This guide is written for the budget traveler: a person who swaps sleep for a load of mind-altering experiences. When planning a budget trip to Europe, keep the following 8 steps in mind.
#1 The first thing to do is to choose a series of destinations and organize a route. Hopefully, you’ll have a bit of cheap champagne or German beer to give you inspiration. You might want to visit Europe’s most important cities, or just one country’s most important cities. The former option let’s you see it all, but doesn’t allow for very much downtime. The latter option let’s you become permeated with one particular country’s culture, but you might not get to see the Acropolis, Big Ben, and Venice. Your route can be loosely put together or rigorously pre-planned.
–Tip: Make sure that all of the destinations you choose are reasonably close to one another. Cities might look close on a map, but a 12-hour train ride can seriously cut into a ten-day trip.
#2 Next, you’ve got to decide how long to stay. How long can you get off from work? Who will look after your cat? Once you’ve determined the length of your stay, the style of the journey can be realized. Do you want to stay in hostels for an average of 1.5 nights per city? Maybe you’re traveling with friends and can share the cost of a private room. One of the easiest ways to make your trip more comfortable is to stay in one place for a few days. A good time to do this would be after one week of travel. You might get a discount on the hotel room because you’re staying longer. Further, not having to unpack your luggage for a few days could be just what you’re looking for.
Now, since we’re talking about style, we should discuss two popular methods of getting around Europe: extensive planning vs. totally winging it. Somewhere in the middle is usually the best option. While traveling, it’s common to meet people, and sometimes you hear about a great hotel on an unbelievable island that the world has yet to discover. You might want to head over there with the group of twelve surfers from South Africa that are leaving tomorrow, but you already booked a room in Munich. Situations such as this prompt some travelers to schedule only a few days in advance. They let the wind blow them where it will, shall we say. The risks are obvious: hotels are sometimes booked, trains sometimes stop running, and luggage gets heavy while tromping around in search of vacancy. Since it’s your trip, you get to decide, but it’s important to know that both options are in vogue.
–Tip: Make sure to pay attention to religious festivals or holidays that might correspond with the dates of your trip. Sometimes an entire country will take a day off!
#3 Transportation is key. If you want to see it all while saving money, the Eurail Pass is likely the best option. The Eurail Pass saves time and confusion when navigating multiple train stations with multiple languages. You’ll always know that you have your ticket. Alternatively, if you only want to visit one or two countries off-season, you can save money by skipping the Eurail Pass and simply purchasing tickets as you go.
Many parts of Europe cannot be accessed using public transportation, and sometimes up-to-date bus information is scarce. For travelers who truly want to get off of the beaten path, renting a car or motorcycle is an appealing option. Just make sure you know the local traffic rules and driving style. Here’s our favorite place to compare auto rental prices for Europe.
-Insider Tip: If you plan to travel by train, find the official web site of the government-run train system for the country in which you will begin your trip. Here are a few examples: Italy: Trentalia; France: SNCF; Germany: Bahn; England: NationalRail.
-Tip: If renting a car, significant discounts are offered for long-term rentals. Significant charges are added if returning the rental car to a different location than it was pick up.
#4 Finding inexpensive plane tickets can help establish travel dates, and even location. After determining your ideal trip, it’s time to establish the facts. Search for the best flights while searching for the best hotels in the corresponding city or cities. Some of the most important budget-friendly accommodation sites are hostels. We prefer Hostelworld. You can also search for cheap hotels Here
#5 Luggage should not be unwieldy in the least. The debate of backpacks vs. luggage on wheels is growing outdated. Luggage design has advanced so far as to create backpacks with wheels, as well as backpacks with small daypacks as part of their construction. The only problems with wheels are that they do not work well on cobblestone or dirt, they jostle your belongings when coming off curbs, and the wheels can break. If you will be sticking to cosmopolitan cities, a wheeled suitcase should be fine.
#5 What to pack? The bare minimum: passport, seasonal clothing, toiletries (including travel towel), cash, ATM card, credit cards, a corkscrew (you can legally drink in public over there you know), a good guidebook, and good walking shoes. If you have these things, you should be ok. Luxury items include books, a computer, a small camera (as well as an extra memory card or an upload cable), a European outlet adapter, and flip-flops.
-Tip: Note that most hostels and hotels have book swaps that allow you to trade your old book for a new one free of charge.
#6 Money is the universal language that all travelers and business owners speak worldwide, so make sure you have access to it. Contact your bank and your credit card companies and provide them with an itinerary and travel dates. Otherwise, they might assume that your card has been stolen and deactivate it. Make sure you have the international toll free number written on the back of your cards in case of emergency. Always keep a few American dollars in your luggage just in case.
-Tip: Credit card companies usually give you the best exchange rates. However, most credit card companies add a surcharge for purchases made abroad. Getting a card that doesn’t, such as Capital One, is worth it.
-Tip: Not all banks charge you for using ATMs outside of the country, Wells Fargo is one that doesn’t charge.
#8 The language barrier can be a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like in Manhattan, locals around the world are happy to help a friendly traveler catch a train. Just remember the “friendly” part. If you plan to stick to one country, invest in a phrase book. Trying to speak the native language is always appreciated, even if it ends in complete failure.
#7 Visas and medical shots are not required in most European countries or the Schengen Area if you are visiting for less than three months. Turkey is one notorious exception to the rule; it requires that you obtain a visa before entering the country or at the moment you arrive in the country. For this latter option, only Turkish currency is accepted, not credit cards, travelers checks, etc. Double-check the facts for each country you plan on visiting before you go. Our Country guides offer up to date visa information.
#8 If you’ve covered all these bases, then it’s time to relax and take in a whole new world of experiences! Rock on.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com