It’s that time of year again. As soon as mid-April hits, something changes. Students start counting down the days until summer (or in this case, graduation, which is frightening), and we start thinking about how we’ll spend our free time before summer jobs, internships, or in my case – my real job – begins.
Every year, I do some type of trip in May before starting my internship in June. The past three years it’s been Norway, the coast of Italy, and the coast of France. While that may sound swanky at a first read, I can assure you that my trips are anything but elaborate. In fact, sometimes my friends comment, “Wow, you’re so lucky that you get to go to Europe so often.” And while it’s certainly true that I am fortunate that my parents take care of my college expenses allowing me to save up my own money for personal use, I think that too many people forget that they can do the same thing, as well. Every trip I have gone on (not including my time studying abroad, in which my parents helped me out), I have completely funded with own hard-earned money secured through babysitting, working a summer job, or completing a paid internship. That being said, I understand that having the freedom to use my money as extraneous income, and not to cover my basic needs, should not be discounted.
The craziest thing about travel is that it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you may think. Many people assume that a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars, which simply doesn’t have to be the case. For this post, I will focus on how to secure cheap flights – which usually consists of the bulk of your expenses. But it’s also worth noting that in the world of the shared economy, companies like Airbnb have made international travel accessible to people with modest savings.
If you’re a college student or a young professional, I’d argue that it’s even more manageable to travel on a small budget as you’re young and probably have much lower standards when it comes to airplane comfort, lodging, and food. (For example, if you’re like me, you’ll jump at the opportunity to spend $300 less, even if it means sitting in an especially compact seat 40,000 feat in the air for 8 hours. Shoutout to WOW Airlines for truly putting the efficiency in flying).
A few weeks ago, I had someone message me about the best way to get cheap flights to Europe. Ironically, I am currently going through that same process myself, and I figure many college students – especially seniors looking to go backpacking across the continent this summer – are in the same place. However, I think this post can be useful to anyone planning travel, as I’d say nearly everyone is happy to save money when they can.
When planning a trip to Europe (or anywhere else outside of the U.S.), there are a few elements that are important: when to travel, when to book, and how to book.
When to Travel
This past March, I was able to secure a roundtrip American Airlines flight from Nashville to Amsterdam for $550. Yes, that is cheaper than the Southwest flight I took to Mardi Gras. If you can travel during off-peak season, you are bound to save hundreds of dollars. Off-peak months for Europe tend to be October to March, and through my recent research I have found that off-peak months to travel to Southeast Asia are the opposite, March to October. As someone who has traveled extensively in Europe during the off-season thanks to my time studying abroad and my trips to visit my boyfriend during various Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Breaks, I would say that you can always find somewhere to go during the off-season that is charming, despite the lower temperatures. While I may not advise visiting the coast of Italy during the winter, many European cities are at the peak of their charm during the fall and winter months. As for Southeast Asia, while it is vastly cheaper to visit these countries during the off-season, you must be aware of heavy rains that emerge starting in late June and early July. In fact, until a few days ago, I was planning to spend 12 days in either Thailand or Laos this July. After seeing that the rain could affect my travels (I absolutely hate rain), I switched the trip to Indonesia, where July is part of the dry season. Ultimately, when you’re booking travel, it’s cheaper to fly over during the off-season, but you should do your research to make sure that going during the off-season won’t vastly affect the quality of your trip.
How to Book
Once you pick when you’re going to travel, head over to Google Flights, where you can see which dates in your selected range are cheapest. If you’re unable to be flexible with dates, you can skip this step (it might just depress you), but if you are flexible, this is a great way to see if leaving a day earlier or later can save some money. While I don’t like booking my flights on Google Flights because I have found that they don’t always provide the best deals, I do like to check them out before moving on to booking.
I used to think that I had to book a flight to Europe 3 months beforehand, but I’ve recently found that if you book closer to 60 days before, you’ll get the best price. However, instead of gambling on it, the best thing to do is to download the app Hopper. After you’ve selected your dates, enter them into Hopper and select “watch” to stay up-to-date on “when to fly and buy.” Hopper will send you an email when it’s time to buy, and it’ll let you know how much money you can potentially save by booking now vs. later. As I am planning my 6-week summer escapade across Europe and Asia, Hopper has been a life (and money) saver.
How to Book
Booking flights can be stressful. With so many travel sites available, it’s no surprise that many people (myself included) can feel incredibly overwhelmed. While I prefer to book flights on the main airline’s provider website, I have used Expedia in the past and I have not had any issues myself. Some people have said that Expedia isn’t reliable or has provided bad service, but my personal experience has been great. However, before going to Expedia or an airline provider’s website to search for a flight, I have started using the app/website Skyscanner, which scans every travel website under the sun to find you the best rates. For example, the Bali roundtrip I just booked cost $300 less for a non-stop flight on Sky-tours compared to Expedia, where the best option included an 8-hour overnight layover. Without Skycanner, I wouldn’t have even known that Sky-tours existed.
One thing I want to note is that while I’m all for cheap flights, I recommend booking connecting flights only within the same alliance. An airline alliance is an “aviation industry arrangement between two or more airlines agreeing to cooperate on a substantial level.” The largest alliance is Star Alliance, which includes Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, SAS, and many others. The purpose in only booking within the same alliance is that if one leg of your flight gets delayed and causes you to miss the next flight or one of your flights gets cancelled, the airline will work with you to find you another flight at no cost. However, if the first leg of your flight is United, and the second is British Airways (part of the One World alliance), there’s no guaranteeing that everything will get sorted out as easily, cheaply, or effectively.
As you all know, I am no certified travel agent, I’m just a college kid on a tight budget who loves to travel. As I’ve made quite a few trips across the pond over the last few years, I wanted to share these tips with my fellow globetrotters. I’ve talked about this before, but for me, travel is the most exciting, efficient, and empowering way I can spend my money. It allows me to experience the wonders of the world, learn incredibly interesting lessons about myself, the world, and the people who live in it, and it pushes me outside of my comfort zone and makes me feel more aware of everything in my life. Feminequity is all about owning your life, and for me, that means working hard, but also taking necessary breaks to relax and see the world. Spending money can be scary, but when done right, it can be liberating. What’s the point in working so hard, if you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Today marks the last day of undergraduate classes (which is terrifying), and soon graduation and the culmination of 4 years of hard work will arrive. And so, the natural next step for me is to travel, before I dive headfirst into the corporate world in August. So here’s to cheap flights and charming destinations. Stay tuned for my next travel post to come in the next few weeks about how to plan your itinerary and where to stay!