’Tis the season of travelling far and wide (and making your cash go even further)
Summer is when a lot of young people travel solo or in groups to pricey Europe. In either case, there are plenty of painless ways to spend less and enjoy yourself more.travel Updated: Apr 27, 2018 11:20 IST
Maximise the fun and minimise the bills with these tips for your next Europe trip, whether going alone or with your band of besties.
SCORE THE BEST STAY
Solo: Do what you like, stop anywhere for as long as you like — solo trips have a lot of advantages. The one big disadvantage is that you can’t split hotel room bills. There’s usually a prohibitive single supplement (a charge for staying in a double room alone) that can make it hard to find a nice hotel room in a central location.
The one obvious answer is to get a hostel bed (approximately €20 per night per bed, or equivalent amount outside the euro zone), if you’re looking to spend most of the day being out and about, coming back to the room only to kip down. It may sound tedious to stay in a six-bed dorm, but you’d be surprised at how peaceful these rooms can be. It’s an unwritten rule of hostel dorms, especially in Europe, that guests should be quiet while in the room, and most people respect this rule. At the same time, your roomies, if they speak English, would be open to a little friendly chit-chat, if you show an interest in them.
Most major hostel chains, such as Meininger and Wombats in mainland Europe, or the YHA in the UK, have efficiently run, very well-located establishments, with very reasonably priced breakfasts (about €6), so you can be all topped up in the morning when going out — but please do respect the hostel rule of not packing your lunch from the breakfast buffet.
The one thing you need to look out for when booking a hostel bed is whether there’s a locker in the dorm. Some hostels have individual lockers, some don’t. If you only have a backpack, not a lockable suitcase, and are worried about valuables when you’re out of the room, then a locker would ensure peace of mind. Good websites such as Hostelworld.com have filters and a detailed list of facilities for every establishment that let you pick the perfect place based on specific needs.
Not happy with a dorm bed? There are boutique hostels that have small but well-furnished single rooms, which cost about 25% less than a hotel room at the same location. We found the beautiful Hostal Girona in Barcelona (€78 for an en suite single room) that was bang in the middle of the cool L’Eixample district and a 10-minute walk from Barcelona city centre. In a similar price range was Blanc Guest House, within walking distance of the world-famous La Sagrada Familia. If you e-mail such a place directly, depending on the season and the number of room nights, it’s possible to bag a really good deal.
Group: For travellers who’re in a group, finding a great place is easy-peasy. Four-bed family dorms or six-bed dorms with attached bathrooms mean both privacy and a great location at a highly affordable price. Two or three double rooms in a hotel at a similar location would cost way more.
If you don’t want a hostel and prefer a place more like a home, try out serviced apartments and highly rated bed & breakfast places. Apartments don’t work out so well for single tourists, but for groups, they’re fantastic. For a visit to Prague, one of Europe’s most desirable destinations right now, we loved the charming and very friendly B&B named Lida Guest House (from 2,200CZK / €85 for a triple room), about 4km from the city centre, or, even closer to the Old Town, the tastefully done up Prague 1918 Apartments, where the rooms are basically independent studio apartments, each with a fully equipped kitchen (about 21,000 CZK, equal to €825, for five adults for a four-night accommodation in the studio named Republic).
In central London, one of the most expensive places in Europe, we found a comfy two-bedroom house named Rosary Gardens at posh Kensington, and the price for four nights for four guests was about £880 in peak season, lower than good hotels in comparable locations.
TACKLE THE TRANSFERS
The great thing about Europe is that the countries are tiny, which means a mere three-hour ride can take you from one capital city to another. While Eurail has a great network, the passes are expensive and the rules can be a bit complicated. For instance, the Eurail four-country select pass with a two-month validity costs €344 for any five days’ travel — each day is counted as midnight to midnight; within each 24-hour span, a traveller can take as many trains as they want. That’s all very well, but what if you want to travel more often and between more countries over these two months?
Try an intercity bus, instead. The ride will be less scenic, but not very long, and much cheaper. Regiojet (Student Agency) and FlixBus have intercity rides at super-affordable prices – a ride between Budapest and Vienna can cost as little as €20. So five such rides would cost about one-third of a rail pass. Eurolines, one of Europe’s biggest bus networks, has passes for unlimited travel for validity periods of 15 days (€225) or 30 days (€340). However, each time you reserve a seat for a ride, there’s a reservation charge of about €4. So, 10 such bus rides over a month would work out to an average of €38 for a pass-holder, still quite a good deal considering the company’s extensive network and the freedom to choose timings. The pass prices for under-26 travellers are much lower.
Since time is money on a holiday, you might want to look at shared taxi rides, aka shuttle services, such as CK Shuttle (about €30 one way per seat), which ferries tourists from Vienna and a few other cities to the historical town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic – the town centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Such a service would cost a bit more than an intercity bus, but can be far more convenient and much faster when reaching the smaller towns of Europe.
SIZE UP THE SIGHTSEEING
If you’re visiting several countries within a short time, and don’t have the time to book everything separately, one perfect way to kill two birds with one stone — stay and transfers — is to buy a package from an operator like Cosmos, which has vacations in various price ranges, and then skip all the optional tours. That takes care of your hotel stay and intercity travel, maybe gives you a free half-day coach tour by the operator, and then leaves you free to do your own thing.
These optional tours are a bit of a scam; each tour costs about five times what it would if you were to use the perfectly good public transport available in most European cities and buy the entry ticket yourself. Unless someone is infirm or very easily confused, optional tours are unnecessary. While planning your own sightseeing, look at combo tickets such as the Frankfurt Card (€10.50 for one day, and €15.50 for two days) that give you unlimited city commute and entry fee discounts at several tourist attractions. Most European cities have cards like that. The Paris Visite pass (€38.35 for five days) is particularly attractive.
LIVE IT UP!
Want to celebrate with all that cash you’ve saved? Skip the overpriced downtown bars and pop into a youth hostel, even if you aren’t staying there. Check at the reception if outside guests are allowed at the hostel’s bar — most chain hostels have one, and happy hours are usually much better at these places.