As a soon-to-be Fresher, when planning my three week trip around Europe, I couldn’t quite shake the fear of looming student debt. With this in mind, I set out to do and see as much as possible whilst spending as little as I could. I had the best three weeks of my life and even came back with some cash left over. This is what I learnt.
1. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN
For our trip, Interrail tickets were a great money saver as they covered the cost of all train journeys between cities. Given our plan was to travel to 9 different places it suited us perfectly as we had 10 ‘travel days’ in 22 days of travel, the cheaper ticket option. Obviously, this requires a certain amount of pre-planning and doesn’t allow complete freedom in your travels. However, this isn’t always the cheapest bet. Therefore, make sure you research what’s best for your trip. It’s all available online, it just takes some time and patience (and sometimes Google Translate).
Make use of night trains as well, as it saves you the cost of a night’s accommodation. This might sound horrific, and in some ways it was. No, sleeping on a fold out top bunk of three in a train compartment with no air conditioning due to some less than believable air conditioning repair excuse from the staff, needless to say it was not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. Would I do it again? Absolutely! It was an experience and a half. Lying on the middle bunk dangling our heads out the window watching the stars was one of the best experiences of my life. That was until we nearly got decapitated as we went through a tunnel. But that’s a story for another time.
2. SHARE A BEDROOM
Stay in hostels. Prior to my trip, I had never stayed in one and I was quite terrified at the prospect of sleeping in the same room as up to 8 other strangers, the thought of which made even worse when I (stupidly) decided to read up on bad hostel experiences online ‘to prepare myself for the worst’.
However, my preconceptions of hostels were proved entirely incorrect repeatedly throughout my time in Europe. As well as being cheap, they were clean and not once did I feel that myself or my belongings were unsafe anywhere we stayed.
But more than this, if you’re travelling as a small group, hostels are great, vibrant places to meet people and make friends. For example, within minutes of entering our room in Berlin we had been invited out for the night meaning that my friend and I didn’t have to explore a new city, at night, alone.
A word of warning however; don’t always choose the cheapest option. Staying in what can only be described as a small marquee in a camping village outside Venice during a heatwave meant that I was savaged by mosquitos while I melted in the mid-August Italian sun, and that did not make for a happy following day.
TripAdvisor free city guides are a godsend! There are loads of great features but most excitingly, there is a search feature allowing you to find restaurants based on price. Although this sometimes meant walking quite a distance following a compass (which, on a side note, proved problematic in Venice, which is not only the biggest maze in the world but also has canals in the way), these were the most authentic meals, and also best value for money, we had. Plus, it was a nice change to eat off a plate!
Find a cheap supermarket, buy some bread, ham, fruit and wine. You’re set! Although don’t make my mistake and settle down in a park only to be approached by a policeman on a segway telling you it’s illegal to drink there. But let’s face it, it was totally worth it because he was on a segway.
5. GET PHYSICAL
Walk, and walk everywhere. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but public transport is always more expensive than you expect; and also less reliable. So (unless you’re willing to try to blag your way out of a bus ticket “because you couldn’t understand the ticket system”) it’s definitely a better option to get your feet moving. You’ll see more of the place you’re visiting and getting lost can be fun sometimes!
6. JUST ASK
By doing a bit of research or even just asking some questions you’ll soon learn that you can swim in one bit of the lake for free, for example, or even that if you go on a Monday there’s no entrance fee to an art gallery. There are all sorts of little tricks (that the locals tend to know) that save you from reaching into your pocket unnecessarily.
7.SPEND A LITTLE, LIVE A LOT!
It is important to remember while on a budget, that some things are worth spending a little extra money on. There’s no point in going to Rome and not paying for a ticket to visit the colosseum or even paying an extortionate amount for a gondola ride in Venice. This is how you get the most out of a city and how memories are created. While in Ljubljana we found out about an open air film festival in the castle which overlooked the city. Although the tickets were an unplanned €4, it was magical. Making memories is definitely more important than saving pennies.
Although at some times frustrating, travelling on such a tight budget undoubtedly made my trip more enjoyable and exciting. The majority of my fondest (and most hilarious) memories from the trip came from us having to improvise with the little money we had, and there are definitely more ways than simply splashing the cash to make the most of a city.
Images sourced from Pinterest. Edited by Ruoting Tao.