Europe for $20 a Week

The excuse most people use for never making it to Europe is the cost. It’s understandable, but it is pretty weak. There are tons of options for budget airfare, inexpensive accommodations, and cheap food.

If you need a reason to go, here are my top three: it’s far enough away that people from work won’t be calling you unless there’s a real emergency; foreign travel gives you a new perspective on every day life; and it’s a good middle ground between familiar and foreign that won’t leave you stunned by culture shock. English is spoken as a second language in almost every European country, and the tip of Europe is only a five hour flight from Boston or NYC.

I have left the North American continent three or four times a year for the last few years. My salary isn’t absurdly high, I am not independently wealthy, and I am not one of those people who scores free or discounted travel through some insider connection. I just do it by saving. Unfortunately, I am a terrible saver. The phrase “burning a hole in your pocket” might as well have been coined just for me. To balance my desire to travel against my inability to save, I had to come up with a little trick to hide money from myself.

Presuming you work for a place that has direct deposit, just have $20 a week from your paycheck automatically deposited to a separate vacation account ($40 if you are paid bi-weekly).

Creating a separate account for just this purpose relieves you of the temptation to spend that would arise if you leave the money in your regular account. Believe it or not, it really only hurts for the first few weeks while you adjust to having less money. A few months later, you will mostly forget the account even exists, except for the occasional surprise of logging in to see a modest balance waiting for you. A year later, you will have $1040 – enough for economy class airfare to just about anywhere in Europe. Bump it up to $30 a week and you’ve got $1560, enough for airfare and a decent hotel.

I recommend opening the vacation account at a bank other than the one at which you do your normal banking.  If you see your vacation account balance every time you log in to see your regular checking account balance, you are more likely to dip into it when things get tight or when impulses strike. I use two accounts, one with and one with Both have no fees and no minimum required to open – which means they are basically free ways to hide your own money from yourself.  Piggy Banks for adults!

If your employer doesn’t offer direct deposit, it requires a little more discipline. My advice is to set it up a weekly “automatic bill payment” from your existing checking account to your vacation account. This is essentially just mailing a check to yourself, but it is free through most banks and gets the job done. Get started now, and this time next year, you will be Europe-bound.

Here’s the proof that it works: Last week, I booked a 5 day, 4 night “Flight+Hotel” Package Deal from New Orleans to Amsterdam on Including airfare, a hotel room in the center of the city, and all taxes and fees, the total was $1810 ($35 a week for a year – high because I splurged for a luxury hotel). Totally worth it. If a year feels like a long time to save for something, think about where you were a year ago. You were probably in the same chair, doing the same thing, with the same people. Time flies!