Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My humble tips for 'Europe on a budget'.

Of course I dream of flying into Paris first class, limo service to the Ritz and then champagne, my companion, as I take those private tours through the city of love. That's just not possible right now.

However, I have traveled to Italy, France (twice), Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Scotland over the last few years. What I'll tell you is this: If I had to wait until I could afford hotel rooms that serve breakfast (never mind champagne) and take taxi's and be able to do every touristy thing that the Lonely Planet suggests I do, I'd never have set foot off on the European continent.
Here are some of my ways that I managed these glorious trips on a tight South African Rand budget:

Flights: Book early, go low season, be flexible, shop around!

Pack that extra scarf and jacket and go low season, if you're wondering when high season is look at the school calender. So if you can, try to get your Europe swirl in before the entire Northern hemisphere go wild for summer vacation. It might be cooler yes, but you'll pay less in airfare and have a more pleasant time in the tourist hot spots (that will be too hot later on anyway).
Also, don't just rely on Kayak and Skyscanner to produce the cheapest airfare. It's time consuming but well worth your while to check a few individual sites. (Try all the middle Eastern flights!)
Don't be afraid of stop overs, not flying direct is almost always cheaper. See it as part of the adventure.
(My stop over in Saudi Arabia sure was)

Accommodation: Look beyond the Hilton and Holiday Inn!

We've mostly traveled using Home4Exchange, basically like the movie 'The Holiday'. So basically, accommodation is free, provided that you'll offer free accommodation in your home or summer home. This is also a great way to be in part of the culture, away from the tourist area bubble.
My favorites;  the cutest Parisian apartment two blocks from the Eiffel Tower view, a cozy cottage in rural Scotland with the greenest rolling hills I've ever seen, an art studio in Bern Switzerland. 
The best part is you'll have your own kitchen, score. Self catering is the only way to go if you want to afford Western Europe!
If you don't have a home to swap out, then look into Couchsurfing.

Fine Dining: Pack a few Cliff bars and nuts. Go self-catering and plan a few splurges in between.

Part of my European experiences have been to wonder around the local grocery store, doesn't sound as exciting as wondering around a palace I know, but you'll be surprised at what you can find (and can't find).  My mom and I once spent a good half an hour searching for eggs in Antibes.
Another time in a Paris grocery store we heard Mariam Makeba's Pata Pata blasting through the speaker. If you don't know what song I'm referring to then YouTube it right now!
Also, embrace the street food! The sausages I had in Zurich was probably some of the best meals I had on that trip.
Keep in mind there's no shame in a McDonald's happy meal if it means wine and creme brulee at a sidewalk cafe of lovers and poets the next evening.

Side note on grocery stores: Buying Scottish shortbread as gifts for those sad souls who stayed home is much much cheaper at the local Scottish grocery store than in the Souvenir shop next to a Castle. Same goes for Swiss chocolate, but don't tell anybody that's what I did!

Attractions of Touristic value: Research and plan plan plan! Let go of what you're 'supposed' to do.

I've traveled through Venice without taking the gondola ride, I only went up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, I only saw the outside of Edinburgh  castle.
And you know what, I'm so totally okay with that! Not doing those few things meant that I could do dozen other lesser known things.
This also means more time to do said other things because you're not spending your precious time in zig-zag-forever queues to do one thing.
Side note: Eiffel Tower- Get in that line before they even open! It's the only way people.

Do your research, there might be days or times that certain places are free or closed, and you'd like to know about both right?
Example: Not sure if this is still true but the Louvre is free one Sunday every month. So get all over that if you'd like.
It helps to know what you'd like to see, make your priorities and then only price out if a 'city pass' or 'tourist pass' is worth it.

Getting Around: Brave the public transport and pack your comfy shoes (and no! not Crocs! never ever Crocs)

Taking a taxi is just so unbelievably expensive that I cry a little just thinking about it. So, say hello to the Tube or Metro or what ever it is at hand. Don't be afraid, just do it. If you're not sure ask a few people for direction until you feel confident.
Besides, getting on the wrong train in Europe at least once is basically a mandatory experience.
If you're fancy is to be traveling through the smaller towns then consider car hire.
Keep in mind: Check their one-way drop off fees, adding another driver fees and if you need unlimited miles or less per day. These things can add up fast. 
Lastly:  Take advantage of the free stuff that will enhance your experience. Like:

Being intentional about being in the moment.
Travel with all five senses. Take time to stop and smell the roses, or fresh baked French loaves, listen to the lovers quarrel in Italian two tables away, with both hands splash some cool water from a fountain on your face, taste something you've never tried before, look down alley ways and observe the old lady water her windowsill flowers.
Go for long walks around the city, take the long way back.
Talk to locals whenever you can, test you're 'how are you' in Spanish,  keep a smile on your face.
(It's always funny to me to see how miserable tourist look at times, even on gondola rides?!? why?)
Go hang out in the parks.
Take as many photos as your memory cards will allow, but then also put the camera away and just be there. This is always the hardest part for me. 

Oh wait this is lastly lastly: Rethink souvenirs! Especially if it's 'made in China' (expect of course if you are buying souvenirs while in China).
Also, be sure to leave a lot (I mean a lot) of extra space in your suitcase. Paying excess fees at the end of your trip for all the magnets, Venice masks, chocolate (because there will be chocolate), I-was-here-t-shirts is just no fun. No fun at all, I tell you.   

So there you have it, from my experiences. I'm dreaming of the day when I get to go put these tips of mine to use again.

Linking up with Found Love, Now What and A Compass Rose for Travel Tuesday.

Found Love. Now What?


  1. And get lost at least a few times. Preferably on foot. Like it. :)

    1. of course! How did I forget that!? There would no point otherwise.

  2. Hi Lanette, great tips! They're not only good for the budget but they're also good for getting to experience more of the local life. I love traveling in Europe in off season not only because it's cheaper but also because it's not crowded and easier to get into the swing of the local scenes. I also love using public transpo because I feel one with the locals and it also provides opportunity for local interactions. And walking around is the best way to experience the city. And super great point about the souvenirs that are mostly made in China (you really crack me up on this one:) Delightful post!

    1. Yes definitely, if I think back on my trips there it's really the walking around that are sweet memories. The public transport memories too, are so colorful!

  3. hi :)
    Found your blog on the travel tuesday link-up, and...
    1. These tips are super-cool and really helpful, thanks!
    2. Your photos. Breath-taking!

    1. Aw blush! Thanks for your sweet comment Erica!

  4. Wow, what the wonderful experience narrated beautifully! Sounds has wonderful travel experience holder of many countries. I glad that found your blog. such you have an interesting account.

  5. Such great tips! I loved what you said about attractions and what you see. When we were in Paris last we saw a few but not everything on our list, however what we did see is not on everyone usual paris list. And then we spent a lot of time just being locals by having a picnic in the park near the flat we were renting for the weekend. Its so nice to not be stuck in a tourist line and just experience the culture organically. Great post. Thank you for linking up with Belinda and I for Travel Tuesday!

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

  6. These are great tips. Unfortunately, as a teacher in the uk I've always been restricted to school holidays when flights and acommodation are expensive. Next year I will be on maternity leave so I can look out for cheap flights but I might not be quite so adveturous when it comes to where I travel with a new born. I've never done a home swap. I can just never get away with the idea if strangers in my home. I wish I could because it seems like a great way to travel cheaply. I go however, love websites like airbnb and I rarely stay in hotels these days. Xx