Published on February 24, 2014 | by Taryn Nixon

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Travelling on the cheap

Travelling on a budget can sometimes feel like a bit of a drag to organise. ALN writer Taryn Nixon shares tips and tricks for cheap, fun adventures.

Travelling through Europe on a student budget doesn’t have to be an impossible task. Nowadays, there are countless options available to those in need of a timeout from their studies or simply seeking adventure. Luckily, a weekend away in another country doesn’t mean you’re going to break the bank or send your credit card bills spiralling out of control. The cost of a night out in London could easily get you a budget weekend away in Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam. If a cultural break seems like a far-fetched pipe dream, here is the how-to guide to the delights of Europe on a realistic budget.

Getting there

Passport on top of a map

Being prepared and booking early is one tip to getting the cheapest flights to Europe. [Danielle Burdett]

Begin early, set a date and start looking at flights – if you’re travelling in January then look in November. The earlier you book the cheaper it will be. Looking two or three months ahead can get you a flight for as little as £60 return to Brussels, Berlin or Amsterdam. Some great websites are Skyscanner eDreams and Easyjet. Don’t forget Eurostar trains – just two-and-a-half hours to Paris from Kings Cross St. Pancras, it is a quick an easy way to the continent. It  has sales throughout the year so be sure to keep an eye out for returns starting from £69.

If spontaneity is more your bag, you don’t have to plan ahead: Bla Bla Car is an affordable travel alternative. Here you can share the cost of petrol with someone who is already driving to your chosen destination. It can cost as little as £15 to get to Paris and just £14 to Belgium.

It is worth being extra conscientious when doing this; although short trips are very cheap, sometimes the cost of this service might easily be the same as getting a return coach fare or airplane ticket.

Andy Fyles, second year BA Photojournalism student at LCC travels frequently between Paris and London with his girlfriend and uses Bla Bla Car:  “Drivers come in all shapes and sizes, for some it is a business and they will make numerous trips a week, whilst others are just happy to have a bit of company and some help towards the travel costs.”

Cheap stays

Accommodation can take up a large chunk of the cost of a trip. Staying in a hotel is not ideal and you’ll miss the experience of meeting like-minded travellers as well as generally experiencing what it is to travel as a student. If you are inter-railing around Europe, booking overnight and sleeper train means you can deduct a night of accommodation whilst travelling to your next destination, saving precious time and money on your adventure.

Through hostelling, as long as you don’t mind sharing a mixed dormitory, you will be able to cut your accommodation cost substantially.

Girl in the sea

Websites such as Air BnB and Couchsurfing allow travellers to stay with locals for a much cheaper rate. [Danielle Burdett]

Georgia Stone, studying BA Fashion Management at LCF, used hostels as her choice of accommodation when travelling round Europe on her summer break last year. “I first went to the Outlook festival in Croatia, then I went to Hungary, Budapest, Slovakia and Prague. I didn’t have to save a lot for it either, my flights were around £60. Hostels were on average £10-15 a night.”

Hostelbookers is a website offering a range of very affordable hostel options.  Air BnB is an online community connecting people who have space to spare for travellers who are looking for a place to stay. It means you can find unique accommodation, from living on a boat to renting a castle, however the cheapest options are always spare bedrooms.

Accommodation that is free sounds too good to be true, but the option is out there for the bold and adventurous traveller.

Couchsurfing is a great online community where you can stay with locals around the world. It currently has 5.5 million couchsurfers in more than 207 countries worldwide and continues to grow. It is a community founded on goodwill between like-minded travellers. There is no monetary exchange just the experience of enjoying a new place with a resident.

If the idea of spending a weekend in a strangers’ house sends you into a stranger-danger panic, there are some invaluable dos’ and don’ts to ensure a safe and memorable trip.

Do’s

Check the references of the host that you want to stay with. They act as a feedback form from other travellers who have stayed with the host, so you can get a sense of the person through their references based on what other couchsurfers have said.

Always go with your gut instinct. If you don’t feel that it’s right or that you don’t have something in common with the host don’t pursue it as an option. Continue looking for someone that you feel you will enjoy your Couchsurfing experience with.

Do give a bad review if you get someone who is inappropriate. Don’t just keep quiet. It is important for you and the Couchsurfing community to protect travellers and keep this unique online accommodation provider alive and thriving.

Don’ts

Don’t ever try to pay your host for having you stay. It is a golden rule that no money must exchange hands as this was originally set up and founded on the basis of goodwill.

Don’t make uninvited sexual advances – it is not a dating or hook-up website. Always do your background checks. If you’re a single girl going to stay with a male, check his credibility. You can have a look on his profile to see if anyone has validated him as a person of good character. Make sure he has other friends on Couchsurfing and read the reviews that other surfers have written.

Girls with back packs take photo in a mirror at the airport

A solo trip pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to meet and engage with new people. [Danielle Burdett]

When you’re writing a request for your host, do not copy and paste the same email to multiple hosts. Take some extra time to read the hosts profile and make it personal.

Remember that you are going to a strangers house, it is not a hostel that you have booked and paid for, they are opening the doors of their home to you, so they need to feel that you’ve made some effort to at least read their profile.

Kai Lutterodt, a second year BA Journalism student at LCC, is an experienced couchsurfer and Couchsurfing host advises: “It will come with time and experience when you do Couchsurfing, the first is always nerve-wracking, especially when you are going to travel and stay with someone else. Just go with your gut instincts.”

If you get a really great host, they might even show you the sights of the city or the nightlife; your very own tour guide.

Daily Budget

Setting aside a strict budget may seem like a drag, but it is important in keeping your trip cheap and cheerful.

You will need between 30 and 80 EUR per day excluding accommodation in Western Europe. For Eastern Europe it is slightly less, with a budget between 30 and 50 EUR per day, according to Lonely Planet online, the world’s largest travel publication.

Research, research, research

Knowing exactly what you are getting yourself into goes without saying, so never underestimate the importance of researching all of the options.

Although flights can come cheap, it is better to go to an affordable destination rather than deciding on the flight cost alone. You might find that paying a little extra to get to Bulgaria for example will pay off in the long run as the cost of food and accommodation will be much cheaper than somewhere like Venice or Milan.

Travel outside high season. By booking trips out of season, you will notice a substantial difference in prices than when a destination is full of tourists on their annual break.

Take the plunge and try new experiences. Trying something different and unusual equips you with experience that is priceless – you’ll make the most amazing memories and meet some interesting characters along the way.

Although daunting, don’t be afraid to travel alone. Nothing is more exciting and challenging than a solo travel trip. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to meet and engage with new people.

Whether you decide to go it alone or with a group of uni friends, there is nothing more exhilarating than taking a leap of faith into the unknown especially when you aren’t spending a fortune.

 

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