Plan an epic adventure with these 3 must-know tips

Plus, when to save and when to splurge

Your professor might disagree, but we’d say that travel is one of the best teaching tools around. Whether embarking on a semester in Europe or backpacking through Southeast Asia with your besties, a trip abroad can really broaden your horizons. Here are a few must-know tips for planning a trip as epic as your crew.

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1) Decide on a destination

We’re all about spontaneity, but if you want to save money, you’ll first need to decide where you’re going! First, narrow down what type of trip you want. Are you craving the energy of a major city or do you prefer somewhere a bit more ‘off the grid’ where you can relax on the beach. Is the purpose of your trip to rest and recharge, or to maximize exploration?

Once you have a good idea of what you want to get out of the trip, begin researching destinations. For major cities (see a few suggestions below), you’ll want to stay for a few days, with the option to tack on a day trip.

  • Barcelona: Anywhere from 4-10 days (plenty of fun day trips you can take).
  • Lisbon: 3-4 days, but you can combine this with a trip north to Porto for 2 days or a trip south to Algarve for 2 days
  • Copenhagen: 3-5 days (depending on how much food you want to cram in and whether you want to explore museums just outside the city).
  • Paris: 4 days at least!

If you choose a place that really only has enough to keep you entertained for a couple days, consider pairing it with some nearby destinations (for instance, instead of spending a full week in Prague, you can do 2 days in Prague, 2 in Budapest, and 3 in Vienna). When deciding on a destination, you'll also want to consider budget.

2) Budget for your trip

Everyone has a budget, and it’s important to make sure you and your travel buddy are in alignment. Are you going to stay in hotels, Airbnbs, or hostels? If budget is a major concern, you'll want to pick some budget friendly destinations where you can also stay in nice places (on the top of our list are cities like Barcelona, Lisbon, Prague, Berlin, and Budapest where hotels, bars and, restaurants are inexpensive).

Make sure you map out how much you can spend on your trip. Start by checking flight prices. Then, figure out what type of accommodations you and your friend want, and how much it will cost per night. Once you sort these logistics out, you’ll know exactly how much money leftover you have to spent on food, activities and daily public transportation.

For example, if your total budget for a trip is $3000 for a 5 day trip to Barcelona, search for flights. Let’s say round trip airfare costs $800. Then, say you and your friend want to stay at a 3 or 4-star hotel for your dates, and you see that it will cost around $150 per night. Multiply this by 5 nights (or the duration of your trip) and that’s $750 total.

Have we lost you? Ok, let’s keep going. So now you have $800 per person for flights ($1600 total on flights), $750 on hotel, which means you’re spending $1550 on getting there and making sure you have a place to sleep. With the total budget of $3000 for the 2 of you, that means there’s $1450 leftover for food and activities. $1450 split across 5 days is $290 per day.

In a city like Barcelona, it's pretty easy to get a great meal for under $20 at local tapas bars, so budgeting $10 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, $20 for dinner is $50 per person per day for dining, or $100 per day for food which leaves $190 for any activities (entrance fees, tours) or shopping you might want to do. Of course, if you want to splurge on an experience like doing a fine-dining meal, you'll have to make sure you allocate your daily budget accordingly.

3) Define your “non-negotiables”

Once the basics of destination, flight, and hotel are set, put together a list of each of your "non-negotiables"—things each of you DEFINITELY want to do and would be sad about if you didn't get to do that on your trip. These should be things that are absolute musts. Pre-determine what days you will do what, and have a backup plan in case weather puts a damper on your plans.

Once you have those must-dos planned out, then go through each of your "nice-to-have" lists. See which of these things happen to be close to the things you already know you're doing, and then slot those into your itinerary. Make sure you note what activities or meals require advance booking. This way, when you show up, you won’t be disappointed that so tickets are sold out or there's a long line that could have been avoided.

If you're traveling in a group larger than 4, you may want to make special considerations and make extra plans in advance. Many local restaurants with good food (read: not tourist traps) may be small with limited seating. You’ll definitely want to reserve in advance so that you're not walking around hangry.

A couple extra tips to get you off and running. Be flexible. Remember, you’re not on a solo trip, here. There’s another person involved, whether your best friend or your significant other. After you define your “non-negotiables” and your “nice-to-have” lists, try to keep the rest of your plans fairly open.

Appreciate down time. Even if you’re a type-A, at some point you’ll need to rest. If your travel partner is an introvert, this is especially necessary. That said, if you’re eager to explore more while your best friend isn’t, that’s also okay. Not every activity has to be shared; there’s nothing wrong with splitting up for a few hours and doing your own thing.

Manage expectations. Another perk of keeping a fairly loose itinerary is that it sets you up for success. If you have a goal of visiting 4 museums in one day, you’re most likely going to be disappointed. It’s better to plan for less, and therefore you’ll experience more. Perspective, people!

While you and your friends can certainly do this yourself, sometimes a busy class schedule, homework, and other activities can get in the way. That doesn’t mean you should have a subpar adventure. Luckily, we at Journy are the resident experts on trip planning. Ready to get started? Head to our student page and get 20% off all trip planning!

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