I have recently returned from a one-week trip to Europe with my husband. We stayed for four days in Nuremberg, Germany and for three days in Prague, Czech Republic. In total, we spent 400 euro during all these days on food, museums, and souvenirs.
Ten years ago I could not even imagine myself traveling somewhere abroad, except Russia, which I am not actually proud of, so let’s skip this part. I could not imagine flying to Germany, France, Austria, the UK, not because I was afraid of it, but mainly because I knew that I don’t have enough money. Why? Well, for example, the month’s salary of a teacher in my country is up to $197 or lower. I am not aware whether teachers in other countries receive higher payment, but I hope that there must be a better world somewhere:)
Anyway, I did not have so much money as I thought I have to pay for the trip. I did not consider another way of traveling than group tours, as my granny did, during her single trip to Italy in the time of USSR dictatorship. It appeared that group tours are pretty affordable for anyone, especially if you skip all the bullshit that your tour guide is trying to make you buy and avoid unwanted extra excursions. I was a good girl during my first solo trip to Europe, which was not so much a solo, considering the whole bus stuffed like Thanksgiving Turkey, with very different kind of people. We were bond together for 10 days. We spent two nights of this tour, sleeping at the bus, and it was the last time I tried bus group tours. I’ve taken 450 euro with me and brought 250 euro back. This is how I started my own small hobby of affordable traveling. It is more like a game, and I always try to follow my budget and spend 50 euro or less for one person per day, not including hotel and flight which I pay beforehand.
I try to flight using low-cost campaigns like WizzAir and Ryanair, which are way better than our Ukrainian not-low-cost companies 🙂 The price for flight Kyiv-Nurnberg and back was lower than 170 euro for two, and all I had to do is put my stuff in a smaller bag so it would not be extra charged. I love my backpack and I don’t need a bigger one. It is easier to walk with something small behind your shoulders than with a gigantic suitcase that many passengers still wrap into a plastic wrap for safety. Trust me, I’ve seen my own eyes how the luggage is getting into the plane. The plastic wrap is a waste of time.
So, everything starts with buying plane tickets which I prefer to do not later than 2 months before the trip. This way I still have a chance to find a suitable hotel on Booking. I have honestly tried Airbnb last summer, during our trip to Austria and Hungary, but it was not cheaper, smelled weird, and I did not find better propositions this year. I also love when they clean my room every day, give me free shampoo, soap, toilet paper, lots of towels. This is something I don’t often see in Airbnb apartments. So, I paid for hotels beforehand, which meant that I could not cancel the order without losing at least part of my money, but it saves money comparing to “cancel it all for free” deal from some hotels. Warning! Picking up the hotel, pay attention to other people’s reviews. If the hotel describes itself as a posh and vintage, it can also mean that it has old furniture and you would not be able to walk across the room without making creaking noises, get into a cobweb, etc. Remember, you can return part of your money from the city center hotel by not paying for the subway tickets.
If you want to travel to another city or country during this trip, my advice is to use popular bus companies like FlixBus, LeoExpress, and so on. There are plenty of them. In my experience, the bus costs way cheaper than the train. So, if you are not into Oriental Express mood, you can save your money using the bus.
Food! Ok, we all have to eat. I don’t know how about you, but I don’t feel myself really comfortable going to local restaurants, and trying to order something from not-English menu. Well, usually they have one, all you need is to ask. The closer you are to the center of the city, the bigger check you will receive. In Venice I had to pay just for the sitting in restaurant. They have a nasty habit to postpone your order there, so I barely got in time for my excursion. Since that time I don’t trust restaurants with very few people there, in the middle of the city center.
Read the menu carefully – in some restaurants, like it was in Czech Republic, they can offer better deals during the lunch, but there will be another menu in the evening. We tried local dishes in every country we’ve been. But I also prefer to end up my day buying food from the supermarket. There are tons of fresh salads, sandwiches, fruits, cakes, and other thing you don’t want to miss if you really decided to get a full experience from the city. There is great number of locals in supermarkets and you can follow their choices of food. And don’t ignore food trucks, especially if you are in Germany. The best curry-wurst (sausages) I have ever tried! I believe they have vegetarian option as well.
Visit local museums! Some of them have great offers like it was in Nuremberg when they offered to pay 6 euro for a ticket into Albrecht Dürer museum, and this ticket gave us a half-price discount to six more museums, which we visited for 3 euro only. Good news! Some museums in the EU are free of charge! And if you are patient enough, you can plan your trip when some of them will be open to the audience for free. In Prague we did not actually want to pay for a museum of Alphonse Mucha (outstanding painter), knowing that there is a poor collection here and a great price for tickets. Instead, we walked through Prague, went to the Municipal House to see his painting on it for free. We also visited the central post office for free that he painted as well. Besides, we went inside St. Vitus Cathedral, that he painted too. We could do it for free, but we decided to pay for a full ticket that gave us access to five more places on the territory.
Toilets. Ehm… I apologize to anyone who feels uncomfortable reading this particular word, but we all are human beings and we all have needs. Toilets usually cost from 2 euro up to 5 in Europe. Depending on the country you’ve chosen. Some cities still have public free toilets, like it was in Nuremberg, for example. Many cities offer toilets for a low cost like it was in Prague, and some of them don’t have public toilets at all like in many cities in Italy (which is odd considering that in Rome, for example, they offer delicious drinking water for free). I remember that in London, where almost all the museums are free, I used their toilets. By the way, you can use museum’s toilets after you’ve paid for a ticket, it is your right, so don’t be shy:) Another option is to use café’s or restaurant’s toilet, especially if you are buying dinner there. Even a small cup of coffee gives you permission to visit their restrooms.
Souvenirs. This is a painful question for me:) I am obsessed with earrings, bracelet, rings, perfumes, and other stuff I can actually buy in Ukraine, but I want it to remind me of the country I’ve visited whenever I wear it. I try to buy earrings in every country I travel to. Some times they are hand-made, sometimes it is a jewelry with Celtic ornaments and heather pressed into stone, like in my earrings from Edinburgh. Yes, I know, I am obsessed. I also buy myself a calendar for the next year, with the beautiful photos of the city. I also buy clothes. It was much easier when we did not have any of these shops in Ukraine, but now, it is hard to find the clothes that will be unique in my country. Now I have to put more effort searching for something really extraordinary. My advice is don’t go for souvenirs at the center of the city. Walk few streets away and you will find anything you want for half of a previous price. And if you are seeing the colorful figure of one leg pig, which is a symbol of the local district, artist, museum, or else, think if you really need it in your room, before you buy it. Usually, we buy lots of things we don’t need or would never wear in daily life. It happened to me a few times, during my sea vacations, so now I have several dusty bracelets with shells that I would never wear in public. Don’t repeat my mistakes. I have seen this shopping mania during my visit to Paris. People stood in lines to buy berets. I doubt they all wear them. I’ve bought two myself as well, for me and my mom, but that because we are crazy about berets. If you are buying a gift for other people think of what they really want. It does not have to be big or expensive. It has to be about the person you want to surprise.
Well, I believe that I’ve remembered every detail. Oh, except the free maps which I love and always take one or two for my scrapbook. Despite the fact that I use Maps. Me amazing app that has never let me down even once, I still love these cute paper maps that you can find in Info centers with the big I letter on the building. Usually, these maps have all the most important monuments, churches, and museums pictured on them.
If you have questions for me or more tips you want to add, share them with us in the comments section.
Philosopher, writer, hitchhicker