How to plan a Europe trip on a budget!
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 our planning a European vacation for the first time.
Step1 – WHEN AND WHERE TO GO IN EUROPE
When to visit Europe?
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.
Where to visit in Europe? Draft a 15-day itinerary of Western Europe
Always book air tickets well in advance and make sure you compare several sites on Aviasales
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 :
Other awesome Europe itinerary ideas
Well, that was my dream trip so I would call it the best plan in the world😉, but here are some other ideas for Europe itinerary planner 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.
If you go by the 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).
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.
STEP 2- HOW LONG IN EACH CITY IN EUROPE?
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.
STEP 3 – ACCOMMODATION IN EUROPE
Hotels versus Hostels versus Airbnb
- lack of privacy and peaceful sleep, with people going out or coming into the room throughout the day (and night);
- accessibility of common restrooms
Few important tips about booking accommodation in Europe
- Do your due diligence while booking hotels. Compare prices on Booking.com and also check on individual hotel websites for better information. We have tried several aggregator sites like Trivago but have always found the best prices on Booking.com followed by MakeMyTrip.com. For Indian hotels or hotels in Asia, Agoda is a great website to check prices.
- Hotels near the airport are cheap but avoid them since these are mostly far away from the city center and the transport to and from the hotel is often not covered under the travel cards
- Check accommodations on Booking.com, MakeMyTrip and Hotellook
- Search cheapest flights on Make My Trip and Aviasales
- Book guided tours through GetYourGuide or Viator
- Book Hostels everywhere on Hostelworld
- Book cheapest transfers on your choice of transport via GetTransfer
- Get insured for your international travels on Insubuy
STEP 4 – GETTING VISA TO EUROPE
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.
There’s an even simpler way to get your visas. Visit ivisa.com to apply for tourist visa to any country you want to.
STEP 5 –TRAVEL & SIGHTSEEING
Travel cards as tools for saving in Europe trip
Commuting within European cities
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. 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.
How to plan transport between European cities
- Flix bus
- Eurorail train
- Economy flights
We booked the Flix bus from Amsterdam to Antwerp, and from Bruges station to Paris. This private bus transport network is amazing in terms of comfortable seating, large leg space, timeliness, and speed. We flew from Paris to Barcelona on economy flight Air France. You can call it the French Indigo 😜 except that they offered one complimentary soft drink. If you have time and love to see the countryside you can take the Euro rail pass, but using flight we saved at least six hours. We got our first class Euro rail experience when we traveled from Barcelona to Madrid.
Plan and book intercity transport in advance, online. It will 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 😁
FINAL STAGE – PACKING FOR YOUR EUROPE TRIP
Packing Checklist for Europe Trip – the must-haves
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.
- Europe universal travel adapter which must be compatible with EU (read product description) for charging. This is a MUST!
- Make sure you have at least a 64 GB Memory card to bring back all the pictures your family demands to see 😀
- Raincoat/umbrella/hooded windcheater
- Light woolens, thermals, stockings, and scarf for the cold
- A good Moisturizer or cold cream to combat the dry weather
- Comfortable walking shoes. This one is non-negotiable as the best way to explore European cities is on foot. Our top recommendation is Nike Air Zoom range – Pegasus 33,34 or 35. You can check our simple guide on how to select the best travel shoes in India. Some of these tips are universal.
- A sim-card with sufficient internet for GPS on the go. All hotels and hostels, even major stations and city centers have free wifi. However, when traveling on your own, using public transport in foreign countries, it is imprudent to depend entirely on WiFi.
- A small writing pad and a pen, since it is so much more convenient to carry than a laptop. Also, I find writing on paper much easier than typing on a touch-based tablet.
- Melinda listed some great apps that can be your best friend during Euro-trip. But you definitely need that sim-card with internet for accessing all that.
The weather in April-May is very erratic with alternating sunny and overcast days, with the 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.
Download your free Packing Checklist for Europe!
ALMOST THERE – CASH vs CARD
We exchanged €600 for cash before we left for the vacation. Do get sufficient cash through online booking, instead of waiting till the airport. The cash card usually has a lower exchange rate but we were afraid of its acceptance. We rarely used credit cards on our trip, but when we did, the interchange fee was higher than the cash exchange rate.
The all-inclusive cost of this 15-day western Europe trip was little over Rs.3 lakhs for two, which is Rs.1.5 lakhs (€1850) per person. Apart from all basic stuff like flights hotels and sightseeing it also includes special experiences. These are the Tulip festival in Amsterdam, Barcelona Football Club stadium and a Flamenco show. The ticket Barcelona Football Club stadium was the most expensive of all special experiences. You can do this trip at a cheaper cost if you follow the tips in this article. 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. I hope that this helps you plan a budget European tour with ease and serves as a solid Euro-trip guide.
In the next part, we discuss free tips on how to make the best use of your travel card. You will also find a detailed review of the hotel’s transport options and a food guide. Bookmark it for your Europe Trip.