We both have full time jobs in the United States, and due to that we have some constraints around how much time we can take off for travel. We have been experimenting with the idea of how to pull off a long weekend trip with two major constraints that everyone has: time and money. This only works if you are within driving distance of a major hub airport in the US (we are closest to Chicago and Detroit so we look at both fares when planning trips). This post is broken out into the top expenses and how we minimize them.
How to Find a Cheap Flight: $800 for 2 Round Trip Tickets
Usually when I talk to someone about traveling they think the flights are going to be extremely expensive to go to Europe. A lot of this is due to their inflexibility: you can easily pay over $1k per ticket to go over to Europe, or you can often pay less than $400. When I say flexibility, that means both time and location: in the summer you will have a harder time finding cheap fares. Also if you are not too picky on where you are going it broadens your options even more. Here is what we do:
- Go to Google Flights
- Type in your nearest major international airport (Chicago O-Hare for us!)
- In the “where to” box type in “Europe“
- Type in your date range – we have been doing Thursday to Tuesday trips because most flights to Europe leave late at night (after 7 or 8 pm) and return during the day on the way back – remember you lose time on the way there but make it back up on your return.
- For example: we found a flight from Chicago to Copenhagen that departed at 10:05 pm CST and landed at 1:20 pm CET. If you can power through that first day you can get a good (if not a bit delirious) afternoon at your destination before having the best sleep of your life Friday night.
- When you hit “search” you won’t just get a list of flights. A map will pop up which has the cost of the flights from your airport to the different destinations. As you move/zoom the map, it will reload for those locations. If there is nothing looking good at the moment, change your date range a bit or look back in a couple of days. Flights prices change all the time. This is where you might need to be a bit flexible.
- You can also add in a “non-stop” filter to make sure you are only looking at direct flights. This will narrow it down even more, but it’s just that much more time you don’t have to be in an airport.
- Google Flights also lets you track prices if you find a route that you are interested in
- Don’t believe us? Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights for inspiration. Also, here is a direct flight we found to Stockholm just doing a quick search:
Lodging $50-100/night = $300
It is a good idea to keep proximity to mass transit in your consideration when booking your lodging. Some countries are obviously more expensive than others which you should keep in consideration when booking your place. A couple of tips to keep your costs down:
- Stay away from major hotels
- Use AirBnB & Booking.com, find where you want to stay and sort/filter by price
- Stay in a hostel if you are on the super cheap
- Keep transportation in mind from a location standpoint: you can find a farmhouse out in the country for very inexpensive but you’re going to spend more than that on Uber/car rental.
Food: $50/day = $250
We are foodies. This is where we will gladly blow our budget and probably be willing to spend a bit more. You can definitely spend less than $50/day. There are a couple of key things you can do to keep your costs down:
- If you are on the super cheap – go to a grocery store. You don’t eat out every day at home so you can save a ton by cooking at your AirBnB. Even if it is just some basics like fruit/granola bars/bread/wine (yes we know that last one isn’t food!) will save you a bunch of money in the long run. It’s also just fun to go into international grocery stores!
- Look for lodging that includes breakfast (a true B&B) we always look at Booking.com
- Avoid buying alcohol and ‘fancy’ mineral water at restaurants
- Get to where the locals go. For example, if you’re in Athens, don’t eat in the Plaka neighborhood. A few blocks away you’ll pay 1/3 the price for a more authentic gyro. It isn’t too hard to find these spots, there are are a few things to look for
- Away from the tourist areas (not filled with tourists… they are easy to spot)
- Be cautious of TripAdvisor – we use it a lot and it can be a good for info, but it is heavily used by tourists so its typically skewed. Lonely Planet is a good second source that can be a bit more reliable.
- This is not to say there aren’t really good restaurants in the touristy areas, but you will definitely pay a premium for them.
Transportation: Stick to a Plan $100
With transportation you typically have a trade-off: time vs. money. Public/mass transportation has economies of scale going for it, but it usually has the downside of not dropping you off where you need to be and taking longer than the alternatives. Bus/train/subway/etc. are all inexpensive options – especially when you are leaving the airport. The more individualized and faster but much more expensive option is Taxi/Uber. Maybe not nearly as available but what of a middle ground is an UberPool, which can be surprisingly economical but will take a bit more time. As for airport parking, you should look at parking at a hotel – we use Way.com with success. You basically rent a parking spot from a hotel near an airport and they let you use their shuttle service. We have paid as little as $5/day to park but the rates can vary.
Summary – $1,450 Total
$50 left over! You can travel on the cheap – and you will probably feel like a baller if you take a weekend trip to Europe. Most of the travel tips in this post are principles that apply to more than just Europe. Everyone has their own priorities to keep in mind when planning a trip.
Would you ever do a long weekend to Europe? Please drop a comment below!