Planning a trip to Europe, and worried about it not fitting within your budget? You’ll be surprised to know how much you can pack into your trip even on a shoestring budget just by following these great travel tips.
Travel off season: Traveling to Europe in the off-season can be rewarding in more ways than one. You will not only save money but also escape the throngs of tourists, and get an authentic taste of how the locals live. Summer (July and August), and the Christmas – New Year vacations are peak seasons. Plan your Europe trip between September and November or between March and June, and you will save significantly on accommodation and transport.
Buy a good guidebook: An up-to-date, comprehensive guidebook is a great investment. A good guidebook provides invaluable information on accommodation, transport, food, tourist attractions and other little details that could save you a quite a few Euros. Lonely Planet’s ‘Europe on a Shoestring Budget’ is the perfect answer to a guidebook which provides destination-specific information especially for those on a budget.
The student advantage: If you are a student, make sure you get the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). This card, valid across Europe, is your ticket to massive discounts on transport, accommodation, and entrance fees. If you aren’t a student but are under 26, you are eligible for the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC). If you are a full-time teacher or professor, you can avail discounts with the International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC).
Get on the train: Europe has a fantastic railway network, so make the most of it when you are traveling. While buses are cheaper, trains are faster, better connected, and much more comfortable. Invest in a good rail pass, since individual tickets often cost more. www.eurail.com offers a flexible choice of rail passes – your pass can be for only a single country or multiple countries, and is valid anywhere from 3 days to 3 months. Plan overnight train journeys to save on accommodation.
Research your accommodation options: Travelers to Europe have a number of budget accommodation options, so research them to figure which suits your needs best. Try http://www.couchsurfing.org/ to sleep for free in someone’s home, but be prepared to reciprocate! Bed and Breakfasts offer a cozy, intimate environment at reasonable prices. Camping can be an exciting option. However, designated camp sites in Europe are often in the city outskirts and inaccessible by public transport, so consider camping only if you have a car.
Use public transport: Most European cities and towns have an excellent public transport system and you won’t need a car unless you are going to small villages off the beaten track. 1-5 day passes are available in many cities for unlimited use of public transport. These passes work out to be significantly cheaper than individual tickets, and are sometimes combined with discounts on tourist attractions. Individual tickets are often valid for 60-120 minutes after their purchase, rather than for a single journey, so make the most of that.
Eat like the locals: Avoid eating at restaurants and cafes in and around the tourist centers. If your hotel/hostel does not include breakfast in the room rate, you can order a coffee and croissant from any of the countless charming little cafes that dot European streets. Parks are a great spot for picnic lunches that you can pick up from any grocery store or deli. Many small restaurants also offer a set lunch for quite less. Stock up on fruits, snacks and juice and have dinner in your room.
Be destination savvy: Make sure you know the little tricks in each city (this is where your guidebook comes in most handy). For example, in Milan, bars and cafes throw in a buffet spread when you order drinks during the aperitif hour. In Copenhagen, you can pick up a bicycle for free from any of the 110 city bike-racks to explore the city.
Stay in one of Europe’s 20,000+ hostels: Staying in hostels is a great way of saving on accommodation – a dorm bed in Western Europe is available for as low as €10, and for even less in Eastern Europe. Most hostels are clean, safe and comfortable and also provide an opportunity to meet other backpackers. If you aren’t comfortable with sleeping in a dorm with others, many hostels also offer single, double and triple sleepers at low prices. Keep in mind that hostels in the city centre will be more expensive.
Some things in life are free: Cities often have art exhibitions, performances or festivals with free entrance – check for these in the local listings. It’s not just free; it is also a different experience from the standard museums and art galleries you will get to see. Most of Europe’s public parks and gardens are free. Museums and other tourist attractions sometimes have free entry on a specific day of the week/ month. For example, entrance to the Acropolis is free on Sundays. Plan your visit to such places to coincide with free days.
Europe is a backpacker friendly destination and offers many opportunities for those traveling on a budget. But remember that saving money is all about planning and research. Do your research well before you set out for your destination, and plan your itinerary to make the most of it. At the same time, be flexible, and grab any great chances that may come your way.
Be open to new experiences and be willing to try on things you haven’t done before, and your vacation may just become the adventure of a lifetime.
While it is awesome to save money while traveling, it’s easy to get carried away with the penny pinching, and overlook the very things that make travel so rewarding. One often becomes penny wise and pound foolish. A friend once decided not to visit the Colosseum in Rome, in order to save on the entrance fees, and lost out on an unforgettable experience. Europe is an exciting, breathtaking destination – soak in the sights, smells and sounds – and come back with memories for life! Happy travels!
This article has been published in chillibreeze.com