THE BLOG

How to Have a Big European Trip on a Little Budget.

19/08/2015 15:16 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 13:19 BST

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Roslev in Denmark, by Hannah Bullivant.

The summer holidays are nearing their end, and if you're sat there thinking you wished you did a little more with them, here's some inspiration for next year.

It is the one year anniversary of a 5 week road trip around Northern Europe and Scandinavia my husband, our two year old and I took last summer. One year since we rammed our belongings into our car and set off for a rather life changing adventure which began with a ferry to Dover then stays in Antwerp, Amsterdam,rural Holland, rural Germany, rural Denmark, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, then back to rural Denmark before hopping on the (sadly now defunct) Esbjerg to Harwich ferry home again.

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Copenhagen, by Hannah Bullivant

I tried, I honestly did, but sometimes platitudes are all I have. It was life changing. Utterly life changing. The trip of a lifetime. Epic. Unforgettable.

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Swedish fishing huts, image Hannah Bullivant

We completely changed the way we live as a result of this trip. We drastically downsized our house, got rid of a ton of stuff, decided to live in close community with family and realigned our work/life balance priorities. I'm pretty evangelical about taking a long trip like this, especially as a family. We came home feeling closer, clearer, relaxed and much surer of how we wanted to live life. But, how did we manage it if we're both freelance, have kids, and not much money?!

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Mon, Denmark Image Hannah Bullivant

Lots of people have asked us this so I thought i'd share our tips below.

Find time

We went in August, peak season, because my husbands business partner at the time had booked the whole of August off as paternity leave so we grabbed our chance, and crammed in our freelance work before we went. If you're not freelance, then maybe you could time something like this in between jobs (negotiate a start date a month ahead), during a sabbatical, or decide to use a chunk of your holiday up over Easter when there are lots of bank holidays and go for a 3-4 week break, if your employer allows this. Or you could jack it all in and go travelling for a year or more and see what life throws at you :)

Plan

It's possible to take a big family trip even if you aren't rolling in the green stuff, if you plan and book in advance. We saved a bit every month then were ultimately helped by unexpectedly being chucked out of our rental house just before the trip (yeah, THAT was FUN.), so we put all our stuff in storage and saved on rent and bills while we were away. We would have been able to do this without this saving but it did make things easier while we were away (it enabled the couple of AirBnB's we stayed in) and when we got home again as we had to budget for living money in the months following the trip as neither of us have a regular pay cheque. You could rent your house out while you're away to raise some extra funds.

Travel slow

Go by land or ferry. We opted to get the ferry with DFDS seaways as this meant we could bring our car. This was important for us as we intended to camp so had lots of luggage, and also meant we could go at toddler pace where necessary. We embraced ferry and boat travel as part of the adventure, and Frankie-Rose loved it. Having our car meant Frankie had some familiarity in our ever changing environment. We timed the driving over nap times which mostly dealt with the Frankie car sickness issue too. If you write a blog or have a big social media following, then you might find that a brand is wiling to sponsor your travel, (or hotel, luggage, holiday clothes etc. Lots of brands are open to working with bloggers, thus saving some money) which DFDS did in my case, for a review on my blog, www.seedsandstitches.com. If not, look out for promotions and half price deals. Sadly, the Esbjerg to Harwich ferry has now stopped running, but a trip like ours is still possible with a little more driving- you can go from Dover to Dunkirk in France which has quick access to major cities in France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, and also Newcastle to Amsterdam too, for as little as £30. (I'd love to go a little further south next time- explore southern Germany, the Czech republic and Austria- maybe as far as Poland too)

Camp!

Our biggest saving was found in camping. Even cities have lovely campsites on the outskirts. We also stayed in three Airbnb's, which was again cheaper than a hotel and meant we had more space- important with a two year old in tow. Or, stay with friends if you can or consider house swapping. Don't forget to list your place on AirBnb or sublet while your away to re-coup money= more money for Mohito's.

Pack lunches

We shopped in markets and supermarkets everywhere we went and cooked our own, often veggie, meals, and brought pack lunches with us every day. The car obviously greatly helped with this we were able to bring all essential kitchen supplies, dried food and condiments, meaning we could cook our own food and save money. It also meant we could stock the car with booze in Germany before heading into Denmark and Sweden where it's rather pricey. The exception to the cook your own food rule was in the cities where we saved some of our budget for restaurants and cafe's (um, the best things to spend money on in any city, no?!), but only one meal out in any given day- we still often brought lunch, snacks and drinks with us.

Find free stuff

Find the free activities. We took to the internet and searched for free activities, and avoided the pricey tourist attractions. Specific things we searched for were "free botanical garden/ garden/ performance/ show/ gig/ gallery/ festival". We are converts to the shrine of freeeeeeeee.

Walk

In cities you don't know it can be tempting to get cabs which is a really expensive way to travel. We ended up walking everywhere. It was good exercise, cheap and meant we we stumbled on little side streets and areas we would never have found had we been whizzing by in a cab/bus. We had the buggy with us which helped hugely- Frankie was ok being in it if she had a snack, and was still napping in there for 1-2 hours a day at this point. If you need to get public transport, lots of cities have discount cards for tourists which also provide free entry into tourist spots, so it's really worth a quick internet search before you go to figure out what zones you'll need and how to get it cheaply.

Will it

Lastly, I can't underestimate the importance of will power. My mister and I have talked about travelling since we were 17, and in some tragic real life version of Up, it never happened. But I was desperate to make this 5 week trip work. There were plenty of times that we nearly (maybe even should have) cancelled it. We found out we had to move house weeks before we were due to leave which meant we wouldn't have any time to properly research each place we were staying. We didn't quite make our savings targets. We really shouldn't have taken such a huge amount of time off from freelance work. We were planning a road trip with a two year old who got badly car sick, and oh god, what were we doing, maybe a week in Cornwall was enough?... But, as much as I love a week in Cornwall (and I do, I really do!), I was desperate to see, and show my baby girl, some of the world. To spend 5 solid weeks together without working. The negs kept coming, but I was steadfast. There is always a way round it if you want it enough. Maybe you have to change the perimeters a bit; find the compromise, go for a shorter amount of time, take the cheaper accommodation, don't go as far; but theres always a way. My mister says i'm like a dog with a bone sometimes, and, although I don't quite think it's what he means it to be, I take it as a compliment. I saved almost manically. I stayed positive and insisted we could make it happen, I found work-arounds and alternatives where necessary, and stuck to my guns on the essentials. But all of that willing and problem solving, it's hard flippin work! Planning a road trip like this when you're both freelance and not very rich and have a car sick 2 year old and have to move out of your house before you go and are technically homeless isn't an easy feat, but it's possible if you want it. And, like all the best things in life, the effort will be worth it. And we did it! And it was life changing! We now want to take other similar trips. Wanderlust is at an all time high, in fact.

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Danish campsite, Image Hannah Bullivant

Have you travelled as a family on a long trip? 5 weeks was long for us, but we'd love to go for longer some time (dreaming of a year sabbatical) and i'd love to hear your experiences.

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Amsterdam, image by Hannah Bullivant