I Did A 3 Week, 6 Country Trip To Europe For Under $2000 And This Is How You Can Too
As a traveler, you either have been to Europe, you’re currently there and you want to go there soon. Thousands of years of history, elaborate buildings, castles and palaces, the most stunning natural beauty, and some of the most good looking people on earth, what’s not to love?
The Euro, that’s what.
Europe isn’t very kind to the budget traveler, or so is one of the commonly held perceptions. Of course it’s true for the most part. But the good part is, it can be done. If you plan your trip well, let go of your luxuries, and become open to new experiences, you can do a budget trip to Europe too. Of course, if you have the luxury of time/money, planning to such great details isn’t needed and you can just wing it. But for most job-holding, middle class Indians, planning a Europe trip will yield the most bang for the buck.
Here’s how I did it.
1. Book your flights the first thing
Most people think that you should book your flights early because it’s cheap. Yeah, sure, flights booked early usually are cheap. I got my Hyderabad – Rome – Hyderabad flight for just about $800. But why booking a flight early is a good idea is because it gives you ample time to plan the rest of the trip. For me, a trip can be planned all you want but it becomes concrete when the flights are booked. That’s when shit gets real, travel dreams turn into actionable plans. I booked my flight 2 months in advance, which meant I had two months to get my VISA, plan my inter-Europe travel, research into places t0 visit, and book my stays.
2. Apply for the VISA at least a month in advance
To travel to Europe you need a Schengen VISA which covers 40+ countries in Europe (except UK and Ireland) The Schengen VISA demands a lot of documentation like proof of address, employment, and a detailed itinerary of your trip with booking details. Your documents can take a lot of time to be arranged. Don’t leave it to the last minute to apply for the VISA. Unexpected delays like a bank holiday, your HR’s delay in giving a letter of employment, a holiday in the VISA-giving country can delay your plans and affect your trip. Plus, applying sooner means you can go about it yourself by managing your time instead of depending on an agent. I applied for my VISA a month before my flight, without an agent, by simply spending a week to arrange my documents and then going to the VFS office in Bengaluru. Read up on the document requirements thoroughly, make a checklist on your phone, and tick off items as you arrange them.
3. Book a combination of inter-Europe flights, buses and trains, in advance to get solid deals
Contrary to popular opinion, the best way to see Europe isn’t necessarily the Euro-rail, which can be extremely expensive, if a little more convenient. But if you’re pressed for time, and have got a better deal on a flight instead, (yes it happens.) by all means book flights. $20-$50 flights can be scored on carriers like Ryan, EasyJet and Viola if you book in advance. Also, local train companies from individual companies run promotions on specific routes from time to time, as do local bus companies like Megabus. For example, I managed to get a $1 bus between Amsterdam and Brussels in a limited time promo, and I booked it, even though I originally had no plans of including Belgium in my trip. Once your India to Europe and inter-Europe transport are booked well in advance, planning the rest of the trip becomes really easy.
4. Use a combination of Couchsurfing, AirBnB and hostels for your stay
Europe is one of the most Couchsurfing friendly places in the world. However, if you plan to Couchsurf in Europe, send requests well in advance ‘cuz most hosts get inundated with them, especially during the high season. Also, if you do get a Couch in Europe, know the exact address beforehand. If it’s too far from the main areas or difficult to get to, the money spent on transport will far outweigh the savings from a free accommodation. Europe is backpacker’s paradise for a reason so hostels ranging from $8 a night are easily available. You need to book them as a part of your VISA requirement too. If you’d like the convenience of a kitchen or a more localised stay without the awkward situation of asking someone for free accom, AirBnB is the way to go. You might just end up finding a great Victorian apartment with French roofs for less than a hostel. But hostels are great if you’re traveling solo, as you’ll find a lot of other travelers to hang with. Plus, I like that hostel owners usually double up as guides on best things to do, and see and usually offer deals for their guests.
5. Get on free Walking tours
Europe, especially countries like Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Netherlands are heavy duty travel destinations. But luckily this also means that sightseeing options are aplenty. Each major city in Europe offers free walking tours, the most popular being the Sandeman group, which are great to start your trip with. For 2-3 hours, you’ll walk with a group of people while a friendly ad articulate local guide walks you the city’s main tourist spots, with nuggets of its history and significance. These walking tours are not technically free as you’re expected to (and it’s nice to) pay the guides tips as per your own choice. Anything from $10 to $30 is a fair amount. Once you get an overview of a city from one of the walking tours, you can decide what you want to focus on later, and join in another planned activity.
6. Know when attractions offer free or discounted visits and plan accordingly
Tons of places in Europe are free or discounted on certain days of the week. For example Louvre Museum in Paris is 50% off on Fridays, and free every second Sunday. So for eg. if you can plan the Paris leg of your trip around those days, that’s a straight saving of $20-$30
7. Use your hostel kitchen to the max
If you’re staying in a hostel or AirBnB, you probably have a kitchen. Most hostels give a free breakfast that’s included in your tariff. Apart from ensuring you head out after having a full breakfast, you can make some basic things in the kitchen that can save up on expensive eating outside. Of course this doesn’t mean you don’t try local cuisines or experience local dining events in the city. By all means linger with a coffee at a street cafe in Paris and grab a gelato at the Colosseum, but when it’s just about getting filling yourself up and not the food per se, you can make a quick something from the hostel. Especially if you’re vegetarian and finding veg outside is difficult, you can heat ready to food, whip up a quick pasta or a fruit salad.
8. Travel with only a cabin baggage
Most people make the mistake of packing for weeks and carrying a big suitcase on a Europe trip. I carried a backpack and a handbag, and was good for 3 weeks. Not only is it extremely inconvenient to be lugging around your bags around the cobbled streets of Europe, it also costs big bucks. Most airlines within Europe charge extra for a check-in bag and that can pile up costs when you’re talking 5-6 flights. All you need is some good quality jeans, 4-5 tshirts and tops and a jacket to get through. Europe air is clean, so clothes don’t get dirty and you don’t sweat much. A change of clothes everyday is only a cosmetic requirement, not a necessity. You can carry a cabin bag of upto 7kgs on most airlines, and a laptop handbag. Keep heavy items like a camera in this bag.
9. Limit the shopping only to cheap souvenirs
As tempting it may be, there’s not much in Europe you can’t get back home. Most international brands are available in India today and at the same prices, even cheaper. So control that urge to buy the awesome oversized sweater from Zara in Madrid and visit Sarojini nagar on your trip to Delhi. It’s all made in Asia anyway. Though, yes, get souvenirs cuz those are the things you can only get in another country. I always pick up a $2-3 souvenir, usually a fridge magnet, from each new place I visit or I just fashion one from the free stuff. ( In Paris, I picked up a wine bottle corks and in Japan I took back some Sakura flowers.)
10. Exchange your local currency at a dealer beforehand.
Many people I know make the mistake of just withdrawing money from the ATM in Europe or worse exchanging money at the airport! Both options are bad, because ATM withdrawals abroad incur a heavy transaction fees and the money is exchanged at most unfavourable rates from your bank. Exchanging currency at the airport tantamounts to daylight robbery. While a local forex dealer, can give you a currency at less than 1% commission at current rates, an airport could do it for upto 5%. AVOID unless it’s an emergency.