Wednesday, October 12, 2011

11 Ways to Go on a Budget European Holiday: Backpacking Without Backpacks (Part 2)

In Part 1, we talked about a few ways to travel Europe on a shoestring. In this post, I'll add a few more items to the list.

6. Use bulk Metro (subway) tickets or city day passes instead of single tickets

"Metro" or subway tickets in major cities of Europe cost anywhere from 1 to 1.7 EUR each. If you're traveling as a group and/or are expecting to use the city's subway system extensively, you would save as much as a third of the per person fare if you buy tickets in bulk, like in batches of 10. Some cities even offer "city day passes," which include unlimited use of trains, trams, and buses, and discounts to several establishments like restaurants and museums; the Barcelona day pass, for example, at around 11 EUR per day is well worth the cost.

7. Think in euros

Most things in Europe, at least in the places we've been too, cost several times as much as the same things in the Philippines, and even Hong Kong. For example, whereas Big Mac meals in the Philippines and Hong Kong cost around 150 pesos, comparable meals in France and Spain cost around 6.50 EUR, or a whopping 385 pesos! And to think that a meal at McDonald's would be one of the most economical (i.e., cheapest) you could have on your trip!

Probably the best way to handle this and other spending issues while on a holiday in Europe is to think in euros as much as possible. Converting everything to pesos before you buy will just leave you confused, anxious, and maybe even hungry and miserable. It would probably help if you keep in mind that you're on a holiday, that you're there to have a grand time, and that everyone pays a premium to experience some of the most beautiful cities in the world. Instead of nitpicking the price of each item that you're considering buying, maybe what you could do is be more mindful of which items are worth considering.

Having said that...

8. Eat deliciously without splurging

During our trip, my friends and I set aside 30 EUR per person per day for meals, and here's how we usually spent it: spend 4 to 5 EUR for breakfast, typically a croissant or bocadillo, a pastry, and coffee; around 10 EUR for heavy lunch, which usually consists of paella, a few tapas or racions of local delicacies, and drinks; and the rest on an expensive dinner. I'm sure some of my companions would disagree, but personally I feel that we could have spent less on meals--perhaps down to 20 EUR per person per day--without taking away anything from the experience. This could be done by skipping on drinks in restaurants, for example, since these usually just cost half at a nearby vending machine or convenience store. Or you could just order enough and not treat each meal like it was your last supper--decent restaurants serve hearty per-person meals for around 8 EUR. Of course, you would also have to consider eating fast food from time to time.

9. Bring your Kindle

Not the new 3G models, which offers free 3G internet only for the Amazon Store and Wikipedia, but the one that I have. While most of Europe's tourist spots offer good free WiFi coverage for your iPhones and iPads, at times you'll find yourself needing an internet connection in the middle of nowhere. The old Kindle 3G offers truly free anywhere-internet, useful for on-the-spot researching of tourist places (e.g., bus stops, opening and closing times, restaurant reviews, etc.) and sending and receiving emails. You can even use it for Google Maps, although it is not very responsive on the Kindle; it works good enough for emergencies, though.

10. Selectively enter museums and other tourist sites

Many museums and sites in Europe cost an arm and a leg to enter, usually 10 to 15 EUR per person, and sometimes you cannot even take pictures inside. You would save a bundle if you research the best places to enter and just look at other sites from the outside. Some sites like Versailles do offer free access to scenic views

While others are actually better seen from the outside, like the Alcazar in Segovia, for example.

Another important money-saving decision you could make is whether to skip audio guides for some sites. Audio guides are gizmos that provide audio commentary and information about tourist sites like museums and cathedrals; in the cities we visited, they cost around 4 EUR per person per site. Audio guides are a boon for places with interesting stories like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Seville Cathedral, but using it could be really tiresome, especially for not-so-interesting places (or your 10th cathedral, no matter how interesting it is).

11. Bring a little less than enough foreign currency

Set a budget, then bring just 80 to 90% of that amount in the currency of the countries that you plan to visit and just use your credit card if you run out of cash. People often overestimate expenses for trips like this. Like me, if you bring enough cash you would probably end up with extra bills and coins near the end of your trip. Thinking that it would be a hassle to bring bank extra euros, you might feel a strong urge to spend the rest of your budget on stuff you don't need or splurge needlessly. Sure, it might be best to rid yourself of currency that in most probability you won't be able to use in the foreseeable future, especially if you don't have enough to convert it to your local currency, but instead of spending what's left, it would be better if you prevent this from happening by bringing a little less than enough. I mean, what else are your credit cards for? Just be careful as some banks like Standard Charted require explicit consent from the user before their cards can be used overseas.

There you go. 11 tips that should be able to save you a couple of hundred euros on your European holiday. Bon voyage!

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