My three week long whirlwind trip through Europe with my high school graduating class was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. I have always had a bit of wanderlust and wanted to go back, but something was always holding me back from travelling, whether it was a job, an apartment or money issues. This year I decided to just go for it. However, once I made the decision to travel, I was quickly overwhelmed by all of the decisions and preparations I had to make. I only started seriously planning a few weeks ago but I already learned a lot from friends and professionals about how to do Europe for as little money as possible. So if you are considering planning a similar trip this spring or summer, it is not too late to start.
How do I decide where to go?
Europe is a big place. Clara Soares, manager of both the Concordia and McGill branches of Travel Cuts: Canada’s Student Travel Experts, recommends using travel books to start researching where you want to go. Many guidebooks have sample routes and itineraries for first-time visitors and according to Soares it is also really helpful to look at the itineraries of European tours, like the ones offered by Contiki, for good ideas about what routes you could take.
You should also think about what type of trip you want to have. Do you want to spend your days on the beach or spend it going to museums? Do you want to stay in big cities or in smaller towns to get the local experience? Once you have an idea of where in Europe you would like to go, you are ready to book your flight.
How should I get there?
Keep in mind that the earlier in the spring you travel, the cheaper flights will be. If you are flying in May or June, you should be able to get a round-trip flight for under $800. In July and August everyone is taking their vacations, so flights, among many other things, cost much more. Toni Mete, a travel agent with Sears Travel, says that the cheapest places to fly into from Montreal are the cities that are the furthest west in Europe: Paris and London. Look on sites like Expedia and at individual airlines to find the dates and prices that work best for you. Air Transat’s website has a feature where you can put in the approximate dates you want to fly and they show you all the cheapest fares on or around the dates you requested, so you can pick the least expensive flight.
One thing I didn’t consider until doing some research is that itÂ can often make sense to fly in and out of different airports. I planned to fly into Paris but did not want to make my way all the way back at the end of my trip. So instead, I booked a flight into Paris and another that flew out of Barcelona. It was only marginally more expensive and saved me a whole day of train travel. Once you have your flight booked, you can start deciding how to fill your time.
How much is this going to cost?
The cost of your trip can vary greatly depending on the kind of trip you are planning. Will you be eating at restaurants every meal? Will you be staying in hostels or hotels? How long do you want to travel for? It’s pretty easy to estimate a budget once you answer these questions and do a bit of research. You can estimate that you will need about $100 a day for accommodation, food, attractions and other miscellaneous costs. This is not an exact formula and there will always be unforeseen costs, so it is a good idea to add on a couple of hundred dollars to your budget.
How do I get prepared?
There are a few essential things you need when travelling abroad. The first is an up-to-date passport and the next is travel insurance. You want to make sure that if you get sick or have an accident while you are away that you are covered. You can get travel insurance online or with the help of a travel agent. If you are travelling for about a month, you should not have to pay more than $100. Soares, who works directly with students at Travel Cuts, also suggests getting the international student identification card. The card, which is recognized worldwide, gets you discounts on everything from flights to museums. Keep in mind that your Concordia ID might not be accepted everywhere as proof that you are a student. You can pick up the ISIC card for free at the Travel Cuts office.
Where should I stay?
If you want to spend as little as possible and meet a lot of people along the way, the best place to stay is in youth hostels. When I first started planning my trip, I had no idea how hostels worked, having never stayed in one before. I was not sure if you had to book them in advance or if you just show up and hope they have a bed for you. I did not know if you have to sleep in a room with 20 other people. To help answer my questions, one of my friends recommended www.hostelbookers.com, where they have user reviews of thousands of hostels worldwide. Though it is an option to show up in a city and find a hostel with no planning, I preferred the idea of doing some research beforehand to find the best deals on hostels that were clean and in the ideal locations.
Hostelbookers and other hostel review sites ask you to enter the city and date you are travelling and then they show you all the available hostels sorted by rating, price or location. Each hostel has a rating breakdown with factors like cleanliness, fun, atmosphere and safety. In terms of pricing, you can pay as little as $15 or as much as $80 a night per person depending on what kind of room you want. Most hostels have both dorm rooms and private rooms. Dorm rooms, which hold as many as 30 guests, are generally cheaper than private rooms, which can be for one to six people. Some hostels have rooms with their own bathroom while in others you will have to share with your entire floor.
If you are looking to party, there is usually one hostel in every major city that is known for being the most fun place in town. To find them, check out www.famoushostels.com. These places are usually big and often have bars or clubs in the building. Family-run hostels are another alternative that appeal to those who want to feel at home and you end up becoming friendly with the owners. Based on my research, $40 per night limit for accommodations seems to be plenty if you are looking for a clean, well-located hostel.
How to get around?
Depending on where you travel within Europe, you can drive, fly or take trains between cities. I was told early on in my planning that taking the train was the best way to see the European countryside and that it was an experience on its own. Not to mention, buying a rail pass is one of the most economical options if you will be travelling in different countries. The Eurail Pass is valid in 22 European countries and offers unlimited train travel for 15 days to two months. You can get a global pass, which lets you go wherever you want, or a select pass if you’re only going to 3-5 countries.
However, according to Mete, sometimes you do find cheap airfare online for intercity flights within Europe. So, If you want to jump from one city to another further one, flying is sometimes a better option. If you are willing to fly early in the morning or later in the evening you can find inter-European flights for as little as $50.
Once you get all this organizing out of the way, you get to focus on the fun stuff, which is what you should do once you get there. I currently have a teetering stack of travel books on my bedside table about every city and country I’m visiting. The beauty of organizing your own trip is that you can plan as little or as much as possible in advance but be sure to leave a free day in every city you visit to see things that the locals or other travellers recommend.
Travel Cuts is located inside the Hall building. There you can get an international student identification card, get travel insurance, books flights or find answers to any general travel inquiries you have.
Step 1- Head to the library to pick up some travel books so you can decide where to visit
Step 2- Try to be flexible with your travel dates to find the cheapest flight possible
Step 3- Make a budget using the $100 a day formula
Step 4- Make sure your passport is up to date and pick up your international student identification card
Step 5- Take time to read hostel reviews before booking at hostelbookers.com
Step 6- Research your rail pass options at eurail.com