I’ve known my friend Danielle for 14 years, and we’ve been taking vacations together for the past few of them. Our first international trip was a tour of Italy with a tour group. We loved the country, but we knew we wanted to ditch the group. In 2014 we took a trip to Ireland, England, & The Netherlands. This year we knew we wanted to do the same style of trip, planned entirely by us.
This post will outline the things for my upcoming trip that I must have booked before leaving the country. This is specific to this type and length of trip.
Always start with the non-negotiables
For us, this is the dates we can travel. Danielle and I both work traditional jobs. My work is flexible. Hers is not. We looked for a holiday to work around to maximize the time we would be abroad by taking advantage of work holidays. We also book flights for late in the evening on our date of departure so we can go to work for a full day on the day of our flight. We decided on July 2nd-19th. We waited for her time off request to be approved. I tried to convince her to quit her job to ensure our travel dates would be free. She didn’t. Probably best.
Flexible dates on your flight search will make a huge difference in price. Skyscanner will show you flights by day, week, month, year, so if you can be flexible check here to see when your best time to travel is.
For us, we couldn’t negotiate the dates – so we played around with locations.
Dublin & London airports are often the cheapest to fly into from the states. Even if you’re planning a trip elsewhere in Europe, consider flying into one of these airports and then booking your own flight or train onward using a budget airline. Momondo is a great flight tool as it still has some of the discount airlines which used to be available on Kayak, but no longer are.
Starting in Ireland was a no-brainer for us. It was the cheapest airport to fly into and out of on our travel dates. We also loved it there and wanted to go back. We also knew we wanted to city hop and see other countries. Danielle wanted to visit Portugal, and I’ve never been, so of course I was game. It made sense to tie Madrid into our trip as it’s a good airport to fly to from Dublin. Thus, we came up with our city hop for our upcoming trip.
We’ll be returning to a favorite spot – I’ll get to show my friend around Madrid, the city where I taught English – and we’ll explore a new city & country together. Lately I’ve really liked tying favorites and new things together. I’m guaranteed to have familiar places I love, and also fulfill my need to see new things. There are also some places that just call you back!
Booking travel within the EU was our next step. There are more options for this, so booking your international flight first is best.
Travel within Europe is completely different from in the US. Not only do they have great train / bus / metro networks, but flying is often the cheapest & fastest way to get around. When flying within the EU, the airport lines are short, fast, and painless (disclaimer: pending any unusual circumstance). This means that you don’t have to arrive obnoxiously early and wait around like you do in the US.
Our flights :
Dublin to Porto : $112 Airline: Ryanair Travel Time: 2 Hr & 20 Min
Porto to Lisbon : $30 Airline: Ryanair Travel Time: 1 Hr
Lisbon to Madrid: $23 Airline: Iberia Travel Time: 1 Hour & 15 min
We were originally planning a bus or train from Porto to Lisbon, but the flight was cheaper, and will be much less travel time, freeing up another day. There are great options for train travel and bus networks, but for us flying made the most sense for what we want to do.
Ryanair and EasyJet have amazing deals on flights throughout Europe. There are also budget airlines for specific regions. Iberia has good deals throughout Spain & Portugal so we used them for our flights.
After travel – book lodging
We previously stayed in Hostels and Hotels, but this trip will be spending most of our trip using AirBnb. This will be a new experience for me, and I’ll be sure to post about how it goes.
Yes, it’s the most important thing. We want to be able to go out and return after dark without feeling uneasy. It also might be worth it to spend a little more on lodging in town, if that means you won’t need to pay for public transport or taxis.
There’s a lot to look up when you’re traveling. If you’re going with someone, divide and conquer. Danielle and I want the same things : safety, charm, price, etc. So I know she’ll find something I’m comfortable with and vice versa. We usually send each other links before pulling the trigger, but we do a good bit of research separately. It gives you a chance to each pick your favorites. Being familiar with Madrid, I booked our lodging there. Danielle picked the lodging for Portugal. We’re going to return to our favorite hotel in Galway, and we looked together for our place in Dublin.
These are the parts of our trip we have locked down. Everything else we book from here on out is purely for our convenience, but the musts are out-of-the-way. If you’re planning fairly short trip like this it’s best to book travel, even within Europe in advance. If you’re planning a lengthy backpacking trip and don’t have a tight time-table it’s not really necessary – but we need to make sure we can get where we want on specific days.