how to travel through europe, by someone who’s never been…

Ok so I’m hardly qualified to write this post, but I’m writing it anyway. And since I am an Aries, I can’t possibly be wrong. Ha! More on the not-so-great qualities of my star sign later…

Oh, and I guess I have been to Europe… I’ve been to the UK a number of times, and I’ve spent 8 hours in Paris once. And, the last time I was even on that side of the globe I was 19. But that still counts right?! I have also travelled the States, and a few other places, and I’ve been floating around Australia for almost a year, so the tips I learnt from those trips apply here too!

Thing is, I’ve posted a few photos of places I’m going on Instagram, and Twitter, and Facebook lately, and a bunch of people have been asking where I’ve found the great deals, and HOW CAN EUROPE BE SO CHEAP?

Things like this: 3 nights in a 4 star hotel on a cliff on the Amalfi coast (complete with private elevator down to the private hotel beach below) for $200. Laughing.

Or this – 3 weeks on a Greek island in an apartment on a beach, for $250 a week.

So, I’m spilling (my version of) the beans for you!

General bits and pieces.

Check out The Best Time to Visit. This is a great little site which helps you pick where to go when… you either pick a month, and it lists where is fab to visit that month, or you pick a continent, country, town, and it tells you when to go there.

This is wise. You should be picking places for their seasons – no use going somewhere during tornado/monsoon season… but the flip side of the ‘in season’ thing is that you also need to be aware of spikes in prices of everything at those times…and crowds! I try to visit in shoulder seasons – you generally get the best prices, and less crowds(my favourite bit) and you still get decent weather.

While I’m on the topic of seasons, watch out for ‘out of season’ closures… European winter is cold, so unless it’s a snow town, lots of places shut down. Public transport sometimes is also limited, so just check your options before you go somewhere out of season…

Travel books and guides. Well, I’m a visual person, so books like the Lonely Planet guides don’t work for me. Too much writing and not enough seeing of where I’m going to be. But, they’re packed with great info, and lots of people swear by them, so if you’re into that stuff, go for it. I tend to look at the Dorling Kindersley books. They have maps and pictures! I browse through them on planes, and I love the photos, and the pull-out maps. But, I don’t rely on any printed travel guides for information, as they all date very quickly! The internet is much faster and more up to the minute with reliable information…

Always grab printed maps, guides from local information stalls when you arrive in a town/city. These will have local information, which is more likely to be up to date, and very helpful!

Browse for online deals. If you check out websites like Groupon in the countries you are going to, they generally have a travel section with great bargains. Like this one, in the UK. You can check the countries’ deals before you leave… it’s amazing what you’ll find!

If you’re only in one place for a couple of days, try to get an overview of the place. A great way to start is to do a ‘hop on hop off’ bus tour. Yes, touristville. Totally. But, they are great for giving a quick overview of a city, for helping you locate yourself spacially, and for helping you decide which places you want to come back to and spend more time in. I’m a fan!

Do a little research. Be prepared! Look up some of the things available to see and do before you get there… yes, it’s all good and well to be spontaneous, but I also think if you know what’s there, you’re more likely to cover the things you want to see and do, rather than be surprised later and miss out. Because who wants to miss out! I’m a scenery person, so lots of my searches involve walking/cycling, coastal options. I google things like “top ten things to see in XXX” or “five scenic cycle tracks in XXX” or “beaches off the beaten track in XXX”. Also try things like “day trips from XXX” and see what’s close by to where you’re staying. Especially if you’re in a big city/town, it’s nice to escape to the slightly less touristy places, and day trips to where the locals dwell are a great option.

Another teeny tip: travel with a (working) pen and a little notebook. Or take notes on your phone. Write down websites you see on billboards, or things you notice on your way… I usually find these become valuable resources later on…

Connectability.

It’s a big one, because these days nobody wants to be without their smart phone. Ok, not everyone, but me. I don’t want to be without my smart phone.

If your phone is already unlocked, try a Travelsim. Buy before you go, and get it activated, otherwise it won’t work. This gives you full access to all of your phone – calls, text, internet, data etc. And you can top up as you go. But I hear they can be expensive to top up, so check your options. And it currently costs about 70c per MB of data…

You can try a local sim too, if your phone is unlocked. But if you’re crossing a few countries, you’d have to change sims in each country. This may or may not be a pain in the arse…

If you go with your phone on and linked to your local provider – global roaming – there’s plenty of places with free wifi (I only stay at places with free wifi) so make sure you use it.

But, A VERY HELPFUL TIP. You’re welcome. Make sure you turn off your data roaming… not just the actual data roaming button, but also the ‘mobile data’ button, otherwise your data will still be charged for little ‘incidentals’ like notifications, which all adds up. Believe me, I was on what I thought was ‘free’ wifi in Fiji for a week, and got a shock at the ‘incidentals’ I clocked up…

Exhibit A above. Turn off data roaming. AND Mobile Data… this will restrict any internet usage to free wifi options, and keep you clear of ‘incidental’ charges…

When you turn off mobile data, your data roaming option disappears. Even better!

Or, a simple way of doing it – just click your phone to airplane mode (first option when you open your phone ‘settings’ page). This wipes out any chance of your data being used. You can then hop on to any free wifi with confidence. Only problem with this one is that if you need to make a call, or send a text (ok, who does that these days?!) you’ll have to take your phone off airplane mode, and then your data will be charged…

Transport costs. 

Well, here’s the bit that *can* become expensive…

Travel in one direction. Make sense? If you’re not backtracking on yourself, you’ll be saving money on transport!

Travel on trains overnight. This is usually cheaper than flying, and can save you a night of accommodation, and saves you ‘wasting time’ on travelling during the day. Obviously it means you miss out on scenery, but if you’re trying to watch the $$, this is a great way to get around!

Flights can kick arse in exxy $$$, but, again, you can get savvy with some good deals. Try Skyscanner – my favourite flight search engine. They’ll pull every airline, and give you all the options. Remember to check prices for a day or two on either side of the date you type in, different days of the week do price differently! And try not to fly on a Friday! This is an expensive day to travel! I’ve also found the further ahead you can book the flight, the cheaper it will be…

Aviability – I promise I haven’t spelt that wrong – another great flight site that helps you work out routes, with the stopovers and bits in-between. Instead of landing on a page with ‘your request could not be processed’…aviability gives you options. I love this one.

Trains. Where you can, for long haul travel, train it. AND, most now have an internet package, so you can buy wifi access with your ticket. Sit in a comfy seat, watch the European countryside go by, and upload your travel pics to Facebook or Skype your mum while you travel! (or work on your laptop if you’re anything like me). A lot of them also have plug points with each seat too, for convenient charging of phones/laptops/ipads etc! Double win!

Tubes and buses and local public transport options. Check out things like the Oyster pass in London… You pay at the outset, but a weekly pass on these kind of cards will work out cheaper in the long run. And this particular one gives you free access to a bunch of places too. All big cities will have these types of options. Buses are fabulous too, and keep you above ground, so if you want to see where you’re going, talk that option. I’m not good with directions, and bus routes usually confuse me, so I stick to tubes/subways – I always have a tube/subway map with me – and walking…

Walk! Europe is good for this. Especially because the public transport bits in-between work really well! And Europe is not the size of Australia! Anyway, enough said on that. Walking is a good – FREE – option.

Hiring a car/scooter/bike can be fun. And cheap! You’ll need an International drivers licence – you will have to show this, and your own drivers licence, when you hire a car/bike. These are super easy to get hold of. I walked into my local NRMA shop and walked out with the licence in five minutes. You just need a passport photo, and $39. This lets you hire a car/scooter/bike etc, and is valid for a year from purchase. You can also mail off the form and get it sent back to you, but I didn’t have the time, so I just went into the office.

Hiring a car in Europe is MUCH cheaper than in Aus. My car hire in Greece is costing me $15 a day. Usually your travel insurance will cover car hire too – double check your fine print. If you’re under 25 (or over 75…) your rental prices will be more expensive. Just a warning!

Boats and ferries. Another great option. And another way to see a place! I love these, because I’m a fan of being on the water. Like the trains, you can do an overnight transit on a ferry (I’m doing this from Naples to Sardinia) and save yourself a night’s accommodation… But watch out for any ‘out of season’ closures… Boats and ferries tend to limit their routes, and times, and some shut down completely during winter.

Accommodation.

There are so many options! And some great ‘budget’ prices for some decent set-ups too… just dig around!

Pick your poison. Are you a hotel person, do you want self-catering options, will you share a dormitory with screechy backpackers…

I don’t do ‘shared bathrooms’. It’s a no go for me. So hostels are out. I’m also not 18 any more, so I don’t want people climbing over me to get to their bunk at 3am. Or having sex in the bed next to me eeuw stop it no. And, I’m working while I travel, so I want somewhere to get a decent night’s sleep.

Sooo… I use bed and breakfast options, or self-catering apartments, or even sometimes hotels. I’m not a huge fan of hotels, except for a night or two here and there, because I prefer being able to cook a meal for myself, and I prefer not to feel too ‘touristy’… but I do use them when the other options aren’t available.

Self catering options are usually cheaper in the BIG BUDGET long run too, because you save money by not having to eat out every meal.

Get breakfast included in your room deal if you’re in a hotel – this helps you save as you won’t have to buy THREE meals a day! But make sure you check the breakfast menu! Last thing you want to do is pay for food you won’t eat. Otherwise, jump out of bed early and visit a market for some fresh produce. Fruit on the run is a great way to start your day.

I also browse for places that will let me book as a ‘single’ – so that I don’t have to pay double room rates. WHY SHOULD I BE PENALISED FOR BEING A ‘ONE’????

Make sure your accommodation dates line up with how you get to the place! Sometimes, islands/cities/towns aren’t accessible every day, so your only available flight/train/ferry may be a day or two after your already-booked-can’t-be-cancelled accommodation!

Another little tip: stay in cheaper places for most of the trip, and then splurge on a night or two in a really nice place to end off your stay. I do this too. A great hotel with room service,  fluffy bathrobes and a big spa bath can be a really nice treat after a few weeks of living out of cases.

Check out Airbnb – this is one of my favourite ways to travel. It’s super easy. Just type in where you want to go, and it searches. You can refine your search – if you’re wanting just a private room, or a shared room, or the entire venue to yourself…. You can also refine further, and pick places that have free wifi, or parking, or access to public transport, etc… Set your budget, and search away! I use Airbnb a lot, but I only stay in places that have a bunch of good reviews… I’m cautious too, because I am usually travelling as a female on my own.

Another favourite for my current Europe trip planning is Booking. Again, type in where you want to go, and boom! Refine searches – I always set my budget, and pick options with free wifi, and off I go. I also always read the reviews…

This site is also great because for most of the bookings there is a free cancellation option, quite close up to your dates. So if something happens, and your trip is cancelled, or your dates change, you can cancel for free. I love this.

Food.

Get breakfast included in your accommodation option, this often helps you. But make sure you check the menu! Last thing you want to do is pay for food you won’t eat. Otherwise, jump out of bed early and visit a market for some fresh produce. Fresh fruit and local produce on the run is a great way to start your day.

If you’re doing the self-catering gig, shop at the local markets, or supermarkets for some supplies.  I’ve booked an apartment on a beach in Greece for 3 weeks, with a full kitchenette. So I’ll be cooking some meals there every day.

If you’re eating out for most meals, try take away options for lunches (and even dinner). Most cafes charge more for the same meal if you sit at a table to eat it, so if you buy and walk away, you can enjoy a cheaper meal, and keep sight seeing, or sit in a park and picnic your lunch!

Also try food options a street or two back from the touristy streets… you’ll find a few more local haunt options, and probably cheaper places too.

Ask the locals! Ask people at your hotel, or where you buy your coffee, to recommend great places to eat specific foods. Most locals will be proud of their town, and only too happy to share information about their favourite places.

Activities.

This one you’ll have to fend for yourselves… I don’t do most of the museums, and things such as this. I tend to be scenery-driven, and luckily most of that is for free!

However, if I do go to the theatre, or want to see a play, or get into the Vatican (which I will do in ten days time) then I do check out options. Often theatres have matinee shows, which will always be cheaper. Check the days too, as sometimes weekend prices are higher than midweek.

Same goes for museums etc, if you go mid-week your tickets are usually cheaper than busy weekends. If you also hold off around local school holidays, or public holidays, you’ll beat the crowds, and going a day or two later will save you money and frustration!

This list is obviously far from exhaustive, but there you go, a few of my current travel tips… I leave for Europe in a week, so I’ll be passing on more information as I go. I’ll let you know if my research has paid off!

In the meantime, just this:

“The day we stop

exploring

is the day we commit ourselves to live in a

stagnant world, devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams.” Neil Tyson

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2 thoughts on “how to travel through europe, by someone who’s never been…

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