We’re in prime backpacking/student travel season as we speak, with Europe being arguably the most popular destination for backpackers. Here are a few of our best insider hacks on the best way to stretch those dollars when you’re on a serious budget in high season in Europe.
1.Fly mid-week and look for deals.
If you’re planning a one-month stay with some flexibility in your destinations, we advise you to fly on Tuesday or Wednesday and research some inexpensive gateway cities in your itinerary. Check out the CheapAir.com Europe Summer Flights page for specific help with the best days to fly this summer. Typically, London and Paris offer the best flight deals from the U.S. – which is a bit of a tease because once you land the prices in both these cities are some of the most expensive in terms of accommodation and dining. Primera Air is offering one-way nonstop red-eyes to Paris (CDG) from Newark (EWR) for as low as $99 in July. Snag that and then catch a return flight from another European city so you don’t have to backtrack. Norwegian Air is also offering low round trip fares in August – as low as $528 from Newark (EWR) to Paris (ORY).
2. Don’t be afraid to plan.
It’s a backpacker’s dream to keep every option open. And that’s great if you can afford to do it. But travel costs can quickly add up and sometimes a really great deal on an inexpensive flight is only around for a short while. When traveling in high season, you can’t expect to get sale pricing. Our foolproof “plan” for people who hate to schedule themselves is to buy the entry point and exit point airline tickets in advance. Because the options are so varied once you get to Europe, you can probably get away with keeping the rest of your itinerary fairly open (as long as you’re willing to go where the deals appear).
3. Keep your travel options open.
Once you’ve picked your entry point to Europe, you might fare better on fares – see what we did there – if you search for low-cost airlines to get you from point A to point B. In the past, there was no more economical way to travel around Europe than the efficient train network. These days, the proliferation of low cost air carriers like RyanAir and easyJet sometimes can make it a toss-up between train or plane cost. Plus, if you’re trying to see as many places as possible, logistically flying will save you much time. For example, a one-way flight from Paris (ORY) to Amsterdam (AMS) run just $65 for much of August on Transavia. Flight time is just over an hour compared to taking the train which is a 3 1/2 hour haul and will set you back $90. Even if you factor in public transport time and cost to the city center, you’ll come out ahead if you fly. And these fares are no anomaly. You should always check flights against train cost these days.
4. But do your homework on the low cost carriers.
The reason these low cost carriers operate at such a discount is that they generally fly in and out of the regional airports around a city, instead of the main international hub. So you do need to pay attention. If your international flight into London is landing in Heathrow (which is almost certainly going to be the case), when you catch your flight on to Prague you may be departing at one of London’s three regional airports – Luton, Stansted or Gatwick. This is why we recommend leaving a wide windown of time if you’re just using London or Paris or Barcelona as cheap ways on to the continent, as connections. If you arrive in Heathrow and have a departing flight in Luton at rush hour during the week, it’s going to be a mad dash to make a flight (if you’ve only left yourself a couple of hours to do so. Reasonably speaking, we recommend a self-imposed four-hour layover. That will allow you to clear customs, get your pack, and hightail it across town to the next departure point (with potential time to even get a cup of coffee or lunch in town).
5. Finance your airline tickets if the cost is exorbitant.
In the past, a too-expensive airline ticket might be enough to cause you to change your plans – maybe you’d have to hit Zurich on another trip! But now, Cheapir.com offers a monthly payments option to help you manage costs and pay for the expensive portion of your trip over time.
6. Hostels are still an incredible value.
Backpackers are inclined to stay at hostels for the cheap prices, but keep mind if you’re a first time traveler across the pond how much hostels can be a wealth of useful information. Other backpackers (and hostel staff!) can be an invaluable resource for trip planning, sightseeing quirks (if there’s a trainworker’s strike in Rome, you can bet someone at the hostel will know about it and be sharing with other travelers. Plus, if you’re traveling alone, there’s just no better way to make friends, build a network (you never know who might have a accommodation tip for you on your next destination) and share stories. Plus, European hostels tend to be in centrally located historical buildings and offer architectural delights of their own. If you’re still not sure – keep in mind most places rent private or semi-private, as well as family rooms. You don’t necessarily have to bunk in a dorm (though that will be the cheapest option).In a town like Venice, even a private room in a hostel will be a better deal than most hotels (and you’ll get breakfast included)!
7. You can get a deal on a summer hotel room if you’re flexible about location.
Some people are just not hostelers – and sometimes if you’ve been sleeping hostel to hostel, you just want a more quiet, hotel-like vibe. We get it. The most centrally located hotels are going to be the priciest, which is why we like to steer backpackers to airport and neighborhoods outside the most popular tourist tracks. To be honest, you don’t even have to get so far outside the tourist zones to score a hotel deal even in high season. Our hotel hack is to make sure you choose a place within a 5-minute walk of the metro. Most European cities have a well-organized metro/tram system and as long as your hotel is near a station, you’re golden for sightseeing. For example, even a Holiday Inn in London’s tony Mayfair district will set you back upwards of $200/night. However, if you expand your horizons to allow for the airport and suburbs – there are deals to be had. The Ibis London Heathrow has rooms for just $59/night in August and the 4* Brittania International Hotel at Canary Wharf also has rooms for around $75/night all summer long.
8. Picnic, picnic, picnic!
Dining in a sit-down restaurant for every meal will get very costly very quickly in pretty much any city in Europe this summer. Plan to dine like a local. Pick up a bottle of wine or water, some local breads, meats, fruit and cheese and hit the parks. Most cities on the continent have lovely outdoor spaces for folks to congregate, and many cities host free concerts in the summertime. Save your pennies for a special restaurant dinner here or there when you want to really luxuriate.