates, availability, and maps to show where you’ll be in the city and where public transit is located—everything you need to plan your trip.

When I was sorting through this wealth of information and options, I considered price and location first and foremost. Often, the cheapest accommodations are distant from the main attractions and events the city has to offer. Do some research into the city’s public transit: is there an easy way for you to get where you want to go, and does the transit run as early/late as you’ll need? Also, keep in mind that staying out all day without a stop at “home base” can be draining. My friend and I went abroad during July and were often hot and exhausted after lunch. Finding a park to nap in became a frequent routine that was critical to our enjoyment of the rest of the day. If that doesn’t jive with you, make sure you’ll be able to head back to the hostel fairly easily when and if you need to.

Aside from price and location, it is also important to consider the atmosphere of your accommodation. In Italy, we stayed in a vastly different hostel in each city. A Venice Fish was a communal, hippy-ish house full of excitable, partying Australians. After Venice, we stayed in PLUS Florence, one of a chain of hostels under the PLUS name. Though we were worried that it would feel distant and corporate, it turned out to be an awesome experience and it was very geared towards ease of the traveler, with everything from a money exchange at the front desk to preplanned daytrip offers for the guests. In Rome, we stayed in these cabins outside the city. About half of them seemed to be populated with other travelers, while Roman citizens rented the other half to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This seemed like it would be a really relaxing stop at the end of our trip, but since the cabins were sorted by type of occupants, we ended up in one end of a duplex shared by five or six enormous bros who drank and listened to dubstep until approximately 4 o’clock each morning. In short, even though you will never know exactly what a place will be like until you get there, you are going to be spending a significant amount of time at your accommodations, and it is worthwhile to scour reviews and photos to find a good match for your personality and preferences.

Travel within City/Country/Continent

This item varies a lot depending on where you are going. In some places I’ve been to, like West Africa, one could take daytrips from a central location very cheaply and easily, but traveling from country to country took either a good deal of time (a few days) or much more money (flights around Africa are nearly as much as flights from North America to Africa!). However, traveling around Europe was (relatively) cheap and, because it is such a frequent destination for people in their 20s taking a modern-day Grand Tour, there are many discounts available to young travelers. RailEurope is an excellent tool to plan and book tickets, as you can layout your trip and get price quotes for each leg or find special offers that help guide your planning. Another benefit is that you can buy passes that will work on any one of a number of given days. That means if you decide to stay an extra day or leave early from a city, all you have to do is look up when the next train comes and hop on!

Once you’re inside your chosen city for a few days, you’ll want to get around to all the sights. You can certainly take taxis everywhere, but most of us just don’t have that kind of money, or we would rather spend it on awesome stuff instead of a yellow car that smells like cigarettes. Getting familiar with the city’s subway or bus system is a must. The bonus to this is that you can spot the deals ahead of time and get the most ride time for your money. Our lack of foresight in this aspect of our trip was what ultimately led to our ferry ticket in Venice, as we were trying to make it back to a station large enough to have 5-day passes for sale without having to purchase another one-way pass. C’est la vie! But it is a fate you can now avoid.

Food Budget

I am a huge foodie, make no mistake. A big part of traveling for me is trying the weird things they like to eat there and the classic foods for which they’re famous. That being said, I revolved my Italy/France trip around art, not around food. Still, I was able to find a plethora of tasty food options all over every city. For me, the Rick Steve’s guide to Europe was invaluable. It (and other travel guides like it) collects the tastiest and most interesting food options and sorts them by neighborhood and price. With short descriptions of the restaurant’s atmosphere and fare and a little pricing scale, we had no trouble choosing a restaurant just a short walk from wherever we were.

When planning ahead for a budget, it’s extremely helpful to use these guides and the benefit of your home Internet to plan ahead a bit and check out the online menus and price lists of the type of restaurants where you plan on dining. Though there is, of course, no need to commit to a specific restaurant tour just yet, this will help you estimate costs and allow you and your travel partner(s) to consider where to save and where to splurge.

Attractions and Shopping Budget

This part is very broad and very dependent on your interests, budgets, and need to bring home cheesy souvenirs for your loved ones. Keep in mind that you will possibly be paying for things like entry fees for museums, covers for bars, tasty bottles of wine, key chains that say “I ♥ NY,” and other things that spark your interest. Consider your buying habits and maybe even make a list of what kinds of things you plan to purchase while on vacation, so you can more easily budget your money for those items and not buy the first 20 euro Eiffel Tower paperweight you come across.

As for attractions, the Internet is the perfect resource for discovering that admission to the British Museum is free but a ride on the London Eye costs 26 pounds. You can also often find similar tourist deals as you did for transit—for example, the Paris Museum Pass gives you free entry, with skip-the-line privileges, to over sixty Paris museums and monuments. That is something I wish I had researched before spending two hours outside the Musee d’Orsay.

In closing, plan your budget, stick to it when you can, and most importantly, have fun!

Photo by Anastasia Heuer

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