Our DIY European Adventure: #2 Our 6 Best Prep Tips
How to begin planning for a DIY European trip
No trip is worth going into huge debt over! You don’t have to do expensive or exotic vacations to have the time of your life. In fact your enjoyment with everything you do or buy is based on your internal perceived value- Does it seem worth what you spent? In the moment you may think “yes it does”. But if you pay so much for a vacation that you are miserable for months afterwards while you pay off credit card bills, you’ll probably feel a big letdown and regret. These negative feelings usually linger longer than the 1-2 weeks of joy you had during the vacation. Spending more doesn’t have a direct correlation with having a happier time. Don’t pay for every tourist trap attraction or buy ridiculous trinkets, instead do some free things like seeing a beautiful park or walking in interesting neighborhoods and getting a treat to eat.
After Kathy and I determined that we were going to go to France, Portugal, and Belgium on a DIY trip, we had to ask ourselves “Where do we start?” There’s a lot to consider when going to a country (or countries) that you’ve never visited before. We’ve learned a lot in the last 6 months. So we thought we’d share our 6 best tips.
1. Stick to a budget-
2. Choose a shoulder season-
Typically in Europe the spring or fall the prices are better and the crowds/lines are smaller. You can save hundreds of dollars this way and chill out more in a calmer environment. The winter off-season is even cheaper, but Kathy and I don’t want to freeze on vacation.
3. Don't procrastinate-
Start following flights and hotel prices at least 6 months early. A DIY trip isn’t necessarily the best option if you put things off until the last minute, In popular destinations, your choices dwindle as the prices increase with each month that you let slip by. For example, I went back to see the first hotel that we booked several months ago. If we were to book the exact place and same dates today, it would cost $112 more per night, and the room is only available 2 of the 4 nights we need. Reserving early applies to flights and car rentals too.
A DIY trip isn’t for weenies either. It’s take plenty of research and time to plan it right. If you don’t like the planning process, we know a great travel agent you can reach at Carolyn@terratravelaz.com
This is an amazing tool. If you let Google track the flights that you are interested in, you will receive emails when the prices increase or decrease. Don’t panic at an increase. Prices can go up and down frequently. Keep an eye on the little bar graph at the bottom of the page. When it shows the price is lower than normal, it's a good time to buy.
What Kathy and I did was wait for a low price on Google, then we went to the airline website and applied for the credit card that gave us $250 off the tickets instantly. We ended up with 2 round trip tickets to Paris for $1023! Those same tickets are now over $2000! I’ve added some images with details.
We suggest that you pay for the tickets that allow you to reschedule- life is always unpredictable- and those tickets allow you check a bag for free.
5. Find and compare hotels with Booking.com-
We hope you’ll follow our blog for more money and time saving tips. And for stories and photos of our European adventures.
This is an amazing tool. Generally you won’t find this much info even on the hotel’s official site. On Booking you can see the location, get a thorough list of amenities, see what attractions are nearby, check how close it is to public transit, read reviews, view photos, and even see the bed comfort level! The only thing missing is the outside view around the neighborhood. Guess what? Take the hotel name or address back to Google, plug it in and click on the "outside view" box. Then take a virtual look outside, moving around the neighborhood with the arrows. I use this for every booking. It helps me rule out overly crowded areas or places that don’t look particularly safe.
6. Consider all aspects of the hotel you choose-
Of course you want a clean hotel in a safe neighborhood, but also pay attention to details. Kathy and I don’t choose to pay 2-3 times more to be right next to the big attractions, but we don’t want to waste too much time with a 45+ minute commute each way either. We will be in and out of Paris a few times, so we have chosen different hotels in different arrondissements (neighborhoods) so we can take in more vibes and have easy access to those areas. All our hotels are within reasonable walking distance from a bus stop or metro station. Driving in Paris is a nightmare so don’t rent a car in the city. We are renting one when we're out in the countryside of Normandy and the Loire Valley.
Other big considerations for your hotels can be AC for hot months of travel, and is there an elevator? Know what you need before booking and get what is right for you. Then only book hotels you can cancel! Pay close attention to this. The hotels will offer a cheaper rate for rooms you cannot cancel, but again-life is changeable and uncertain. I have already canceled and rebooked different hotels because I made changes to our itinerary.
After I know exactly which hotel we’d like from looking on booking.com, I compare the price by going directly to the hotel site. I have found extra savings this way a few times. I also signed up for the free genius loyalty program on Booking. Often they are the best price and they make it super easy to book, reschedule or cancel, and track your hotels. Definitely shop around. Hotels are one of the biggest expenses with any trip. Plus keep in mind you won't be in the room much of the time. Comfortable and affordable, instead of luxury, means more money for food and fun!
So plan well, save up your money, stick to that budget, and have a fantastic trip that leaves you remorse free!
But if you are up for the task, here are more ways to DIY and save big: