A lot of people believe that since I keep on coming back to Europe, not to mention my numerous trips around Asia and the Philippines, then I have plenty, if not unlimited, financial resource to keep this lifestyle. I have corrected this misconception many times and will still answer it now. That is simply untrue. Like everyone else, I save, research, and travel wisely. My trips are always in a budget but without compromising my comfort and safety.
As of this writing, I have traveled to 22 countries. 23 if you count my numerous domestic trips in the Philippines. I know what you are thinking. How I could travel this much as a student? How could I maintain this lifestyle? In today’s post, I will share with you Where Monica Goes’ Hacks on how to Travel Cheaply Around Europe.
1. Apply for just one visa
As a third-world passport holder, there are many countries in the world that are not easily accessible to me without a valid visa. More often than not, these visa applications require fees, which could still cut me back a couple of dollars from my travel budget. Since I love going to Europe, a Schengen visa is the way to go. Currently, there are 26 member countries and 2 candidates for accession. Just imagine paying for just one powerful visa! UK and Ireland are beautiful destinations, but if they are not yet your priorities then applying for separate visas for these two are unnecessary. For Filipinos, here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Schengen tourist visa.
2. Maintain old friendships and create new ones
You may be wondering why this is included in this short list. In my experience, I have a lot of Filipino and foreign friends scattered around the globe. Despite the distance, we still keep in touch and promise that we will meet again someday. Well, some of my old friends are in Europe and you know what it means – free accommodation! Of course, it goes without saying that you should not keep or make friendships solely for this reason. READ: Change the Way You See Friendship.
3. Stay in a hostel, not a hotel
If you do not have friends in Europe yet or they are unavailable, save your travel funds and stay in a hostel. I understand you might have misgivings moving away from hotel accommodations you are used to, but trust my word that staying in a hostel has more rewarding experience. Pay for a €10 dorm bed in a hostel and spend the rest of your money with activities and food. READ: Top Must-try Food in Germany. Traveling cheap and in a budget does not have to be uncomfortable, you know. Hostels in Europe, from my experience, are cool and safe even for single and female travelers. Why pay for an expensive hotel room when most of the day will be spent outdoors? Travel cheaply, sleep cheaply!
Of course, you can also try Couchsurfing and learn the culture from within – instant friends, personal guides and FREE accommodation!
4. Travel with a group
Well, they say the more the merrier! That may be true, but traveling with someone or in a group can also make trips cheaper. Not only do I have someone to share accommodation, food and other expenses with, but my transportation cost can also be lessened. How? In Europe, there are a lot of cities and countries that reduce fare price for group traveling. In Munich for instance, a 24-hour unlimited public transportation for a single person costs €6,40 while a group ticket for up to five adults only costs €12,20. So invite your friends to join you to travel cheaply on your next European trip!
5. Use public transportation
I think it goes without saying that when you are in a foreign land, you should not use taxis unless it is very necessary. If you can help it, walk or cycle around Europe. On one hand, strolling around the continent is free, just wear your most comfortable shoes. On the other, many cities offer one-hour free bicycle use. Rental is also cheap. But if you are covering great distance or simply tired from walking, I highly recommend using reliable public transportation.
One of the things that make me love Europe so much is its fast, safe and reliable public transportation. Of course, fares seem expensive compared to what we have in the Philippines and other developing countries, but I will share you how I was able to travel cheaply around Europe with these important travel hacks.
I. Train Rides
Back home, I usually don’t take trains. For me, they are slow, always late, overcrowded, and unsafe. In Europe, I love them and they are my #1 choice of transportation. They are fast, efficient, and on-time. They have clean coaches, comfortable seats, and large space. You can even take your bicycles, baby trolleys, and dogs with you! But they are not cheap. After my first-ever trip to Europe, I learned ways how to get train tickets cheaply and did not commit the same mistakes again in my succeeding visits. Here’s how.
Österreichische Bundesbahnen or the Austrian Federal Railways offers Sparschiene (saving rail) or discounted tickets. Instead of paying €90 euros for a one-way trip from Vienna to Frankfurt, I can wait for Sparschiene offers in the company’s website and grab affordable tickets available at €29 or €39. More than 50% off, right?
TIP: Use ÖBB’s main website or mobile app to get Sparschiene tickets. Better book in advance as there is only a limited number of inexpensive offers available per trip. Don’t forget to print your ticket!
Bahn Card (Train Card)
As mentioned, traveling with train is really the fastest way to get from one place to another. However, train rides in Europe are not cheap. In some places, it could be even diamond-expensive! Yeah, I sometimes exaggerate, but you get my drift. For instance, my 3-day pass in Switzerland cost me €195. For frequent train users, I suggest getting a bahn card or train card. Many European countries have this service but in different names. For instance, I have the Austrian Vorteilscard as well as German’s Deutsche Bahn Card. My Austrian card enables me to travel with trains around Austria (and sometimes in other countries) with 50% discounted price while my German card gives me 25% off only.
TIP: I highly recommend purchasing a bahn card if you will stay longer in one country or would really travel around with trains.
II. Car rides
If you want to travel and meet new people along the way, you should try carpooling in Europe. Back home, they have a different notion of carpooling and I hope it will change soon. In Europe, people can travel with strangers if they are going to the same direction. Blabla Car is famous for this. It is a ride sharing website which allows everyone to travel with others and share the cost. For instance, from Göttingen to Berlin costs only €19 per person compared to a train ride with DB of €30.
TIP: Ensure your contact information is correct when you book your ride with Blabla Car. Also, contact your driver and make sure that you understand and agree for the pick-up point.
For a FREE ride, you may also try hitchhiking your way around the Continent. Not sure if it applies all over Europe, but Germany has friendly drivers who can take you in.
III. Bus rides
Recently, this has been my favorite way to travel around Europe. A lot of my foreign and European friends prefer to use trains because they are fast and well connected, so it is only this year that I started taking bus rides. I wish I had done so earlier.
Aside from hitchhiking, this is the favorite way of my fellow exchange students to travel around – Flixbus. It is a German’s start-up bus company, which now offers 900 destinations in 20 countries. It is very affordable compared to Sparschiene and Bahn card discounts. It takes longer though, sometimes twice the time for a train ride. Well, you get what you pay for. On a positive side, Flixbus offers comfortable rides, free luggage allowance, toilet, snack bar, power outlet, and the most important of all – free WiFi!
How cheap: From Frankfurt to Amsterdam, I got a one-way ticket for €11,11. I booked it during a promo since the regular rate is €25, but it is still cheaper than a train ticket of €120 with Deutsche Bahn. Amsterdam to Brussels regularly costs €9, while Frankfurt to Vienna is only €33.
TIP: Download the app to have hassle-free and paperless travels.
Flixbus seems to have a new rival starting this year – Hellö. This is a very new Austrian bus company under ÖBB. I was lucky to learn about it few days after it started operating this July. It features comfortable and spacious seats, free luggage allowance, mobile apps, power outlets, toilet and a snack bar. Like Flixbus, it offers free WiFI but unlike the former, Hellö has uninterrupted Internet connection after crossing country borders.
Currently, it has a starting promo of having €15 for almost all of its routes! Promo ends in September and until seats last. Some of its routes include Vienna to Frankfurt, Vienna to Venice, Innsbruck to Zurich, etc. It is crazy cheap! Hellö offers €15 for Vienna-Frankfurt while €33 for Flixbus. I wished Hellö were already operating before I went to Venice!
TIP: Try this out until the promo lasts.
PLUS POINT: Student Semester ticket
As I have mentioned in my previous post (READ: Welcome to Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany), the only thing I paid in my German education is the semester ticket. This costs €250 for international students. Is it expensive? You may think so at first. But if you consider not paying any tuition fee in Germany (I paid my full tuition fee in my university back home though), this is really a steal. Also, once I tell you the benefits of this ticket, you would want to offer your Euros in exchange for this.
Basically, a semester ticket allows students from my university to travel around the area of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund – RMV for free. Yes, we students can take buses, trams, subways, metros, and even IC/EC trains of DB Fernverkehr within the semester and is valid for full seven months entirely free.
For instance, Frankfurt is only one hour away from my university in Marburg, but a one-way ticket for the slowest train possible is around €20. Because we are traveling for free, we can go to Frankfurt at least once a week and do sightseeing and shopping there.
TIP: If you are studying in Philipps Universität Marburg as well, always travel with your semester ticket! Try your best to travel to all cities and locations in the ticket as well.
These are my major travel hacks on how I am able to roam around Europe with a student budget. Remember, it does not have to be a luxurious trip just so there is something to boast back home or follow where everyone is going. There are numerous ways on how to make a European trip affordable and comfortable without cutting all your savings. I hope these tips help. Come back here for more travel tips, guides, and itineraries in Europe and beyond. You can also subscribe to Where Monica Goes via email to get the latest updates straight to your email.