Table of Contents:
- How to plan
- Consider transportation costs
- Book ahead for popular tourist attractions
- Keep a financial journal
- Eat street food
If there is one thing I learned from traveling, it is that everyone travels differently. I do not believe there is a wrong or right way to travel. Each individual has different interest and different ways of doing things. Many backpackers are very flexible in terms of their schedule and the length of their trip. I tend to be a bit more organized. It seems that many of the travelers that flew by the seat of their pants wasted a lot of time trying to find accommodation and means of travel. If you have all the time in the world, this is by no means a problem. For me personally, time was of the essence, I only had 6 weeks to travel since I had to return home for a masters program I was starting in August. So having an itinerary worked for me. Since I was able to pre-plan most of my trip, booking the hostels ahead of time ended up being much cheaper than finding one on the spot. Also, booking my trains ahead of time proved to be more useful for most of my journey, considering the time of year.
TIP: Planning too much can completely ruin your flexibility and make a trip quite unpleasant. But a bit of strategic planning can also save you a lot of time and money, it’s just about finding the perfect balance.
Since this was my first time traveling alone, I decided on which places I wanted to see and planned accordingly. I like to call my trip “European highlights tour,” since I only hit the major cities in each country. If you are not as concerned about “Free travel” and are on a bit more of a time/money constraint, here are some tips for traveling a bit easier and cheaper throughout Western Europe:
1. How to plan
Plan all the things you know you are going to need when you get to your destination. I bought an open-jaw airplane ticket six months prior to my departure, booked a Eurail pass (or you can buy point to point tickets) and booked my hostels for each place. I made sure I booked the hostels close to the train station so I didn’t have to lug my backpack around the city trying to find it. Booking these things in advance means you have to have an itinerary. But I found it much less stressful knowing I had a place to stay once I arrived in each city. It allowed me more time to explore the place I was staying rather than spending hours looking for a hostel. This saved me much more money since prices for trains or hostels days before tend to be higher, especially in the summertime.
2. Transportation costs
I think that trains are the best way to move throughout Europe. While people argue it is quicker to fly to and from cities if you plan your route the correct way it doesn’t have to be. Also, train tickets are often much cheaper than a flight. Although they have budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, these smaller airlines tend to nickel and dime you with taxes and luggage fees. Also, the trains run into the center of the city, while airports tend to be on the outskirts. I think that inter-railing saves you both money and time as long as you are taking a logical route. The longest train ride I had was 7 hours from Munich to Venice, however, the trains are plenty comfortable and the scenery is fantastic.
3. Book ahead for popular tourist attractions
I know it seems like overkill to plan out what you are going to do before you even go. While its true you should not plan too much, I found it very helpful to reserve certain things I definitely I wanted to do ahead of time in the more busy cities. For example, in Paris, I knew I wanted to go to the Louvre and the Eiffel tower. Since I was going during a busy season I booked a reservation to cut the line at the Eiffel tower one day and the Paris museum pass to come and go as we pleased to any of the attractions throughout the city. While I did not plan that for every city or even my entire time in Paris. I found that to be very useful, again it saved me a lot of time that I would be otherwise waiting on lines. I did the same for Rome, I reserved a pass to cut the line at the Vatican museum for any day I was there, considering the line was 2 blocks long, I was glad I did so.
4. Keep a financial journal
Unless you plan on staying a while in a place and take on a job during your travels, money can become an issue. If you keep track of your spending during your trip you won’t have to worry about splurging a little in a place you really enjoy. I kept track of everything I spent that day and added it all up for the week. Since I had a log of my expenditures, after a few places I was able to track and estimate how much money I would need for each destination. This would save me money on ATM fees as well.
5. Eat street food
Street food is the quickest and cheapest way to eat throughout Europe. While it is nice to sit down and have a nice meal every once in a while, I often found that street food was just as good if not better than restaurant food. Fortunately, it is not like grabbing fast food here in the US, the food is fresh and in my opinion more delicious. For example, Doner kebabs are available in almost every European city, cost you about three euro and more than satisfies your hunger. Also, Italy has fantastic sandwiches and pizza to eat for a much lower cost than sitting at a place that charges you a service fee. Munich had fabulous street markets stocked with local foods, it’s a fun way to try something new and learn more about the local cuisine.