I am not much of a planner. As I have said in previous posts; life rarely goes according to plan, so I rarely make them. This being said, I learned a lot while in Europe about traveling and making arrangements. My previous abroad experience in Ghana was somewhat structured by my university. Also, in Ghana you really don’t have to plan. Everyone there is very laid back and lively. Ghana is inexpensive so doing things last minute doesn’t harm your budget at all. Europe is polar opposite.
In Europe, the better you are at making arrangements in advance, the better your chances are of saving money and having a smooth trip. For Americans, traveling within Western Europe can be costly compared to traveling in other places (our currency is generally worth less than the Euro, Pound and Franc). Learn from my mistakes and plan ahead if possible.
1. Peeing is not free!
Most major European cities charge for the use of public restrooms. In most train stations, malls, and attractions, you will pay about one euro or franc to use the restroom. This being said, keep your coins. Many European countries have coins that value up to 5 (euros, franks, pounds), so discarding these coins are costly. You never know when you have to go. Most small business and restaurants do not have restrooms for the public, so be prepared.
2.The Eurorail is trash
This is obviously based on my own experience but the Eurorail is not the money saver it seems to be. The Eurorail pass is very complicated and has lots of fine print. It costs about $400 -$500 for about 8 travel days. The countries you choose must all border each other and if those countries are not a popular ticket choice, you will need to order in advanced or get it online. Most major cities require you to reserve a seat, which will run you about $60 USD or more roundtrip. If you do not reserve seats earlier enough, you run the risk of the train being booked. (You can still board the train, but you end up standing or sitting on the floor.) If you choose to use the Eurorail, I recommend using it for Eastern Europe. The countries tend to be closer together and there is less need for seat reservation. The train can be time consuming if your destinations are not close.
3.Flying is the way to go
Flying in Europe is a dream. It can be very cost efficient to catch a flight, not to mention time saving. I flew from Geneva, Switzerland to London, England for $70 USD round trip and booked my ticket only two weeks before my trip. There are several travel sites that make flying cheap. I booked my flight directly through EasyJet (European Airline). There is also Ryan Airlines and Skyscanner.com is also a great way find cheap flights. Note: if you use these airlines, the only bags that are free are carry-ons. They can be very strict about the sizes of the carry-on, so check for measurements and do not push it. Also, give yourself plenty of time to get through airport security, some airports are very small and cannot always get through people quickly.
4.Booking a Room or Hostel
Hostels are popular among young travelers in Europe. Hotels can be really expensive, so it is worth it for your budget to either book a hostel or rent a room or couch from someone. Hostels typically house anywhere from 3-10 people in a room. (You can get a private or two person room but it isn’t cost efficient.) It sounds scary, especially if you’ve watch movies about Americans in foreign countries but really hostels can be a great environment. In Barcelona, our hostel was very clean, had free breakfast, lots of young people and was in the center of town. I met some very cool people who recommended restaurants, tours and activities. I even met a girl with the same name as me! However, book ahead if possible. In Paris, we did not book a room in advance and boy, oh boy did we regret it. We stayed in a shabby hostel that was questionable in cleanliness and their idea of a complimentary breakfast was the vending machine. Needless to say I slept on my sweater.
If you aren’t a fan of Hostels and prefer a more private experience, try using AirBnB. It’s a great website and app that is growing. Locals rent out a room or sometimes their entire apartment. I didn’t personally get to use it but everyone who I know that did, enjoyed it. If the host was there, they often acted as a person tour guide. I tried to use AirBnB but my procrastination made it impossible for me to book anything. Just because a space is available does not mean they will agree to you booking the space. Remember these are people’s home. They usually want enough to prepare for you. They need to check their schedules, so give yourself minimum a week to book (and that may be cutting it close).
5.Always bring a Student ID
Even if you are not a student anymore. Europe is all about the youth. Most museums, attractions and activities offer a discount to students. This can really help you shave down the cost of your activities. Note; If you are in Paris, the Louvre will not give you a discount unless your school is located in the European Union. BOOOO! However, the Eiffel Tower gives discounts to anyone under 24.
6.Bring a Water bottle
Again, there are not a whole lot of water fountains and water in most restaurants are not free. If you do order water, make sure you ask for tap water, otherwise you get overpriced bottled water. It is better to just pack your own water and fill up on those rare occasions you find a water fountain.
*Paris smells like pee. In fact a lot of urban Europe does. *The toilets use very little water, so they smell as well. *Find the free beaches. A lot of European beaches don’t have sand. (Spain does, they import it). * Doing laundry is expensive. Learn to hand wash. *If you are there for an extended time period, know that you will not have an oven. Your refrigerator is miniature. *Starbucks is ridiculously expensive. *PB&J is always in style. *The European metro system is really good in urban cities. *Train Stations double as malls, don’t get sucked in.
I hope you all get the chance to visit Europe one day. Learn from my mistakes. I promise you will save soooooo much money and time.