Step 1: Decide why you want to travel.
Do you want a vacation from your job you hate? Are you tired of the weather? Do you want to see water that is clear blue? Whatever it is decide why you want to travel. I wanted to travel because I felt I had earned it after four long years at a problematic predominantly white institution. I wanted to know what it felt like to do something and not have to answer someone. Traveling afforded me with that opportunity.
Step 2: Determine where you want to travel.
Always remember to go back to Step 1 and ask yourself, “How will this place help my achieve my goal of why I want to travel?” Sometimes there can be many places that will satisfy our travel goals. If you get stuck between places some things to consider are pricing, language barrier, and ease of travel. Those are the three top things I look at when deciding amongst places. Once you factor in those three things you will surely have a place (s) in mind to travel to. I chose Europe because I knew I could travel easily between countries. I knew that I would get the most for my money in a relatively short amount of time.
Step 3: Create a realistic budget
It does not matter where you start as long as you start somewhere. Some travel destinations are more expensive than others (i.e: Iceland v. Miami) and may take you longer to get there and that is ok. I saved a full year before going to Europe because that is what my budget allowed for. You may be able to complete your trip in more or less time but as long as you get there that is what’s most important. I saved $110.00 for 30 weeks, or a full academic year. $110.00 was about 30% of my biweekly income when I was in school. I think that 30% is a lot to put towards your travel expenses. 10-15% is more reasonable and more realistic, but do what works for you. I used the term realistic in Step 2 because sometimes we can over or underestimate our abilities because of the excitement that the possibilities of travel bring to us.
I was so hype to go to Europe that I thought I could save all the money I needed in just a few months without taking into consideration that I was a college student that needed to eat and buy books. You do not want to end up in a position where you have to prolong and delay your travel plans because you didn’t create a realistic savings plan. You will get there when you get there. When you create your budget do not forget to include travel supplies and a small cushion of $200-$500 depending on your travel destination. For Europe I needed a backpack like the ones backpacker’s use and I didn’t factor that cost in. Thankfully, I was graduating college and got some monetary gifts which covered those additional costs but that was just by chance. When you travel, even if its on a budget, you want to feel comfortable with your money not like you are down to your last pennies. Create a cushion with your realistic budget and prepare to live your best life.
Step 4: Confirm your travel destination.
Is this really where you want to go? You already start saving, but haven’t booked any accommodations. Is the travel destination you chose in 1b really where you want to go? Now is the time to confirm that you actually want to go. While in the midst of saving for Europe there were a few times I thought of changing my destination, going to Jamaica where my dad lived and spending a few weeks soaking up the Caribbean sun. It would have been way cheaper and I would not have to spend my entire summer there. However, when I went back to Step 1 and thought about what I wanted to get out of my trip which was to see how World War II was memorialized and to visit as many countries as possible, I knew I could not go to Jamaica.
It is still on my list of places to go to, but I had to stick to my goal. If your goals are malleable and you find a place that you feel you’d like better and still aligns with your travel goals then by all means change it. Traveling affords you agency in that way. Depending how much cheaper or expensive your new travel destination is you may have to alter your savings plan. If your new travel destination is not more expensive or is in fact cheaper: keep the same savings plan. There is nothing like coming home after a trip and having extra money to save or spend as you’d like. If your new travel destination is more expensive, consider extending the amount of time you’d originally plan to save for the trip. Increasing the percentage that you save just makes it more likely that you’ll have to dip back into that travel account later.
Remember 10-15% is an ideal amount to take from your paycheck. You may be able to do or more less depending on your circumstance, always do what works for you. I put this step in here because sometimes people second guess themselves or things come up and you have to reconsider your travel destination. This step may leave you having to decide between two equally beautiful countries or even continents! Traveling is a marathon and not a race and you can use these steps to take however many trips your heart desires.
Step 5: Book your travel.
You’ve decided on a location, now it’s time to decide how are you going to get there. The three most common travel options are: plane, bus, and train. If you are going trans-continental then the plane is a no brainer. I personally prefer the train amongst the three, however most of the time when I go to book travel it is the most expensive option. What is true in almost all cases of travel is that the earlier you book, the less you pay. Since you have conceived of a travel budget you know when you’ll be done saving.
Theoretically, you can take your trip anytime after you have the money saved. Realistically you can travel when you get time off from work, school, or any other obligations you have. The biggest tip I can give here is to make sure your dates add up. Many transportation companies and airlines charge hefty fees for date changes. While this is something your budget may be able to handle (see the cushion we talked about in step 2) if you can avoid it then do so. I travelled in the summer so I had a range of dates within a twelve week time frame to choose from. I know that some people like to book their travel and accommodations together for bundle deals, but I would recommend against that.
One of the principles of backpacking is that you go into a place with little resources and try to insert yourself as much as possible. From what I have seen and experienced travel packages do not usually afford those opportunities. However, it is a perfectly common way especially for travel trips like cruises for example. Whatever method you decide make sure that your dates are on point. If you need the flexibility most transportation companies have a flexible change date option but this is usually much more expensive. You should be good because of the cushion that we discussed in Step 2.
If you are traveling on a budget, the economy class is the place you want to be. If you know that you want the extra leg room or the ability to sleep comfortably on a long flight then include that in your budget. I flew in the economy class all around Europe and I never felt uncomfortable or like I didn’t have enough space. I’d say choose between slightly better travel or lodging accommodations and choose one to spend more. I’d definitely choose spending more on accommodations which is the next step.
Step 6: Book your accommodations.
Aside from finances and finding your purpose in travel, this is probably the most important part of any trip. This can make or break your trip. There are tons of affordable accommodations to choose from anywhere in the world. I stayed in hostels throughout my eight week trip in Europe. I had no problems and none of my stuff was stolen and I would stay in hostels again, albeit in a single room if the price is right.
When booking accommodations you should refer to Step 1 and revisit what you want to get out of your trip. If you want to meet other backpackers and travelers then hostels are a great way to do so. If you want a relaxing trip where you get away from the world then a villa or quiet airbnb may be it for you. Whatever you decide make sure that’ll it will align with your travel goals. Regardless of where you choose to stay, read at least 20 different reviews (some should have photos) from at least 3 different websites. I know that sounds like a lot but it is well worth it. Part of the reason why I believe I never had any problems at the hostels I stayed in Europe was because I knew what to expect from each place I stayed in. There were no surprises during any of my stays and I knew what kind of accommodations that I was getting for the money I was paying.
If you do not like where you are staying you will not enjoy your trip. Spend the extra money (or not) and live your best life. Regarding hostels, do not stay in a room with more than 6 people. Many hostels, especially in Europe have 10-12 bedroom options and it can be overwhelming and rarely quiet. With 6 people you figure that any given time throughout the day only half of the people are in the room which leaves you with 2 other people which is much better than 4-6 other people. In Europe, youth hostels and party hostels (usually they are hostels with bars) will afford you plenty social interaction. Where you stay should feel safe and sacred.
Step 7: Look up food.
Y’all I am a foodie and this IS the most important of the trip for me. Even if you have booked travel that includes all meals it is still important to know what you are being served. Additionally, food is an integral part of any culture. Finding out typical dishes and how locals eat are a sure way to introduce you to any culture. As a backpacker, I made the mistake of not having enough food places picked out and I learned my lesson. By the time I got to the end of my trip I was eating at the same sandwich shop everyday in Spain because I was tired from my trip but from also trying to figure out good cheap eats.
This step will certainly take some time but will produce the greatest satisfaction. Of course you can consult locals once you get to a place but you’ll want to be able to hold your own while there. TripAdvisor and similar websites are not enough. Those websites are a good start but by no means are the end all be all. I have eaten some nasty food despite positive reviews on Trip Advisor because I had not done my research. The good thing about technology is that many places have their menus and pictures of food online. Check them out and make a list of places you think you’d like to visit. In order to make the most out of your trip try to visit three different places for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You never know how many of those places you may visit again before leaving. The food I had at the beginning of my trip in Europe was really good and it’s because I researched before hand, ate local food, and didn’t resort to eating at American chains because they were familiar. Again, this is the best part of the trip! Happy eating!
Step 8: Choose your activities.
I am a history nerd so I took every free walking tour that I possibly could. In many cities, especially in Europe, free walking tours are a great way to orient yourself in the city. You not only learn history and culture but you frequently get tips on good restaurants and bars from a local. The best tours I had were in Old Krakow in Poland and in London. I could not afford to go into every museum that I went to but I picked a few that I knew that I wanted to see and chose those. For example in Amsterdam I chose to go to Anne Frank’s house and not the Resistance museum they have. While the Resistance museum was more general and covered more of World War II, I preferred to see Anne Frank’s house because I had read her diary.
Thankfully, many activities and must see attractions in a lot of places are free. You just have to pay for the transportation to get there. Europe is very walkable and bikeable so that is exactly what I did. Anyways your activities should be linked back to Step 1 because what you do will help you get what you want out of your trip. For trips longer than 7 days be sure to include “rest” as one of your activities that you engage in. Exploring is fun but energized exploring is even better. You do not want to burn out from a list of strenuous (lots of walking, hiking, extreme sports) movement. I love museums so I would research different museums and decide which ones fit into my budget and go with that. In each place you travel to try to do one thing that locals do and one thing that every tourist must do (e.g. Eiffel Tower in Paris). Having a good mix of doing what locals do and still hitting tourist attractions will make for a more well rounded trip. I do not like feeling like a tourist all the time and being in tourist crowds. Being a solo traveller affords me the opportunity to travel off and do my own thing. I usually cannot pass for a local because I am black! Lol.
Step 9: Handle the logistics that are trip specific.
I.E: Do you need to get a different sim card because you are going out of the country? Research cheapest phone plans for the duration of your trip?
Do you need to get a visa for your trip? (This should have been consulted and considered in advance around Steps 1-3).
Do you need a backpack or suitcase for your travel adventure? (I got a Deuter 65L backpack (almost $200.00 from R.E.I.)
Make copies of your passport and ID cards. Keep these handy when you travel.
Do you have a lock with a key for your stay in hostels to store your belongings?
Do you need travel size toiletries?
Do you have travel size hair products?
Have you printed a copy of your travel itinerary and sent it to loved one?
Have you arranged your travel to and from the airport/bus/train station?
Have you arranged transportation in the place you are traveling to? How will you get to different activities? Have you accounted for this cost?
These small things make a difference on your trip. Logistical questions will come up all throughout the planning stages of your trip. I recommend handling them as they come along but most trips are not concrete and set in stone until after your travel and accommodations are booked. This would be a good time to make a checklist of all the stuff you need for your trip and begin checking things off. At this stage you should be preparing to travel shortly so you should be ensuring that you have everything you need to travel. This step is a mere checking off the box and should not affect your travel in any way.
Step 10: Travel.
Congratulations you made it. You’ve made a plan and executed it. It is time to go travel! This is truly the best part. I remember arriving at the Heathrow Airport London and smiling from ear to ear. I could not believe that I was actually in Europe. After a small conversation after working at a cafe I had made it to Europe. It was a surreal experience. That feeling is one that I want to continue to feel and I hope others have when they start a new travel adventure.
Traveling gives me a fulfillment that can only be explained through experiencing it yourself. Backpacking Europe for those eight weeks was the best experience that I have had. It impacted me so much that I have this blog here! On your new travel adventure enjoy it as much as possible. Remember your travel goals as you engage with new people and new cultures as you travel around. What type of travel experience you have is largely up to you! You made it this far now go out there and travel the world!
Written by Shira from Black Girl World Traveller
Shira is a blogger who has a passion for travelling. After completing her Europe trip she decided to pursue her blogging passion as she fell in love with the new experiences of visiting places like Cuba, Columbia and Europe to name a few. She is determined to travel to every country of the world, and continue to share her experiences with others. Be sure to check out Shira and her travel journey.