Backpacking through Europe – it’s the dream, isn’t it? A rite of passage for any adventurous spirit. But behind the idyllic Instagram posts and vibrant travelogues, lies a hidden narrative, one of sacrifice, hustle, and often, a stringent budget.
And it was the same well before social media influencers made ‘wanderlust’ a hashtag, back when four friends and I decided to embark on a seemingly idyllic journey across Europe, unbeknownst to the reality of hidden costs, both financial and emotional, that awaited us.
In 1999, I was a college student studying Economics and Finance. I’d seen a movie about a stock broker when I was younger and wanted to be one myself. So that’s what I was going to school to become. At the end of my third year, however, this all changed.
Three high school friends and I decided to take a trip to Europe. We were soccer fans - long before you could stream any game any time - and wanted to visit our favorite clubs’ stadiums and maybe catch a match. The norm for any big vacation was two weeks, so that is how long we planned to go.
We were excited as we planned the route from Rome to Glasgow, stopping only in the big cities. We’d rent a car, take all the luggage we could fit, sleep at all the best American-style hotels, eat at all the restaurants that had English menus and served Pepsi, visit our favorite soccer teams’ stadiums, and do the tourist things we could along the way.
After speaking with some parents who’d never travelled to Europe before, and their travel agents, we decided that a budget of $3,500 US would be enough for this 2 week trip. Anything less would be impossible. The plan was set, and we were excited to go.
Except me. I was worried. I didn’t have $3,500. My parents didn’t have $3,500 to give me. How was I going to afford this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity? Well, I could save money from my part-time job, but that wouldn’t cover everything. In the end I decided to take a semester off from university, and not only increase my hours at my part-time job, but get a second full-time job.
About 6 to 8 weeks before the trip was to begin, I was still saving money so hadn’t booked anything yet. I’m not sure if my friends had, as they received a lot of their money for the trip from parents. My lack of funds at this point would turn out to be the best thing that could have happened since I hadn’t been locked into any bookings yet.