I love to travel and explore new places. But, if I am going to be completely honest, traveling can be really expensive. Between flights and accommodation, paying for meals and drinks, and visiting major attractions, you’re sure to pay a pretty penny. Since graduating from nursing school and starting my job in the NICU, I have been so fortunate to travel throughout the United States and Europe. Yes, I work hard — and I work even more overtime (one of the main reasons why I love nursing!) — but most of our once-in-a-lifetime trips have been booked with a budget in mind. And, I promise you, with a little planning, you can make your dream vacation a reality without any sacrifices!
Get A Travel Rewards Credit Card
When Alex and I were planning our wedding, one of the best things we did was open a credit card with travel benefits. After researching all of our options, we decided the Chase Sapphire was the best choice for us. The Chase Sapphire has an annual $95 fee, but the fee is so worth it considering how much we’ve gotten from the card. So far, we’ve stayed at the Grand Budapest Hotel for 5 nights for $10, booked our flights to Brussels for $45 a person, and have reservations at a 5-star hotel in Belgium in May — and we paid nothing! We’re saving all of our points for next year’s trip to Thailand and Cambodia!
Hotel de Louvre, a 5-star hotel in Paris booked with Hyatt Points
Opt For AirBNB Instead of Hotels
I’ve stayed in hotels my entire life, and to be completely honest, I was a little (read: really) hesitant to stay in someone else’s home in a foreign country. In general, hotels can be really expensive, especially if staying in a major city or traveling during the summer. And, how much time do you really spend in your hotel room?! Is it really worth all the $$$?
We first tried AirBNB when traveling to Europe for our 3-week honeymoon. Our first experience was in Venice, Italy, and the loft was incredibly homey. We truly felt like we were immersed in the Venetian culture. We also tried AirBNB in Munich, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic, and our experiences only got better and better.
When searching for the perfect AirBNB, I tend to pick hosts with at least 5 reviews — preferably with the highest reviews. I take the time to read the reviews and if I have questions, I follow up with the host before booking. So far, we’ve only had great experiences with AirBNB, and we plan to use AirBNB for our upcoming trip to Northern Europe this May!
The view from our AirBNB in Venice, Italy
The alleyway leading from our AirBNB to the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
Plan Your Trip Ahead of Time
One thing I’m really good at is planning. While it can be really annoying (sorry, Alex!), it has also saved us so much money and continues to allow us to travel the world each year. We book most of our trips a couple months out, and each month leading up to our trip, I budget and plan what we need to buy or reserve. One month we’ll book flights, the next accommodation, and the next any inter-city train travel or museum tickets that need to be purchased ahead of time. This saves us from having one super expensive month and makes travel (seem?) more affordable.
The biggest struggle with planning ahead of time, and not just going with the flow once you arrive, is that you have to be motivated to sit down and research! I really like Rick Steve’s, Pinterest, and Instagram when planning!
Oktoberfest 2017 — so glad we did our research and purchased lederhosen and dirndls!
Take Advantage of Your Student Discount
If you’re still a student (or you still have your student ID), take advantage of all the discounts available! (Don’t judge us… our student IDs don’t have expiration dates, and as long as we’re paying student loans, we consider ourselves students!) Student IDs are particularly useful when visiting museums or galleries.
Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp outside Munich, Germany
Travel Like a Local & Go Off the Beaten Path
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to travel like a local and go off the beaten path. Sure, we still do the touristy thing — like visiting the Eiffel Tower or taking a walking tour in Prague, but we usually knock this out the first day and spend the rest of our trip getting lost and exploring lesser known areas. One of my favorite memories in Paris (besides getting engaged!) was getting lost in Le Marais and stumbling upon a French bistro where we were the only ones who spoke English. The food was so authentic, and the owner was so impressed we found his restaurant that he treated us to a glass of wine.
I usually get my touristy ideas from Rick Steve’s or TripAdvisor, but I find hidden gems through Pinterest, Instagram, and travel bloggers. I also recently discovered The 500 Hidden Secrets — books written by true locals who have the best advice for sightseeing, eating and drinking, and exploring their city. I would definitely recommend these books when traveling!
We stumbled upon this hidden gem in Paris — Coulée verte René-Dumont, an elevated park built on top of obsolete railway infrastructure
My favorite neighborhood in Paris, Le Marais. Off-the-beaten path and full of many hidden gems
Don’t Forget To Splurge
While sticking to a budget is important, it is equally, if not more, important to splurge and do something special! We always splurge on dinner and drinks because we love experiencing the local cuisine and recapping on our favorite memories made that day. We also tend to book a nicer hotel towards the end of our trip because, well let’s be honest, it’s nice to come back to a clean room and a made bed! Also, you’ve traveled so far and worked so hard to make your dream vacation a reality, go the extra mile and just splurge because these memories will last a lifetime!
Treating ourselves to delicious cocktails at Gritti Palace in Venice, Italy
Our unbelievable view from Gritti Palace, Venice, Italy.