It goes without saying that you need to save up before any trip (unless you’re rich and have an endless amount of disposable income, in which case, I hate you). Every peso counts. You don’t need that overpriced cup of Starbucks. You don’t need to party every weekend. You don’t need that new cellphone.
It’s all about priority. If travel is not your priority then you will ALWAYS have an excuse to defer it and spend your money elsewhere. I made my travel dreams happen because I desperately wanted them to come true. I was willing to sacrifice everything to be able to afford traveling.
Once you’ve saved up enough money for your trip, it’s time to get things rolling.
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. There is a plethora of travel information available for everyone. Google is your friend. If you want to know how to apply for a tourist visa, just type in “how to apply for a tourist visa in France/UK/Japan etc.” and there it is. If you want to know where the cheapest place to stay in Paris is, just enter “cheap hostels/hotels in Paris.” It’s not rocket science.
2. BOOK IN ADVANCE.
Everything is cheaper if you book in advance. The earlier the better. Just make sure that there will be minimal or no charges in case you need to cancel any bookings.
For accommodations, most booking.com properties have a “book now/pay when you stay” policy so even if your trip is three months away, book immediately because the rates get higher as your travel dates approach. You will pay the booking rates and not the higher rates on the actual dates of your stay.
If you will be traveling to different cities/countries across Europe, book flights with budget airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir. I haven’t tried RyanAir personally, but EasyJet is pretty decent as far as budget airlines go. Think of it as the Cebu Pacific of Europe. They don’t serve you food but they have snacks that you can purchase on board. The leg room is minimal, but you will only be flying for about an hour, so just suck it up and read the in-flight magazine to pass the time.
Also, it’s cheaper to travel during off-peak season. We went there in March when it was still freezing, but everything was a lot cheaper than going to Europe during their summer months (June-August). We had our ukay ukay (thrift shop) jackets to protect us from the cold so we survived.
3. STAY IN HOSTELS.
Embrace the dormitory lifestyle! Don’t let all the horror stories discourage you from staying in a hostel, but make sure to check the hostel’s reviews before booking. Most hostels have this cool/hip/backpacker vibe so if that’s not your thing then you’re better off staying in a budget hotel.
If sharing a room with a bunch of strangers makes you uncomfortable, some hostels also offer private rooms but that will be a bit more costly than a dorm bed. Make up for the cost by choosing hostels with free amenities like WiFi, laundry, hair dryer, etc. Find one that offers free buffet breakfast or at least a kitchen where you can prepare your own food.
4. JOIN FREE WALKING TOURS.
Many tour groups offer walking tours for most major European cities. I suggest trying Sandeman’s Tours. The tours are free and you are under no obligation to give a tip unless you want to. They are fun and informative and the guides are really friendly, so at the end of the day you will actually want to give them money for their efforts. Just give what you think the tour was worth, and if you didn’t enjoy it at all you can just walk away.
5. BUY FOOD FROM THE GROCERY STORE/SUPERMARKET.
I cannot stress this enough. In Europe, Carrefour is KING. They have everything you need at really low prices. Buy some bread and cheese and make yourself a sandwich for breakfast instead of eating at a fancy coffeeshop. Make another sandwich and put it in your bag in case you get hungry while touring the city.
6. DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER.
This was something we learned a little too late. Growing up in Third World circumstances, we were taught that tap water is unsafe to drink and doing so would result in an upset stomach, or worse. This is not the case in Europe. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in most major areas. Switzerland boasts of the freshest tap water in the world, and in Italy there are water fountains everywhere that are perfectly safe to drink from.
7. BUY A TRAIN/BUS PASS.
If you will be staying in a city for at least three days, it is ideal to buy a train/bus pass to save on transportation costs. This pass will give you unlimited rides on local trains and buses. Not only will you save on fares, but this will also prevent the hassle of counting the exact change you need to pay upon boarding the train/bus. And if you get lost you can just take the next train/bus to anywhere without worrying how much all those rides would cost.
Note that there are certain rules to these passes. Sometimes the validity will only be until midnight of the third day, but sometimes the validity will be exactly 72 hours after you first used your ticket. Also, there are certain city zones where your ticket may not be valid. To be sure, ask the tourist information center for these rules before purchasing the pass.
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Europe is expensive and it won’t help if you keep converting the prices of everything into pesos. Follow these tips and you could save quite a lot. They may not be applicable to everyone, but I am a cheapskate at heart so as long as I can save some money I’m up for (nearly) anything. 🙂