Planning a frugal European vacation

eiffel-towerLast weekend during one of our long talks, Tony and I ended up discussing the things we’d like to do before we have children. At the top of both of our lists was a trip to Europe.

There are a lot of things we’d like to do someday, but international travel is the only one we can’t imagine doing with a baby.

Ever since we met, we’ve talked about traveling to Europe while we’re young — one last big trip before we settle down and start a family. When we first started planning our wedding, we briefly considered a European honeymoon. Our budget and my inability to find a full time job after we moved quickly nixed that plan. But when we decided to take a brief (and frugal) trip to Washington D.C. instead, we told ourselves that we’d plan for a European vacation the summer after he graduated in 2010.

When we committed to becoming debt free, I shelved this lofty dream. “We can’t afford anything like that until we’re debt-free,” I told myself.

But now that we’re credit card debt free and making serious plans for a family, I’ve realized something — we’ll be paying our student loan debt for a long time. No matter how aggressive we are, we’ll be paying those debts for years after we’ve had children. I’ve come to terms with that, and I’m ok with it.

We can’t wait until we’re completely debt-free to live our lives, though. My first plan was to be 100% debt-free before having children, but there’s no way I’m waiting 10-15 years to start a family. I’ve decided to add the dream of a European vacation to that list, too. We don’t want to wait until retirement to take the trip we’ve always dreamed of taking.

So we’ve set a new goal for ourselves: we want to plan a trip to London and Paris for May 2010. If it works out, we’ll be spending our second wedding anniversary in Paris! :)

That doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing our other goals, though. We’re not going to add to our debt for this trip or stop working toward our goal to be debt-free. After some planning and discussing, here’s our rough plan:

  • We’ll pay for the trip in cash.
  • We’ll be as frugal as possible in planning the trip, and plan ahead to make sure we’re getting the best deal possible on airfare, hotels, and other expenses.
  • Our emergency fund is still our top saving priority, so any saving for Europe will start after we’ve fully funded it.
  • We’ll continue to pay a little extra on our student loans to cut the total time we’ll be repaying. After the trip, student loans will be our top priority.
  • All extra money (including gifts and extra income) will go toward emergency and vacation savings.
  • We’ll cut spending in other areas to free up money for savings and debt.

I did some preliminary research and determined that we’ll need to save about $6,000 for the trip. Including our emergency fund goal, that means we’ll have to save about $12,000 in 16 months.

I realize this plan will delay a lot of our other goals — including being debt-free and buying a house. We’ve considered all of this in our decision, and I can’t imagine a scenario in which we’ll regret the trip (as long as it doesn’t add to our debt).

I’m more excited about this goal than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m feeling good about our decision. As excited as I’ve been about paying debt, it can be so overwhelming and depressing to devote every extra penny to what seems like an endless black hole of debt. Adding an exciting goal to our plans has given me the lift I needed. I can’t wait to get started!

photo by franz88

13 thoughts on “Planning a frugal European vacation

  1. JB

    We’re a little ahead of you guys, being done with school, and having all our non-mortgage debt paid off (this summer- 2 years after graduating!) We had similar conversations of doing a “vacation of a lifetime” before kids come- and the vacation is fast approaching! We leave in a month for Hawaii! So, it can be planned, saved up for, and accomplished!

    JB’s last blog post..Free Soda!

  2. Kacie

    So yeah, I think this is awesome! It’ll be great to see how you can pull this off in a frugal way. You’ll be awesome at that.

    And, I think it’s smart not to wait until your student loans are totally paid before having kids. You’re right — 10 to 15 years is a heck of a long time! Long enough where it could be riskier/more difficult. Being debt free is nice, but living life is even nicer.

    I think you should watch National Lampoon’s European Vacation to prepare for your trip. Lololol.

  3. claire

    out of interest how did you come up with the cost of $6,000? how long is the trip? I live in England and your estimate seems a bit on the high side.

  4. Karen

    Claire – We want to spend a week in London and a week in Paris. Since it’ll probably be years before we can make it back, we want to make sure we have plenty of time there.

    I came up with that number by doing some research on the current cost of airfare, hotels, and making some rough estimates for the cost of food and entertainment.

    I definitely rounded up. I would hate to plan for a low number only to find out later that I underestimated. I also want to account for any increases in prices (for airfare, hotel, etc.) that may happen between now and when we go (which could definitely happen). Also, if the value of the dollar remains as low as it is now (or goes lower), then we’ll have to account for that in our planning.

    If it ends up costing us less than $6,000, great! We’ll put that into savings or put it toward debt. I’m just trying to be safe. :)

  5. Carla

    I think this is a wonderful plan. I can tell you without a doubt, planning vacations with kids, is definitely difficult. I have always dreamed of a European vacation but I can’t imagine taking my f little peeps with me. Now, with kids, mortgage, grad school, and other debt, it will have to wait until retirement. :o(

    Carla’s last blog post..My birthday

  6. Money Funk

    Ya, I came to that realization, too. That is why I decided to throw in the Hawaii Trip for next year. My kids will be old and have children if I waited to be completely debt free. lol! Well, maybe not that old. And we’ll be doing it frugal, too. I think finding frugal ways will actually make the trip more interesting!

    Money Funk’s last blog post..Tax Deduction Laughters!

  7. claire

    the dollar is actually really high right now!! As recently as a few months ago it was £0.50 to $1.0. Now it’s £0.70 to $1.0.

    Another way to do it on the cheap is to rent a flat for a week. It can be less expensive than a hotel room plus you can store some food in your flat rather than purchasing all of your meals out.

    I like your blog b/c my husband and I are in a similar situation, but we don’t have any debt and we have an emergency fund in place. I work full time and he’s finishing a humanities phd. The plan is also for me to stay at home once we have children, so we’ll never make tons of money.

    We are Americans, but living in England. Our plan is to do a 3 week tour of europe, financed with cash once he has a job contract. We’re keeping it cheap by staying in hostels and getting a good rail pass.

  8. Sarah F.

    Great post! My husband and I are in the same boat. We are approaching being credit card debt free, and are having discussions all the time about what we want to do next. We too would like to do some traveling before having children. Part of me wants to keep chopping away at the debt. But, even if we attacked our remaining non-mortgage debt of student loans with “gazelle like intensity”, as we’ve been doing with our credit cards, that’d be another 4-6 years until payoff. To echo Kacie, “Being debt free is nice, but living life is even nicer”. One way we’d cut travel costs would be to stay with friends. I have a good friend who lives in the greater Los Angeles area, whom we’re planning on visiting this year. We also have a friend who lives in Switzerland, who’s already invited us to visit! (Hmm, maybe you won’t be the only one planning on going to Europe in 2010 ;)). Love your blog!

    Sarah F.’s last blog post..New Year, New Goals

  9. momstheword

    Good for you! I think there is nothing wrong with your planning. You are saving money by not having to pay for kids.

    After the kids come it does cost more. I quit working after we had our children which greatly reduced our ability to pay our then-debt (we are now debt free except for the house) but I have never regretted my choice.

    We are currently saving for a vacation. It usually takes us about four years to save up. We last took one two years ago. Our oldest is now 20 so we are taking another one in a few years when the youngest turns 18.

    momstheword’s last blog post..WHAT IS YOUR "ROOM OF DOOM" AND WHY?

  10. Bobbi

    Great Post. Another way to cut down costs is to search for someone who may want to come to the US for vacation at the same time. My sis ter did that and they have switched two or three times with the same family. I don’t know all the details, but there are websites. Good luck it all sounds like a good plan to me.

  11. Susan

    Hi there, I am a silent but avid reader of your blog.
    I have been to Paris many times and would be more than happy to pass on the reccos I have been giving to friends for years. Lots of walks and shops to peek into and streets and parks that are must sees that will cost nothing, plus some places to eat that are well within budget.
    Paris is my favorite place. You will love it.

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  13. Andrew

    I’ve been living in Brussels since last November, of course its not Paris! But it’s a good travel base for any english speaker. You can easily and cheaply (if booked in advance) Fast Train/commute to Paris (1Hr), Cologne (2hr),London (2hr). Brussels is super english friendly, and food and accommodation is less expensive….if your nice you can stay with us :)

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