Ever wanted to travel to Europe on your own or with your friends, but don’t know how to plan it? Traveling to Europe can be quite expensive, but if planned correctly, it can be easily done with a low budget. Here are some overall quick tips that can get you started with your Eurotrip planning.
Know where and when you want to go
One of the beauties of traveling to Europe is the possibility of traveling to various countries effortlessly. Before going deep into the planning process, you should decide which countries you want to visit and what you want to see at each one of them. Maybe it’s just one city, or maybe you want to visit five countries, no matter how extensive, have an idea of your overall interest.
When you have an idea, visualize it and all its destinations in a map. This will be very important to establish a route and an itinerary.
Take also into consideration the seasons of the year and “travel seasons”. Certain activities are more enjoyable during the summer while others are better during winter. Just like any seasonal destination, different seasons give a different feel of Europe.
Find a Cheap Airfare
The key to finding a good and cheap airfare is to be flexible. Sites like Kayak.com and SkyScanner.com have a “dates flexible” tool that allows you to see in which dates can you fly with the cheapest airfare. Spend some time testing date combinations that match your desires and needs.
Try different arrival and departure points and try alternate airports. If you’re doing an open-jaw trip – arriving through one airport (or country) and departing through another one, try your route front to back and back to front. Changing the direction of travel can have an effect on your airfare.
Also, be aware of tourism high seasons, low seasons, and shoulder seasons. They have a great impact in price, but they are also driven by how “desirable” is your destination during that specific time of year. A quick Google search will show you the high and low seasons of your destination.
Here are some more tips on finding the cheapest airfare.
Know your Regional Transportation
Moving on your own between different European cities and countries can look scary at first, but in reality it is very easy. There are two major options to choose from when deciding to move around Europe. These are trains and budget airlines.
Europe has one of the best train systems in the entire world. Passes like the Eurail Global Pass allow you to connect between 22 European countries at an affordable price. Most Eurail passes work best when the countries you are visiting are adjoining (ie. Spain to France to Germany). One thing to consider is that even though the train tickets are included in the passes, certain reservation fees are not (ie. sleeper train couchette reservation fee that goes from $5 to $30). Note: Even though Great Britain is a popular destination in Europe, it is not included in the Eurail Passes.
There is also the choice of buying train tickets point-by-point at sites like RailEurope.com. There are occasions when buying tickets separately is cheaper than buying a pass. It all depends on how many trains you plan on taking, the routes, seating/sleeper class.
From my own experience, I was able to travel between 5 European countries with point-by-point tickets. After comparing the cost of a 5 countries pass ($569) vs. going point-by-point ($270). Have in mind this price was obtained by being flexible with the dates and departure times. Also, three of the trains were sleeper trains, which helped reduce my accommodation costs too.
On the other hand, Europe is also full of budget airlines. In many occasions they are cheaper and faster than trains. You can travel between countries for fares starting at $10 and even less. Sites like SkyScanner.com and Low Cost Carrier Guide will help you find budget airfares. Then, compare and mix-n-match with trains to get the most effective transportation methods for your trip.
One thing to have in mind is that most budget airlines travel to secondary airports that are often far from the city center. In these cases, also take into account the cost of getting to/from the airport and see if it’s viable.
Use Local Transportation
Most, if not all, European countries have an efficient public transportation system. They are usually cheap and carry tourist passes for 24, 48, 72 hours, and more. The best way to plan accordingly your public transportation expenses for each city is to visit wikipedia.org, wikitravel.org, or do a Google search with “[city] metro”, “[city] subway”, or “[city] public transportation”.
Through those searches you will find the respective websites for each public transportation authority. This will allow you to see the available passes and their cost. In addition it will help you know how well connected you are to different places of interest.
Finding Budget Accommodations
There are many options to choose from when looking for budget accommodations, but the two most common among backpackers and budget travelers are hostels and couchsurfing. Hostels, in addition to be cheap in comparison to hotels, are great places to meet other likeminded travelers. A great social approach if you’re traveling solo.
Many hostels provide private rooms as well as mixed shared rooms (male and female) or gender based shared rooms. Usually, shared rooms are cheaper than privates, and the more beds there are in a shared room, the cheaper it is. Popular sites that facilitate hostel booking are HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com, among others.
Have in mind, that hostels charge per person, per night. If you are traveling with friends, sometimes it’s cheaper to pay for a hotel room since the rate is based per room – split between everyone.
Couchsurfing is a different approach to budget traveling. It allows you to stay for free at someone’s couch upon previous agreement. Who in their right mind stays at some strangers couch? Well, people who participate at Couchsurfing.org see this a community of likeminded travelers that are looking to experience different places with a more “local” perspective. In many occasions, the host takes his/her time to show you around the city and hangs around with you.
Is it dangerous? Not really. Well, there can be “safety concerns”, of course, but common sense and previous communication will help you “screen” your prospective host. So far, my experiences have been extremely good, and all my hosts have been superb. There’s nothing like having a local approach to a place through the interaction with someone who lives there and welcomes you openly.
Here is more information on cheap and free accommodation.
Choose your Tours
You might already know what you want to see at your destination and know the tours you want to take, or maybe you don’t know what to do at certain places. The best way to have an idea of things to do at each destination is to do a Google search of “things to do at [city]” and to check TripAdvisor.com. Trip Advisor shows you the most popular things to do according to votes and recommendations by other travelers.
After narrowing down your interests, go into each tour website to have an idea of which days they run, prices, requirements, what’s included, etc.
Many cities have “sightseeing passes” and in some cases they are combined with the public transportation pass. These will either give you a discount on many attractions or have them included in their entirety.
Cheap Food is Still Yummy Food
I have found it safe to budget $25 per day for food. Maybe $30 per day will be more comfortable, depending on your eating habits. Take advantage of “lunch specials” and have your heaviest meal during at that time, when the meal is usually cheaper than at dinnertime.
If you are couchsurfing or if your hostel has a kitchen, buy some groceries and make your dinners and prepare you own snacks. This will help you save a lot of money on food, since you wont have to dine out every night.
Some Little Details
Even though it’s not required, it is highly recommended to have travel insurance that will cover you in case anything happens during your trip. Companies like World Nomads and Travel Guard give great quotes according to your length of travel, and destination, among other parameters.
Also, very important, before leaving your country of residence, call your bank and let them know you will be traveling and to where. Doing this will reduce the chances of getting your bank account blocked due to “suspicious charges”. You don’t want to find yourself without money while on the road and having to call your bank to prove your identity to fix this issue.
All these tips are just the tip-of-the-ice on travel planning, but they are enough to give you an idea on what to do to successfully plan you budget European trip. Be creative, always be flexible, and have fun!