Thursday, October 6, 2011

11 Ways to Go on a Budget European Holiday: Backpacking Without Backpacks (Part 1)

It took many sleepless nights and countless hours of introspection, but I finally was able to convince myself to cough up the dough to go on a European holiday with some friends. Don't get me wrong, I love traveling and exploring new places as much as the next guy, but my frugal nature has, until this last trip, prevented me from even daring to go beyond the borders of near-Asia.

So my friends and I spent the second half of September exploring six European cities--Paris in France and Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, and Madrid in Spain, in that order--plus Shanghai in China for half a day. Surprisingly, it did not cost us as much as one would think, although admittedly, we did spend more than I ever cared to. Still, the entire experience was well worth it: I will do it again in a heartbeat at the next opportunity, albeit this time more penny-wisely.

In this post and the next, I will share some of the things that we actually did and some that we realized we could have actually done to make the trip more affordable and without taking anything away from the experience.

1. Use for faux hotel bookings

Traveling to most major European cities requires a Schengen visa from one of your destination countries; we got our single-entry visas from the Spanish Consulate in Hong Kong for 667 HKD each (around 3,800 pesos). If you're plan to stay in hotels during your entire trip, you'll be asked by the embassy/consulate to present hotel bookings for your entire stay. Since it would be wise to submit visa applications at least a month before the trip, it would be very risky to pay for hotel bookings or even reservation fees that early... if you book your hotels the usual way. is your best alternative for visa-requirement hotel bookings since most hotels that are listed on the site don't charge cancellation fees up to a few days before your scheduled stay. So if you want to be flexible and safe, book any cancellable hotel from, apply for your visa early, and just look for better accommodations later. Speaking of which...

2. Go ho(s)tel

In the past few years, networks of hostels in major cities around the world have flourished and attracted young, budget conscious travelers. Unfortunately, this is a global travel trend that we still don't see in the Philippines. Hostels are inexpensive, no-frills travel accommodations: in most, bathrooms and toilets are shared among several rooms, there are no TVs, and sometimes not even room air conditioning. But they are classy, and far from "cheap." During our entire trip, we've had the most pleasant stays in some of these hostels.

Hostels also are the best alternative for solitary travelers since single beds in dorm-type rooms are almost always also offered.

Some of the best hostels are listed in websites like One downside is that you'll have to pay a reservation fee of 5 to 10% upon booking.

3. Don't take direct flights

The cheapest direct flight from Hong Kong to Paris that we could find cost around 10,300 HKD (around 58,300 pesos, roundtrip), which was way beyond our budget. So we looked for possible itineraries with a connecting flight from a nearby major city. We found a Hong Kong to Shanghai to Paris flight which costs only 8,300 HKD (around 47,000 pesos), so we took that instead and saved 2,000 HKD in the process. We also got to visit Shanghai for half a day on our return trip.

4. Use budget airlines to cross borders

Perhaps watching too much Before Sunrise has conditioned our minds that taking trains is the best way to go from country to country in Europe. To our utter surprise, we found out that train fares are usually double that of budget airlines, and train travel takes significantly more time, to boot. So without hesitation, we took the cheaper--and less romantic--alternative.

A Ryan Air flight typically costs around 15 to 20 EUR, the price of nice dinner or a ZARA polo in Europe, so it really is cheap. The downside is that you're only allowed one hand carry baggage within specific dimensions with a maximum weight of 10 kg. That's why the next tip is so important...

5. Pack light

And when I say light, I do mean light. My friends had to get additional check in luggage for our Ryan Air flights (at 15 EUR for 15 kg, the price of the flight itself) to fit all their stuff, and that's during the early leg of our trip. Packing light means no laptops, no DSLRs, no paper books, and eventually doing laundry during the trip.

Can't wait to go on your own European holiday? I have more tips in Part 2. ;)

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