TRAVELING ON A BUDGET

Yes, it is possible to travel on a budget! ​

A really, really tight one even. Many of the details I’m sharing I learned from Kirsten, one of my dearest friends from high school whom I visited in Europe in summer of 2019 (and she’s pregnant with their first child!! Due in August 2020). She really knows how to get the most out of traveling and being a tourist and it helped me immensely when I came back and wanted to explore my new area in Cambridge. Much of this will apply to travel plans to outside of the country but a lot of the tips and apps I used are still very relevant in your home country. I used the apps a ton when I first moved to Cambridge!

Step 1: Start saving!

Depending on your income, you’ll need to sit down and figure out how much time you need to save up before planning a big vacation. It’s doable, you just need to have a little self control with a temporary tight budget anticipating future travel expenses. 

 

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. 

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Don’t feel guilty either. You deserve this.

Step 2: Begin a detailed itinerary.

Write down where you want to go, how much transportation, hotels, meals, and miscellaneous expenses will cost; make a section that reminds you to do certain things like check to see if your bank charges foreign transaction fees, call your cell phone service to make sure you don’t accidentally run up your bill while roaming. In the same itinerary, list all of your expected expenses and overestimate them all. Tally them all up and use the total figure as a marker to save up for in preparation. 

Example Itinerary

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Now, the itinerary serves many purposes. If you’re traveling alone, share this itinerary with loved ones before heading out. If you’re traveling with a group, you can make sure everyone is on the same page with plans by sharing the itinerary around – even better if everyone contributes! If you’re traveling in a group, you should still share this itinerary with loved one before heading out. You just never know. For example, on my itinerary I listed all of the places (including hotels) where I was staying, phone numbers and addresses of friends I was staying with, just in case. 

Step 3: While we are on the topic of safety, make digital copies of your proof of citizenship, plane tickets, and plane itineraries.

I made digital copies of our passports, state-issued IDs, and airport itinerary. I had a copy, Noah had a copy, I printed out a copy, and I share these with my family as well, ya know – just in case. Did I go overboard? Yes, let’s remember ya girl has OCD but still, these are good things to do. What if you lose your passport? What if it’s stolen? You’d like to get back home, right?!

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?

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First of all, your cell phone, while traveling abroad and whether you like it or not, becomes your best friend. You’ll probably want to invest in two things (but are optional, I made it without one but sometimes, barely):

 

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.

CityMaps2Go.

Seriously a must. Here’s everything you need to know about CityMaps2Go:

 

  • 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.

GetYourGuide

Have you ever caught yourself in a new city, wanting so badly to explore, but coming to a halt because literally all you can think of to do is go to a new restaurant to eat? But you just ate. So what else is there to do? I did the same exact thing until Kirsten showed me the way with these two apps, the first being GetYourGuide. Here’s everything you need to know about GetYourGuide!

 

  • 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.

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Well, ok, I guess they’re bronze.

Rome2Rio

This app is particularly useful in getting around in any city you are in. You can plug in where you are and where you want to go and it’ll check all of the available public transportation options in that city and help you get there! Here’s everything you need to know about Rome2Rio:

 

  • 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.

These are the things that got me through Europe on a budget with a United States cell phone plan. I hope these help you in preparing your next trip! Maybe one day you can share with us all of your favorite experiences, too!

A few nostalgic photos are shared from my Europe 2019 trip below!

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