After traveling to Europe during my last year of medical school, I officially caught the wanderlust bug. Unfortunately, I have limited time as a medical resident to travel but I try to take at least one international trip a year when I have vacation time. Usually, I go somewhere in the Caribbean which is great for relaxing, but during this most recent vacation break I wanted to return to Europe. I also wanted to share the experience with my mother who had never traveled to Europe before.
So at this point, most people would contact a travel agency or group travel service to plan the trip. That is the ideal way to approach international travel if you don’t have a lot of free time or don’t know where to start with planning a trip. I, on the other hand, have control issues. I decided not to use a travel agent because I wanted to control every aspect of our trip even though I did not have an abundance of free time to plan. I also wanted to ensure that we got the best deals and stayed within our budget.
After months of planning, my mother and I had an amazing two-week vacation in Europe which included stops in Paris, Rome, and Santorini for less than $2000. Many people asked me if I had used any assistance with planning the trip and expressed interest in taking similar trips. I decided to write this post to share how I planned an amazing international trip without a travel agent and without breaking the bank.
Know when to go…
We traveled to Europe in mid-October which is considered off-season for tourism. Traveling during the off-season offers two benefits. First, lodging is more affordable and the best places are generally more available for reservation. Second, you can avoid some of the crowds and long lines at attractions since there are fewer tourists visiting at this time. If you are like me and always try to find the best spots for a great photo-op for perhaps an amazing Instagram or Facebook post, then you have fewer people to deal with photo bombing your picture in front of a historic site.
I actually did not have very much flexibility with my travel dates because as a medical resident, I have to ask for vacation time months in advance and I am allotted a two-week break within a specific date range based on the overall residency schedule. Regardless, I was able to find the most affordable flights within that time frame by using the Google Flights website.
Google Flights is a great way to find the best deals and plan your destinations. The best way to utilize this travel aid is to first enter your departure airport/city and the dates you would like to travel. From there, you can scroll down and click the map labeled “Explore Destinations” which displays a map which shows the fares to places all over the world from your departing airport/city.
Once you select a destination, you can look at the calendar and see the price to fly the same trip on different days. If you click on the flexible dates tab, you can see the best dates to get the best price for a round trip flight. You will soon see that if you can be flexible with when you fly like flying out on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, you can save some money.
When I used the Google Flights website, I entered in Washington, D.C. as the departure city so it could search for flights from the three nearby airports. I then looked at the flights to Europe to see which was the best deal. I saw that there was a round trip flight from BWI to Paris with WOW airlines for about $400. This is a great deal for a roundtrip cross-Atlantic flight. I knew that once I got to Paris, I would use it as a conduit to get to other destinations in Europe that are more expensive to fly to directly from the US.
Quick Tip: Even if you have a specific destination that you want to go to, be open to flying in and out of another destination that has cheaper flights. Once you are in Europe, it is cheap to fly to other countries within Europe.
Once I determined my flight to and from Europe, I then used Google Flights to find flights to and from my other European destinations. Also look into train fares within Europe, they tend to be a bit more expensive than the budget airlines but offer the opportunity to see more of the landscape as you ride to your destination.
Optimize your time…
From my previous experience with traveling in Europe, I knew that once you are there, it is very inexpensive to travel within Europe by air or train. So I knew that if I went to Europe, I wanted to visit more than one place and get the most out of the experience. In general, I believe you can see most of the must-see sites in any given city within 3-4 days so you could possibly, if you are ambitious, visit about 4 countries in a two-week period. If you prefer to savor a city for longer, I would recommend spending a longer period of time in a city where you have to ability to take day trips to other places. For example, you can easily take a day trip from Rome to Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, or Naples. I personally decided to spend a longer period of time in Santorini because I wanted to have a more relaxed time to just take in the scenery without feeling rushed to site-see.
I hope you found this helpful and that this post inspired you to plan an international getaway.
Also, feel free to comment below with any additional questions you have or to tell me how you have planned amazing trips in the past.
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