MY TRIP to TEN COUNTRIES (ALL FLIGHTS AND LODGING) ONLY COST $1,100 ish.
In the summer of 2016, I packed a bag and took off to visit 10 countries on the other side of the pond, solo. I originally aimed to visit 13 but, unfortunately, was not able to do so due to world events and tragedies that occurred in 3 of the countries I planned to visit.
I received many inquiries pertaining to the hows and logistics of my trip such as "how did you go about planning it?", "Did you use a travel agent to book?", "How were you able to be gone for so long?", "Was it expensive?" As a firm believer in sharing knowledge and information, I will definitely take this opportunity to do so!
I planned my trip entirely by myself by sitting down, looking at a map, and circling the countries/cities I knew I wanted to visit. Before further divulging about my planning methods, I want to advise that it is important to know the value of positioning flights and know that the bigger the airport hub, the less expensive the flights...usually. I live in Dallas, TX, and so, I know that can be advantageous for flying to other major cities such as Vegas, NYC, Los Angeles, and Denver (for sure), but when it comes to flying to Europe? Not so much. In my research, I found that a round trip ticket from Dallas to Rome would have been $2700. Since I knew that New York City would be better and cheaper for international flights, I looked at the price and saw that a ticket from NYC to Rome would only be $640. So, I booked a ticket from Dallas to NYC and the rest was history.
Now, that you know the value of a positioning flight, back to how I planned. For FLIGHTS: Once you are in Europe, flights between countries and cities can be EXTREMELY inexpensive. After arriving in Milan, I decided to skip going to Paris, BUT, if I had gone it would have only cost $12 to do so. My cheapest flight was $40 (Rome to Dubrovnik), while my most expensive flight was only $123 (Lisbon, Portugal to Marrakech, Morocco). ALWAYS CHASE THE FARE, NOT THE DESTINATION. Going from Dubrovnik to Marrakech would have been $230 but going from Dubrovnik to Barcelona, Lisbon, and then Marrakech was far less than that.
For Lodging: Hostels are GREAT! Prior to travelling solo, I was anti-hostel. Let's face it, if you've been out and about all day sight-seeing, walking in the heat, and subjecting yourself to the frustrations that come with being lost, at the end of the day you're naturally tired. More than likely you want the freedom and privacy to just sit and do/say absolutely NOTHING. Historically, I would book hotels for that reason. While that reasoning works in the U.S., in Europe, nice hotels could very cost far more than you're willing to pay. I'm beyond thankful for the advent of airbnb.com! It's a site/app that is specifically for lodging: renting a room in the home of someone who welcomes travelers, hostels (dorm-style hotel), or depending on where you are you could actually rent an entire castle or igloo. The site/app also allows you to message the hosts with questions before you decide to book. It's truly a great way to meet other people, not to mention that the hosts are the best "guides" for the city you're in. They're usually more than happy to divulge where the best food, sights, and shops are that aren't necessarily listed on google.
While I have not yet had a chance to book flights through www.thriftytraveler.com, skip lagged, and Sky Scanner PLEASE check them out. I've heard great things! Mistake fares and deals are posted EVERY DAY, MULTIPLE times per day. When I booked my flight from Dallas to Cancun, I paid more than $300. They posted a deal the next day, Dallas to Cancun, for $150. Talk about CRUSHED :) I have also seen round-trip flights from San Francisco to various destinations in China and Australia. Again, a positioning flight would be your friend.
For assistance with getting a U.S. Passport check out the following link: https://www.usa.gov/passport.
I hope I've thoroughly answered your questions. If not, be sure to comment or shoot me a message!