Planning a European Vacation with a Little Bit of Travel Hacking

Every other year my high school’s glee club would go on a European trip for about 10 days seeing different parts of Europe and performing concerts along the way. I was fortunate enough to go to Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia during the summer going into my sophomore year of high school. 12 years later (in SpongeBob narrator’s voice), my brother and my parents are going on a trip again this year to Southern Germany and Austria. My sister and I didn’t want to miss out on this trip with our family decided to tag along with them. My brother and parents are going on the trip exclusively with my alma mater for 11 days. My sister and I are going to meet them over there since we were both only able to get a week off. 

This trip is certainly going to cost a pretty penny, but that is not going to stop me from seeing a part of the world I have never been to before. Following FIRE does not mean I am going to live a life of deprivation and not pursue traveling, one of my biggest passions in life. Being a part of the FIRE community has allowed me to view traveling as a part of the experience. I want to make intentional choices to try and get the best deal I can. There are several things my sister and I are doing on this trip that has significantly cut our cost of the trip and has made it more affordable.

One of the biggest expenses that come with a trip to Europe is the flight. Luckily for me, I have a rock star of a sister that scours flight deals all the time. She was got us a flight from Chicago (much cheaper to fly out of than Cincinnati) to Munich for roughly $600 each. This was an outstanding deal for us so we pounced on the deal and booked the flights. We both currently have American Express Delta SkyMiles but we were unable to use them on the flight.

Being the savvy travelers we are I found a promotion for the Chase Marriott card that was offering 75,000 points if you spent $3000 in the first three months. Spending $3000 in 3 months is a piece of cake if you’re strategic about your spending and I hit that spending requirement with ease. Now it was time to book our hotels and map out our itinerary for the trip. I had the route my brother and parents were going to take while they were there. They are getting to Germany 3 days ahead of us and are starting more north than Munich where my sister and I are flying into. I was still in the middle of the promotion period when we were wanting to book our hotels for the trip. Fortunately for me, Marriott has a program called Points Advance where you book the hotel using points that you haven’t earned yet and as long as those points go into your account 48 hours before check in you can redeem them no problem. I went onto Marriott’s website to book our hotel and we are going to stay 3 nights for free! Now this certainly is not the best bang for our buck but I was intentional with our location and choice of hotel. The hotel offers free breakfast, a little hack we have been using FOREVER. We make sure to eat a big breakfast every morning and take something to go for a snack throughout the day and then eat an early dinner. This way we are only paying for one meal a day.

While we are in Munich, there are a couple of things we’re doing to mitigate any cost we procure. The first thing we try to do whenever we going to any major foreign city (we’re up to about 12 so far) is to take a free walking tour of the city. All the cities we have gone to offer a free guided walking tour in English. This is great way to get your bearings of the city and it hits a ton of the major landmarks of the city. I always try to make a list of the things we want to do whenever we go to a new city and see which walking tours knock the most off our list. If there is something that isn’t on the walking tour, then we know we need to make a side trip to go and see it. We also make the most of public transportation. The public transportation in most major European cities is amazing, so we also make the most of it! This includes getting from the airport to our hotel in the city which significantly cuts some of the costs of the vacation. We are making the most of what the city offers so we don’t have to pay for a rental car or parking while we are in the city. The other beautiful thing about Europe is abundance of trains to get from place to place. We will be traveling from Munich to a small lake town in Austria and we got a great deal on a train ride. This is a great way to soak in the scenic country side. Normally, in America we drive if we want to get to a place that is a great distance away. If I am the one driving, I don’t get to see the country side but that’s not the case with trains. I don’t have to keep my eyes on the road at all! It is such a freeing and more relaxing experience to travel by train when possible. 

While in the small lake town in Austria we are finally going to meet up my brother and parents. Their tour group is staying in an extremely fancy and expensive hotel. My sister and I didn’t want to spend that amount of money on a hotel so we decided to find a better offer. All it takes is a little bit of effort to find the best deal out there and not taking the first one available. We booked a hotel a block away from the tour group hotel for several hundred dollars cheaper. We are still going to spend quality time with the family without having to shoal out tons of money for it.

I am by no means an expert in travel rewards or travel hacking but I have found some useful ways to save money through my experiences of traveling. Thankfully my sister and I are on the same page with interests and looking for ways to save money whenever possible. I don’t have all the numbers crunched yet, but my quick estimation of the total cost of the trip for myself only is around $3000. I hope this goes to show that traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be a daunting task or something you need spend an outrageous amount of money on. Check back in later to get a full breakdown of the entire cost of the trip.


Steven | Rx for FIRE

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