Disclaimer: I am not a travel agent, have no tour planning experience, and don't want any. What follows is what I do to plan and organize a trip, and it has worked for me for many years. Most of what I do was learned by trial and error (focus on the latter) and from the writing and experiences of others. What I do is what I do and if it helps others in any way, I am delighted. As is true with anything, I don't ever listen to only one source. I figure that there are a lot of people out there like me.
Attempting to spend seven or eight weeks in Europe for $3500.00 is quite a challenge and in order to do that I must make a number of immediate assumptions to make the trip possible for me. Some of the assumptions are very specific to me and my personal needs and requirements. Since I go "bare bones," the costs can vary for other individuals. My figures are based on a spring trip, shoulder season, for one person, of 60 days in length.
I realize that $3500 is a lot of money, but 2 months is a lot of time. One of the latest .Frommer,s tomes considers $85 per day as being frugal. I am trying for $58 per day. The Frommer,s figures include better accommodations, food, and probably better everything, but we're all in the same Europe. I'm just attempting to really cut the costs and show others that it is more reasonable than one might think. As I said, it's the same Europe.
Also, I understand that most people would not undertake a trip of this length, but the principles remain constant. The more days added to a trip, the lower the cost per day becomes, because the fixed costs remain the same. I am not saying that you can take a three week trip for the price of two weeks. The cost per day may be less, but it does not just go away.
1. I will be flying out of Chicago (ORD). Chicago is a hub for many airlines and flight choices are better with lower prices in some cases. I will book the least expensive economy flight that I can find (I will post the cost when I book my flights). I try for direct flights or a maximum flight time of fifteen hours. Maximum airfare - $800.
2. I will stay in hostels and at the lowest possible price based on the ratings of the individual hostel. Frommer's guide also says that there are over 130,000 hostels in the world so there are many from which to choose . I usually look for a rating of at least 75%. Included in the $3500 cost is the figure of $30.00 per night. If I can spend less than that, it will allow me to eat better. Maximum lodging cost - $1800.
3. I am not going to Europe to eat! My diet will be based more on the cost of cooking my own meals as opposed to eating in restaurants for more than my lunch meal. I can usually get by with about $12.00 per day for food and quite frequently for less. Maximum food cost - $720.
4. Transportation from place to place will be rail, second class seating, taking the least expensive ticket. This is where creativity gets important. Many countries systems have very deep discounts for early online booking. Some of the night trains have very good prices and I can sleep pretty well in a second class seat. I will figure out the per trip ticket fare as opposed to using a rail pass and use whichever is least expensive. Traveling at night will save $30 lodging cost for each trip. I will need that. Maximum cost - unknown.
5. I will stay a minimum of four nights in each city and take day trips by rail or bus. I will use public transportation exclusively. Most of my travel in cities will be by foot. I will take mostly "free" tours or "hop on - hop off" tours. Maximum cost - unknown.
6. I will purchase very few small, light souvenirs. Maximum cost - unknown.
As can be seen, the total cost of this trip is already at $3320 leaving me with a total of $180 for travel as well as incidentals which are numerous: local public transport, medical costs, and other incidental costs. Funds available at this point - $3.00 per day! Somethins' gotta give!
The first reason is that $3500 is the maximum amount of funds available, which is a known non-variable. All of the other details and costs are variable. So now I need to "rob Peter to pay Paul" and lessen the non-variables. Not a problem - yet.
First, if I can get a price for airfare of $100 less than the projected figure, I will have $280 left. This is pretty "iffy" because I'll have to hit a "special" fare from one of the carriers. I may also be able to find a courier flight which may save even more. Possible savings - $100.
I am using the figure of $30 per night for lodging. Most hostels cost around €20 per night; some a bit more and others a bit less. With the value of the dollar at a low point (except for the past 10 days when the euro slid from $1.47 to $1.37), I think that $30 per night is a reasonable figure. However, hostel prices in eastern Europe will average about $19 per night and since half of the trip will be in the East, and the savings could be as high as $300, the figure of $200 seems reasonable. Possible savings - $200 - $300.
Transportation between base cities is a huge variable. The best rail pass in this case is either Eurail Select Pass for five countries traveling in eight days in 2nd Class for $656. The other option is a Germany-Benelux Pass and a Europe East Pass which will cost $575 with five days of travel in each pass. And that's just from city to city.
Things are not looking too good, I guess I had better set-up an itinerary. That's next.