If you’re researching traveling to Europe and use any of the classic key words associated with such kind of adventures (backpacking, Eurotrip, hostels, youth), you will undoubtedly be swarmed with articles packed to the brim with tips on how to travel and, possibly more importantly, how to do it cheap. While these articles are more commonly geared towards students who consider a student budget synonymous with no budget at all, I personally would advise future travellers to exercise caution before religiously adopting the cheap-traveling ideology.
Before I left for France, my dad sat me down to inform me of two things: Europe is expensive, and he and my mother would not be bailing me out of any financial woes I likely would find myself in during my two months abroad. The warning was not unfounded (my savings account can more adequately be titled the account I transfer money out of, not into) and I didn’t take it lightly. Filled with the fear of being stranded on a foreign continent with an empty wallet, I research cheap traveling. I bought tour books, read blogs and asked family and friends for advice and guidelines on how to avoid becoming a bottomless pit of debt.
What did I do with this information when I landed in Lyon, France fully equipped with three credit cards, my debit and freshly exchanged Euros? I completely, utterly, one hundred percent forget any and all of it. Once you get to your destination, wherever it is, you will soon realize that your priorities on what is worth your hard-earned money and what is not will shift to amply create your own personal version of a European (or Asian, or African, etc) adventure. Amongst the many articles and information sites I read to equip me for my traveling, there is one topic I wish I had been more versed on: when it is not only acceptable, but commended, that you choose the more lavish option. The accumulation of a five-week stay in France as well as a combined three-week adventure in Switzerland and Italy led me to adopt the following guidelines to sucking it up and fronting the extra cash:
Once you arrive in Europe, traveling between countries is relatively easy and moderately priced. There are airlines, like Ryan Air and Easy Jet, that allow for particularly cut-rate traveling. If you research potential flights on a search engine such as Flight Network, you’ll have a hard time drawing your eyes away from what can be exponential differences in price between, say, Easy Jet and Air France, a far more reputable airline. My friends and I chose the cheap route because, well, we were being cheap. We booked a flight from Florence to Paris for just over one hundred dollars Canadian – an indisputable bargain. The airline, Vueling, was not one any of us had heard of but, blinded again by the price, we booked. After seven hours at the airport, a bus ride to an entirely different airport, flying out of Pisa, and a short but horrifically turbulent flight, we arrived in Paris worn and exhausted. As we stood waiting for our luggage, we all fiercely swore we would never fly Vueling again. Despite having landed alive, it wasn’t much of a surprise when our flight’s baggage did not arrive on the belt. After two weeks of living out of a backpack, a grueling day of travel with little to no communication from the airline’s staff, losing our luggage broke us. Upset and irritated, we waited in line amongst the other appalled customers. One French lady, visibly upset, attempted to start a riot and insisted that those who didn’t follow were sheep following a herd. Needless to say, this isn’t how we anticipated spending a full day and while we received our luggage prior to flying home, the experience left a gruesome aftertaste as we attempted to make the best of a not so great situation. Whenever possible, even if the price tag is steeper, purchase tickets from reputable airlines, especially if arriving somewhere is crucial and time sensitive Airlines that offer cheap flights often have to wait for runway time, which often means the scheduled time for departure is merely a rough estimation.
Hotels & Hostels
When my friends and I were budgeting for our trip in Europe, we planned for hostels. It felt like common knowledge that unless you were traveling with your parents or had recently had a successful expedition in treasure hunting, it was unlikely you could afford to rent hotel rooms. We left booking our rooms for Rome a little late and in an act of pure desperation, we ended up reserving a hotel room for $50 a night through Hotwire in a hotel minutes away from the city’s most prevalent tourist attraction: the Colosseum. When my friends told they had booked a hotel in London, I thought they were certifiable. Hotels in Europe? Didn’t that defy every aspect of a European adventure? Was I about to travel with eighty-year old women? Yet, after a long day of traveling and arriving in a country where body language is your only mode of communication, attaining a hotel room is a godsend. I firmly believe that anyone who walks into a hotel room with a personal washroom and gold trimmings along the wall will become a Hotwire convert. It took two hours exploring the city, realizing that we were walking distance from every Roman ruin and extravagant attraction Rome had to offer, before we booked the rest of our nights across Italy and in France through Hotwire. Yes, in some cases the hotels were more expensive then a hostel – usually by no more then ten dollars – but having personal space and a room free of strangers was incomparable and made spending every minute of every day with each other enjoyable rather then tolerable.
My dad, who frequents France for business purposes, was the first to inform me that eating out in Europe was incredibly pricey and should I want to save money, I should eat only bread and cheese daily. To those who can walk by restaurants brimming with French cuisine, where hosts stand by the doors offering house specials and glasses of red wine, you have my undying respect (if you exist). By no means did I eat out every night; in fact, we developed a habit of eating out once or twice on weeknights and only once a day during day trips. To go to countries like France and Italy only to eat baguettes is to miss one of the largest components of such a trip as food and cuisine in many countries in Europe is an immense cultural checkpoint. When deciding where to eat, don’t sit down the first time an attractive Italian man waves at you, it is a ploy. Play your part, look at the menus posted outside restaurants like the obnoxious tourist you are. Compare prices and decide what is in your budget and what isn’t. Don’t forget, Europeans tend to alleviate prices for those between the age brackets of 12 to 25. In Florence, we stumbled on a high-class restaurant (mist fans and all) that had a remarkable student deal – a plate of pasta and a drink for ten euros. When you spend most of your day walking and sightseeing, being properly served at a restaurant can be an unparalleled blessing.
Tours are expensive and while often there is a student discount, it pales in comparison to the price you may pay for simple entrance. The first tourist attraction my three friends and I went to was the Colosseum in Rome. I’m unsure if it was our money belts or the canon I had slung around my neck, but we were the target market of tour salesmen in that area. We paid double the price of entrance cost to the Colosseum for our tour pass, which included a guide from a small Italian woman and the opportunity to skip an hour-long line up. Not only is waiting in line an infinite waste of your traveling time, but I’m not well-versed in Roman history, nor am I well-versed in other tourist attractions around Europe. I’m aware of what specific tourist attraction is a can’t-miss in each city, but the extent of my knowledge ends there. Having someone tell you the history, the conspiracy theories, the facts of a place that receives millions of visitors a day truly puts a foundation beneath your visit. Albeit, receiving a tour from an Italian lady wearing wedges and waving a satin flag on a pole to get your attention isn’t the finest way to blend into a city screaming with tourists. After our tour of the Colosseum, we made our way around Rome on our own and found ourselves looking at monuments and visiting ruins feeling no more than an obligated sense of satisfaction. Well, we looked at this building, I’m not sure what it’s for, but I can check it off my list. Every thing, tour or not, was fascinating but there are select attractions that require a more extensive visit in order to entirely fulfill the experience.
Not everyone can travel with these luxuries by any means. There will be times when you will have to front more money then you thought, maybe out of necessity, perhaps by choice. The important thing to remember is that when (if you’re coming from North America), you’re paying upwards of a thousand dollars for a plane ticket, you want to ensure your time will be spent enjoying your surroundings rather then scouring the city for the most inexpensive selection.
What else do you think is worth spending more money on? What isn’t worth it? Share with us in the comments!
Written by Nikki Gladstone
Top image courtesy of Flickr user kaffekoppen