8 days in Europe for around $2000?? It's absolutely possible and actually quite easy! My entire trip cost me under $2000 (I still have about 80 Euro in my wallet!) and is by far, one of the best investments I've ever made in myself. Here's what my trip actually cost:
Airfare $790. Istanbul accommodations $357. Culinary Tour $125. Paris Accommodations $150. Gifts $250. Entrance fees, books, jewelry, spices/teas/soaps, coat, personal items $270. Food $150. Transportation $139.Total $2231. (*yes it's over $2k but since the gifts weren't a necessity, this is doable for under $2k)
Here's what I did:
- Stayed flexible. I knew I wanted to go in August since I'd originally planned to go with the group around the same time, but I wasn't set on any dates. When searching for the best flight deals, the key is to be flexible. If you're tied to specific months/flight times, it might be better to bite the bullet and pay for a regular ticket because the chances of finding exactly what you want at a price you can handle may be slim. Staying open--and allowing your plans to change accordingly--will grant you access to the best deals.
- Used resources that were already available. There's really no need to reinvent the wheel because there are already TONS of sites across the web dedicated to travel deals--use them! My absolute favorite is Travel Noire through which I've found quite a few websites that can help you score a deal. One such site is The Flight Deal where I found my ticket at the beginning of July for my August departure. With taxes/fees plus the additional travel insurance I purchased (ALWAYS get travel insurance...don't skimp here!), my ticket came to $790 which is almost HALF OFF of what I'd found on my own. The ticket had been running around $1500 for months. The Flight Deal requires you to use ITA software matrix to get the codes for the best deals (you'll need to follow the directions as listed on The Flight Deal) but it's not that difficult & absolutely worth the time it takes to lock in the best deal. My ticket was booked through Priceline and I flew Delta which also allowed me to accumulate Skymiles for my trip, so my vacation is helping me earn a free ticket to go somewhere else, too. And sidetone: don't think you need to be 6 weeks out from departure to find a great deal--the earliest availability was actually for the end of July, but I couldn't make that itinerary work with my schedule.
- Booked my accommodations through Air BNB.I am OBSESSED with this site! I'd heard of it for years but didn't use it until my trip to NYC last year when I wanted to stay on my own in the city, versus with friends/family. I immediately fell in love. If you love staying in a place that feels a little more like home, having access to personal restaurant/tourist recommendations from your host, and living in a neighborhood that gives you a more intimate experience of your destination, then Air BNB is right for you. You can share a space, rent a room or an entire home--whatever your preference according to what you'd like to spend! I've used this service 3 times now and I only rent an entire home when I travel since I don't want to think about coming in/out with another person there. I also pick my accommodations according to the number of reviews a listing has & only book places with a MINIMUM of (10) 5 star reviews. Depending on your destination, the accommodations can be incredibly inexpensive, too. I found this place in Istanbul which was close to Taksim Square, Galata Bridge, the Old City & Istikal Street for only $47/night. Yup, you read that right--$47/night, and since Istanbul sees a ton of tourist traffic in August, that's actually the high season rate (rates go as low as $37). Was my budget limited to $50/night? No--but it's great to know that traveling on a smaller budget is totally possible to do here. I did look at a few more expensive places but when I realized it was possible to get a nice place at a much better rate, it just didn't make sense to pay $200/night for an apartment I'd spend little time in. Again, my intention is to invest in experiences. ;-) In the end, this studio apartment was absolutely the right choice for me. Onat, the host, had 85 stellar reviews for this apartment (and 510 in total!) from people all across the world which sealed the deal for me and after having stayed there, I'm so glad I did. He gave me exact directions to where I wanted to go. Told me about a few restaurants off the beaten path that locals loved. As an added bonus, he owns a cafe right next door to the apartment so we spent a lot of time talking during my trip & became very good friends! My tips for Air BNB? Book early if you can (I didn't, but it will ensure the best availability). Complete your profile and let the host know what's bringing you to their city (keep in mind that you're a stranger to them!). Take time to scour the reviews and if people say a place doesn't need air condition, pay attention to whether they're from the US or not, as standards of living vary across the world. Make sure your host has a 100% response rate. Look for hosts that go above & beyond (this depends on your needs but since I was traveling alone in a foreign country, I needed someone who was available 24/7. Onat was perfect!). Keep in mind that the neighborhoods may be very different than what you're used to back home but just because they're old doesn't mean they're dangerous.
- Utilize Trip Advisor. Another site I live by, even when I travel in the States. I love sites with user reviews and for travel, this one is probably the best out there. I found Turkish Flavours, the company that led my culinary tour, through Trip Advisor and they did NOT disappoint--there's a reason they're # 1! If you're wanting to know about restaurants, top tourist sites, cruises, etc., definitely peruse Trip Advisor for the traveler tips/reviews of your destination. As I've previously mentioned, that $125 was some of the best money I've spent on a tour and really gave me a wider understanding of Turkish culture. I'd originally planned to do a tour of the historic sites but as the days went on I felt more comfortable navigating the city/transit system and decided to just tackle them on my own. Instead, I hired a taxi driver to drive me around the city for a little over an hour and we went into areas I never would've seen on my own, which cost me about $30 USD. Definitely worth the money.
- Consider the exchange rate. I didn't research it at all before I settled on a destination but part of the reason my trip was such a steal was because the USD to Turkish Lira (TL) exchange rate is awesome right now. $1 USD=2.8 TL, so as you can imagine, my money went far! Charlene, the Spelman woman that I met in Istanbul (see my Instagram post) said I kept cracking her up as we walked the Grand Bazaar because I kept whipping out my phone anytime someone started naming prices so I'd know how to negotiate. I kept having to remind myself, "150TL is only $53 USD Dayka--that's a deal!". So if you want to really stretch your trip, go somewhere where the USD will go far. For me, Turkey couldn't have been a better destination. The Euro in Paris is actually stronger than the USD so your money won't go quite as far there. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go.
- Be intentional about what you really need. A key part of trip planning for me--or embarking on anything new that I really want--is to set my intentions about who I want to be/how I want to show up/what I want to do/how I want to feel in the midst of my experience. Since I'm in a phase where I'm currently decluttering my belongings and getting rid of a ton of stuff to really live with the things I love, I also made an intention about my vacation purchases as well. Did I see lots of cool things that I could've brought back a souvenirs? Most definitely. But I really don't need a miniature statue of the Hagia Sofia, post cards from the Blue Mosque or keychains that say "Istikal"....they aren't things I would ever display in my home so I kept asking myself, "How are you going to use that? Where are you going to put that?". Instead of wasting money on things I'd never use once I got home, I invested in things I love and actually would use like fresh spices & teas from the Spice Market, a lot of of beautiful Bronze jewelry, a few 100% olive oil soaps and some Pink Himalayan Salt Bars which I was introduced to on my trip. So being mindful about what you really need and how you want to remember your trip will drastically cut down on your expenses. Don't just buy something to bring it home so you can tell people you bought it in Turkey. You don't NEED to buy a pair of shoes in Paris.
- Use cash. I left the US with $300 dollars and used an ATM twice while in Turkey to get 1,000 TL out each time ($357 USD) so I had a total of $1,014 during my trip. The only time I used my card while I was gone was at the ATM and to purchase tickets for the train in Paris. Other than that, cash was king. This helped me to keep a watchful eye on my expenditures and ensured that I always had sufficient cash on hand to hail a taxi in a moment's notice (I didn't notice any taxi's accepting debit cards). I used this money throughout Istanbul & Paris (though I did lose some money when I had to exchange the TL to Euros). In general, I think having cash just makes it easier to get around but then there's also this: at one very small, local kebob shop in Istanbul, I saw a British man going back & forth with the owners because his debit card had been overcharged and due to the language barrier, no one really understood each other. Because they couldn't get on the same page, he eventually just gave up and left but I wondered how often that happens when you try to use a debit card in a foreign country. Had he used cash, he could've been sure of the total amount upfront & avoided this situation all together.
- Selected a flight with a stopover. So the Paris portion of my trip was actually a 24 hour stopover, but there was no extra fee for the extended layover--because of the flight I selected it was included in the original $790 fee. Taking advantage of this stopover gave me an opportunity to have a full day/night in a second European city (Paris, at that!) en route back to Atlanta. When you're selecting your flight, make sure you look at ALL of the flight options and try to get something with at least an 8 hour layover, which will give you time to leave the airport, do a bit of sightseeing, and get back through customs in time for your flight home. I found my 24 hour layover in one of the flights at the bottom of a very long list and I had I not looked at every singe option closely, I would've missed out on this "free" second location. Since I would've paid $790 with or without the Paris stop, it was a no brainer and ended up being the perfect way to wrap up my trip. My Atlanta girlfriend took the train in from her London vacation and we had a delicious breakfast at a local cafe, peeked in the Luxembourg Gardens, saw the Eiffel tower, walked the Seine, saw the Louvre, took a 1 hour boat cruise, and ended our night eating Japanese food at one place and then sharing 5 (5!!) deserts at our original breakfast spot. We headed back to the room stuffed & exhausted, then the next morning I hopped a train back to CDG for my flight to Atlanta. I don't know if I could've done 24 hours in Paris better.
So now you see, $2000 is totally possible! I don't profess to be a solo travel expert but.....I sure hope to become one soon. If you're thinking about embarking on a trip of your own & need encouragement or simply want to know more details about my trip to Istanbul, please leave a comment below!