Planning a trip to Europe and not sure where to begin? Scroll through here to see what tidbits of info you can pick up. Unless you are rolling in the dough then we know how expensive traveling to Europe can be. If you are rolling in the dough, proceed on to the luxury travel sites. Money is the main reason travelers do not wish to travel to Europe until they have saved up the money to do so, but with a few easy tips, you can save a load of cash and time while doing the "coolest" activities wherever you go. I have developed this little guide to save myself money and maximize my experience and I intend in helping you with planning your adventure to a continent enshrined with history, art, and new age vibes. Follow along.
First thing, and most importantly, is booking a balanced trip. If you want to go to Venice, Berlin, and Paris in one trip, plan on spending a load of money and not saving much at all on anything. However, if you sandwich your trip with an inexpensive destination, like Prague, Bratislava, Porto, Budapest, Krakow, or pretty much anywhere in the Balkans in exception to Dubrovnik, then you can plan on saving a lot of money on that stretch of the trip while seeing a beautiful destination.
Places to Stay:
1. Hostel it up!- This is by far the best way to travel when it comes to socializing and meeting people who are like minded and like to travel. Some people say their hostels are loud and there isn't much privacy, but you can still have a comfortable experience. Bring earplugs and wear them every night, you sleep like a baby even though you have a wild Snorlax next to you. Hostels will save you the most money by far, and the attendants usually know a lot about the city and provide you with city maps.
2. Airbnb- Not a dirty heathen who enjoys her sleep? Airbnb's are the way to go, the hosts are a local and have insight into what the city can provide, ask for some recommendations outside of the norm and pick their brain a little. They might not meet with you, but a simple message can go a long way.
3. Couchsurf- More adventurous and cheap as hell? Get a couch surf account going and stay on local's couches. You can get verified for about $20 and start reaching out to hosts. They usually provide a little gift, some food, and a couch to crash on for free, but you should bring a small gift in return and plan on experiencing a true local.
Those are currently the best and only ways budget travelers should be considering. Hotels are too expensive, non-social, and simply a splurge on comfort. Get out of that comfort thing and try something new.
There is no doubt that the metro systems are a little intimidating when you encounter them in these foreign lands, but if you do it right, this will be your lifeline to seeing the entire city. The bus system is sort of a dice roll without knowing the routes, and in my opinion takes entirely too long to research online to find out where you are going. You want to take the subway. The map may look like a maze of some sort, but it's rather straight forward. You hop on a certain color line and get off at your color connector to another destination. Everyone around here seems to be in a hurry, don't get in their way while you figure it out, but take your time and try to understand it before you jump on a line. Or simply buy a day pass for a few extra euro and figure it out with some trial and error. Within an a few hours, you will be a pro hopping on and off and blending in with all the other important busy people running around. You will be able to get to anything in the city that you have wanted to see, let the sightseeing commence.
*Pro tip: Never take a cab, they can smell your foreign and uninformed scent and will proceed to take advantage of you and typically charge 3x or 4x the price- still might seem cheap comparatively, but we are here to be frugal and save every penny we can while maximizing our experience. Locals take the tram or subway.
Everyone wants to see everything when they go to a city. Usually we feel as if we do not have enough time, and may never return. Life is happening right now so we have to do everything in a short amount of time. This is typically the case with cities you may only visit once- Eastern Europe, smaller western cities, Russia. But, cities like Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Dublin, Venice, and Barcelona, are major cities that will provide you with memories for life, and if done right, you can return to because you enjoyed it, not because you missed something.
What to do in major cities with a few days of adventure:
1. Stay at a hostel- Hostels typically provide great information about the city because locals work there and know a lot about their city. Put your pride aside and ask what they recommend and then go do that! It is most likely much less touristy and will show you a side of the city you may never have considered seeing (Also it could provide you some excellent Instagram pics that few others have seen).
2. Go on the free walking tours- The tours are setup and ran by locals for tips (About 5 euro should be adequate, or more if they are great to you). These tours last for about 2 hours and they highlight the major attractions and history behind them, as well as tell you things you never would have read about. I recently did one in Bratislava and learned about an Easter tradition the Slovakian people go through to express health and wellness for their women (the men beat them with small branches and dump water on them, the guide assured us that it was a "soft whipping").
3. Don't do every museum or tour that is provided- There are many ridiculously lame tourist traps that suck you in with OK marketing and "the world's oldest, biggest, wildest, etc" anything. These are usually traps to sucker you out of a few dollars and they add up. They will have a few bits of information that took minimal effort to set up, but none of the actual artifacts from history. Usually these are harder to see from the outside because you have to pay to go inside to see that you wasted your money. Stick to a museum. When you go to the museums, pick one that really interests you and do that. It may cost you 15-20 euro, but you should be able to spend several hours here. From here you will most likely work up an appetite.
Eating out and eating in general is a tricky thing when it comes to saving money, we simply want to try everything that is offered, and before we know it we have spent $100 in a day on a ton of junk food and a stomach ache. Here is what you do to combat this.
Research- You want to try the local cultures cuisine. The main dishes and desserts. But there is no need to eat these for every meal. Break it up, one day you eat a breakfast dish, the next a lunch, the next a dinner. For the in between meals, eat small. Head to Aldi or a local grocery store and get a 1 euro sandwich and proceed on to the next spot. Research the current cities cuisine you want to try and find out if Gelato is actually a specialty of Ireland or if these guys just want some money. (It's not, stick to getting it in Italy). "But Evan, Gelato is so good!" Then splurge, but just be aware of all the gelato you are eating in a city that is not known for it. Look up the local food, and enjoy that, the other meals are where you save money to use on other important things. You know, like bars/ clubbing, and souvenirs.
Everyone enjoys some kind of nightlife every now and then, whether it be hitting the clubs or a local theatre to see a show. You can go to a local theatre for an opera show, musical, fests, or play, but these are not budget events. These are your splurge events that must be seen sparingly, they will eat away at your entertainment budget very quickly. Plan on spending anywhere from 50-300 euro. You will certainly enjoy a show like this and I do recommend going at least once!
For the club goers- How can you save money? Well, if you're going out in major cities like Berlin, Paris, Munich, you can't expect to save much if you are trying to get a buzz. I would recommend staying at a social hostel and researching what events they have going on throughout the week. Many hostels have bars in them and they will have a 1 euro beer night or they will provide you a deal for $20 all you can drink and free cover at clubs, or something along these lines. Look for these deals and you will save yourself $40-50 in a night.
*Pro tip: Most cities allow for drinking on the street (check before you go), why not stop by a local store and pick up a drink on your way to the club? Save dat money.
Souvenirs. Everywhere. So many. We have magnets, postcards, bottle openers, stickers, water bottles, shirts, pants, hats, wallets, birdhouses, toy houses, trinkets, splinkets, splockets, etc. The list goes on for millennia. You could spend quite a bit of money and end up with a plethora of junk that will be tossed in your basement in the future, or you can have a plan. Pick one thing. Buy it everywhere you go.
I have chosen to buy a postcard or 2 from every city I visit, this way I can look back on all the memories I had from looking at the postcard. My plan is to make a customized table for my future study room with all of my postcards under the glass. Postcards are cheap and easy to transport (typically 2 for 1 euro). I have seen many people collect magnets, while these are nice, magnets are not budget friendly. Typically running some 5-10 euro, if you go to a lot of cities, this could easily become 100 euro real quick. For budget sake, stick to postcards!
This is close to last, but should always remain a forefront in traveling. Not everyone is out to be your friend, even if they act like it. There are snakes among the grass that lurk to take advantage of you in your vulnerable trusting state. If something seems sketchy, it most likely is. This doesn't mean to not have fun, but trusting your hunches is a good thing. I, and other friends of mine, have been robbed and swindled in more ways than one. These instances are not going away, there will always be people out to get the best of you as long as mankind exists, but by keeping an eye out for these people and watching your friends, you can ensure a much safer adventure. If you are traveling solo, don't drink as much and always make sure you watch where your drink came from. Stick to more populated areas when partaking in activities. If all else fails, run when you feel like you're about to be in a shit situation. No shame as long as you're safe. If you're in a group, set meet points and check on each other. Try not to wander off, we know it happens, but there are plenty of stories of people wandering off to get robbed, or worse. Just stay vigilant and remember there are a few shit people out there amongst the myriad of good people. Safe travels!
Miscellaneous and extra:
Luggage - Reduce it.
Problem: It is cumbersome and you can get hit with a lot of fees simply for checking a bag. Anywhere from 25-50 euro for an extra bag. Imagine spending that for a few round trips. Nope.
Solution: Get one bag you can carry on that you can strap to your back and has plenty of space. Get travel size liquids. Roll your clothes (super space saver). Reevaluate what you actually need for the trip you are going on. When all else fails, take a little less, you will most likely come across a washer/dryer at a hostel.
*Pro tip: Getting to Europe from America in the most economical way. Everyone wants a deal on a flight to Europe, but they seldom happen. A few tricks you can consider when planning a trip that will save you a few headaches and a lot of money.
1. Visit in the off season: Peak seasons for Europe tourism travel is from May-August (and September for Oktoberfest in Germany). Do everything you can to avoid these months. Going in April or September/October are just as good, if not better, than going during the peak times. The reason for this: you will not have to deal with the incredibly vast crowds and lines the summer tourists experience. You will be less likely to be in the midst of a potential terrorist attack. You won't pay peak prices. You won't have to deal with extremely hot climates with minimal A/C. For some, these are weak reasons to not visit in the summer due to the hype of a European summer, but if you want to save money and reduce stress, visit in the offseason.
2. Plan ahead: Months ahead. Narrow down some dates, request off work, and start researching. If you live somewhere that doesn't have an international airport hub (i.e., Kansas City), your aim is to book a flight to New York or Philly and fly to Ireland or somewhere inexpensive from there. Flights from NY to Dublin are around $500 roundtrip in October. Score.
3. Look 3rd party: There are plenty of flight websites that literally do the work for you to get the cheapest and most convenient flights. Find them. Use them. Take advantage. Here are a few for you to get started:
https://scottscheapflights.com/ - Put your email in and this guy crawls the net in order to find ridiculously cheap international flights for people like you.
Google flights - Let Google do the work for you.
Skyscanner - Incredibly popular and convenient for planning flights in Europe. I have found direct flights for 30 euro plenty of times. Yes, please.
I would apologize for the length of this blog post, but I believe the information to be relevant and very helpful. Most of this is what I have realized and gathered over the years, and I wish I had known half of it when I started because I could have a few more hundred $$$ in order to spend on another trip. But now, I stick to a good regimen that works within my budget without trying to meander too far from that plan. It works well and I get by with great experiences to take into the future. Good luck with your endeavors and keep traveling on!