Traveling on a budget

Some tips and advice on hostels, couch surfing, and using Euro budget airlines

How to pick a hostel

Hostelling allows you to lodge on a budget while meeting people from around the world.

I recommend HostelBookers.com. Easy to navigate, they have been around forever so their hostels have the most reviews. Use these tips to try and decide which is best for you:

  •  Try to find a high review rating and a low nightly rate. Filter prices to show low options first and see which of the cheap ones gets the best review. Look for a place close to all of your desired sightseeing locations, the clubs, or the beach.
  • A larger dorm will be cheaper, you will meet more people, and once you’re bigger than a four-person setting, the experience is basically the same – earplugs are a dorm-sleeper’s best friend!
  • See if there are any meal deals or meals included. A free continental breakfast saves a lot of cash.
  • Decide what you ultimately want from the hostel. I personally go for smaller, more communal ones, while others love the craziness of a party hostel.
  • Check out the pictures. Feeling safe and comfortable should be your main priority, and photos can help give you a feel for the hostel’s atmosphere.

 

Booking

No matter the website, the booking process is simple. You have the option to pay in any currency and will have to pay up to 10 per cent upfront as a deposit as per the website’s agreement with the hostel. If your trip is more spontaneous, paying on-site is an option, but you will be taking a risk on the hostel’s availability, and sometimes there are better rates online.

So I’m at the hostel, what now?

Check in! Operating just like a hotel, hostels have check-in and check-out times, they have front desk staff—often 24 hours—and they will kindly guide you to your room. If you chose a dorm room, find your bed—either chosen or assigned—and make it yours. Most hostels will have lockers for your bags, either in the room or nearby. Make sure to use them when going out – you just never know.

Safety tip: if you don’t feel safe in any way, feel free to leave and head to another hostel. You don’t have to see these people again and most hostels will just refund your money and beg you not to write a bad review.

Finally, the most important part of checking in is to be sure to meet your roommates. They might just be your future best friends!

 

Couchsurfing

The website Couchsurfing.org has become one of the most popular travel tools for youth around the world. Members create profiles, search for/offer up couches, and rate other users. Travellers get basic but free accommodation.

The main goal of Couchsurfing is to create a network of like-minded people: those who want to meet others from across the globe, to share their city or area, or explore the real side of a place they are visiting. From the perspective of a local, it gives you the chance to see local attractions, eat at local restaurants, and visit areas that you might otherwise have never discovered.

If it wasn’t for Couchsurfing on my last trip to Portland, Oregon, I wouldn’t have learned about sour beers, cycling culture, or gone to a house party with our hosts and five new Mexican Couchsurfing friends!

In North America the system works well, but in Europe the general consensus is that it’s almost impossible to find a host anywhere. During my only successful attempt in Europe this past year, my last Couchsurfing host, David, summed up the reason:

“I can’t handle the amount of requests. My email gets too overloaded that I often ignore them all because it’s too time-consuming. I like hosting people, but after you guys I’m turning my account off for a while. I need a break from it.”

There are too many surfers for the few amount of available couches. When you overload the host system, hosts often do what David felt was necessary and take time off, further reducing the supply. This has also caused a shallow—and often sleazy—side of hosts to be exposed: young solo female travellers are often the only people who have a chance at Couchsurfing successfully in Europe.

So how do you approach Couchsurfing in Europe? Plan way ahead and don’t count on anything. Send personalized requests a few months in advance, and while most hosts will likely say to contact them closer to the date, at least your name is out there and you might be lucky.

 

Using budget Euro airlines

If you’ve done any planning for a Euro-trip then you’ve certainly run into the mess of budget airlines flying incredibly cheap direct flights throughout the continent.

While trains are a great way to get around, if you only have a month to spend in Europe, budget airlines are a cheaper and quicker option for going longer distances. Most budget airlines focus on particular regions. For example, easyJet operates in Central and Western Europe, has the kindest employees, great in-flight services, and is overall the most professional. They are one of the only budget airlines that let you take a different flight if you miss your original one, and for about only a EUR 80 fee. Wizz Air, also based in Europe, focuses mainly on Eastern and Central Europe. Two other popular but budget options are Ryanair and Transavia.

I have had three budget airline employees tell me straight up that their prices change by the minute – so book as soon as possible. In the low seasons book at least two weeks in advance, while in the high summer season, book at least a month in advance. Within the last two weeks the prices will rise based on each airline’s algorithm, and expect a EUR 30 flight to work its way up to a peak price of around EUR 300 right before boarding.

Skyscanner.ca is a great resource for locating your cheapest option: this search engine is fast and easy to read, and lets you search many open destination and time options. You can also change languages and currencies easily, and once you’ve determined your flight, you can book through the host airline’s website.

Budget airlines make their money on their extra services and fees. Baggage is a major money-grab for them. When possible, travel only with carry-on luggage. You will be charged between EUR 15 and EUR 50 to check a bag.

Make sure you know in advance how much your bag weighs and book a checked bag when you book your ticket online. If you don’t book in advance and have to check a bag at the airport, expect to pay about double the original online fee. If you plan to bring carry-on luggage be absolutely sure it’s within their size guidelines. You will need to prove it fits into their special size-checking box – dubbed by some as the “cage of doom.”

They don’t make exceptions, not even for roller wheels or handles, and often only allow one single piece of carry-on, which includes purses or gift bags.

 

Other money-saving and comfort-gaining tips

  • Budapest is a fantastic hub. Wizz Air is centred out of Budapest and in my research there are always flights from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport to miscellaneous destinations for under CND $30.
  • Many budget airlines don’t fly to major airports. Ryanair’s service to Paris is actually to Beauvais–Tillé Airport. This is not in Paris at all, but 85-km north of the city. Make sure to check exactly where the airport that you are flying to is.
  • Never pick your seats in advance. Unless you’re with a partner who you absolutely need to sit with, I recommend taking a chance. By not picking a seat online I’ve gotten a seat with extra leg room during five of my last 10 flights. Worth a shot!
  • Bringing homemade food is always cheaper than buying at the airport or on the flight. If you need a snack while onboard I recommend trying easyJet’s Feel Good Snack Box – for only EUR 5 you get seven different healthy mini snacks.

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