It has come to my attention that Americans do not know how to travel on a budget. The most exciting thing about Europe is that it is entirely tangible for everyone from the well traveled to the first timers. Europe is a modge podge of culture, experiences, and landscapes. From the beautifully rainy cliffs of Ireland to the coastal beauties of the French Riviera and the Amalfi Coast of Italy and the rolling farm lands in between, Europe has something for everyone. Of course, there are places in Europe that are currently less expensive for Americans than others, but it is not impossible to visit the more expensive places without breaking the bank. In this blog post, I will give a few pointers on what to look for when thinking about planning your trip to Europe.
A newly conceived concept in America is the ultra low cost carrier (ULCC), however this is old news to our friends in Europe. Getting to Europe, there are fewer options for ULCCs–but they are becoming more of a commonplace. You’ve possibly heard of them popping up and becoming more popular recently here in the US: Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Airlines and even JetBlue Airways is beginning to hop on the ULCC bandwagon. These options are great for the low maintenance traveler. I’m going to be real with you, if you pack your entire bedroom for a one week vacation to Rome, these are not airlines for you. In fact, you’re going to have a very difficult time freely moving about–and you don’t need that much stuff. You just don’t.
A few good examples getting to Europe would be XL Airways, La Compagnie, Wizzair, WOW Air, and Norwegian Airlines among many others. These airlines offer low fares (mostly from the east coast) to various places in Europe. The key to ULCCs is your wonderful ability to read. Thankfully, if you’re reading this, you can also read into these websites. That’s the problem with today’s American travelers, they don’t READ. Therefore, they don’t know what they are getting themselves into when they show up to the airport for such flights. You need to read every pop up while booking a flight. These carriers will spell out to you (they have to, legally) baggage fees, check-in fees, seat selection fees, the works. They will offer you many options. You, then, can choose what option is best for you. Like I stated earlier, low maintenance is key here. Check out some of those airlines I listed, they offer incredible fares to their hub cities. La Compagnie is especially noteworthy for the more high maintenance–their airplane is completely Business class seats. As always, be smart. Book directly through the website, that will keep you away from “scammers” or sites (like Expedia) who do not spell out exactly what you are buying. Take away points: 1) Look into ULCCs and 2) READ.
I know a lot of people are really freaked out by hostels. The movie didn’t help, and those images have been burned into our brains. I’m here to tell you that they’re GREAT. Hostels in Europe are now easily assessable and well reputable thanks to apps such as HostelWorld. HostelWorld allows users to rate a hostel based on Value for Money, Security, Location, Staff, Atmosphere, Cleanliness and Facilities so you can chose the right hostel based on your needs. Hostels don’t have to be a room full of bunkbeds and strangers, Brooke and I were successful in booking rooms for only two people-and sometimes even our own bathroom-for great prices. Great choices are out there, you just need to search for them.
Many other fantastic apps exist for cheap lodging such as AirBnB, HomeAway (VRBO), and–for the adventurous–Couchsurfing. All of these options are safe due to the simple fact that a bad review could-and would-criticly hurt a business on these apps. Its the way the world is going these days. However, ALWAYS be smart and stay alert.
Public Transportation–In most European cities, public transportation is a breeze. If you have an understanding of the Metro in Washington DC, the Bart in San Francisco, or the LightRail in Denver you can easily utilize the public transportation systems of Europe. Although you may not know how to pronounce the names of the stops, at least the alphabet is Latin (with, of course, the exception of Greece). My sister and I on many occasions were running-full sprint-to the subway stations and would yell to each other “Look for the one that starts with L!! We need to go in the direction of the place that starts with E!” Somehow, we made our way without any major mishaps. In the subway stations, however, always use caution as they can be a good location for theft and other crimes. Always keep your belongings in your sight, don’t be stupid, and pay attention to your surroundings.
Trains–Europe has an extensive network of trains ranging from regular old trains to those new high speed trains that cover vast distances in half the time. This is a great way to see the countryside of Europe. Trains are almost always on time, there is no security to go through unlike airports and sometimes they’re just as quick (emphasis on the “no security” part though, I know that’s everyone’s least favorite thing about airports). I may be biased, because I (like Sheldon Cooper) am fascinated by trains. However, the facts don’t lie. They are efficient and quite convenient for close or overnight travels. That being said, remember that you want to minimize the amount of TRAVEL and maximize the amount of TIME spent at your destination. Keep trains in mind for close cities to avoid going through the hassles of the airport. Available for longer distances are night trains. Which can be cost effective when you take into consideration that it is both your transportation cost as well as lodging for the night. I’ve taken two over night trains; one was better than the other. The key to overnight trains is their times. The one that was a good experience was 18 hours long and went from Prague, Czech Republic to Amsterdam, Netherlands. It left in the evening and arrived in Amsterdam around 10AM. It was a good experience, although living and sleeping quarters are tight and almost never include a shower. Bathrooms resemble a more roomy version of airplane bathrooms, equipped with the terrifying flushing noise and all. The less than perfect experience I had with a night train was due to the fact that the train ride itself was too short. There was not enough time for sleep and we arrived at our destination much too early to find anything open (5AM, McDonalds wasn’t even open. And it was pouring rain). So, if you’re going to chose a night train, chose wisely. While experiences are the most important aspect of a trip, sleep is a close second. You never want to be sleep deprived the next day at a new amazing destination!
Airfare within Europe–I touched on this a bit earlier in the first section, but I think it is extremely important so I will expand on airlines throughout Europe. Like I said, there are many options when it comes to interEurope ULCCs (remember, ultra low cost carriers). I few airlines to keep in mind are RyanAir, Vueling, AirEuropa, and GermanWings. Ok. This is where–again–I’m going to emphasize reading. The biggest cost you are going to run into when booking a ULCC anywhere, but especially in Europe, is baggage fees. RyanAir is the most strict about it. You need to dive deep into their website and find out exactly what is allowed onboard or to be checked with your extremely cheap ticket. This will vary by airline and there is no “one size fits all” for ULCCs. Because they are exactly the opposite of that phrase. They are built for choices. And Americans THINK they hate that. They think the airline industry owes them everything. They don’t. On RyanAir you can pay $25 for a ticket and if you have a bag that would not fit under the seat you are going to pay extra for that. This is where traveling lightly comes in handy. How To on that will be saved for a later blog post. But $25 for a plane ticket? Stop. I don’t think people realize the cost of labor alone that goes into each and every flight. People don’t work for free! And you expect these airlines to give you all this stuff….I shake my head. Clearly I’ve been around the travel industry too long HA! Enough of this rant. You want carriers that will be more expensive but will be the whole packaged deal? Those exist as well. British Airways, Lufthansa, SwissAir, basically any country you can think of has their own airline that can offer you everything your heart desires. On to the next useful piece of advice.
For the love of all things holy, look at a map. Study it. Have it open on your MacBook while you’re planning your vacation. Be smart when it comes to planning where to go next. Europe is bigger than you think. It takes awhile to get from place to place. Scope out your options. See which flight is cheapest to get from point A to point B and pay attention to travel time. Keep in mind you’ll need to arrive to airports earlier in Europe than you do in the US. Europe is still really stingy with the whole liquids in bags and the bag being the appropriate size. You will get lost in the airport and you will be confused on where to check in. Just get there early. That being said, see if any other method of transportation can get you quicker and cheaper to your next destination. GoogleMaps is super helpful with train schedules. Just google “trains from Budapest to Vienna” and it will tell you all of the information. I can not stress enough that you want to spend the majority of your time at your destination, not between them. Everyone says “it’s not about the destination, its about the journey” they’re wrong. No one likes being stuck at airports. They would rather be exploring the long wooden benches at Biergartens in Munich or the creepy skeletal faces starting back at them in the Catacombs of France. Not the inside of yet another AirBus 319. There’s so much to see out there!! But you will not be able to see all of Europe during your Spring Break. It’s not going to happen. Pick a spot, maybe even a general area of Europe and dive in. You will not be disappointed. And, as I always say, I highly recommend Rick Steves’ Europe books for further planning. He has variations that you can buy at Barnes and Noble or you can get podcasts on his website. I brought my book with me and continuously read from it while moving from site to site. Since our trip, I have purchased three more of his books and allow my friends to borrow them to plan their trips! They really do offer great insight.
I hope someone finds this information helpful and possibly inspires you to make that leap and get out there and explore Europe! It can be done, and it should be done. Stay tuned for more useful tips and tricks when booking trips and exploring.
Until next time!
❤ Big B