We recently went on our honeymoon, a 2-week whirlwind adventure through Italy and France. We saw almost everything we had planned to, although not quite enough to deter us from wanting to return. 😉 Since we have gotten back there have been all he usual questions of what we did, ate, and saw. More questions on How the flights and the weather were. Yet most of all, we have received the question of “If you don’t mind me asking, how much did it cost you?”. Then we kept getting the same surprised faces in return as we replied “a little less than 4,000”. Everyone kept asking if that was per person? Nope. If we stayed at Hostels and sketchy places? Nope. And the real kicker is this: if we weren’t “splurging” because it was our honeymoon, we could have done it even cheaper and still had a wonderful time.
It dawned on me that we not only found ways to get amazing deals, but that also a lot of people were out there paying an arm and a leg for trips like ours. Even worse, people were not traveling at all due to the perceived cost that these trips have. So here is how we did it. It is not the only way, but I believe we so thoroughly enjoyed our experience because we are DIY travelers. No tour groups, we avoided almost all long lines and crowds, and didn’t feel (or get) ripped off for a single thing we did. Here’s how we pulled this off:
This is the travel agency we used to book our trip. They have almost any option that you could want. Dozens of cities, cruises, modes of transportation, or pre-packaged and guided trips you can choose from. But how we got the best deal for our style of adventure DIY travel was we selected where we were flying from, what cities we wanted to visit, in what order, the level of accommodations we wanted (how many stars for the hotel, if we wanted coach or first class, etc.) and the mode of transportation to get there. THAT’S IT. You send in your proposed itinerary and Gate1 finds the best deals on your flights, hotels, etc. We did a little adjusting for the locations of our hotels, etc. and decided we would take trains/metros from the airports instead of their transports because THEY recommended that because it would be cheaper. To me, that was such a cool detail because it seems most companies try and get you to pay more money, not less.
After we got all the details settled and had our package for two people, flights, transportation to each city, hotels (all of which included some kind of breakfast), and included trip insurance (property and medical insurance) our package was $2,800. That’s it! We had been recommended this agency from a friend of Porter’s (thanks Aileen! ;)) and we seriously couldn’t believe it. If you plan far enough in advance you can even put a small deposit down to book your trip and then make payments on it up to 2-3 months before your trip. We were booking it in a shorter time span so didn’t have this option, but since we asked only for our trip for our wedding we were able to pay for it in one shot. This agency not only made everything super smooth and easy for booking/checking in/transport, it made the package price more affordable than some of the plane tickets alone we were looking at before. Also, if you enter in our account email firstname.lastname@example.org, you get $100 in credit towards a guided tour, and we get $100 credit. Win-win. 🙂
2. RICK STEVES-
I think my aunt Risa put this in the best way: If I were to meet that man, I would kiss him right on the mouth. Later on our trip Porter and I both agreed with her sentiment. 🙂 We found out about Rick Steves through my Uncle and Aunt (fellow DIY travelers) who have relied and sworn by his guidebooks in their travels to Europe. It isn’t an exaggeration when I say by following his guides for our itinerary, he saved us hours of time waiting in line and hundreds of dollars. We purchased a mini- pocket book for each city we went to, and carried it with us everywhere. He truly has a passion for travel, and making traveling easier. Here Is his website for more information. Then there is Rick Steves’s Audio Europe. It is seriously the best thing ever. Rick Steves has a FREE Europe audio guide app with hundreds of museum, site, and city walking guides. In a lot of our pictures you will notice headphones in one or both of our ears, we were listening to Rick everywhere we went! You download which guides you want beforehand, plug in your headphones, and let Rick tell you about what you are seeing, and give you walking directions either in the heart of the city or through the main sites of the museum. It really adds to the experience to know the history behind what you are looking at, which is why museum audio guides are a thing. However, the audio guides that are sold for use at day at the entrances, the Vatican and Louvre generally cost between 5-10 Euros per person, per site. We added up what we saved and it was around $150 just by using this amazing free app! Like we said, if we met Rick I think we’d all kiss him on the mouth. 😉
3. Going a little off the Grid to Eat/TripAdvisor:
I actually learned this lesson on home soil in New York City. The most expensive meal I think I’ve ever personally paid for was a mediocre plate of pasta at a TGI Friday’s in Time Square. It was so disappointing and I am still salty about it to this day. Eating at tourist traps and high traffic locations can ruin a trip and cost a lot of money. Walk one or two blocks away from the tourist center and you will find cheaper foods with just as good if not better cuisine. Or even a grocery store or market to pack sack lunches of fresh fruit for snacks. We would rely on our guidebook for suggestions in our area, but we heavily turned to TripAdvisor to see its rating and reviews. It was so easy and we got so much good food for prices cheaper than most chain restaurants here in the US.
4. Master Public Transit systems, or use your god-given feet 😉 –
Everyone kept asking us how the cabs were in Europe. Honestly, we couldn’t tell you. We only took a five minute one once when we were just so bone tired after a 4 Am wake up and flight to Paris. We traveled by metro mostly, and planned how much we would use it to decide which pass option was best in each of the bigger cities (Rome, Paris). We found we could get pretty much anywhere by metro, each destination costing us about a $1.50, versus $10.00-$20.00 via cab. In the smaller cities (Florence, Venice) we found that they were very pedestrian friendly and we could walk just about anywhere. It honestly saved us a good chunk of money just being able to walk 10+ miles a day without being too exhausted. If you are wanting to be a DIY traveler and save yourself money seriously just start training months before your trip walking as much as possible. Invest in a good pair of shoes, and train to walk a lot and you will save money, but also enjoy walking around these ancient and beautiful cities. Some of my favorite parts of the trip was walking and enjoying all the buildings, cute cafés, and landmarks.
5. Museum or City passes-
Finally, the last thing we did to save major money was plan what sites we wanted to see, and add up the entrance fees vs. buying one of the site passes most European cities offered. Generally, if you are, as our friend Rick says “highly motivated and highly caffeinated” you will want to see most of the things covered by these passes, and therefore will save you money in entrance fees buying a one purchase pass that covers it all. We felt that especially the Paris museum and Firenze (Florence) passes were especially worth it, and by taking this route saved us about $30 each.
The rest of our budget went to souvenirs, some other entrance fees not covered by the passes, and food. All of which we were splurging on or people had gifted to us as a wedding present, but could easily have been trimmed down for a lower budget.
I sincerely hope that someone will benefit and get out there and experience our beautiful planet 🌎 !
What money-saving tips have you found work for you while traveling? What didn’t work that you’d like to do differently next trip?
Best wishes and safe travels, ✈️