It’s been more than 6 months since I last updated my entries and now that I’m back, I’ll be back for an even greater adventure of a lifetime! and this will probably be the last long-overseas-vacation i will ever have..
Like I’ve mentioned before, student life is the only time where you really have the chance to travel.. especially during the holidays. Sometimes, I look back and I feel really happy that I have given up all my chances of getting an internship for my overseas trips. Then again, I might regret if I am unable to secure a job soon but, we’ll see! At least I’m living life to the fullest as of now.
Anyway, the DOWNSIDE of going on a mega long grad trip is YOU WILL LOSE OUT ON JOB OPPORTUNITIES. There were some jobs that I wanted to apply too but the start date was too early or the interview period is during the whole month when I am gone and stuff like that. It gets kind of upsetting somehow because I’ve booked my tickets 5 months in advanced and there’s no way I’m gonna pay a lot more to change the dates or whatsoever.. But I guess sometimes in life you will have to prioritize to see what’s more important. Some of my friends ask me what will I do if I get offered a very good job opportunity which clashes with my grad trip plan. I said I won’t change or cancel my trip no matter what because it will be unfair to the person that I am traveling with and the monetary loss that I would incur. However, most of my friends said that I was mad and that they would have gladly accepted the job offer instead. Then again, they are not in my shoes and they don’t know how hard it was for me to save up for something. Somehow, I’m praying very hard that every job I am applying to right now can comply with my travel plans *fingers cross* Nevertheless, if you do manage to secure a job early. It would aid you so much in planning your grad trip.
Step-by-step guide in planning your grad trip
Step 1: How many people are travelling with you?
This is a really tough question! There are so many issues you have to consider! Everyone’s budget is different and it’s really hard to find people with the similar aims, goals, wants, demands, time.. But try to secure your travel buddies quick and get them to decide on where and how much each person is willing to spend.
I didn’t really have an issue in this because I didn’t really have much choice. I almost didn’t make it to Europe because I was the only one graduating in my clique. My back up plans were travelling to USA/HK/Korea alone. But I was lucky and I found a friend to travel with! She’s currently on exchange now~ So I will travel to find her once I’m all set and ready to go =p
I would really love to travel for 7-8 weeks but I know my budget would not allow for that. After much considerations, it ended up as a 30-day adventure!
My budget was set around $4-5k. After calculations, I realized that I was only able to save half the amount.. With my pathetic internship pay of less than $3.33 per hour (Could have earned more than twice the amount with my retail job), and my angpow money and my 21st bday angpow money.. I’m still trying very hard to save up..
Step 2: Decide what is best for you (Free & Easy or Tours)
So we were actually deciding between free & easy or joining youth tours such as contiki or topdeck.. The itineraries looked fantastic in the tours as they help you settle all the crazy transport issues but at the end of the day, there wasn’t any itinerary which was what we wanted. I was looking for a 14-day eastern european trip which could complement a 14-day western europe trip but I guess I was too ambitious and some quotations freaked me out. It was like $2.3k sgd for a 10-day land tour package!! Furthermore, some of these trips were full or filling up really fast and I had to go down to make deposit of the full amount I didn’t have money back then.
So the conclusion was Free & Easy! Something that I am absolutely familiar with and excited about.
Step 3: Choosing the countries you want to go and a rough schedule
Well, for me I didn’t really have a choice of my start and end country because I had to go Dublin to find my friend. But if you do have to make a choice, choose a country which is accessible to the airport via public transport or inexpensive taxi. London seems like a good choice with their metro system which runs direct into the city center. I think netherlands is not bad too. Actually, sometimes you might have to depend on the prices and it may help you decide better!
Depending on the number of days you have for your trip, you can decide on how many countries you would like to cover.
There are two alternatives.
(1) Less countries, enjoy and explore more within a country
(2) As many countries as possible, but it will be a touch & go experience.
Being the ambitious and youthful and kiasu nature – not wanting to waste any single value of my air ticket, i chose choice (2) and the verdict was 6 countries, 11 cities in 30 days. Which means that i have barely 3 days in each city. I will tell you upon my return to see if it is worth it =/
Of course, sometimes I hoped that I have chosen (1) instead because I was really excited about the harry potter tour that scotland had but I won’t be able to go for it due to my packed schedule.
Step 4: Booking Air Tickets!
The earlier you book your tickets, the more discounts you can get! If money isn’t an issue, get SQ flights~ However, do take note that sometimes you might not be able to qualify for their promotion tickets which has a min/max of 3/14 days.
For me (budget-conscious), I’ve gotten myself a 950 SGD return flight tickets (SG-Dublin) with 30kg luggage space by Emirates; transit in Dubai. Looking back, it was an extremely hasty decision. I remember it was the 1st week of Jan, tuesday, and I read the papers in the morning before I go to office. Then I saw Emirates promotion. I double checked the newspaper price with their online system to see that the price was really true. Went to office, told my colleagues about the promotion. Everyone said it was insanely cheap. Whatsapp everyone that could offer me advice. Most people said go ahead! So I went home that night and booked my tickets 5 months in advance.
Well, to re-affirm my good buy, I checked the tickets again on Sunday night (last day of promotion) and it was $250-$300 more expensive for the same flight. *Huge sighs of relief* Then again, I was able to do it so quickly because I was flying alone =p and also, I had my internship salary to pay for my air tickets. *Phew*
Step 5: Fine tune your itinerary
Discuss this with your travel partner to see which country to include/exclude. For example, in my this trip I have skipped belgium, germany and switzerland & the whole of eastern europe. It’s really a give and take~ whatever decisions you make, the rule is don’t look back and regret.
You may want to plan your trip according to the top priority events! For example, you may hope to catch a match at Old Trafford at this specific date, or attend the Champions League Finals (4-digit euros) or maybe there’s some special festival at some time of the year. Use these important dates to guide the planning since these are events that you DON’T WANT TO MISS.
Do check if your plan is feasible. Like whether there are any flights covering the transfers that you would like to make. Initially, I wanted to take the boat from rome to barcelona but it was more than 100 euros and it takes 1 full day. Dropped the idea after realizing that I can book an air tickets by vueling under 60 euros including baggage. Then again, the thought of sailing across the Mediterrenian sea is something that i would like to enjoy. But $$ is my main concern this grad trip.. so.. i can’t save my carbon foot print this time round.
My itinerary after all that discussion was: Dublin – Edinburgh – London – Amstedam – Paris – Milan – Venice – Florence – Rome – Barcelona – Madrid – Dublin.
Step 6: Building up the connections
To travel between cities, there are 3 options:
(1) Plane – Fast & (Cheap – if you book early). However, you have to account for the checking in time (2 hours) and the time you need to travel to and from the airport. At the end of the day, it might not be as fast as you have though it would be.
(2) Train – Medium Speed & the price is dependent on how intelligent you are on sourcing out for the best deals. The train prices are at extremes depending on how early you book your tickets!
For example. from Amstedam to Paris, you have to book 90 days in advance @ www.thalys.com to secure a under 40 euros ticket. Well, I tried book a ticket about 60-70 days in advance and the price was 90 euros! That’s like more than 50%!! 90 days means if you’re travelling in May, you have to book in Feb but my schedule couldn’t be confirmed back in Feb.. In the end, we opted for a 7 hour bus ride via eurolines to Paris which was less than 30 pounds. If you take the train, it will be 3 hours 19 mins. ><
(3) Bus – Slow but very cheap. the main bus operator is eurolines.
**TIP: Why did I not consider europass? I did some brief calculations and it was cheaper to travel by plane since i’m going so many countries. Also, do take note that some if not most of the train trips requires reservation fees which may cost up to 30 euros. So, at the end of the day, it might be a lot more expensive!! Initially, I budgeted my expenses on these inter city/country travel to be 1000 SGD. However, after booking everything, including some deposits for hostels/hotels, We’ve only spent about 800+ per person!! and this is inclusive of 5 flights, 5 train rides & 1 bus ride.
Dublin –> Ryan air –> Edinburgh
Edinburgh –> East Coast Train (Booked early to qualify for early bird prices) –> London
London –> British Airways (1 hour) & 2 pounds! (Promotion discovered by chance but 42.70 pounds for taxes) I am kind of wondering if they will serve refreshments on the plane since it is BA. hahahaha. –>Amstedam
*To give a comparison, it is about 80 pounds (might have early bird promotions but im not sure) by train from London to Amstedam. 4 hours
Amstedam –> Eurolines Bus 7 hours trip. Bus trip is at 7am and I am still clueless on how to get to the bus terminal by that time. Probably would have to cab >_< –> Paris
Paris –> EasyJet (a lot cheaper than train since we booked early) –> Milan
Milan –> (Train) –> Venice –> (Train) –> Florence –> (Train)–> Rome
Rome –> Vueling Airlines –> Barcelona
Barcelona –> Renfe train –> Madrid
** The train tickets are only released 62 days before the trip. Having missed the promotion for the ams-par journey, I refreshed this page everyday hoping to be able to book the cheap tickets. One fine day I discovered about the magic number 62 and bookmarked that page and got my friend to book at 12mid night spainish time on the day itself and we managed to get cheap tickets! 47 euros. Price now (2 weeks later) is 105 euros. Yes the discount is that much. I feel terrible each time I am unable to save money. lol.
Madrid –> Aer Lingus –> Dublin
Step 7: Choosing & Booking Accomodation
There are many factors which can affect your decision:
(2) Reviews by other people
(3) Proximity to trains, airport
(4) Proximity to attractions/shopping
(6) Lifts (If you are carrying bulky luggage)
(7) Free Breakfast?
(8) Free Wifi?
(9) English-Speaking Staff?
(10) Non-smoking rooms?
(11) Type of room: Private with or without attached toilet, dormitories (mixed/single), …
Where to get information?
Hostelbookers, Hostelworld, Hostelsclub.
Usually, I will read the reviews at these websites, then check all 3 websites + booking.com to see which website has the cheaper price. Sometimes it might be cheaper to book directly with the hostel owner, but sometimes with the websites; depending on the promotions available.
** If you sign up membership with hostelsclub (10 euros), you don’t have to pay booking fee of 2 euros per transaction. If you are staying in a YHA hostel more than 5 nights, do remember to get the membership (10 euros). Otherwise, you may have to fork out 2-3 euros as membership fees!!
** Booking.com does not require deposit (I’m quite dubious of the price they quote which is usually very cheap but I guess I shall verify its reliability when I’m there)
** Read somewhere that hostels in europe do not usually have air con. Do not expect too much from hostels. Western expectations and asian expectations are quite different. My friends and I got really disappointed with the hostel we had back in LA despite the positive reviews we read online. I shall update when I do get there.
Step 8: Attractions & Detailed itinerary planning
(to be continued) I have not even done it myself yet >_<