During my graduation trip to Spain and Portugal last year, I genuinely tried to make note of every euro I spent -- every meal, every purchase, every ATM withdrawal -- by tapping each cash or credit transaction into my iPhone notes. It was my aim to track my spending as I went along and identify how much money went where. But somewhere during the course of the trip, I either got too lazy or became increasingly horrified at how much damage I was doing (we’ll go with the latter), so my efforts waned. As long as my cash and cards were accounted for at all times, I didn’t worry so much about recording down every euro that flew out of my purse.
When I returned home, I assessed the huge dent I left in my account. It wasn’t pretty.
With a robust combination of both splurging and saving, the trip cost an approximate total of $4000. (Yikesbikes).
If this seems like an insane amount of money to spend for a two week period of time as a young adult (I’ll admit, it definitely is), I really don’t want the dollar amount l to scare you away from believing you can afford to travel abroad. You can go international and have the time of your life without it squeezing the life out of your account. Along the way in this breakdown, I’ll give a few ideas for how to get a better bang for your buck if you really want to go abroad on a smaller budget.
How I financed the expense
While in school, I worked part time and put money aside from each paycheck for a while to save up. But to be totally transparent, I had a lot of help to pay for this trip (i.e. mommy and daddy, along with being grandma’s spoiled baby girl). Graciously, I had a big graduation party in June, and my extended family’s generous monetary presents were a large part of how I funded the trip.
There are a hundred smart ways to spend (or save) graduation gifts. I could have used that money to jumpstart my life here in LA, or throw to the ever-so-present Sallie Mae. But life isn’t about coulda woulda shouldas.
Each day in Europe was a brand new adventure. I saw sights that photos could never do justice to. I met people from around the world who I felt like I’d known for years. The stories I heard from my new globetrotter friends helped shape my entire mindset. They gave me a new meaning on living as opposed to existing. They are part of the reason I’ve set certain life goals and must-visit destinations. They’ve even offered places to stay
if when I make it to their corner of the world. I will always take delight in my choice to travel.
What I can do moving forward, though, is learn from this expenditure. For my next trip, I’ll plan smarter to make my travel money stretch wider.
Overview: 12 Nights, 3 Cities, 2 Countries
Where I splurged:
Flights - If I’d been on the ball and planned a graduation trip months in advance, I could have saved around $500 (give or take) on a round trip flight.
Of course, it all depends on what airport you’re flying into and out of and when you go (summer is peak season and most expensive), but you can score round trip flights to Europe for under $1,000.
I also traveled from city to city to city in a short period of time. I definitely enjoyed being able to hit up 3 different places, but if you only have a week or two, I’d recommend staying in one destination. With only a few days, you don’t really have much time to embrace the city you’re visiting. You’re in and out before you know it. Save money and savor your time by sticking to one country, or perhaps traveling to a nearby city by train/bus instead of plane.
Additionally, I splurged a bit on shopping and going to a music festival, as you’ll see below.
Where I saved:
Staying in hostels. I only paid an average of $36.34/night! I didn’t know how to feel about hostels prior to this trip, but luckily my travel buddy Shana had already scoured HostelWorld for reviews and booked three great places. They were clean, comfortable, and inviting communities that allowed us a fabulous time in each city.
Food. While eating out all the time quickly ran up a hefty tab, I balanced it out by eating in inexpensive local spots suggested by hostel staff, as opposed to just the over-priced restaurants heavily populated by tourists. I also enjoyed delicious meals that were either free or ‘for-the-low’ provided by the hostel.
Transportation. Taking a taxi was necessary sometimes (especially when I had all my luggage in tow), but I traveled like a local on trains and metros whenever possible.
A more in-depth breakdown is as follows:
Flights: $1781.79 (Booked only four weeks in advance and during busy season)
Washington DC → Lisbon, and Ibiza → Washington DC (two one way tickets purchased together) = $1518.39
Lisbon → Barcelona = $151.90
Barcelona → Ibiza = $111.50
This flight total does not reflect the extra ~$300 I had to shell out after missing my original flight to Barcelona
Accommodations: $436.11 (12 nights total, 4 nights each -- Booked on HostelWorld.com)
Take note that the price charged at booking is a 10% deposit plus a $2.00 service charge. You don’t have to book hostels in advance, but you risk no vacancies if you don’t reserve a bed before you show up.
Lisbon: Yes! Hostel @ $25.81/night = $103.22
($12.46 charged at booking + $90.76 upon arrival)
Barcelona: Hostel One Paralelo @ $49.18/night = $196.71
($20.93 at booking + $175.78 upon arrival)
Ibiza: Giramundo Hostel @ $34.05/night = $136.18
($16.76 at booking + $119.42 upon arrival)
Wells Fargo Bank Fees: $57.82
This included a $5.00 Non-Wells Fargo ATM fee every time I withdrew cash (at least 6 times), an international transaction fee every time I paid with my debit card (3% of transaction), and at least one $2.00 fee to check my balance. Before I go abroad again, I’m going to open a more travel friendly account, most likely with Chase.
Sonar Music Festival: $160.00
(Two night ticket + small fee for missed event insurance)
Two words: WORTH IT.
I did quite a bit more shopping than I should have. The majority of my purchases came from Zara (because I freaking love that store), an array of European storefronts in Lisbon and Barcelona’s shopping districts, and souvenir shopping for my loved ones in Ibiza. I’ve been proud of myself for living more minimalistic and shopping less lately, but I definitely relapsed in Europe.
Everything else not detailed = food & drinks, transportation, activities, and parties (Ibiza clubs = $$$).
Brain dump of tips for how to travel for significantly less:
You can travel for half, or perhaps even less than half, of what I did for the same length of time. Book your flight well (or 54 days) in advance. While you are young, loosen up and stay in hostels. Take advantage of their free tours and kitchens (you'll save on food by being able to reheat your leftovers/cook your own feed/eat their free food). Don’t always eat in expensive, tourist-prone areas. Find locals to hang out with. Don’t go crazy shopping! You don’t need the clothes, trust me you don’t. Well, maybe not so many of them. Don’t feel as though you need to city-hop in a short period of time (transporting all my luggage over and over did get tiring); but if you do, don’t be like me and miss any of your flights! Hold off on Ibiza for now (I love the island, I really do, but it’s expensive as hell). Consider going to Southeast Asia!
*Note: Be aware of USD → EUR conversion rates, which regularly fluctuate. One euro is equal to about .75cents, so many prices in European destinations will be higher than the USD norm once the conversion is factored in.*
WATCH: Travel Noire’s Google Hangout session on How to Book an International Trip for Under $1K.