After I graduated college and got married, I was too worried about student loans and credit card debts to even consider spending money on my dream trip to Europe. I thought the whole idea was out of reach. Dealing with our debts made me feel like we were playing an economic game we couldn’t possibly win. Additionally, we were planning to start a family and I knew that if we were going to travel abroad while we were young, we had to do it before having children.
Eventually, we decided it was Europe or bust! We still planned to work our way out of debt, but we also agreed to come up with a solid financial plan to make a trip to Europe while we were still young. It took two years of work, careful planning, and thinking outside the box, but we did it. Hopefully, our story will help you reach your dream destination.
Credit Cards First
According to an article I read on debtconsolidation.com, we had to decide if we wanted the long term benefits of paying off higher-interest credit cards first, or the more immediate gratification of paying off lower-interest, credit cards with smaller balances faster. Since we really needed momentum to get going, we opted to knock out the smaller debts and after they were paid off, we increased the payments on our higher-interest credit cards.
Our apartment was perfectly fine for the two of us, so we were in no hurry to buy a home. We cut our household expenses by not eating out, only having minimum cable service, keeping our purchases to things we really needed instead of buying things we just wanted and made sure that we spent far less than we earned. It was all a series of little steps, but every expense we managed to reduce, gave us more money to put into paying down debts and saving for the trip.
Planning the Trip
We managed to knock down most of our credit card debt during the first year and even though our credit card balances were dropping, we kept to the same budget and applied the same amount of bill money to our student loans instead. By that point, we started devising a game plan to visit Europe on the cheap so that we didn’t run up debt again. Admittedly, it would take a large chunk of money out of our savings, but we set a fixed budget for the trip and planned around that.
Airfare was going to be killer and we knew it. Luckily, we budgeted for that first so that we could book tickets well in advance. We also chose to fly during off-peaks times so that we saved some additional money that way. While we didn’t pack quite as light as backpackers, we took one suitcase each for a three week trip. If that meant we had to find a way to do laundry, then so be it, but we weren’t going to pay for extra baggage fees or haul a lot of luggage around with us.
Hostels Instead of Hotels
While I do love being pampered, a look at hotel fees in Europe quickly convinced me that we needed to think like we did in college. In other words, as long as we could get clean beds, a shared bathroom, and hopefully, access to a kitchen, it was acceptable lodging in our book. I won’t lie, staying in dormitory-style places wasn’t the fanciest way to see Europe, but on the other hand, we met some great fellow travelers that we’re still friends with to this day.
One thing you learn to love very quickly about European cities is their fantastic public transportation system. If you call a taxi in London or Paris, then you clearly either have money to blow or haven’t done your homework. And, in Switzerland, it’s practically unthinkable. We had very few problems navigating around without a car. In fact, it was a lot less of a chore, and gave us a chance to mingle with other people, rather than drive everywhere.
The funny part of our story is that after two years of living lean financially, we didn’t go hog wild during our European vacation. In fact, we lived a lot like we did at home. We cooked as many of our own meals as we could, bought groceries for meals instead of eating out every night, and even did our own laundry so that we didn’t have to run out and buy new clothes. Maybe it isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, but we loved it and we’re looking forward to the day, after our kids are grown, when we can travel all over the world being happy and frugal.
About the Author: Angela Quint and her husband love to travel and can’t wait for the kids to be old enough to enjoy longer vacations and educational tours!