How to take an European Adventure

In my last post, I shared that our next big adventure is backpacking through Europe for 6 weeks, starting the end of this month. More than a year ago I actually posted about this idea and our hope of taking this trip within the next two years. I don't honestly remember all of the steps it took to make this dream a reality, as it's been three years in the making, but I wanted to share the biggest parts of the process. I love trip planning and hope this might help a few of you in planning your next travel adventure too!

Steps to Planning an Awesome Trip:

1. Decide where you want you to go and start saving.
When I proposed the idea of a 6-week European backpacking trip to Keith three years ago, his initial concerns were how to get the time off work and budgeting for that kind of a trip. I spent one weekend researching average costs of airfare, accommodations, and Eurail passes as I assumed those would be our most expensive costs. I then proposed a budget of $10,000 for us to stay in apartment rentals (instead of hostels) and have flexibility on sightseeing and food. This basically means that every month for 3 years, I set aside at least $250 into a savings account and once I had $2500, I transferred it all to a money market for higher return.

Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden

2. Research, research, research
I read Rick Steves' books and reviews on his travel forum. I asked everyone I knew their feedback on past European travels and posted a question on Facebook (over a year ago) on friends all-time favorite trips - this is what helped us decide to add Budapest and Prague to our trip! I created a Pinterest board for travel inspiration and packing tips. And I read lots of random blog posts on European traveling over the years!

Copenhagen, Denmark

3. Sign up for travel rewards cards and programs.
Friends of ours recommended Noob Traveler over a year ago, and it was based on that site's recommendation that we applied for a Chase Sapphire rewards card. I also signed up for travel rewards programs with United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and Enterprise car rentals. By using rewards programs and our Chase card regularly (and paying it off in full every month), we were able to fly to Vegas (free) for a surprise birthday trip last summer, to Canada last fall for my aunt's wedding and used points toward one of our round-trip tickets and a free car rental, flew Keith to a bachelor party in New Orleans earlier this year for free, and were able to upgrade to business-class for our Europe trip at no additional expense! For more tips on using travel rewards cards and programs, I highly recommend checking out Noob Traveler.

Budapest, Hungary

4. Track every travel expense.
I track all of our monthly expenses already in an excel spreadsheet, so I formatted what I already had into a travel spreadsheet. I have one tab for all expenses (transportation, insurance, lodging, food + drink, tickets, etc) and a second tab for our agenda with a break-down of every accommodation, how long we stay in each city, and suggestions on what to see in each place too. Here are a few links to sample expense spreadsheets:

Tracking your expenses and trip details not only helps keep everything straight, but also insures you stay within budget. I'm all about budgeting and don't believe that you should ever have to go into debt to travel. I don't create super detailed spreadsheets for every trip we take, but I do save well in advance! Even though we're leaving for this Europe trip in a few weeks, I've already started saving for a 5-year anniversary trip for next summer. Yes this means I don't buy lots of new clothes, go out to super expensive meals or get manicures, but instead I'm able to set aside money every single month toward seeing the world!

Rothenburg, Germany

5. Price out all your options and then book it!
For international travel, most sites and books recommend booking your airfare at least 4 - 6 months out. Once we decided this spring was our best option, we booked our airfare on a Tuesday at 2 pm (cheapest day to buy) and are flying out on a Tuesday and back on a Monday (cheapest days available). Traveling in the off-season is less expensive if you have the option, so we saved a lot by taking a spring Europe trip. And if you have flexibility on airports, check nearby options too for best deals. By flying out of Houston, into Milan and taking a train to Florence, we saved $500 on airfare! When booking our accommodations, I researched hostels in a few of the most expensive countries (Scandinavia) but found much nicer apartment options at similar prices. Plus we'll save on food expenses by cooking our own meals!

Bern, Switzerland

6. Don't forget about your home base.
This may vary by person, but since we own a house, car and have two dogs, we had to carefully plan for taking care of all those too. We have a friend house sitting for us during the entirety of the trip, plus neighbors keeping an eye out, so our home and pups will be well taken care of in our absence.

Riomaggiore Di Notti, Italy

I can't wait to share more tips and information over the coming weeks! Along with finalizing all the last-minute travel details, I've also been working on preparing our house to be listed as soon as we come back, so check back in a few days for a house status update. Thanks for following along on this crazy adventure of a year!

The views and opinions expressed on this post are purely mine and I was not paid to publish a positive review on any of these products or sites.