Booking Your Trip – How to Plan, Save Money, and Travel Stress-Free
Lets talk about airplanes. I just realized I’m supposed to fly on a whole lot of them on my upcoming trip. I’m thinking I should just bring Unisom with me and try to sleep through the whole experience. Ya know? Then I don’t have to use the airplane bathroom, I won’t care if I don’t get a window seat, and I won’t mind the fact that I’m starving and cramped and uncomfortable and freaked out. Will someone on the airplane wake me up when it lands? Even if I’m slumped over in a tiny ball in a corner? Even if I’m landing in another country and I’m obviously American and they judge me because of that fact? Do airplanes hangars have a release like if you get locked in the trunk of a car? This is what goes through my head.
Despite being very afraid of dying asleep in a locked airplane in some forgotten airplane garage, I booked all of the transportation for my trip anyways. YUP. WERE OFFICIAL. This is like when you’re “Facebook official,” but even more official.
I got great deals on all of my accommodation, met my trip budget, and paid off everything in advance. It’s such a relief to know that all I have left to do is pack and go! Here are all of the tips, tricks, and sites that I used to get everything squared away and organized.
Everything can be really overwhelming at first – so try to stay organized. I made a big calendar, and then wrote the non-negotionables in pen (aka, Coldplay concert and travel times) and then everything else in pencil. I highly recommend figuring out what you need to set in stone, and then plan the fun details of your trip around that. For me, that meant figuring out all of my transportation and hostels in the least-expensive combination, and then going forth from there.
I made a list of restaurants and sights that I want to see in each country and grouped them by location so I wouldn’t be going back and forth and wasting metro tickets. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to get a grasp on the layout of the city. This is all just a rough itinerary – I am not planning anything out minute by minute, because I know everything will change when I actually arrive in the country. I just want a general idea of what area of town I want to stay in and how many days I want in the country. My list for London is much longer than my list for Amsterdam, so I know I’ll want to spend more time there.
Next, I figured where I could travel on over-night transportation, so I wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation that night. As far as accommodation goes, I read lots of blogger reviews and Hostelworld reviews to figure out where to stay. I made sure I found places with WIFI and free breakfast, along with girls-only rooms. With the basics all figured out, it was time to book everything.
I used Kayak to find my flights for my trip — I ended up with two one way tickets that were about $360 each. Not bad for flying to Europe in peak season! The key is to search EARLY. There is no reason to wait unless you don’t find any good deals right off the bat. Generally, Tuesday afternoons from about 3.5 months out up to 1 month before your trip seem to be the ideal window. Check around to see what cities you can fly into/ out of for cheaper, and then plan your trip around that. I switched my starting city and it saved me $200. Also check rates for the days around your travel days. Mid-week is a lot cheaper than the weekend.
The exception to this is if you have a rewards program with a certain airline – you’ll obviously want to search directly though them. The same goes for using airline miles – make sure you know the rules for redeeming them. Still, I would being looking early-on.
If you want to use planes to get between individual countries in Europe, RyanAir is super cheap. I personally decided to use the Eurail Pass because I haven’t decided what my “checked bag” situation is yet. More on that next.
I decided to use the Eurail Pass, which can be a hit or a miss. Heres why I’m using it:
#1 I’m going with a pass that works with “Travel Days,” so I can ride the train as much as I want on my travel day. My biggest fear for this trip is figuring out the trains, so this makes my situation a little more flexible if I goof up and miss a train. I’ll just hop right on another one. Plus, Eurail lets you use overnight trains and only count them against one of your travel days.
#2 I added up the cost of the individual tickets that I would need, and the Eurail pass is going to save me a few hundred dollars. I’m using it to get all around Europe overnight, and the individual tickets are expensive. If you’re only using the train on a few off-peak times between close-by cities, I would just go and buy your tickets online 3 months in advance, get cheap prices, and skip the Eurail pass.
#3 I don’t want to fly and risk losing my bags. I would need to fly about 6 times if I skipped the Eurail pass, and thats just too many chances to lose my suitcase, which I’m already freaking out about. I might just pack everything in a carry on, but cheaper airlines tend to impose different rules on carry-on size, and I probably wouldn’t meet those requirements. Cuz I’m a girl. And I need shoe space. Lets just be real.
I do need to reserve most of my trains, on top of using the pass. Thankfully, Eurail helps you reserve your trains up to three months before your trip. I’m all organized and good to go, so I just have to contact them and pay the small fees for reserving each train. I’m right at the 3 month mark, so my trains should still be available. Now my Eurail pass does not cover my week in England, so I’ll be booking those trains now by myself (I only need two anyways.) The key — again — is to book early. You can save a ton of money by abiding by this principal. Train tickets can go up as much as a few hundred if you wait until the last minute.
I’m taking Megabus one night on my trip for the sake of saving money. It’ll be cramped and awful but it’ll only cost me £15, and I’m totally cool with that. Less money on transportation means more money for food! My priorities are on point #adulting.
I’ll be booking those tickets about two months before my trip when they are available.
Eurail Pass holders can get a discount on Stena Line Ferries, which can be an inexpensive way to get around in the UK/Northern Europe area. Needless to say I already booked an overnight ferry ride and took advantage of that deal. Just be aware that some lines will force you to book a room on the ship on top of your ticket, which will double your cost.
I used Hostelworld to book everything, because the prices weren’t any different that those listed on the individual hostel sights. I’m sure this isn’t always the case, so check around before you book. It made it really easy for me to compare hostel prices and ratings, and all of my bookings are kept track of on one account. Organization is my jam.
After the trip, I’ll give you guys in-depth, honest opinions on where I stay.
If you’re using Couch Surfing or Airbnb, you’ll want to start scanning for options early on. Hotels.com and Expedia are constantly offering discounts and deals, if you’re looking to stay somewhere a little nicer than a hostel.
Learn the local transportation of the city that you’re going to. Most of the time, the metro is going to be your best deal. Try to find out how to get good deals if you’re going to need multiple tickets – for example, in London you’ll want to buy an Oyster card, which you can use to pay for most public transportation at a discounted rate. (The Oyster Card can be bought in conjunction with a London Pass, so thats something else to look into.) Buying one nights accommodation in Switzerland gets you free local transportation. Paris metro tickets can be bought in bulk for a discount.
Try to find small maps of the metro network wherever you’re going and get familiar with them before you go. Find what stops you’ll want to get off at to see certain attractions, and write them on your calendar. Standing on a corner studying a massive map just screams “tourist,” and makes you a target to pick-pocketers.
Most cities offer passes that get you access to the main tourist attractions (aka Paris Museum Pass, London Pass, IAmsterdam Card, etc.) These can be a great deal if you use them to see most of the attractions that they include — plus, most passes help you skip lines. Make a list of what you want to see, add up the individual prices, and then see if the pass ends up being any cheaper. If you buy passes early you can usually get a discount on those, too. I’m going for more of an off-the-beaten-path type of trip, so I didn’t book any passes. It is just a better deal for me to pay individually for the two or three things that I might see.
I wrote down all of the important details of my trip in a small notebook that will be easy to carry with me – this includes travel times, addresses, and directions to the hostels from wherever I’ll be arriving in the city. It doesn’t hurt to write down the basics of the local language as well as local emergency numbers and currency conversion rates, too.
Once you’ve booked your transportation and accommodation, you’re free to scan Pinterest for the must-see restaurants and sights!
(P.S. — my Pinterest is all about travel these days! Check it out here to waste time with me.)