Europe is most definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world. There is so much contrasting culture and yet at the same time they seem very united in terms of their landscape and again.. Culture. Being an architect, travelling through Europe is always a treat as there is so much history that translates into the European’s modern lifestyle. Travelling to Europe should be an enchanting experience where you can soak up their culture and really understand the people and places rather than worrying about the ever widening hole in your pocket. This post is dedicated to us, Indians, who are at a disadvantage when it comes to world economics. With the value of the rupee trying to climb a very slippery slope, this post will help you get the most of what you’re spending. These are, however, merely broad guidelines which you need need to explore further as per your requirements and interests.
1. Book Well in Advance – This is perhaps one of the most important guidelines that you will have to address as it will help you save the maximum amount of money. Prices for flights and trains sky rocket in a matter of hours; yet at the same time they fall as well. However the chances of the drop are very infrequent. Booking your tickets will help give a basic structure to your trip.
For Indians, this is a very important step as your visa depends on it. Most of the countries ask for a dossier (there is no other word to describe the documentation you need for a visa application) that covers all your flight schedules and hotel bookings to the t. Any minor lapse in documentation will result in a rejection, and you will need to wait for a month to reapply. So take your time and be extremely thorough with all your booking and documentation.
2. Cheap Stay and how to Use it Wisely – The second most important thing to think about is accommodation. If you have friends or family you’re sating with, most of your work is done. However, if that is not the case, a lot of research on that part is required. There are a few basic options you can consider.
Hostel – Hostels are great fun if you’re traveling with friends and there area few of you to split the cost. Its a great place to meet people and usually the hostels are located in center of tourist places in the city. Commuting within the city thus, does not pose such a challenge. However, when my husband and I were traveling together, hostels did not work out for us at all. We wanted a private room, and that would always get very expensive. If that is the case, there are other options to look at…
AirBnB and House Trip – These two sites work on the same principle. There area people who offer rooms their homes for rent and there are people who rent it. The sites are a common forum for these people to get in touch and charge a nominal fee for the booking. I have used this a few times and have had great experiences. The people who rent out the rooms are usually locals and know their city very well. They can guide you to places and information that is not available in the usual tourist’s itinerary and could make your trip so much more exciting. One thing to be very careful about when booking is that you need to make sure of the location of these places. The houses could be anywhere in the city and even outside. do not get swayed by the cheap prices and book somewhere far away. The entire exercise would render futile as you will end up spending as much or maybe more on commuting.
3. Travel Light – Yes. I know. You have heard that before. *eyes rolling* But it is true! I promise you, I DO NOT and CAN NOT travel light. However, I had to do it for my most recent trip as we were on a very strict budget. We were also traveling by the European low cost airlines which charge you extra with every piece of luggage you check in. *Ding ding ding* Easiest way to save money! That gave me no choice but to throw out what I don’t need. It was the most difficult task ever, but it helped save us 20 euros each flight. My husband and I had one small cabin bag suitcase and one large suitcase between us. I think that was the best decision we took. Also, its not just about the money, its also about convenience – you pack a big bag, you’ve got to carry it buddy! Lugging big bags up and down metro staircases and buses is not an easy task. There are no cabs and no one to help you. Hence, take my advise- travel light!
4. Travel passes – Europeans have have a lot of schemes that make traveling within their cities very easy and affordable. A lot of the major cities have day passes that include concessions metro travel and a few museum entries. Every city has a few types of passes to offer. Do your research and find out what pass suits you the best.
5. Book Online – Once you have a clarity of your dates in a city, it is researching the beautiful sights of the city that is next on the list. Europe, unlike India, has an entrance charge for every tourist attraction, and that is quite a hefty amount. while planning your budget, it is important to budget for that as well. (The year that I stayed in London, I never ended up going to Westminster Abbey for the very same reason. despite being a student and having the opportunity to avail student discounts, I could not afford to spend 11 pounds for the entrance fee.) I don’t mean to scare you, but pointing out a fact that one needs to be prepared.
However, there is one very important loophole that comes to your rescue – Booking Online! for anything and everything… Book it Online!! Booking online is usually a few euros cheaper, but that is not the best part about it. You don’t have to wait in an endless queue to get tickets and then wait again in an endless queue to enter. Use the precious time that you have in a new city wisely. Don’t waste it on queues.
6. Carry Food at all Times – This tip is probably one of the most important tips. While travelling, the few things you spend most on is transport, accommodation and food. Food in Europe is quite expensive and that’s why they have the glorious super markets. Buy your sandwiches, juices, alcohol, etc. there. There is absolutely no reason why you need to spend your money on service charges in restaurants when you can have an amazing picnic in one of the lovely European parks. Be a European, do what they do and really enjoy the outdoors. Also, carry some Maggi or any instant pasta, noodle, soup packets. The hostels and homes usually have access to kitchens that will allow you to cook. Saving some money there again and who can say no to Maggi. ( Feel like having Maggi right now ..)
Water is very expensive as well. The best thing to do is to carry a bottle of water with you and keep refilling it through the day. Every bottle of water costs over 1 euro. You’d rather collect it and use it somewhere else.
7. Free Walking Tours – Europe has this great culture of free walking tours the basic premise of which is that you do not pay for the tour at the beginning. I.e you do not pay while you book, you tip the guide at the end of the tour. The tip can be any amount you find fit. Usually you don’t have to book the tour ahead of time, but I strongly suggest that you do. (Again… it doesn’t cost to book!) They take only a limited number of people and your spot is subject to no shows. I found the tours really exciting as they’re usually conducted by youngsters (usually local or people who have been staying in the city for several years) who have studied art or history. Hence, their knowledge about the place is really good. They keep adding a little tit bits of exciting information as you go along. This is a great way to see and understand the city on various levels. There are usually several themes that they cover as well. You can very easily find one that’s just right for you.
As my husband and I explored Spain earlier this year, we discovered a really efficient way to see the city and save some money. When we were in Barcelona, we spent one day doing two walking tours. The first morning was spent learning about the old city and the Gothic Town and the afternoon was spent learning about Gaudi’s works. That gave us a clear idea about how to plan our next few days and where to spend our money. The next day we booked our trip to Sagarda Familia, Park Guell and also Camp Nou (one of my hubby’s dreams). Do note that since it is a free tour, entry to any of the museums, churches and other spots are not a part of this (duh!)
PS – A lot of people sneak away towards to end so that they don’t have to pay. Don’t be a chindi Indian, give them a little something at least.
8. Pub Crawls – This is another amazing European culture my husband and I discovered on our most recent trip to Europe. It could be a daunting task to find some great places to go to to enjoy the night life in a city. Pub crawl helps you take care of that. You have a nominal booking fee which entitles you to one shot in each pub you go to and drinks on happy hour prices. A huuugggeeee plus as drinks in pubs and clubs are really expensive. (Another secret tip… We had taken one bottle of Old Monk and Bacardi for him and me respectively from home so that we didn’t have to spend on buying liquor from the market or in the pubs. We would have a few drinks during dinner before heading out for the night). These crawls are a great way to meet people and hang out in clubs and pubs. The crawl we went to in Barcelona had great drinking games which was soooo exciting.
I have outlined a few things that can help you save on your trip while ensuring you have a lovely trip. However, it is really important you use these guidelines and read up as much as you can. Research is super important!
You can get in touch with me for any specifics about the places we stayed at, the tours we did and especially the pub crawls we went for.
Update – There is a wonderful reply comment from Sarita Deshpande who talks about how to survive Europe as a vegetarian and a few other pointers that you should not miss.