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I was a student for the best part of the last seven years. During that time, I traveled through almost 20 European countries. Most times, I had virtually no money.
I frequently returned to places I enjoyed the most.
I've seen the whole city of Amsterdam turn orange for Kings' day. I've got my freak on in Berlin's Berghain. I've walked across the London bridge. I fell in love with the hills of Tuscany. I've felt the overpowering energy of the Red Square in Moscow. And I drank Czech beer in Prague.
The people I met along the way shone unique perspective on life. Together we created everlasting memories.
Studying full time, those were no easy tasks to accomplish. Money was practically non-existing. But the love for travel prevailed. At least ten times every year, I would pack my bags and explore Europe.
After a while, you get the hang of it, or better said, you lose the fear of unknown.
Casually talking to friends and people back home, I would hear the same story, repeating itself, like a broken record.
"I want to visit Iceland, but I have no money."
"I want to see Amsterdam, but where can I find the time?"
The first thing you have to do is let go and get moving. It's comfortable to come up with excuses. It's fascinating how easy it is to rationalize an idea we are scared to accomplish. Excuses, excuses, excuses. There is always one.
As I'm preparing for my next trip to London, I thought I could share a few tips for the fellow travelers.
Lifechanging trips don't have to be expensive.
But you can't do them from home; you have to set sails.
I was born in Europe. I grew up in Croatia. The country recently became a member of the European Union. Regarding visas and long-haul flights, it's easier for Europeans to embark on a journey around the old continent. But no matter where you came from, once you landed with all the proper documents, it's the same thing for everyone.
If your budget is tight, continue to read.
First time I started my Interrail trip across five European countries, I wanted to visit the expensive, western parts of the continent. I had less than 300€ in my pocket. It was Spring. And I wanted it all. I didn't shy from meeting strangers, visiting historical landmarks, or enjoying the nightlife.
It was rough, but I survived for ten days. The trip made me lose my fear of travel. Better said, I got hooked up on the feeling of exploring new places with new people. It was exciting.
I'm just about to finish my studies, and I still travel. In two days I'm going to spend a week in England with less than £300 to my name.
It's not like I want to travel on a budget. I have no money because I didn't work for the past few months. I wrote my thesis and prepared to finish school.
I refused to let the money stop me from enjoying one of the greatest cities in the world.
How do you travel on a tight budget?
The tickets, buses, accommodation, activities, drinks, food… There are so many different things to look out for. If you think about everything, it will drive you nuts.
1. Travel light.
First and fundamental—don't overpack! I understand this can be hard during winter, but try to pack only the essentials. If I went somewhere for one week, I would pack a pair of trousers, few shirts, one hoodie, underwear, and something to brush my teeth. If I need to bring a jacket, I would wear it the entire time.
One hand luggage and you are ready to go. The light suitcase is everything you need if you're not experiencing any special medical conditions.
Traveling light is important because you won't have to pay an extra fee on your luggage. And it's easy to move around. Backpacks work like a charm, but you can get away with pretty much anything that's below 20 pounds.
2. Cheap Tickets
To understand European airlines, you need to know which are the best cities to book airline tickets. As we are talking about budget traveling, I'll stick with my favorites—Ryanair and Easy Jet. Both companies have easy to use mobile apps, and both offer better flying experiences than American Spirit or Asian VietJet.
Using Ryanair, I manage to catch my tickets below 50€. Sometimes, I would pay as low as 25€ for a return trip.
The only thing you have to do is book at least one month in advance and choose the right city to do so.
Best hubs for cheap flights I can recommend are Budapest, Venice, Berlin, London, Bruxelles, and Barcelona. These cities offer a vast number of budget connections.
If you do not have the right connection from the place you are at the moment, you can always hop on a cheap bus to reach the wanted airport. Combined, the return-ticket should be under 100€—less than 50€ for one-way trips. If you don't see the right price, you are not looking at the right place.
Use Flixbus and install their mobile app. Generally, they offer cheaper prices if you book in advance, but should not be much more expensive on the same day. They connect pretty much everything in Europe and the busses are great. Most of the vehicles offer free WI-FI and toilets.
Other options are trains. With trains, you can reach pretty much every corner of Europe. But they can get quite expensive, depending on the country. Don't stress; there is a workaround.
If you purchase the Interrail pass, you can get the ultimate travel ticket for less than 200€. This means you can use most European trains during the limited time. Usually, the pass is good for one month. During that time you can travel for a set amount of days. The cheapest option gives you an opportunity to change as many trains as you want on three separate days. The current price will set you back 168€ for anyone under 27.
The great side to using Interrail is that you can use the trains to rest or sleep. If you spend your nights traveling, you can find a comfortable cabin, lie down, and wake up at your destination (Note: Not all trains have cabins). Using night trains can help you save accommodation money as you won't have to pay for a room or bed.
If you do not shy away from driving with strangers, there are some fantastic ride-sharing apps available throughout Europe. BlaBlacar is my personal favorite. Prices depend on destinations, but they're usually cheaper than bus tickets.
European hostels are an excellent solution for budget travelers. They are tourist orientated. Most hostels have kitchens for you to use. You can usually bring your groceries and cook. Hostels are fun because you are bound to meet other budget travelers. Friendships are easy to come in European hostels. There are always fun people from all around the globe hanging around. In most cities, you can easily find a bed in a shared room for as low as 10€. Using apps like Hostelworld is a great way to start.
If you are asking for an adventure, Couchsurfing is the answer. You can stay for free with the host. Through their page, you have an opportunity to find a host that suits you best. You can read the reviews other travelers shared about the particular host. Also, the host leaves your review after you leave. The more good reviews you have, the easier it will be to find accommodation in the future.
Why is Couchsurfing great?
The big part of the experience is the host. The guy or a girl letting you stay at their place can do wonders for your trip. They are local, and this is a huge thing. They can recommend great places to visit, cheap food, and free activities. Also, they can warn you about tourist traps (They are all over Europe. You can quickly lose most of your money before you even start your journey).
The hosts are usually fellow travelers, and they can relate to your situation. It's great to hang out with them. Sometimes, new friendships are born—just like that.
I wouldn't advise asking to stay more than two or three nights. When I visit with someone through Couchsurfing, I leave on the third day and go to a hostel or Airbnb.
Book Airbnb for a night or two. If you had a long journey or better, if you meet someone special along the way and you want to take them to a room, Airbnb can offer great deals. Just look a bit further from the city center or prominent tourist hotspots. I know most people use it often, but I just wanted to mention it here, as it can be a crucial part of a trip. Getting a private room to rest for a night can make a significant difference in your journey.
Europe is a cultural hotspot of the world. History at every step—from Roman colosseums to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Best thing is, they are on public display. Most of the sights will charge entrance fees, but strolling around and admiring their beauty is still free.
In England, most museums are free of charge. You walk right in, no strings attached. In other cities, you can always find special discounts. Sometimes, they will let people in for free after certain hours or on certain days. Look it up.
If you like to travel, even as an introvert, you will find how exciting it is to stumble upon different characters. You will meet people everywhere, and I mean everywhere—convenience stores, traffic lights, hostels, bars, museums, or parks. Just keep an open mind.
Be careful with the restaurants. European portions tend to be on the smaller side. Especially central restaurants. You will pay the price of the location. If it is near a tourist attraction, do yourself a favor and stay away. It's probably going to be tempting. People who build their business around these hotspots know what they are doing. Tourists are wandering around all day, and they get tired. Looking for a place to sit down, they end up in tourist traps. These places can charge north of 500 percent of what the usual price would be. When you need a place to sit down, find a park or a bench. In most European countries, during sunny days, people love to chill around parks. You can see them stretching blankets for their afternoon picnics.
I would recommend trying to find better quality street food. Usual Wok places can be fantastic. For the price range between 4€–10€, you can find a decent quality meal. If you are in Germany, kebabs are a must. They are cheap and fulfilling. Falafels are great for vegetarians.
If you are going to eat at the big restaurant fast-food chains like McDonald's or Burger King, be sure to download their mobile apps. Most times they will offer special deals for the users.
If you want to keep an eye on the nutrients you are taking; cooking is still your best options. If you are staying at a hostel, Airbnb, or Couchsurfing, be sure to use the kitchen. Most people won't mind, and most hostels and Airbnb's will have kitchens for their guest. Groceries are also the cheapest option.
Don't shy away from your Eurotrip, especially if you're European. To experience all the culture and history and have so much fun along the way can change your life. Let go, travel, meet people, fall in love, and come back wealthier than ever before.
The great thing that will come from your travels are the international friends you are sure to find along the way. On your next trip, some will offer you a place to stay. On that front, you can save money and stay with someone you are about to have a blast with. Win-Win scenario.
Don't forget to take your camera and collect the moments. They're all we'll have in the end—great memories.