Travel hacking your way through Europe

Europe is an expensive destination, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you save money, so you can travel longer and more frequently.

Decide on the transportation mode

If flying is the obvious choice when crossing an ocean, it is always good to compare different options for shorter distances.
Go on www.rome2rio.com and enter your departure city and arrival city. If you’re going to a smaller town, make sure you enter the name of the smaller town, instead of the name of the big city nearby. Rome2rio will show you all the different itineraries you can take, which may or may not take you through the big city nearby. Being a little bit creative with your connections can save you money and add interesting stops to your trip.

Rome 2 Rio

Rome 2 Rio results

 

Flights
If your research shows that flying seems to be the way to go, expect a bit of work to get the cheapest flight possible. I have a series of websites that I use every time to compare costs, so I avoid endlessly going back and forth between websites.

  1.  Start on googleflights.com to get an idea of which days are cheaper. Flying mid-week will typically save you money, but this is not always the case.
  2. Compare a few websites that sell flights from all the major airlines. My short list is www.skyscanner.net, www.skiplagged.com, www.kayak.com, www.momondo.com, www.orbitz.com, ww.airfarewatchdog.com, and www.hotwire.com. This list may change depending on which country you’re from and in which currency you’re paying, but this is my list when I want to pay in US dollars, which is mostly the case to capitalize on travel credit card points.
  3. If round-trip tickets are cheaper than one-way tickets and you only need a one-way, then book a round-trip and simply “forget” to show up for your return flight.
  4. Round-trips aren’t always the way to go. One-way will often cost about half of a round-trip, and can be a lot more convenient if you’re hopping from country to country.
  5. Learn to master the Google ITA software. This is a database that references all the flights and lets you personalize your search a lot more than usual flights comparison websites. It’s not as user-friendly as typical flights comparison websites, but it’s a very helpful tool for the patient traveller. There are 2 things it’s particularly useful for:
    Google – Finding hidden city connections
    – Playing with the currency and sales city. Entering a sales city in the country where the airline is based can sometimes give you a cheaper price. This is great if you havebank accounts in several countries/currencies, or if you have a credit card with no (or low) foreign transaction fees. This works particularly well in South-America and some parts of Asia, where tickets can cheaper for localtravellers. It may not always work in Europe, but it’s worth taking a minute to see if it changes the price or not.
  6. Know your budget airlines. To save on booking costs, a lot of budget airlines won’t be referenced on flights comparison websites. So it’s good to find out which budget airlines are flying to your destination (or nearby), and check their website directly. Here are some links to the route maps of the main budget airlines in Europe:
    – EasyJet: http://www.easyjet.com/en/routemap
    – Ryan Air: https://www.ryanair.com/gb/en/cheap-flight-destinations
    – Fly BE: http://www.flybe.com/route-map/
  7. Some airports specialize in budget airlines, such as the Beauvais airport near Paris, which offers a ton of Eastern Europe destinations, sometimes for an incredibly cheap price. Beauvais airport destinations map
  8. If you’re a student, you’re in luck. You can get some really great deals on www.statravel.com. You have to get an ISIC card, but there is no age restriction on the ISIC card and you can buy it with your flight for an extra $25. I had an ISIC card for years and used to book about 75% of my flights through this website.
  9. Sometimes, you will spend a lot of time checking all these different websites and get exactly the same price. But I would advise to do it for every flight anyways. The time you spend doing this will eventually pay off, even if it may seem like a waste of time when you get no results. To make the process simpler, I keep a spreadsheet with all the website addresses in the first column, and then I create a new column for each flight and enter the 3 cheapest flights I find. It makes it easier to go back to the right websites if I decide not to book right away, instead of forgetting and having to go through the whole process again. Then this spreadsheet feeds into another spreadsheet where I have my travel budget for the whole year, so I can keep an eye on the bigger picture and know exactly how much money I will need.
  10. Use incognito mode to check the price of flights, as a lot of companies will show you an inflated price if you check the same itinerary several times.
  11. If all the previous flight booking options give you similar prices, then book directly through the airline’s website. It will make things a lot easier if you need to change or cancel your flight.
Destinations_map_Beauvais_airport

Beauvais airport destinations map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains
I always hear people talk about taking the train to travel all over Europe, because it’s the cheapest way to do it. This was probably true 10 or 20 years ago, but not anymore. With budget airlines popping up everywhere and ridesharing getting a bigger piece of the pie, taking the train isn’t necessarily the best way to travel through Europe.
Upsides of taking the train:
– Not having to show up as early a for a flight
– No restriction on the luggage size/weight
– More reliable than rideshares
Downside of taking the train:
– Delays and strikes (especially in France…)
– Not necessarily cheaper than flying
– Definitely not cheaper than rideshares
This brings us to the last catergory: rideshares.

Rideshares

The idea is simple: someone who has a car is driving somewhere, and would like to get some passengers to help cover their costs. So the driver puts an ad on a website such as Blablacar, describing exactly when and where they are going. Depending on the driver, stops along the way can be fairly flexible to appeal to more potential passengers.
When I book a rideshare on blablacar, I usually start the search with my ideal criteria (e.g., Lausanne to Amiens), then widen my search if nothing matches what I’m looking for (e.g., from anywhere within 100km of Lausanne to anywhere within 100km of Amiens and I complete my journey with other means such as the train or bus). Or I might search specifically with a connection in a larger city, which is more likely to have a lot of rideshares going through it (e.g., Lausanne to Paris followed by Paris to Amiens).

Upsides of taking rideshares:
– Cheaper than anything else, especially if booking last minute
– Some drivers are very flexible and will pick you up/drop you off right in front of where you’re staying
– Getting to meet people you have absolutely nothing in common with, besides taking the same rideshare
– Previous reviews will make you feel safer about riding with strangers

Downsides of taking rideshares
– You realize some drivers aren’t very smart at all and will plan unrealistic itineraries, or communicate poorly
– If you have a lot of bags, make sure you check with the driver that there will be enough room for them
– It can be difficult if you don’t have a cellphone working in that country and need some last minute communications with the driver
– Some drivers will cancel last minute, then you’re left with nothing at all

 

 

Despite these downsides, rideshares are probably my favorite way to get around Europe when I’m traveling solo. Sure, it isn’t the most comfortable or reliable way to travel, but the money you save will mean you can travel a lot more, which is always a plus in my book.

What about you; do you have any tips to travel on the cheap in Europe or elsewhere?

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