Taking up a low-travel desk job and not settling abroad was a conscious decision that my husband and I took so that we could live close to our parents. However, I’d be lying if I say that I never envied the friends working abroad posting #wanderlust photos of Grand Canyon and Niagara falls every other week while we couldn’t even make time for Goa. We travel a lot on weekends but the Europe trip was our first real vacation together, outside India. It was also the first 2-week-long paid leave we both took not to visit our parents in Kolkata but to go and see the world.
We planned our Euro-trip for almost a year and finally came up with a fully packed 15-day itinerary covering 6 cities with a complete estimate of what the middle-class me was most worried about – Budget! Here’s an account of how we did it.
Winters in Europe is cheaper and less crowded, but you need to be prepared for the sub-zero temperatures. As first-timers, we thought to play it safe and visit in spring.
The second question is “where else?”. The answer to this question depends on the first question we answered – When? It also depends on your budget, your travel intent (slow travel, backpacking, tourist-ing, or a mix of both) and the number of places you want to visit.
Covering like 10 cities in 15 days can be a tempting idea, but it’s silly. It just makes the tour more expensive and gives you no time to explore anything properly. Now when you have just 15 days there are two ways to go about planning- get your bucket list and tick the top places you always wanted to see, or just choose the one indispensable place and then find the places that can be covered in succession from there. Going by the second method this is what we planned :
Well, that was my dream trip so I would call it the best plan in the world😉, but here are some other itinerary ideas for you:
If you want (or dare) to visit in the colder months of October to March, you would not want to miss the sighting of Northern lights, in which case you should include Norway or Iceland in your plan although they are quite expensive. Slow-travel backpackers love Italy for its diverse landscapes and Scotland (not covered in Schengen Visa but in UK Visa) to hike in the forests and explore the castles.
If you go by cost of living, the cities we selected are just below the creamy layer of Nordic countries and Switzerland (which is another itinerary if you are willing to splurge – an all Scandinavian trip, or just insert Switzerland somewhere in your itinerary). During the Tulip festival, Amsterdam is perhaps as expensive as Sweden (not sure, just guessing).
If you are on a slightly tighter budget than ours (Rs.3 lakhs for two), I’d suggest replacing some of the cities above with Vienna (Austria), Prague or Salzburg (Czech Republic), Warsaw (Poland), Budapest (Hungary).
Quick fact- Budapest also hosts a beautiful Tulip festival in Spring, a cheaper alternative to Keukenhof.
The choice of 1 day each at Antwerp and De Haan may surprise many. Most of you may have heard of the world’s diamond capital Antwerp but may have never heard of this place called De Haan in Belgium. We decided to stay 1 night at Antwerp because it would be on our way to Bruges and the arrival time at the stop would be ideal. Hence the slightly off-beat stopover at Antwerp, a historically significant city where we did a self-guided walking tour. The next stop was supposed to be Bruges – Europe’s cultural capital as it is known to be; but how we ended up spending a night at the countryside of De Haan instead, is a story better saved for another day.
For friends traveling in groups Airbnb is a great option to explore apart from the hostels, but for couples or family, budget hotels come at the same price with more convenience.
I found the visa process for Europe fairly simple and hassle-free. You can get your visas from any embassy of any country in Europe, provided the country is included in your itinerary. We got our visa from the French Embassy in Bangalore with no assistance at all. Just go to the website, fill in the form carefully, book an appointment, have your documents ready and appear at the office on time for verification! If you make any mistake in the form, you will not be able to edit it once confirmed and will have to fill in a new form all over again. No money is deducted for refilling, but just a small hiccup in the process.
On weekdays if you don’t book a priority slot with extra money, you’d need to take a leave, because, from the crowd that I saw, it would easily take 4-5 hours. We booked a slot on Saturday morning (after we returned from the weekday slot) and the entire process took 30-40 minutes. We got the visa within five days.
Take comfortable shoes and be ready to walk an average of 10 km a day!
If you love cycling Europe is the place to be. All the cities we visited had special lanes for cyclists, including the small coastal town of DeHaan. The government here encourages cycling as the primary mode of transport which works really well for the Europeans – clean air, great figure. You can rent bikes (that’s what they call bicycles) at low cost and explore the cities and countryside of Europe. I am not sure if the same is true for Eastern Europe, so if you have visited any of those countries please educate me in the comments section. I just wish, we had such cycle lanes in Indian cities, and we could see more of those “bikes” than the motorbikes here.
Plan and book intercity transport in advance, online – save you your precious time and the stress of booking last minute tickets at the kiosk. If lucky, it can save you a lot of money as well- we got our first class ticket at a price lower than the normal second class 😁
Well, you have bought all the tickets online, booked hotels and created a rough itinerary now. The only thing left now in planning your Europe trip is packing! Don’t forget to pin this list and check it all off before you leave. You can find all of these in any European city, but it would cost more.
The weather in April-May is very erratic with alternating sunny and overcast days, with wind being a constant companion. While the sunshine is most welcome you must be prepared with a sunscreen lotion to not return home charred. Europeans have a great dressing sense, so even the fashion unconscious girl like me wanted to look a tad-bit fashionable. Well, it was not possible with those light jackets I packed, which necessitated wearing all my layers one on top of the other when I caught a cold. Leather jackets are perfect for the weather at this time, while adding a great style to your look.
We exchanged €600 for cash before we left for the vacation. Love digitization, but cash is still the most widely accepted form of money even in the developed world, so do get sufficient cash through online booking, instead of waiting till the airport. The cash card has a lower exchange rate usually but we were afraid of its acceptance. We rarely used credit cards, but when we did the interchange fees charged was way higher than the cash exchange rate.
Total amount we spent was little over Rs.3 lakhs for two, which is Rs.1.5 lakhs (€1850) per person – this includes flight, stay, sightseeing, inter-city travel, museums, day-trips outside the cities, special experiences like Tulip festival in Amsterdam, entry to Barcelona FC stadium (the most expensive of all which you can’t avoid if you have a football-obsessed husband) and a lot more. Yes, the “little over” part could easily be avoided if you follow all the tips in this series. Read what we did on our Europe trip for a more detailed cost-benefit analysis so you can make an informed decision on what you want to do and where you want to cut your expenses.
Check Laura’s tips on saving money for traveling the world.
So here’s my Europe travel planning story – was it any helpful? Anything I missed or could have done better? What was your travel story? If you have any questions, or suggestions for improving the blog please write in the comment section. 😊😊
InPart 2 we discuss free tips on how to make the best use of your travel cards along with details of how we executed our Europe plan. You will find a detailed review of the hotel’s transport options and a food guide. Bookmark it for your Europe Trip
Special discount coupons from brands
Subscribe to our newsletter to receive new travel stories every weekend and more discount vouchers to be mailed to you directly.
The article includes affiliate links including budget-friendly GetYourGuide trips to book. If you purchase something through these links I will be eligible for some commission without any additional cost to you. The proceeds from this will be used to improve the website speed and experience and bring to you more useful resources.
Great tips! Warm layers are always important in Europe! In some places, it gets chilly quick once the sun goes down!
So awesome that you made it and experienced the best out of Europe. I would do a trip sometime in future I just dunno when. I will certainly take tips from your blog.
Inspiring post, this would definitely be a one stop destinstion for people planning to Europe. Informative one.
I've never been to the cities you went to on your trip – but I love your advice and appreciate you explaining why you chose to stay in Antwerp for just a day.
I'm returning to India after two years in the US for pretty much the same reasons except that I've to find a job once I'm home. Thanks for the guide! We'll possibly plan a Eurotrip in the near future and I'll bookmark this post. What was your budget for the trip?
Those are amazing tips to plan a trip to Europe. There is so much to see and all the tips you have shared about being budget friendly will definitely help us. Thanks.
That's amazing. These are great tips I can use this for my trip next year!
Your story seems to be relatable. We are also longing to explore Europe. Your post will help us in our exploration for sure. Thanks for sharing your story.
Great budget tips for Europe trip. Hope we get to enjoy like you, within the budget.
You have such amazing tips! And since I anyway want to visit Budapest and Austria, hopefully it should be a tad cheaper for me.
You will surely enjoy your trip.Glad to be of help
True. Both the places are fascinating and cheaper than the ones I visited this time
I love these budgeting tips. I know its something I wanted to get better at. Thank you for sharing!!
Thanks Monidipa! Hope it helps everyone
I must say you have really had it well planned. Everything step by step. A great guide for indian traveller planning to explore europe.
This is such a detailed post. I have been to Europe twice and can concur with all the advice given. Very helpful for first time travelers.
Planning a trip have got to be the hardest part of a trip.
It takes so much mental effort to get everything done.
You have a wonderful outline here for those planning on a trip to Europe.
I remember my first Interail trip around Europe, which was on a very tight budget but on a very ambitious itinerary. I have visited Norway and Sweden. Because of the Interail, the transport was almost free, but because I was on a budget the supermarket was my friend. I used to cook pasta in the hostel kitchen almost every night in the Nordic countries.
Great trips and tips as well, it was well planned. thanks for sharing.
European girl here! These are all useful and important tips.
I have never been to Europe, but I'd love to visit someday. Thank you for sharing these wonderful, budget-friendly tips!
Thanks for sharing your experience. First trips are always so memorable
Thank you so much for your kind words
Thanks. Hope this helps. Check our part 2 also and feel free to reach out to me for any questions
Amazing tips! My husband and I want to make a trip to Europe before we start to have kids but have been worried about being able to afford it! 🙂
Great tips for those who are not only beginning to travel in Europe but also the world. Sadly, I don't have any plans to travel to Europe in the future (Just have no desire to travel right now). But if I would, I would plan lightly as I let my feet lead the exploration of a place.
But congrats on achieving your goals and being able to fulfill your dreams of visiting big places in Europe.
This is a great guide for first timers to Europe. I can see that you spend lots of time doing research. Personally, I would never carry that much cash. I've traveled in Asia and Europe solo for the past 20 years, and my bank card and the airport ATM is my best friend. I've also used bank ATMs throughout Asia and Europe without any issues. My choice for accommodation is Airbnb. I spend a lot of time checking out the listings before I make a booking.
Thanks Nancie for your insights. Well, we did use credit card to avoid queues in Amsterdam and the interchange came out to be a bomb. Maybe it varies from one country to another, and given the nosedive of Indian Rupee I feel lucky that I carried that much cash :D.. I am going to try Airbnb some time just for the experience
Hi Ashley. Thanks for your comments. You are the people I wrote this blog for in the first place. You see even in the peak season, we managed to do it in budget while staying in standard hotels. It is doable :). Use the travel cards wisely and you can save a lot.
Great tips! I always follow the budget during my trips especially the short ones, the trips we use to become refreshed in a flash. Your tips are very nice to follow
I never really thought about going to Europe before, it looks beautiful though. May need to save money anp plan a trip on a budget 🙂
I have never been in Europe but I know how beautiful and how expensive to plan a trip in this place. You gave us a great tips that we can use not only in our future Europe trip but also in any possible trips that we can do.
Your photos are fabulous. your tips for the trip in budget are really helpful for everyone. Thanks for sharing here.
Booking in advance is very important. Also, I love Air B'n'Bs instead of hotels. They are awesome.
This was such an enjoyable and comprehensive post. I think you have just about thought of everything that someone would need to know when they are planning a European trip. I found this information very timely as my fiance's family live in Europe and they have arranged a family reunion to happen in Norway. So I am starting to do my own planning now as I have heard that Norway is quite expensive as a holiday destination – but at the same time offers some of the world's most beautiful nature. Thank you for the fabulous tips here to help start me on my way!
This is a great post Sinjana and definitely a very inspiring one for first-time travelers to Europe. I have almost always traveled to Europe on budget and it does makes sense to plan right as you has said. And ofcourse pack right. Europe can get really cold for us East Coast Indians. 😀
I can imagine how hard it is to see those photos from far flung friends who are settled around the world but I think you will never regret making your family a priority, and being close enough to spend quality time with them as often as you can. But I can also see how much you must have anticipated this first big trip. Great job on tips to adhere to a tight budget!
You have such amazing tips! This is a great and inspiring post for first-time travelers to Europe. I think you have just about thought of everything that someone would need to know when they are planning a European trip. Thank you for sharing
Great tips on budgeting and planning a Europe trip and condensing it in one spot. I was a little scared when I read “backpacking” trip near the beginning (I’m just not a fan) but I was glad to see that you had wheeled bags and just meant you weren’t renting a car. I always debate buying the city cards but you’ve used them really well on this trip. And I’m one of those that tries to see too many cities at once so this was a great reminder to enjoy the trip rather than move too quickly. Great tips!
I am yet to plan a trip to Europe.And, it has always been an issue with the budget and leave factor. I prefer slow travel hence will actually check with you when planning a trip..and this post is wonderful and helpful for first-timers to Europe and is being bookmarked 🙂
Wow what a great post and a must read for anyone looking to travel and doing it without spending a fortune. I personally travel within Europe a lot but do find it pocket pinching . The tips are very useful and the air tickets in advance is one of the greatest tips you can get for travelling. Travelling by train within Europe I find is very convenient and can save you a fortune. Thanks for this post
Hey thanks for this post we are planning to travel in New Year and chirstmas weeks to the Paris-Italy-greece-croatia-swiss & maybe Prague. I have a question where did you keep your baggaes while travelling intercity? Do buses or train allow or they have restriction of some sort?
Those are some great tips for planning a Europe trip on a budget. Thanks for also sharing some itinerary ideas. Think this covers all aspects well as ticket booking, accommodation, visa and packing too! Would be a great reference guide for anyone planning a Euro trip.
Very exhaustive and helpful blog. You have done a detailed planning and touched all important points. Thank you for writing this.
Amazing tips! And beautiful Images. Last year My Wife and I booked my visa for Germany and explore the amazing places. This year we’ll surely visit other places.