How to Plan your First Trip to Europe + Money Saving Tips


Bonjuor! Cheerio! Greetings all the way from Europe! Right about now, I’m having afternoon tea with my husband as we take in the sites of London. All those years of practicing my British accent are finally coming to use as I try to not sound like a “touristy” American.

This trip has been well in the making! After having a quaint one-year anniversary celebration last year (right on the cusp of purchasing our first home), we decided to go a little bigger for year two. Honestly, I’m not sure how we landed on London and Paris, but for whatever reason we did and I couldn’t be happier. This has been a long time goal of mine and I’m just blessed to see it manifest.

Since this is our first trip to Europe and you may be planning a trip of your own, I thought I’d share some of the tips, tricks, and pitfalls that we found along the way. By no means am I a travel expert, so I’m only sharing from my experience. You can definitely always consult a travel agent for professional advice. 

Here are my top 5 tips for planning your first trip to Europe


Tip #1: Plan + book several months in advance

Let me begin by saying that planning a trip to Europe is not something that you should do on a whim. Unless you have loads of money laying around, I suggest that you start planning way in advance of when you actually want to go. Now, we knew that we wanted to go for our anniversary, so choosing a date wasn’t a problem for us. However, if you’re trying to save some money, I suggest being flexible in your travel time, as some time periods are cheaper for flights than others.

When you’re planning your trip, I would suggest taking a look at some itineraries to gauge places that you’ll want to visit. A former co-worker suggested that we check out itineraries on GoAheaderTours.com, which was extremely helpful.  We decided later on that we wanted to also go to Paris, which meant that we’d have to do some additional booking. Save yourself the headache and money and do all of the planning upfront.

To give you a gauge on time, we booked our April trip in June of 2017. Count it up...10 months in advance. Now, we didn’t have all of the details figured out at this point, but we did know that we needed a flight and a hotel at a minimum. So, in June we took care of both the flight and hotel. Ultimately, there isn’t a significance in 10 months. Instead, June was when we were able to find great deals on flights and hotel stays. That leads me to Tip #2.

Tip #2: Use Scott’s Cheap Flights (Not an affiliate)

After asking a few friends about their excursions around the world, we were put on to Scott’s Cheap Flights. This website literally sends you (almost) daily emails with all the tea on cheap international flights and how you can book them. This isn’t like Travelocity or anything, where you can book your flight on the site and compare prices. Its just a guy who sits on his computer all day finding significant deals on flights around the world. *Kanye shrug*

Once we knew that we’d be going to Europe, we signed up for the emails and waited until we saw a deal on flights. Guys, I kid you not, by using this FREE service, we were able to get round trip tickets for less than $500 after taxes and fees. Basically, the actual ticket was around $100, but of course here comes the taxes and fees. Nonetheless, that’s two WHOLE adults traveling to Europe round trip from around a grand. I would say that you can’t beat that with a stick, but there were actually some cheaper flights on other dates. 

When using Scott’s Cheap Flights, you have to be ready to purchase. In our case, we looked at flights one day and they were ~$300 and the next day they were ~$500. Needless to say, we booked ASAP. Because we booked our flights through Expedia, we were able to get a discounted hotel rate as well (more on that later). Being ready to book brings me to my third tip.

Tip #3: Save your coins

Don’t get it twisted….a trip to Europe is not cheap. With some research and other tips I’ll mention, we were able to save some coins, but by no means is it a trip to your local beach. During the time between booking our flight and hotel until landing in London, we were budgeting and saving up for this exploration. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of “how much,” but I will tell you some things that you need to consider when budgeting.

  • Baggage fees | I imagine that if you’re going to Europe, you’ll be there for a while. All bags are not free, so make sure you check with your airline on the size limit and the cost to check luggage. Don’t get caught up at the airport because you didn’t check in advance. Every airlines’ bag specification are not the same.
  • Exchange rates | Traveling in Europe means that you’ll encounter multiple currencies. For us, it was the GBP and EUR. Each has their own conversion rate, which means that our dollar wouldn’t actually be worth a dollar. Be mindful of that to know exactly how much cash you’ll need to get you through your stay. Also note that there is a fee to exchange your USD for another currency. Check the rates at the time you’re traveling. You may also want to go to your local bank ahead of your trip to get a few bills in the first country that you'll be traveling to.
  • Debit/Credit Card Fees | Before you leave, you must let your bank know that you’ll be traveling abroad. Even though most cards can be used worldwide, there is a fee. Check with your bank to find out what that fee is before you go a’swiping. As a rule of thumb, we anticipated an additional 3-4% would be added to all of our transactions on top of what’d we’d “lose” from the conversion.
  • Cell phone charges | In addition to checking in with your bank before you travel, you’ll need to also check in with your phone carrier. ATTENTION: Roaming fees do apply. Our plan of attack for not getting hit with a big cell phone bill was to get a temporary international travel plan that allowed us to use a limited amount of data, which we’d only use when necessary. For the remainder of the trip we’d be on airplane mode and using wifi when available. PS- that means you’ll have a real vacation and not be attached to your phone. Thank me later.
  • Transportation | Let me just tell you upfront that the transportation system, particularly in London, is quite confusing. We watched tons of videos on which public transportation card to purchase and ultimately we concluded that...it’s confusing. Nonetheless, you’ll need some form of transportation when in Europe. Your best option is to purchase one prior to your trip if you can. We later found out that it would have probably saved us some money. Either way, we were also prepared to pay for an Uber or taxi if need be. Another mistake that we made was waiting until about 2 weeks before our trip to make a final decision on going to Paris. This meant we also waited to purchase our train ticket, making it more expensive.
  • Excursions | I mentioned in Tip #1 that it’s a good idea to plan what you’d like to do ahead of time. Not only does it save you a headache in booking, but you’ll know exactly how much money you’ll need to save. We keep a standard trip budget template that includes lines for excursions and fine dining. It’ll be imperative that you take that into account. A good way to figure out what you want to do is to check out itineraries online and to check out some travel channels on YouTube. Watching videos was very helpful and insightful for us.
  • Shopping | Who can go abroad and not shop?? Maybe you can, but if you can’t you’ll need to take that into account. Our rule of thumb is that we have a budgeted amount, which dictates what we can actually buy. Whatever your shopping fancy, just make sure you have the funds for it...plus a transaction fee. Also, if you plan to buy designer items (which are rumored to be cheaper in Europe), you'll have some additional paperwork to keep up with for your return to the US.  

Tip #4: Use Ebates

I’m basically going to keep saying this until everyone on my blog has signed up for this FREE service. Here’s a secret that we use for travel: We book everything that we possibly can through Ebates. Why? Because we get ~10% back on the total cost of the purchase for travel. That means 10% back on flight costs, 10% back on hotel costs, and 10% back on anything use that we purchase using Ebates. We even booked our adventures, like the Eiffel Tower, using Ebates & Expedia. Listen Linda, this is not a game or gimmick and I can show you the money!

Here’s what we did:
  • Found a flight on Scott’s Cheap Flight
  • Logged into Ebates and clicked on the link to Expedia
  • Booked our flight & hotel
  • Got 10% cash back to my paypal for each purchase

Easy peasy gimme my money! If you haven’t gotten on the Ebates train yet, you’re basically doing yourself a disservice. When you sign up, you’ll get $10-- real money or a Walmart gift card. Click here to sign up.

Tip #5: Register with the Embassy

I’ll admit that I never thought about doing this until someone mentioned it on a YouTube video. As a US Citizen, you have the option of registering to get updates from the US Embassy in the event that there is an emergency in the country that you’re visiting. It also helps your family get in touch with you if there is an emergency. Directly from the US Department of State website, “The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens traveling or living abroad to enroll with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.” This is a free service that I thought was worthwhile. In addition to registering, also make a note of where the Embassy is in the country that you’re traveling to. Here's the link to check it out.

One last thing! Don't forget to purchase a converter for the outlets. Europe uses different plugs from the United States and countries within Europe may also differ. Here's what we purchased (click here) to keep ourselves covered as we continue to travel around the globe.

Ok ladies and gents! Those are my top 5 tips for planning your first trip to Europe. There is a ton more information all over the Internet, so make sure you do your research in advance. Ultimately, save room for fun and enjoy your time overseas.

If you have some tips, tricks, and suggestions that you want to share, leave them in the comments below! Happy traveling!


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