Europe, the dream trip! But what with the falling rupee and the rising euro?
While Europe is one of most desirable destinations for Indians (thanks to YRF), it is not easy for young Indians and students to just pack their backpacks and hop on to the next flight. Europe can get quite expensive if you don’t plan and travel smartly. Budget is the need of the hour and here are few travel tips that I have compiled from my numerous trips to Europe.
- Start with finding a great airfare
Research, research and research. You can get really good deals if you look hard and know how to use search engines. Plan your trip and book your flight well early in time. Turkish Airways and Qatar Airways offer some great prices. Even Russian Airlines are quite reasonable and allow you a baggage that is enough to start a living in Europe. I have travelled twice with Turkish Airlines and my experience was fantastic; easily reliable, great food, friendly hostesses and a spectacular view of the Bosphorus while stopping over in Istanbul.
- Look for hotels with value, not frills
On your first trip to Europe, have a plan largely for the places you want to cover, but a hotel booking only for the city where you are landing. Book a place only while leaving the previous one, and for that http://www.booking.com/ is a great tool. Here, you can book cheap, safe and totally refundable accommodations and pay only when you arrive at the hotel. It has no pre-booking charges and is pretty reliable. Another great Hotel-cum-Hostel for young people, students or solo travellers is the famous German chain called Meininger (http://www.meininger-hotels.com/). It has a hotel/hostel facility and is located in six different European countries and is a great place for socialising with fellow travellers.
- Visit the local tourism board
That to me is the single most important tip I find when travelling in a foreign country for the first time. With not much time to do any research before visiting Western Europe this year, my friends and I perfected a little routine. We’d hop off the train, make a beeline for the tourist office, find out which walks/sights would fit in our day, get some maps and brochures and set off exploring on foot. It worked really well for small places as well as cities like Amsterdam and Brussels. The office staffs often give good tips on what can be avoided and where one can have a good meal. It often happens that they (and sometimes hostels as well) have information they you wouldn’t usually find in guidebooks. When I was travelling around Belgium, I found these ‘Maps by the locals’ (http://www.use-it.be/) which were absolutely brilliant in their recommendations and youthful style. Do try them if you ever go to Belgium!
- Travelling within Europe
Once you arrive for your first European vacation, you’ll confront the matter of transportation between cities and countries. Take advantage of rise of Europe’s budget airlines, including carriers such as easyJet and RyanAir. A good place online to start checking for budget airlines within Europe is Euroflights.info, which is organized by country and city. Simply click on an airport to find out how many budget airline options you’ll have in that place. Depending on where you plan to travel within Europe, acquire a Eurail pass. I found that if you are travelling in Eastern Europe it doesn’t save money because the tickets are so cheap, it’s better to buy them individually. In Western Europe it can help if you travel long distances, especially in countries like France and Switzerland where they’re so expensive.
- Pack smartly
Possibly the easiest thing to do when you want to pack lighter is to use a smaller bag – that way when your bag is full, it still won’t be too big. It is possible to travel with just the outfit you are wearing and thee-four others if you pick the right things. Pack your clothes in layers, so that you can mix and match later and accessorize it to make a great outfit. I take leggings & stockings which doesn’t take any space. You can even stuff them in handbags. Pack for all four seasons. The weather is very changeable in Europe. So always take sweaters /jumpers and leggings and a raincoat/sturdy umbrella!
- Find local food
Sometimes eating out is great. If you find a decent restaurant with authentic food, you get a window into the culture. Be sure to try the specials and native drinks. Don’t just order a hamburger. Not only will you be disappointed, you won’t be trying anything new. Going to grocery stores in other countries is very illuminating. Try and see what you find. It can be surprising and fun. Cooking on your own will also save money.
Special tip for vegetarians: People usually scar others by saying we don’t find veggie food. But I’ve seen the hidden treasures of veggie delights in all the villages/cities that I travelled. They will have baked beans, breads, vegetable / minestrone soups, baked / roasted potatoes and ample green veggies.
- Visit Europe in the off-season
You know that winter is not the time to visit European beaches, but perhaps you don’t know that there is serious money to be saved by visiting other attractions here in the so-called off-season. Venice in March? Paris in January? It might sound unorthodox, but many times lower airfares and hotel rates await those who are willing to travel to Europe in the off-season. Take a look at some of the advantages and plan for the potential pitfalls.
Every trip is unique in its own way, you just need to make sure that you have important things organised and first landing booked. Once you arrive, Europe is sure to take you on a roller-coaster ride.
Disclaimer: This article was first published on Women’s Web on January 1, 2014.