How To: Plan Your First Eurotrip

It all started with a pad of bright pink paper and a Starbucks coffee date with my best friend. For the first time, we were getting coffee to do more than cure our hangover and gossip about the night before….we were getting coffee to plan a eurotrip.

We gazed onto the screen of my macbook, looking at pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Cliffs of Moher, Canals of Venice, jotting down places we wanted to visit on the pink pad of paper. But how did we take our ideas and random notes about plane tickets and europoean cities  from the pink pad of paper and turn them into a eurotrip?

It took a significant amount of planning and money, but more than anything the biggest factor in planning your first eurotrip is making the decision to actually do it. People talk about traveling, but the truth is that most people will actually not travel and will make up excuses for why they can’t go. Work, family, money, etc. But the truth is, if you truly want to travel, you will!

STEP 1: Repeat after me: “I’m going on a Eurotrip this year!” Make this your mantra!

Okay, so now that you are going to Europe the next thing is figuring out how you are going to pay for it. Personally, it took me a year of saving and working (while I was a college student) to save for my post grad month long backpacking trip. During my trip, with a few days left, I realized I under budgeted and had to ask my parents for money to get home (checking bags, etc). But it was because of incidentals that came up during the trip that I wasn’t aware of (Ryan Air checked bag fees, 100 euro cab rides when buses didn’t run, unexpected tourist and hostel fees, exchange rates). If you are aware of these and prepare for “life to happen” and things to come up, then you can easily save for your trip! Just make sure to save extra money for incidentals and always have more than one kind of credit/debit card.

STEP 2: Begin saving for your trip…RIGHT NOW! 

How much should you save? It depends on the kind of trip you want to have. Ask yourself a few questions: Do you want to stay in hostels or hotels? Are you going to eat out at every meal? Will you be partying the nights away? Are you doing extreme activities? How often are you changing cities?

Cliff Jumping in Interlaken!

Cliff Jumping in Interlaken!

It is also important to think about the exchange rate. Most European cities use Euros and the exchange rate is 1.35 USD = 1 euro. The city that was the toughest was London because their currency is pounds. The exchange rate is terrible for pounds and it’s 1.65 USD = 1 pound. And when you’re actually in the cities, your brain does this weird thing where it equates everything to dollars. So you think, “Wow! So cheap. Only 20 pounds for that dress.” But that’s actually $33. I will never forget when Lindsay and I checked our bank accounts in the London hostel (our second country) and were shocked! Moral of the story: be aware of exchange rates when planning.

For a backpacking trip, a rough breakdown for what we spent is $1400 for the plane tickets (we booked our plane tickets to/from the US, a plane ticket between Ireland and Great Britain, a plane ticket between Munich and Venice, and a plane ticket between Rome and Dublin) and then $800- $1,000 a week while in Europe. It could have been cheaper, but we chose to do a lot of touristy things like ride the London Eye, paraglide in the Swiss Alps, eat everything we possibly could in Italy lol. So take that into consideration. 

STEP 3: Do you want to do a tour? 

There are many great tour companies that will take you on a great tour of Europe without the stress of coordinating your adventure. If you don’t have time to plan or would just rather have it planned for you, definitely consider going on a tour. Since it was both of our first time in Europe, we decided to do a mix of backpacking on our own and going on a tour. Because we were planning so far in advance, we found a tour for a great deal through the travel company Bus2Alps.

Bus2Alps has various sales throughout the year, and we combined the “Early Bird Special” with an election day sale and booked a 12 day tour of Europe for around 800 euros. The 12 day tour included transportation, hostels, a few dinners, an awesome tour guide and we met a lot of really cool people during our tour! We did the Best of West Europe tour.

If you decide to do a tour and that’s all, then your Eurotrip planning is done (well except for booking the flight, but that’s easy)! Congrats! We chose to do a tour for 12 days of our trip, but we traveled on our own for one week before and one week after. If you don’t decide to do a tour, keep reading!

STEP 4: Where do you want to go?

This one is easy, grab a map and figure out where you want to go.

Our Trip!

Our Trip!

STEP 5: How will you get to/from the places?

The first thing you need to think about is where you will be arriving in Europe and if you will buy a one way or round trip ticket. Round trip tickets are cheaper, but in the end, you will have to buy a train or plane ride to get back to the city you started in order to depart to go back home, so buying two one ways will cost about the same. Once you figure out where you want to start/end and buy those tickets, look into trains and buses that go from each of your other cities. Depending on how long and how many cities you will be in, it might be a good idea to look into a RailEurope pass. They offer a wide selection based on the countries you are visiting. The most important kind of tickets to buy in advance are plane tickets, but if you plan on using trains throughout Europe, you could wait until arriving in Europe to buy them. In general, having a loose plan is always a good idea though. So if you come without train tickets, at least know which ones you are planning on buying and where the train stations are. We had all of our major plane tickets bought and did everything else once we got to Europe. Don’t ever buy bus tickets in advance. Just wait. Trust me. 

TIP: Make a giant bulletin board with the dates of your trip. Use this to plan out what dates you will be in certain cities, and you will be able to see how many nights you will need to book hostels, when you will need transportation and how long you have in each city. We even used ours to write down main monuments/activities we wanted to do in each city.

planning board

STEP 6: Where are you sleeping?

I remember days when Lindsay and I said “NO SLEEP UNTIL THE STATES” but that is a lie. If you are backpacking, you need sleep. I recommend using Hostel World to book your hostels. We booked most of our hostels before Europe and it was great. In general, staying in a “Backpacker’s Hostel” was always the best because they had free tourist stuff, like maps and day trip ideas. They’re also a lot cheaper than hotels.

If you really want to save money, you could always Couchsurf. I’ve never done it, but essentially what it is is sleeping on people’s couches for free! I think this could be a definite hit or miss, but if you’re really trying to budget it could be a great option.

Also, some of my friends have stayed in apartments rented on AirBnB, so you could always check there for good deals. Regardless, you need somewhere to sleep. I would also recommend knowing where you are sleeping before you go to Europe. You don’t want to be stressing out about where you are staying. You’ll want to be stress free to enjoy the European cities!

TIP: Make a spreadsheet with the hostel names, address, phone number, dates you will be staying, and how to get to the hostel from the airport/bus station. Print out two copies. Give one to your family/friends at home so they know where you will be and use the other for traveling. We did this and it helped us so much! 

Hostel in Interlaken

Hostel in Interlaken

STEP 7: Research and recommendations!

Start researching the cities you will be visiting. Think about what you like to do and what you want to see in each cities. If you’re more athletic, check out hikes or parks in the city, if you’re into art, check out museums and art exhibits. Also, asking people who have been to cities or lived there for recommendations is always a great idea. We got so many great recommendations for Paris and Italy! Talking to people who have travelled before is a great way to get tips on the “do’s and don’t’s” of cities. There will be some cities and days where you will just wander and see where life takes you, but other days where you have more of a plan. Trust me, you will be thankful for those restaurant recommendations when you are sitting in your hostel, starving and just want to go somewhere good to eat.

STEP 8: Packing. 

Packing has never been my strong suite, but I’ve gotten better. Here are my packing tips: 1. LOOK AT THE WEATHER FOR WHERE YOU WILL BE VISITING AND PACK ACCORDINGLY
2. SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR
3. FEBREEZE AND TIDE DETERGENT (TRAVEL SIZE)
4. TOWEL AND SHOWER FLIP FLOPS
5. PLUG ADAPTORS
Also remember, less is more, and you have to carry everything, everywhere (for example, over every canal in the city of Venice, up the 50 million steps in Cinque Terre, up the Eiffel Tower…okay kidding about the Eiffel Tower but the other two did happen, and it was torture lol). Good luck. lol

Step 9: Travel documents

Before you go, make copies of EVERYTHING. Your passport, credit/debit cards, drivers license, travel insurance, etc. Give one copy to your family/friends and keep one copy of everything with you, in a separate bag from where you keep the originals. For example, if you are traveling with a checked bag and a carry one, keep the originals with you and put the copies in the checked bag. I also scanned them and emailed them to myself so I had copies in my email. Your passport is your life so maybe make like 10 copies of that ;).

passport

Step 10: GO ON YOUR TRIP! 

Don’t think, just go. It’ll be great. And if all else fails, just remember you’re in Europe. Life could be worse. 

Before leaving the USA!

Before leaving the USA!

Ejercicio en Espana vs. Estados Unidos

So the first thing I did in Spain (even before opening a bank account or getting a metro card) was join a gym. Throughout college, I always found myself at the gym late at night (shout out to OSU for having gyms open until 2am!) and running half and full marathons at least once a year. So I knew once I got to Spain, I wanted to keep working out. I’ve been here for almost two months, which has given me enough time to try a few different workout classes and spend enough hours at the gym to really notice some differences. So here’s my top 5 differences between gyms in Spain and gyms in the US that I’ve noticed. 

1. Locker rooms: In the US, people are more private in the locker rooms. Here in Spain, women literally have conversations in the locker room completely naked and it doesn’t phase them.

2. Cleaning machines: In the US, after you are done using any machine the first thing you usually do is head over to grab a wipe to clean it. Here, nobody cleans machines after they are done using them. There isn’t even the option to clean the machine after, as there are no paper towels or wipe dispensers anywhere.

3. Metric system: This is obvious, but I totally didn’t think about it before I came. The weights are in kilograms and the treadmills are in kilometers/hour. The first day I walked into the gym and went to get free weights, I stood in front of them for a solid 5 minutes picking them up to see how they felt to me lol.

gym

4. Cycling classes: The cycling classes here are awesome! It’s like being in a discoteca. The instructor is like a DJ. They mix different songs together but also change the lighting throughout the class. There is literally a disco ball in the middle and it is awesome!!! In the US, in the cycling classes I have taken, the instructor leads you through different hills or intervals and motivates you. However, here, the instructor leads you through different songs. For example, there will be a song with a faster beat, so you pedal faster, etc. It’s really cool and makes the class go by quickly. Most of the music is also American, which is nice for me. So even if I don’t understand everything the instructor is saying, I can understand the music :)

5. Equality: In the US, especially at the gyms at OSU, there is always a clear divide: girls are more in the cardio area and guys are in the weight area. Here, it’s equal. It’s nice because at OSU when I would go to the gyms, I literally never went to the weight area because all the bros were there and it was honestly intimidating. But here, it’s fine. I don’t feel out of place if I want to lift weights (which I don’t really like to do anyways lol but if the rare occasion comes where I want to lift a little, it’s fine).

I’ve also been trying different fitness classes and I will say that I took a yoga class and it was the most unrelaxing yoga class of my life because I had no idea what I was doing–not because I’ve never taken yoga, but it was sooo hard in another language! I can understand conversational spanish when people are speaking directly to me, but following the instructor in the class was a mess! As I’m still learning spanish, I still need it to be spoken slowly and clearly to understand, but in yoga classes it’s too hard to hear the instructor. I’m not kidding when I say everyone was in a downward facing dog and I was like 5 poses behind. The lost American in a class of Spaniards….that was me lol. So I think I stick to classes based on music, like cycling and zumba, until my spanish gets better!

But I have noticed that exercise is a priority here in Spain (specifically, Basque Country, not sure about the rest of Spain). In Bilbao there are bicycle trails along the roads and sidewalks and many people run and cycle along the river every night. Also, every fitness class I’ve ever been to at the gym is completely filled. While everyone here enjoys partying and going out, I’ve noticed that most people equally enjoy exercise and staying fit! 

The Spain Struggle

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for a multitude of reasons. A few being that I’ve made some living changes, gone on a few trips to other cities, picked up teaching private lessons, all of which have left me with not too much free time. The main reason, however, is that I haven’t really felt like posting another blog post about a cool city I visited or how awesome living abroad is. Because sometimes, living abroad really isn’t that awesome.

So here it goes; my first post that doesn’t make my life seem like a fairytale. If you follow me on Instagram, it looks like a float around, trying new foods, drinking lots of wine and exploring European cities, which is true. But what I don’t post about is the times where I am struggling at the police station to get my residency card, or the times I am sprinting for the bus to commute to work in the rain, or the times where I head out into the city and realize it’s the siesta so everything is closed. Those times are what I like to call The Spain Struggle. I think The Spain Struggle has become more evident lately, as my honeymoon stage with Spain is officially over. The glamour of living abroad has worn off and I’ve quickly realized that living abroad is very different from traveling abroad.

Somebody posted this picture in the Auxiliares de Conversacion Facebook group under a discussion thread about “How to Battle Homesickness”, and I instantly realized I was living this picture:culture adaptation

If you every talked to me before I left for my trips, I had so many ups and downs it was uncountable. One day, I would be so excited for Spain and the next I was thinking “What the hell am I doing?”. Then, I arrived and Bilbao and it was amazing! New friends, new foods, cheap wines, traveling, the beach, etc…what could be better? I was in the honeymoon stage, and it lasted a solid month. What a great month it was! I went to Vitoria, San Sebastian, Paris (will write about it soon) and even wrote about my favorite things about Basque Country! So what’s my problem now? Why am I out of the honeymoon stage?

Well, it’s because the first month, I felt like a tourist. For me, traveling has always been a short term thing, knowing I was going to arrive back home in Ohio after “x” amount of days/weeks. While I did move away for college, I was only an hour and a half from home, so I could easily drive home for the weekend, or even night, if I wanted to. But here, I am across the Atlantic ocean, in another country. I can tell I’m experiencing culture shock because suddenly, I feel more American than ever. I want peanut butter and a coffee to go and jimmy johns to deliver and soy milk…..

Anyways, The Spain Struggle is definitely real, but I’ve learned the best way to combat it is to think of everything as less of a struggle and more of an adventure. Maybe I did have to go out of my way to San Sebastian to get my NIE card, but I also discovered an adorable cafe and spoke with the barista (in Spanish!) who encouraged me to move to San Sebastian this summer. I’ve also learned that while it is important to try to adapt to the other culture, it is okay to have days where I just want to watch Netflix, in English, all day and only talk to my American friends and hug people when I meet them instead of doing the “European kissing both cheeks” thing. Like everything else in life, adaptation takes time and is a process.

Thankfully, I do have American friends here in Bilbao that make me feel like everything I’m feeling isn’t crazy, and my friends and family at home in Ohio are amazingly supportive and make me feel like I never left when I speak with them. Even though some days feel like I’m taking two steps back and one step forward, I am learning to embrace the set backs and just allowing myself the time I need to adapt. I guess that’s one thing I have in common with Spaniards, giving myself as much time as I need. They always say here “calm” or “don’t worry”. So I guess in some ways, I’m adapting to the culture more than I think :)