I have to admit: the first time I thought about planning my own trip, I imagined it to be out of my budget. I was right, in a sense; I was about 11 years old, and the price for flights from Canada to the Amazon had a lot of zeros in it. How would I ever save up for such a trip?
The budgeting days began early on for me. I’ve never been the type to chase after money for money’s sake (in fact, I’m quite frugal and like to lecture my parents on how much money they spend), but I’ve always been aware of how much money I personally need to make my goals a reality. If you don’t believe me, get this – I started working as soon as I barely hit the double digits, with my own business (founded on my computer nerd-skills) in full gear by the age of 12. At 16, I was officially hired, and have worked my way up in respectable work environments every since. Checking the prices for flights and hotels was never an oddity for me – I researched all of it, even if I couldn’t afford any of it.
A lot of young people look into backpacking around the world for a year. Others do study abroad programs. Some decide to do a work-travel visa. Then, those like me, decide they want to work full-time while they travel abroad.
Some people are experienced enough to gain positions in foreign offices while working for their home country’s government, but most younger travellers opt to teach English abroad for full-time employment. While some people may look down on teaching English abroad, I saw it as the best way to budget my travels in Spain and Europe. As much as I could have saved up for a year and spent that on a year’s worth of travel, I decided that I wanted some form of financial stability while in Spain. I liked the idea of being able to work more, at times, to have a greater travel budget. In addition, having the option to cut down on my overtime hours when I felt more tired and less interested in moving around has been to my advantage. Traveling is tiring, and sometimes having the option to take a break from it makes you appreciate it even more later. The beautiful thing about teaching English abroad is that you’re traveling, working, but also residing somewhere – meaning your “travel experiences” don’t really end until you leave. Make it your goal to learn the local language, and you can’t go wrong with this option.
Besides what professional and personal benefits teaching English abroad bring – and there really are a lot, regardless of what the snobby types will tell you – having a base in a major European city helps with budgeting. For example, a flight from Washington D.C. to Madrid costs around $600 one way for anyone under the age of 26. A flight from Madrid to Paris can cost as little as €35 if you play your cards right – even less, if you get lucky. One €15 train ride can take you from Seville to Cadiz. A €15 flight can take you from Madrid to Milan. My travel super-sites include Easy Jet, Ryan Air, ALSA, and Renfe. While my future flights will less likely be via Ryan Air – an airline with ridiculous baggage allowances and fees – it’s still good to use as a reference point, to determine the potential prices of certain destinations.
The ability to find an inexpensive flight, train, or bus ride is only a small portion in learning how to budget your travels. Another important factor to note is how you choose to stay in your destination. Most people look into hotels or bed and breakfasts, but I relied heavily on hostels. Hostelworld remains to be the easiest guide, for me, in finding a reputable hostel. While the ratings are usually accurate, there are times when they’re inflated to reflect the humble expectations of the young traveler. I personally have only had a couple of not-so-great experiences in hostels, but I would recommend that anyone with a great need for personal space opt out of this one. Still, hostels are still an extremely inexpensive way to travel. Rooms can go for as little as €10 a night, even in great places. The best hostel I’ve stayed in to date is the Rivoli Cinema Hostel in Porto (Portugal). A friend and I stayed there for €10/night in our own room (despite it being a 4 bedroom room), and even got a free Portuguese chicken dinner after we checked in. The staff were nicer than any hotel staff I’ve ever encountered, the hostel was quiet but still sociable, and it was clean. I loved it so much that it made me love Porto even more! A close second would be the hostel a friend and I stayed at in Barcelona (the name escapes me, for now!) . Again, the rates were very cheap – we paid €15/night for a private, locked room for the two of us. Included in the room was a large-screen television, a kitchen (used between us and two other rooms, whose occupants we never saw), two bathrooms, all in a separate sub-section of the hostel. The experience was a lot like that of a hotel’s, except with friendlier staff, a communal kitchen in the main area, quieter rooms, and (obviously) better savings! Bottom line: even if you’re not a “hostel person”, you can still take advantage of how cheap they are by finding hostels that purposely advertise their non-partying natures on their site, if that’s what you’re looking for!
So, now you know that getting somewhere doesn’t have to put you into debt, nor does staying somewhere. What next?
One of the most important things to research about any destination is its free tourist attractions. Yes, there are certain things worth splurging on, such as good eateries, shows, or sports, though that all depends on you. Every place has ways of seeing its sights for free. Instead of taking that tour bus, you can choose to walk. Instead of taking a taxi, you can use the local transportation! Some people even work in hostels for a few hours to not pay for their room, freeing up money for attractions. Furthermore, instead of budgeting €200 for food, you can spend €50 for the entire trip.
That last point is quite possibly the make-or-break factor for your budget. If you’re the type of “foodie” traveller who has to spend a lot of money on restaurants while you travel, you’re going to find that it’s difficult to cut back. As much as I enjoy good food, I prefer to do as much grocery shopping as I can once I arrive somewhere new – this way, I save on snacks, and only spend money on meals that are a big occasion. For example, on a weekend trip, I may eat out during dinners and for coffee breaks, but will pack a lunch and buy a bag of croissants for breakfast! The downside to all of this is making sure you stay on top of your nutrition, and not letting yourself buy the cheap stuff over the good stuff (like fruit)!
To give you a detailed idea of my travel budget, here’s a look at how much I budgeted for a trip from Madrid to Granada:
Though it’s possible to spend even less, I allowed myself enough for entertainment costs as Granada’s the home to Alhambra, and I wasn’t going to let myself miss out on it! This is an example of how, at times, you can allow yourself to splurge a little while still ensuring you don’t spend too much.
For my trips outside of Spain, I would usually add €100-150 more to account for higher flight costs (and personal expenses), but hostels and food are usually around the same amount within Western/Southern and even parts of Northern/Central Europe. It really depends on your preferences, but as you can see, trips can be done for less than you think!
All of these trips add up, but should you choose to go down the route of full-time employment, this can easily be your standard! If you prefer to spend more, you can do so by taking fewer trips, or maybe saving up a little more before coming over.
It’s all about your method of travel, your willingness to experience the city as a local, and what you seek to gain from each visit. Europe in general is definitely not as expensive as people make it out to be, although again, it depends on you! As I’ve said previously, my travel methods will change a little this year – with my comfort being valued a little more – but as a North American temporarily stationed in Europe, I know it’s worth it to sacrifice a little comfort for as many experiences as possible!
Do you have any travel-saving tips or tricks? Did you study abroad, or teach English abroad? Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask!