My senior year of college has been an emotional rollercoaster. The uncertainty of what the future holds is as exciting as it is terrifying. After four years of lectures, exams, essays, and all-nighters, I am going to graduate and enter the real world. My grand prize? A fancy diploma, a slew of bills that I will now be responsible for, crippling student debt, and a one-way ticket into the labor force. That said, I have big plans for my last summer of freedom: an epic graduation trip to Europe, including a 7-day Norwegian cruise to ports in Spain, Italy, and France. What better way to start this next chapter of my life on a positive note and reward myself for my hard work and dedication over the past four years?
Here are four tips for my fellow soon-to-be grads on how to plan a graduation trip that is both affordable and unforgettable:
Make a Destination Bucket List
Think of this as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It may be tempting to revisit a destination you have already been to because you had such amazing experiences there last time, but don’t limit yourself! Keep an open mind, and do some research about different areas of the country or world. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and plan a trip to a destination you have never been but have always wanted to visit!
Just because you have finished college does not mean you should stop seeking opportunities for personal growth. On your graduation trip, make a conscious effort to expose yourself to cities, countries, cultures, foods, religions, and languages that you are unfamiliar with; this will make your graduation trip infinitely more special and memorable. If you don’t already have a working list of places you’d love to go, check out the “Destinations” tab on Midlife Road Trip to get started on your Destination Bucket List.
Plan in Advance
Overseas travel is way less likely to break the bank if you start planning a few months before your travel date. If you plan in advance, you can use a flight tracker app like SkyScanner or Hopper to track fluctuations in airfare over time. These apps will alert you when prices drop so you can purchase your plane tickets for the best possible price.
Flight tracker apps also show you which dates historically offer the lowest fares. This is especially helpful if your travel dates are flexible, like in my case. I was able to plan my entire trip around the cheapest departure date from New York City, which saved me hundreds of dollars.
Compare Prices Holistically
Planning in advance also allows for ample time to research accommodations and tours. Use this extra time to compare price points for hotels and Air BnB rentals, but make sure to consider factors such as location, amenities, and access as well. For example, I will be staying in Barcelona for several days before embarking on the cruise.
I noticed that a hotel might be more expensive than an Air BnB in terms of its ticket price, but hotels often offer free shuttle services to/from the airport, complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and close proximity to various tourist attractions, all of which I would pay extra for if I stay in a cheap Air BnB. Keep an organized list of all potential trip expenses from meals, transportation costs, admission to tourist attractions, etc. and pay close attention to how your choice of accommodation will affect these other expenses.
Book a Cruise
In my opinion, cruising is the most convenient and budget-friendly way to visit several destinations in one trip. Spain, Italy, and France were all on my Destination Bucket List; thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line, I did not have to choose one for my graduation trip.
Cruising allows you to explore a new city each day without the added stress of finding separate accommodations in each location so you can be truly present throughout your travel experience. Since food and lodging is included in the price of my cruise, I can travel worry-free and spend my time and energy soaking in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that each country has to offer.
Not to mention, cruising makes customizing your itinerary much simpler. Cruise lines offer a variety of excursions that can be booked from the comfort of your stateroom. For those who would rather explore each port independently, cruise staff are still a great resource. They are extremely knowledgeable about each port the ship visits and can provide you with reliable recommendations for attractions to visit, local delicacies to try, areas to avoid, and how to get around.
Note: If you decide on a cruise, make sure you evaluate your itinerary before deciding what type of stateroom to book. If your ship is in port from 7:00am-8: 00 pm like mine will be, I would recommend saving a few bucks by purchasing an inside room. It may not be as luxurious as a balcony suite, but it is important to consider how much time you will realistically spend on the ship before booking a room. This tip saved me $300 that I can now allocate toward my off-board adventures!
What would be your ideal graduation destination?