First off, I won’t delve into the philosophical conundrum of why spending a large sum of money in a relatively short span of time would be worth it; but ask any ardent traveler and the answer would be a resounding yes.
I spent 35 days in Europe, landing in Paris and making my way down to Rome. The amount of money this sort of trip demands is no easy feat, so the best way to spend it is to make smart decisions. If that had always been the case, then all’s well and good, but God knows I’ve made a few rookie mistakes. So here’s hoping I could help you make better choices and hopefully, save you a few bucks along the way.
VISA + INSURANCE + TRAVEL TAX
Not all countries are created equal. For us Filipinos, we have to jump through serious hoops before we get access to Europe. I applied for a Schengen Visa in the French Embassy. Granted or not, everyone pays €60 for the application process. They also require you to have travel insurance. Find one that gives the option of a refund in case the visa wasn’t granted.
Before flying off, make sure you pay your international travel tax. Thankfully though, terminal fees are already included in the airfare since February 2015.
A big part of your budget would be your flight going in and out of Europe. I found mine using Skyscanner. It’s a great resource to find cheap flights but I opted to book using the airline’s own system.
A direct flight from Manila to Paris will set you back pretty far. The best travel hack I did was to find nearby countries where flying into Paris would be cheaper. Simply add the cost of flying into that city and compare it with the direct flight.
My original route of Manila to Paris and Rome to Manila would cost me around Php 40,000. However, if I fly to Paris via Singapore, the combined cost of the two airlines is a little over Php 32,000 giving me quite a few savings. I have to consider the time in between flights though, as budget carriers have a reputation for being late.
The first leg of my trip was quite simple. Trains would be the most logical choice as the distance is relatively close. You can book your tickets 30 to 60 days in advance to get the best deal possible.
The second half is a bit tricky. I originally intended to go to Venice after Berlin. However, night trains are quite expensive. They might save you a night’s stay but the cost of the train itself is pretty steep. The best alternative is to look at flights from budget carriers such as Ryanair, easyJet, or Vueling. Sometimes, flights are cheaper than trains plus they’re a bit faster. Compare trains, flights, and even buses and find the best option for you. GoEuro can be helpful but do more research before booking.
The backpacker life isn’t complete until you stayed (and partied) in a hostel. They’re basically dorm style lodging so paying for a shared room can be a lot cheaper. It’s also the easiest way to meet fellow travelers and drinking buddies during pub crawls. I booked my hostels using Hostelworld.
FOOD + ACTIVITIES
If you’re not picky with what you eat, you can live off a budget of €5 to €7 per meal. The backpacker’s key to survival is a good Doner Kebab. Remember the name. It’s similar to a shawarma but in a hefty serving.
Hostels are usually equipped with a kitchen so you can also try pooling money with your roomies and cook your own dinner. You don’t always have to eat in a restaurant. A good hotdog, sandwich, or kebab can be pretty satisfying after a full day of walking.
Speaking of which, try joining free walking tours as much as you can. The term “free” is loosely used as the payment is in the form of tipping. The good thing is that you pay for what you think the tour is worth. The guys in red from Sandeman’s New Europe Tours give a pretty amazing and informative tour. It’s probably the best way to get a good introduction to the city and seek recommendations on which places to see, eat, drink and party.
Every city has its musts. Paris has the Louvre, Amsterdam has the Anne Frank House and Berlin has its clubs. Find out what you absolutely must do and allot a budget for that. You don’t have to map out every single activity throughout your entire trip but it’s nice to have a gauge on what you can do. Then again, if you’re like me, you can go to a city and have absolutely no idea what to expect and just roll with the punches.
That’s the beauty of travel though. Planning is all about being smart and decisive. But sometimes, the best days are spent being lost and clueless. Money is just one part of the trip. Don’t let it limit you. I never got the chance to climb the Eiffel Tower, but what I do remember is getting drunk on the grass below it. Experiences aren’t measured by how much you spend, but rather the profound impact it hits you. You just have to know where the cost ends and the value begins.