How do I begin to plan my dream holiday? And yes, most importantly how much will it cost me?

13322011_1066298566778797_6671456430422375766_nI have had a lot of people coming up to me and saying “I really want to go on a holiday, but I don’t think I can go without an organized tour, where do I begin my planning?” Of course, you can go on an organized tour but you are killing half the adventure before you even begin! Planning for a holiday on your own and chalking out your own plan is as much fun as the adventure itself! So where do I begin?

Let me start with my most recent holiday. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, because Europe is what fascinates me the most. So decide on the place first.

I cannot obviously cover all places in Europe, so I started researching on 50 must-see places before you die, and 100 most beautiful places in Europe articles, until I had chalked out about 25 places on my list.

In the meanwhile, I decided I wanted to travel with a few like-minded friends, so I started contacting people who had similar interests as me, and finally we formed a group of 6. When you choose your friends, it is highly advisable to go with people who have similar interests as you, people who are easy to get along with, and of course people who are fun! Imagine being subjected to strict regimes or morose stories when you have spent most of your savings and are halfway across the world! Not a very rosy picture. The first rule we had as a group was that if our interests differed, which definitely was the case, we would split during the day and meet back for dinner or at the hostel at night, or sometime during the day if you can co-ordinate. So while one set headed off to museums, and the other set to the zoo, I still had the freedom to stroll the streets and get lost in hidden gullies.

Okay, now that the friends part was sorted, I still had 25 places on my list. Over group discussions, we came down to a final 10 cities across 5 countries. We approximated about 2 to 3 days in each city, and then decided on a 22-day holiday. While choosing the final destinations, it is important to keep in mind logistics, and decide on places that are at least kind of close by to each other, and never more than an overnight journey. So, that is how we chose Italy, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Netherlands. Granted Netherlands was a bit out of the way, but we decided to fly that leg of the journey and hence was not troublesome.

Once the countries were decided, it was a bit easier to choose the cities. We chose the main cities in each country. One more good decision we took was to choose different kinds of places – so it was Italy for being the cradle of Renaissance and the fantastic examples of art and architecture it offers, then we balanced it with Austria which was the quintessential European country with the majestic Alps, the lush green meadows, and the picturesque view it offers at every corner. Prague was chosen because of its medieval allure, Budapest for its underrated beauty, and Amsterdam frankly because of the Tulips! We planned a little hastily though and missed the tulip show by 3 days, but no regrets there! Amsterdam was a beautiful experience with or without the Keukonhof Gardens.

We decided to fly in and out of Rome for two reasons. One because a round trip is always cheaper than flying in to one place and flying out of another. We chose Rome because after some research we found that flights to Rome and Paris were cheaper than flying to any other European city. A good twelve thousand rupees cheaper. So Rome was decided, and all the other destinations were decided.

What comes next? This was all the dreaming big part of the adventure, and next we come to ground realities of logistics and budget.

Then we decide on where we are going to stay and how we are going to travel – both inside the city as well as from one city to the next. There are many sites on google which tell you the best way to travel from one city to another. There is and google itself. And since we had chosen places pretty much close to each other, most of our travel was a 2 to 3 hour train journey, 2 places were overnight train/bus journeys, and only Amsterdam was a 1.5 hour flight journey. This way we did not get too tired traveling. So what we did now was book all the internal trains and flights. Our total travel expenditure to 10 cities did not cost us more than 270 euros (21000 rupees). We budgeted another 120 euros for travel within city limits, of which we spent only 95 euros (7400 rupees) Our entire traveling in Europe was done within 365 euros (28500 rupees). This took us across 5 countries, to 11 cities, and the internal travel within the city by metros, trams, busses and even 3 taxi rides. Taxi was super expensive in Europe, so it’s best to limit yourself to public transport, unless unavoidable, like when you have luggage and the hostel is not accessible by metro, etc.

Next came budgeting for stay. Since we decided to stay in hostels and dorms rather than hotels we were able to save a lot and we spent about 35000 rupees on our entire stay for 22 days. This was really reasonable considering the fabulous hostels we got to stay at – clean, organized, new linen on the beds, towels, either free or on hire, spick and span bathrooms, and in one or two places, breakfast was included! Staying in a hostel also makes the experience more fun, as you get to meet a lot of fellow travelers from around the world, exchange notes with them, and get a glimpse of their life, where they come from and tips on where and how they travel. Many of the hostels had a kitchen, a bar, and a recreation room to relax in. But at the end of the day, you just need a place to crash, you are not really spending your day at the hostel, and so I’ll say- deciding to stay in hostels was a fantastic decision- with no regrets. You need to choose your hostels carefully, read up on the recommended hostels, make sure they are as close to city centre as possible, so that you save on city travel. Also ensure there is a metro or bus station very close to the hostel, so you don’t have to be walking too much lugging all your heavy luggage. I think we chose pretty well and got lucky with a good experience of hostels.

So now your tickets are booked, internal travel is booked, stay is booked. All you have to budget for is food, beverages and sight-seeing. I am not even addressing your shopping budget, as that is left to your discretion. Food in Europe, I would say is not as expensive as people had scared us before we left. In Italy, my friend and I were easily sharing a dish. A dish which cost about 8 to 10 euros, so you are spending about 5 euros a meal. Take into consideration coffee, or your drink, and I think you can account for 25 to 30 euros a day on food, to live comfortable. If you want to save on food, you can manage with 15 a day for 3 meals. We spent less than 40000 (500 euros) for food and beverages over 23 days.

Next comes the sightseeing. If you want to enter all the museums you will need 20 to 25 euros in each place, a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city would cost you 20 euros again, and entering fortresses or gardens can be anywhere between 10 euros to 25 euros. This is where you need to prioritise and decide which are the sites you want to enter, and what you are happy admiring from the outside. Once you take into consideration all these factors you will have a very good estimate of how much you will spend. I can say with confidence that you can do a Europe trip for 22 days, across 10 cities and 5 countries spending within 1.7 lakh rupees (inclusive of flights to and from India, Visa, internal travel, food, and all paid sightseeing). Shopping of course is entirely up to you!

So now your budgeting is done, tickets booked, hostels reserved, all you have to do is get your documents in order for the visa, and then read up to your heart’s content about the places you are visiting, so that when you are there you won’t feel at a loss on what to see, what to do, and what to order! Now that you know it’s not so hard if you plan methodically and carefully, what are you waiting for? Start saving, and dream big! Happy travelling guys.