Friday, February 10, 2012

Reader questions: Seeing practically all of Europe!

I love reader questions and when they're from people I know like up-and-coming graphic designer Amanda then it's even more exciting to help them out with their travel plans. Amanda and her boyfriend Trent are planning a big trip to Europe next year and of course I wanted to know more (helpful AND curious!), and Amanda told me:
I'm not even sure where we are going exactly. We are kinda being spontaneous. Definitely England and Italy because I have family there. Then France, Germany, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Croatia, Greece, Sweden to name a few. We will go in some logical direction hopefully! I'm still at uni until the end of the year which makes me worry if I will have enough saved up. Any tips would be great! :)
Spontaneous is definitely one of my favourite ways to travel. And travelling without a whole lot of money is also the way I've always travelled (or at the very least, travelling to stretch my travel dollar as far as possible so I could travel for longer). So I think I have quite a few handy tips for Amanda and Trent (and anyone else planning their first long trip):
  1. Don't stress too much about travelling in a logical direction. Budget airlines have changed the game on that - it's not always necessary to visit countries in a strict geographical order - you might discover that it's cheaper to fly from Croatia to France and then fly from there to Greece, for example. In my opinion the days of planning a point-to-point journey using Eurail or a bus network are probably over - you'll end up going places you didn't really want to and you will only save marginally and lose flexibility. (Spontaneous is good!) (oh and I usually use whichbudget.com - not a sponsored link just my personal recommendation! - to find flights in Europe)
  2. Accommodation costs can chew up a lot of your budget so look into some alternatives like Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing hosts love to host couples (they amuse themselves so they aren't too time-intensive; axe murderers are less likely to travel in pairs) so I would highly recommend looking into that for some of your accommodation. It's also a great change from just staying in hostels (where it's pretty unlikely you'll meet any locals).

    Eiffel Tower - good to see, but not a must
  3. Keep being open about your itinerary and don't get bogged down in having to see "everything" or go "everywhere". You're young (for other readers - this Amanda is well over a decade younger than me - agghh!) and this definitely won't be the last chance you have to go to Europe, so don't feel obligated to tick off some kind of "should see" list. If you end up spending three months in Croatia and never make it to Greece or Norway, that is absolutely fine (no matter what other people might tell you). I personally would just figure out a pretty vague plan for the trip with no firm bookings and feel very open to changing it as you go along.
  4. Something it took me a while to figure out - keep an eye out for cheap side trips to places that Europeans like to go - that's how I ended up backpacking through Tunisia! For example, towards the end of my stay in Europe I started eyeing off trips like budget Lanzarote holidays, kind of the European equivalent of Perth people going to Bali (Lanzarote is one of the Canary Islands, so a distant part of Spain). Like Bali trips for us, these can be cheap, resort-based, relaxing, and a "holiday within a holiday" which you sometimes need when you're spending a long time travelling.
  5. Focusing back on travelling within a budget, then unfortunately I have to suggest not always splurging on meals. It is so tempting to devour amazing restaurant meals of the local cuisine all the time but firstly, you can get sick of that and secondly, your budget won't like it. I became a master of "hostel food" including lots of simple meals like tomatoes on toast (with salsa and cheese to make me think it was like nachos!).

    Bojnice Castle in Slovakia - eastern Europe is beautiful!
  6. Last piece of advice, thinking back on your list which includes nearly only western European countries (apart from Croatia) - do consider spending more time in eastern Europe, which is not only considerably cheaper, but also equally (or more) captivating. True, we may not be so familiar with the iconic tourist spots there but you'll see and do all kinds of amazing things. There's nowhere I wouldn't recommend - look through some of my posts on Poland, Estonia or Slovakia perhaps for some inspiration.
  7. And my final tip: have a blast! I'm more than a little jealous. 

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