Traveling on the Cheap: Three Weeks in Europe for $2,500
Yes, I am one of the many who have littered my Facebook with countless albums of my travels that induce jealousy from my friends, and you can too.
With a 20-something’s desire to travel and a college student’s budget, can we really afford to take international vacations? Yes. Don’t let the folks at your study-abroad fair scare you away; traveling internationally for upwards of a month won’t cost you $7,000-$10,000; it can cost you $2,500 or less.
Just last year (and will again this summer) I took a whirl-wind European vacation to Paris, Belgium and London for three weeks and only dished out $2,500 in costs (including airfare and lodging). The question I get asked the most from my friends is always concerning the cost. That’s completely legitimate seeing how our colleges and universities make it out to be a grandiose expenditure.
This is how I did it – $2,500 for three weeks:
1. Travel with ONE companion
I advise to only travel with one companion for a few reasons. First, and most obviously, it cuts the cost of lodging in half without having to book a two-bed room. Second, traveling in a group of three or more people will make your trip miserable because, as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen.’ It’s easier to book two seats on planes, trains and buses than to book three or more.
2. Your plane ticket will be your largest expense
I’ll be frank about this one; plane tickets will kill your bank account. Here’s a few ways to reduce the cost while bearing in mind it will probably run you about $1,000. First, June, July and August are peak seasons abroad and tickets increase $500 or more during this time. With that said, try and buy your ticket seven to eight months in advance. For my July trip, I bought my plane ticket in November. Go to places like Trip Advisor where they compare all the cheap travel sites and you can sign up for price alerts which let you know if ticket costs have dropped or risen. Also, in my experience, London has been the cheapest city to fly into. The plane tickets are usually $200 – $300 cheaper, and train rides to other countries are only a few hours and very cheap.
3. Rentals! Rentals! Rentals!
Hostels may be cheap, but rentals give you more for your money. Places like Trip Advisor and Just Landed allow you to look at private vacation rentals in the heart of major European cities. Rentals are far superior to hotels and hostels because you get longer-stay discounts and have a functioning kitchen equipped with a washer and dryer (oh, and wi-fi). Eating breakfast in your rental, and packing your lunch, will save you hundreds over the course of your trip. Also, having the washer and dryer means you can save money by only bringing carry-ons (a few outfits will suffice). My rental in Paris cost me $600 (U.S) for three weeks because I split the $1,200 (800 Euro) cost with my travel partner. We would spend about $25 (U.S) every week at local grocery markets for cereal and sandwich fixings for breakfast and lunch.
4. Whatever you do, don’t go on group tours
This is your vacation, so don’t let other people tell you what to do. Not only are group tours outrageously priced (they have to make money some how), but the people in which you are accompanied are not exactly the cream of the tourism crop. Generally, in large European cities, you are in walking distance to a subway that will lead you to a major train station, and the trains take you everywhere! And guess what? Every attraction or sight you could imagine has a website and it will tell you exactly what you need to know to buy tickets, get there and its hours of operations. We are all intelligent individuals, and we can figure out where we want to go and how to get there on our own and surely don’t need to spend $100 a day for a tourism company to drive us around and tell us what to capture in a picture. Just to give you an example, I’ll tell you about my Versailles experience. Staying in Paris, we were about an hour train ride ($20 U.S. round trip) outside of Versailles. So, we woke up at 8 a.m., walked to the train station, bought our tickets and got to Versailles all on our own. Tickets to get into the château were about $30 U.S. per person. We packed our free lunch and in total only spent $50 U.S. each for an entire day trip. In contrast: A tour, in which you are driven on a bus to the attraction for a prescribed amount of time, runs about $150 U.S.
5. The best things in Europe are free
The Changing of the Guard, The Louvre (on the first Sunday of every month), viewing The Arch de Triomphe and viewing Notre Dame are all free! Nearly every European relic can be viewed and visited for no money at all. Also, walking, instead of taking the subway or bus, is not only free, but it allows you to see the nuances of the city that make it so culturally rich. If you are looking for an adventure, try getting around Europe on a bike.
6. Don’t trust some American travel sites
One easy way to over pay for things that you are able to purchase while abroad is buying your train tickets through the American train affiliate, Rail Europe. Rail Europe is the American liaison for the international company Euro Star which provides European tourists and residents with their international train travel. Rail Europe is usually 30 to 50 percent more expensive than directly going to a Euro Star website, but since it partners with many American travel sites, Rail Europe is the website frequently advertised to us.
If there are any questions about my expenditure tally, this should alleviate them.
All in U.S. Dollars:
- A one-stop round-trip plane ticket to Paris – $1,1000
- A three-week studio apartment rental in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris – $600 (split with one other person)
- Three-day visits to Belgium and London (including hotel and train) – $300 (hotel cost split with one other person)
- Food (groceries and restaurants) – $400
- Train/subway travel in various countries – $100
I’m not saying $2,500 is cheap, but it’s definitely do-able. This trip may not be luxurious, but it allows those who desire to travel to get out and actually do it.
Jessica DuBois-Maahs is a junior at the University of North Florida and has been a member of NSCS for one year. After college, Jessica plans on getting her M.A. in English and professionally teaching at American public schools. When she’s not writing blogs for NSCS, Jessica is a writing tutor and an intern at WKMG-TV Orlando.