Yes, it is possible to travel on a budget!
Step 1: Start saving!
For example, I started saving up in January 2019 and spent two weeks in Europe in June 2019. I saved about $3,000 after having bought plane tickets which were ~$800.00 per ticket, round trip, and that did not include checking baggage or meals. It also did not include airport parking expenses which I also paid ahead of time to reserve a spot. So, in total, I spent around $4,000 to travel to Europe for two weeks. I paid for the plane tickets and parking in February of 2019 and continued to save (and be incredibly frugal) up until June. I managed to have saved up about $5500, which got me through Europe, miscellaneous expenses, and that odd summer gap when Clemson stops giving graduate assistants a stable income (so I was able to pay all of my bills on time, yay me!). Side note: Yeah – Clemson pays their TAs a yearly salary but within a nine month period, so we do not get paid over the summer unless our supervisor has funding. Luckily, my supervisor had funding so I was a part time research assistant over the summer and it helped me scrape by until school started back up (and thus, the stable income started back up, too). It may sound awfully daunting to save up that much in a short period of time if you consider yourself already living on a tight budget but trust me when I say having these experiences abroad are unforgettable and totally worth it! Also, if you can plan even more ahead of time, you can give yourself ample time to plan a really nice, luxurious vacation.
Step 2: Begin a detailed itinerary.
Step 3: While we are on the topic of safety, make digital copies of your proof of citizenship, plane tickets, and plane itineraries.
This ends the segment of preparing for travel. Now, you’re somewhere in Europe. How do you get around? How do you know where to sight see and explore?
1. Mobile cell phone charger. Get a cheap one from Walmart for ~$10.00. The one I had is small enough it fits in any size purse. It’s good for just one full charge but I would just be sure to charge it each night before another day of adventure.
2. Mobile hot spot. You might very well want to get this and do everything only on wifi. This way you have no worries of running up big cellular service bills for roaming when in Rome. I did not have one at the time but some AirBnBs we stayed in let us borrow complimentary mobile hot spots (one was a Wuawei!!) but I wouldn’t bank on that being a norm. Most United States cell phone carriers bill A LOT for roaming. You can Google your provider and their roaming policy. For example, Verizon does a $10 “Day” pass that lasts 24 hours and lets you use your regular mobile plan anywhere in Europe. But, if you there for 2 weeks, $10 per day adds up. So, I only did the day pass on days I was traveling (flying from U.S. to Belgium and back) and that was it. Otherwise, I only got connected when I was on WiFi. There are other options but I found the day pass to be the most convenient.
There were 3 apps I used religiously in Europe. 2 out of the 3 are free.
- Download free city maps. Yes, the entire city.
- First city map is free. After that it is $20 for unlimited free city maps forever. One time $20 purchase. I recommend this route.
- Once the city map is downloaded, you can mark any restaurants, memorials, tourist sites, beaches, whatever you want on the map and it will save it for you to come back to.
- After downloading the city map, it is accessible with or without data or Wifi. This is a huge plus if you’re traveling abroad! It also accesses your saved locations without having connection services.
It saved my life so many times. I used these maps as GPS for most of my time in Europe which is how I got around without using data so often. I really recommend this app when traveling abroad! Since I’m a pro customer for life with that $20, I used it when I first visited Cambridge, too. Oh, and when you are connected to Wifi, you can browse the other tabs in the app to see popular places people like to visit like famous artwork, where Van Gogh lived, what house Anne Frank hid in during the Holocaust, and more.
- Absolutely, 100% free!
- Requires you to use either data or Wifi
- Browse guided tours, boat cruises, brewery tours, Holocaust memorials and tours, museums, horse back riding through beautiful landscapes, those really popular hop-on hop-off bus tours, and more on this app. Of course, if you decide you want to go a on boat cruise or any other of the available activities, this will cost you money. But the app is great for comparing prices of a certain activity and, once you’ve decided, you can book your activity through the app.
I used this app to book an Anne Frank tour in Amsterdam while we were there (and Kirsten used this app to book us many other tours and activities!). It was a guided tour that took you throughout the city to major spots where history took place in the resistance against the Nazis. The tour ended in front of the Anne Franke house, where she hid for the last two or so years of her life, before dying (likely of an illness and/or starvation) in one of the concentration camps. Maybe you’re not into history, and that’s fine too, there’s plenty else to do like visit tall towers and castles that are beautiful and loom over their ancient yet prosperous cities. I found it especially heavy that Amsterdam would make golden stones to place in front of the old locations where Holocaust victims’ houses sat. Not all of the homes still remain, though a few still do, and the golden stones are a part of the walkways directly in front of the buildings, new and old. The golden stones include their names, birth and death year when available, and the concentration camp where they died. It’s an awful yet necessary reminder. In fact, here’s an example of the golden stones below.
- 100% free
- Requires Wifi or data
- Works like Google maps but pulls from all local public transit and gives suggestions on where to explore at the final destination.