In decades past,Europe was a bargain for Americans travelers. The euro did not exist. The dollar was worth more than most European currencies,and the true age of backpacking from country to country with pocket change was at its height.
Even with worse exchange rates,it is still possible to take in the history,food and culture of European countries without breaking your budget.
As you plan your summer trip,here are some things to consider,whether you are a college student booking hostels and living on bread and cheese or a family trying to pinch a few euro cents.
How far to hop?
To stay within budget,choose places that are relatively close together. Your trip's cost will greatly increase if you want to hop around the whole of Europe in a short time. If you have less than a month,pick a region and hit all the places in that area. For your next trip,choose a different area. If you try to do too much,you'll end up broke and exhausted.
The great debate: Airlines vs. trains
There is no better way to find out what will be the cheapest option than a price comparison. Check rail passes. If you plan to take the train a lot,buying a pass is the way to go because individual train tickets add up quickly. Trains cost a lot more than you might expect,so compare them to airfares. I found the least-expensive airfares on Ryan Air and Easy Jet. Easy Jet is often a little more expensive,but it does not have a weight limit for baggage.
Is Ryan Air really that cheap?
When you are cruising for flights on Ryan Air and one pops up for 0.01 euro cent,it can be awfully tempting. But you will still be charged taxes,about 20 euros. Ryan Air flies into tiny airports at least an hour outside the city. The airports always have buses or trains into the city center,but that will add 15 to 20 euros to the price of your travel.
Weight limits on Ryan Air
Ryan Air has strict baggage weight limits (part of the reason its fares are low). Under the most recent regulations,the maximum for checked bags is 15 kilos (about 33 pounds) and 10 kilos (about 22 pounds) for carry-on luggage. The airline charges 8 euros for each kilo over the weight limit – five extra kilos means a 40 euro bill. Also,the weight limit is not per bag,it's per person.
How to book a hostel
You can book hostels online. I suggest hostelbookers.com. It offers the same services as other Web sites but doesn't charge a fee. You must pay a 10 percent deposit. If your plans change and you cancel by the hostel's deadline,that's all you will lose.
What a hostel is like
Hostels all have pretty much the same features – nothing grand. They have small to large rooms with bunk beds. The price varies by the number of beds in the room. Most are co-ed. Generally,the more beds per room,the lower the price. Some have free linens and towels,others charge a few bucks. There is usually a shared bathroom in the room,but some are in the hallway. Most include breakfast,usually bread,butter,jam and cereal. Some step up with fruit or cheese and meat. Some charge a few euros for that.
What to look for in a hostel
Almost every hostel claims a great location. Don't trust them – check it out for yourself. The hostel-booking Web sites have maps that include hostels. Familiarize yourself with the city so you can call the hostel's bluff. Try to determine how social the hostel is. Some will flat out say this is a lively place. Others list lots of common areas and hostel-sponsored events. This is important,especially if you are traveling alone. Hostels can be a lot of fun. You can have a new best friend every day to sightsee with,but some make it easier to meet people than others.
Are hostels safe?
As a 22-year-old female,often traveling alone,I never had a problem. That said,it doesn't mean theft never happens. I always felt safe and never worried much about my belongings. Most everyone I met was just like me: students traveling as cheaply as they could. I always locked my bags before leaving for the day and used the lockers in the hostels that offered them. I often left some loose clothing on my bed. I never lost a thing.
How to eat well
I usually ate one dinner out per city. I got to experience the cuisine without spending too much. Look for places that are off the beaten track. You can often find less expensive,more authentic eats at smaller places away from the town center. As a general rule,the farther away from the main tourist areas you can get,the cheaper the food will be. For lunch,I grabbed something from a take-away for no more than 5 euros. I cooked my other meals in hostel kitchens after buying fresh,super-cheap produce at outdoor markets. Often,other travelers will be in the kitchens,so it is a way to meet people.
Seeing the sights
Hostels often offer inexpensive tours and events,another good way to meet other travelers. Even if you are not staying at a hostel,you can usually join a tour,so it is worth stopping into hostels to see what they are offering. Most city sites can be viewed without a tour guide. Get yourself a map,figure out the public transit system and go at your own pace. If you have done some research,you won't miss too much of the history that tour guides offer.