Lets face it: traveling on a student budget can be rather overwhelming. Some view travel as an opportunity for repose and a short-term escape from the responsibilities of real life while there are also those of us who see travel as a passion, a fascination, and the ultimate source of indulgence. For those of you out there like me, who thrive off of planning adventures to foreign lands, and constantly obsess over figuring out the next place to explore, we cannot deny that traveling, sadly enough, is an expensive pursuit. From accommodations, to transportation, to food, to sightseeing, to, of course, alcohol; it can be stressful trying to accomplish everything on your bucket list while still being budget-friendly. Fortunately, after traveling through fourteen countries over the course of five months, I’ve developed some great shortcuts, found some fabulous price-saving websites, and picked up some helpful tips to keep your European extravaganza economical.
1. PLAN THINGS IN ADVANCE!
Too often, study abroad students romanticize the freedom of traveling wherever, whenever they please. For example, European countries are in close proximity and, in theory, it is very easy to get plane tickets to wherever you desire to venture to at the drop of a hat. However, if you are one of those kids who decides Tuesday what new city you want to spend your upcoming weekend in, anticipate spending a pretty hefty sum on your ticket, regardless of whether your travel is via plane, boat, or train. With that being said, the best advice I could ever give anyone is to plan things in advance.
For some reason, people have this idea that using trains and getting a Eurorail pass is the least expensive way to go. I’ve found that, based on what my friends and I experienced in Europe, this is false. Be forewarned, once at the train station, backpack in hand, ready to jump on your train, you will most likely encounter previously unmentioned and impossibly fine-printed fees. I wish you could just randomly jump on any train to any city you fancy, but do not be shocked to find that there are supplementary fees you often must pay depending on where you wish to go and when. A Eurorail pass seems like a great deal, but when you start to look into all the stipulations, unless you know you want to stay in a rather concentrated area of Europe, it doesn’t exactly offer the best deal. For instance, if you want to explore three countries, a pass starts around $325.00 depending on the exchange rate. Seems like a good price, right? The problem is that you are limited to only three bordering countries, given the worst times to take the train (like 5:25 a.m. or 1:00 a.m. when you SHOULD be out partying), and you have to pay additional fees for each place you want to go.
My suggestion? If you want to explore countries aside from those bordering the one you happen to be staying in, check out:
www.ryanair.com – I got a flight from London to Dublin in August for $50.00 round trip and a flight from Paris to Barcelona in October for around $90.00.
www.easyjet.com – Easyjet was a great airline, always on time, and the seats weren’t even that uncomfortable! I was able to get a flight from Paris to Athens in October for $110.00 and a flight to from Paris to Budapest for $70.00!
www.smartwings.com (for Eastern Europe) – I knew that I wanted to explore more than just western Europe while abroad, so I made it a point to get to the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Turkey. By using Smartwings Airlines, I found super affordable flights. For instance, my flight from Paris to Prague was under $100.00.
Now that transportation is covered, the next issue to tackle is accommodations. Although it may be intimidating to stay in a room with people you do not know, hostels offer an amazing opportunity to meet new friends and share experiences with fellow travelers from all over the world.
If anything, most hostels are super safe, in great locations, and offer a convenient place for backpackers to meet and party together. Costing on average of $25.00 a night, this travelista’s fiscally-friendly option offers a comfortable, clean atmosphere, and kitchens you can cook in, or they often include a breakfast which helps you save $$$ for the more important things in life, like that cover charge for world famous discoteca in Barcelona.
Top 5 hotels I visited based on location, staff, cost and cleanliness:
The Flying Pig Downtown- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Athens Backpacker- Athens, Greece
The Grandio Party Hostel- Budapest, Hungary
The Mosaic House- Prague, The Czech Republic
Barnacles Temple Bar Hostel- Dublin, Ireland
Check out www.hostelworld.com, www.hostelbookers.com, or www.hostels.com for awesome reviews, deals, and suggestions on hostels in countries across the world. It also provides great recommendations for bed and breakfast places, cheap hotels, and rentals if hostels do not fit your needs. To save even more, you can buy a $25.00 international student identification card prior to your trip to get discounts on hostels, and even the occasional free drink upon arrival.
Now, if there is one thing that I am, it is, undoubtedly, a food lover. However, by no means am I a connoisseur. In my mind, smells, tastes, ingredients, and preparation equate to, lets say, a favorite piece of artwork in the mind of an art student. To completely understand and immerse oneself in a culture, it is absolutely imperative to, at least, try the local fare.
How do you do it on a budget? Easily. The best thing to do is go where the locals go and the places that are often busy (its probably worth any wait). Try a croissant from the local boulangerie on the Paris street corner, get a doner kebab from the Turkish food stand next to the Hagia Sofia, or grab a scope or two of creamy Italian gelato from the gelatoria on the winding street en route to the Pantheon. Either way, if you go to the places where the locals frequent, rather than the top restaurants Zagat suggests, you will inevitably stay economically responsible.
The best things about being a student are the free perks. By having an identification card vouching that you are, in fact, a student, you hold the power to access museums, historical monuments, and even some guided tours at no costs.
So there you have it. By following some of these tips, you will be saving money and staying within your itty-bitty student budget. Good luck!