As a college student, college graduate, or simply adventurous soul; you might be thinking “I’d really like to travel around Europe sometime soon,” but you have hesitated because you have limited knowledge of the insider tricks on how to conquer the continent in the most cost efficient and culturally exposing manner. Well fear not, you are no pioneer! Many, many, many people have trekked the journey before you! Here we have collected some good resources from our travels to help you along your way. No, this is not an entire guide book on exactly what to do where, but it does list money saving options that will still allow you to have a great trip.
Youth Hostels: They are decently cheap, usually located near the city center, and hey, you’re just sleeping there right? No need for a 5 star hotel that is only utilized for 8 hours a day. And we agree, youth hostels are a good option, but our advice is to only stay in youth hostels in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium) and Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, and Finland). Usehttp://www.hostelworld.com to locate good options. For example; a popular choice in Stockholm, Sweden is http://www.theredboat.com/, a youth hostel on a boat for about 30€ a night.
If traveling to France, Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) or Eastern Europe, we have four recommendations for you: 1) know somebody who lives there that you can stay with 2) http://www.couchsurfing.org/ if you are comfortable meeting new people and staying with them, this option is free! 3) http://www.servas.org is an organization that allows you to plan accommodations BEFORE YOU LEAVE and stay with natives in the country. This is similar to couchsurfing, but a little more reliable (and not entirely free), especially since you get to see a profile of your host before you even contact them. 4) If you are in Italy or France (between April-October) consider camping as an alternative as well. You get your own space and it is definitely warm enough to do so. In France, you can also find hotels that are outside of the city center for about 20€ a night.
2. Getting Around
Trains: In Europe, there are trains tracks that go literally everywhere. There are speed trains, night trains (with sleeping compartments) as well as just simple commuter trains. Yes, trains are an easy and reliable way to get from A to B, but they are not necessarily the cheapest. If you can’t see another way, http://www.interrailnet.com/ is usually the best option.
Flying: If you are more flexible with time and exact destination, we recommend flying. I know, you maybe think Europe is so small that trains should be better. But just check out the prices at, ryanair, easyjet, vueling, wizzair, (the best site for Eastern European flights), tuifly and germanwings. Sometimes you can get one way tickets for as little as 8€! This is much cheaper than the train, which can cost upward of 50-100€+ for a transcontinental ride. However, when using these discounted airline companies, keep in mind, that they usually only fly through smaller airports. You will end up a bit outside of the metropolitan area and will have to take a bus or shuttle to get into town. So add on an extra 10€ or so to your travel costs.
If traveling specifically in Germany you can use http://www.ltur.com/de/index.html to get last minute prices on flights, hotels, trains and other travel associated items. Train rides are sometimes as low as 19€. If you speak decent German, another option is http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/ which is a carpooling association where drivers post driving times and destination on the website, along with their phone number and you call them up asking if you can have a spot in their car. Depending on the destination, prices range from 10-35€. A good way to start the conversation if you are American and know little German is: ”Hallo mein Name ist —. Ich bin ein amerikanischer Tourist. Ich finde Ihr Angebot auf Mitfahrgelegenheit. Haben Sie einen Platz in Ihrem Auto?“
Cash: In Europe, don’t rely on credit cards; a street vendor won’t accept them. You can get cash from banks, hotels, or money-change bureaus, but they will charge commission. The best option is just to withdraw cash from a local ATM after you arrive. There may be a transaction fee or a fee from your bank for using a foreign ATM, but this is usually a relatively small percentage. Sometimes American banks also partner with European ones, and you can withdraw funds without any surcharge whatsoever (e.g. Bank of America and Deutsche Bank). Another thing to note is that a 10% (not 15-20%) tip is usually the norm at most European restaurants.
Food: Don’t underestimate lunch! Many European restaurants offer a lunch menu with almost the exact same dishes as dinner, but a little bit smaller and at half the price. Pricy multi-course dinners are not worth it, when you could be spending your money on seeing new and exciting things instead. Also, if you have a place to store a few things, go to a grocery store to buy a week’s worth of breakfast food at a time. Food is incredibly cheap at grocery stores, especially in Germany.
What to Bring: When traveling, it is always good to bring a variety of clothing, since Europe has several different climates and weather (we recommend a light rain coat, umbrella, good walking shoes, comfortable pants and shirts, a sweater, a good day bag and some sunglasses). With regards to clothes, also remember that Europe is very fashionable. Many countries pride themselves on their couture, so make sure that those good walking shoes are also very cute. It might also be a good idea to bring a dictionary or electronic translator in case you go to a country where not a lot of people speak English. An outlet converter can be necessary to charge your cell phone etc since voltage varies between countries. Additionally, never forget your camera!
4. Sneaky tricks on Tourist activities
Free days: most museums in Europe have a free day once or twice a month. Check online at your desired location to figure out when (usually Mondays or Tuesday are common, but it could be any day of the week). In Italy, there is an entire week which is free, check this web to find out when.
Drink: Depending on where you go, there are different cultural favorites. These favorites usually end up being your cheapest option, so be flexible! In Northern Europe the favorite drink is beer. In Southern Europe, wine in more common. Russia and Eastern Europe are known for their vodka and spirits.
Festivals: There are endless amounts of festivals in Europe. Go to a town during one, and you’ll meet gobs of people, native and foreign. In Germany, Oktoberfest is in Munich from late September to early October. In Spain, Feria de abril is in Seville for a week around Easter time. Festivals are a great opportunity to see cultural song and dance and eat traditional food at street markets.
5. Cultural Stereotypes
The French: Frenchmen have little patience and speak with a strong accent when they attempt to communicate in English. It is common to drink in the evening until 7PM, and then have dinner and extended after-dinner rounds of coffee and liquor. Clubbing starts at 11PM and continues until dawn. A lot of Frenchmen smoke. (Funny video about the French)
The German: Germans love beer and sausage (especially currywurst). They like to drive fast (parts of the autobahn freeway have no speed limit). Most Germans are very friendly, but you must be the one to approach them (they will not go out of their way to talk to you). (Funny video about the German)
The Spanish: Spaniards are friendly and often talk loudly. They love their afternoon siesta, and they don’t start partying until 1AM-3AM. The Spanish are really relaxed; don’t expect everyone or everything to be on time. (Check this advice)
The Italian: Italians are tanned and always shouting. To flirt, Italian men are very forward. Italians also starts partying very late at night and you have about a 50/50 chance that they speak decent English. (Funny advice about the Italian gestures)
The Swedish: Swedes are tall, blonde, skinny, naïve, usually very open to foreigners, and almost everyone speaks very good English. Alcohol is very expensive in Sweden. (Funny video about the the Swedish)
The British/Irish: They love Guinness beer and whiskey. There are thousands of different accents across Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. The British are sometime snobby when it comes to foreigners, but at least they speak native English. (Funny video about the British)
In Europe the emergency call number is 112.
If you are still looking for more in-depth advice on traveling in Europe, check out http://wikitravel.org/en/Europe.