The Key to European Budget Travel

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I get asked very often how I've been able to afford to travel so often to so many places (so far a tally of 25 countries outside the UK). After a few long haul trips (not more than one per year, and not every year) I think many people have assumed I'm always flying long haul and therefore paying for long haul airfares. In actual fact most of my travel is within Europe, and despite recent financial troubles in the Eurozone, I still manage to do it fairly cheaply.

So what is the key to keeping costs down? One word: FLEXIBILITY.

By leaving your options open, casting your net a little wider and thinking creatively, it is possible to travel for a lot less:

    1. Be flexible with airports - I live very close to Glasgow International airport. Many of the Mediterranean destinations served by Glasgow International are also offered by budget airlines at Glasgow Prestwick, often for a lot less if you are book at the right time. Likewise, Edinburgh and Manchester airports are also easily accessible with rail (and a subsequent bus, soon to be tram connection for Edinburgh), and while slightly more inconvenient than a Glasgow airport, they offer many more connections. Most Scottish people wouldn't think to go to Manchester (and likewise many in the North of England wouldn't think to come up to Scotland), but taking it into account when booking a flight can make things A LOT cheaper - for example just now I'm trying to book a flight to Berlin. Even with the train fare (which is cheap if booked in advance, especially with a railcard) the flight with Easyjet is over half as cheap as the same destination flying from Glasgow. Do you know your "local" airports?

      Visiting Krakow in December 2011 with fellow IAESTE Scotland members 

      - one of the many Eurpean trips we have made on a budget.

      1. Be flexible with airlines - When I flew to Brazil, I had to first fly to Munich to meet Macio. Usually flying to Munich I go for the EDI-MUC Easyjet connection, taking only hand baggage. On this occasion I was taking hold baggage, and it actually worked out to be about the same price to fly with KLM than it was with Easyjet. When I took into account the train and bus fare to Edinburgh, it was actually cheaper (and more convenient) to fly with KLM from Glasgow than fly with a budget carrier. You can research what airlines fly to a destination simply by looking up the local or destination airport on wikipedia. Know your carriers and what they charge!
      2. Be flexible with dates - Fairly straightforward. Flights in the middle of the week tend to be cheaper, as well as away from major holidays and events. Avoiding high season is also a good idea: in Scotland we have different school holidays than England, so many people go away at the start of July, before English schools have broken up as prices are usually cheaper. Likewise I took a trip to Malta one Easter, which landed the first week of the tourist season. Not only were flights and accommodation cheap, the islands were really quiet, there were a lot of Easter related things happening which were interesting to see, and the climate at that time was not to great a shock after infrequent snow showers at home in the weeks before. Unless you are constrained by dates, be open to flying out at any time.
      3. Be flexible with baggage - This one is pretty simple: do you really need to take hold baggage? If not, the rule of thumb is that it is typically cheaper to fly with a budget airline and not add hold baggage. Be familiar with their cabin baggage regulations before you fly so you don't get caught out at the airport. Learn how to pack effectively, roll your clothes and maximise your wardrobe by making sure everything matches. If you are staying for more than one week, remember it will be much cheaper to find a laundromat (or friend's washing machine) than it will be to pay for baggage. Ask yourself the question: do I need to take this?

    My faithful blue backpack goes with me whenever I go onto the 

    continent - I have never had problems with airlines regarding 

    the size and it will carry everything I need for a week.

    1. Be flexible with accommodation - If you are going to be spending most of your day exploring a locale and getting to know the people really well then do you really need a 3-star (or more) hotel, with pool, entertainment and catering? Not only does that all cost money, it is likely to be a distraction from the place you have paid good money to see. Alternatives such as hostels, CouchSurfing or staying with friends, not only cost less (or are free!), but offer greater opportunities to see the countries in an authentic way and meet new people. All you need is somewhere to sleep!
    2. Be flexible with transportation - Thinking of hiring a car? Think again! Car hire can be expensive from the word go. Figure in fuel, parking and tolls it can quickly add up. I once took a road trip with a friend, going from Dresden to the Benelux, with my friend having a job interview in the Netherlands, with transportation costs being reimbursed as a result, making it a very cheap road trip. On the other hand a few days road trip from Munich to Verona via Salzburg, Liechtenstein and the Bodensee this January was only out of our own pocket but the added costs, long hours of driving and really bad weather just added to our stress. Instead consider other alternatives such as an Inter-rail pass, coach and budget airlines for long distance travel, and local rail, bus and tram networks for short distances (and be familiar with what ticketing options are available). Germany in particular has a good system of group rail tickets, where people will actively come and ask you where you are traveling in the hopes of sharing the costs of a group ticket with you. Similar arrangements can also be made onlineLook into different transportation methods and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

      My first trip to Munich in 2010 - group train tickets are the

      way forward when traveling with (or without friends).

    3. Be flexible with your spending prior to going away - In other words start saving money! This is an important one. While a lot of my friends at uni were going out  partying every week, indulging in retail therapy or spending money on other things that weren't necessary purchases, I channelled most of my disposable income into travel. I also had a bit more disposable income as I lived with my parents (which has its advantages and disadvantages). Unlike a night out or the latest fashion, travel can and does stand out on a CV, and it's effects last longer than the next morning's hangover or the latest trend. Certainly there is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself on a night out or buying something you liked the look of, but if you want to travel (or do anything else for that matter) you need to ask yourself what you want most, and remember you can only spend money once. Never underestimate the effectiveness of prioritising your spending!

    So there are some pointed for bringing your initial costs down. Hopefully by following some of these simple guidelines you will be able to free up some funds for spending on cultural activities or even being able to afford to go away. I hope that this post will be helpful in planning your next trip. Remember that a smart traveller is a successful traveller!

    Joshua Wilkie

    Finished my studies in chemistry & chemical engineering, now working as a (hopefully soon) globetrotting field service engineer for a water treatment company. Travel to pass the long, wet, Scottish summers. And also make cheeky trips to "the Continent" (i.e. Europe) when I can. Fly long haul infrequently enough to enjoy it. Like to explore science and engineering related attractions while on the road - a trip down a mine is my favourite. Always love to travel on a whim too...



    0 # Surovi Salgado 2012-07-07 03:40
    I think you've listed out everything quite well! I've been to Europe a few time and I'd say pack ONLY what you need & have a list of things that you absolutely need to take with you; other things that girls tend to take like hair dryers, irons, curling irons etc are not needed because the weather is so awesome in Europe that you hair looks like you've stepped out of a magazine - always!
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    0 # Derek Freal 2012-07-07 03:11
    Yes, flexibility is very true!
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