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Europe on a shoestring budget
Travel to crystal-clear waters
I went backpacking recently to Paris, Venice and Rome -- three of the most expensive cities in Europe -- for 12 days. I expected to come back broke. But, thanks to a bit of planning, sufficient reading up and loads of valuable tips from friends, not only did the trip fit well within my budget, I also managed to see quite a few new places. So, here's my two cents on budget travelling in Europe�
Save on flight tickets
Most airlines offer last minute bargain fares, so wait for them. Don't book the first flight available; indulge in some comparisons online. If you can't find an inexpensive flight to your destination city, fly to a nearby city in that country and then catch a low-cost connecting flight. Transit flights can work out cheaper as well. For example, to get to Cannes, I flew from Mumbai to Dubai to Nice via Rome and saved a bag of money. A direct Air France flight from Dubai to Nice would have cost me euro 50 (approximately Rs 3,000) more.
Accommodation is the other major thing to save on. After all, you don't need a luxury suite when all you are going to go back to your pad for is to sleep. But yes, it needs to be clean, hygienic and comfortable. I would rate hostels and bed & breakfast (B&B) joints as the best bet. They are comfortable, cheap, include breakfast and offer a kitchen facility, where you can cook or warm up your meal.
Hostels and B&Bs are usually dorm style, with bunk beds for four to six. They have mixed rooms, common rooms, common bathrooms, kitchen and Internet facilities. Most hostels give out free maps, and some arrange tours and pub-crawls for inmates on a daily basis. A bed in such a dorm room of six costs euro 25 - 33 (approximately Rs 1,500 - 2,000). Once you have decided on your destination, do an online search, shortlist hostels you like and then refer to Web sites like Lonely Planet, Hostelz.com, TripAdvisor.com and BugEurope.com (Backpacker's Ultimate Guide) for reviews on these places. They are usually quite close to the truth.
My hostels in all three cities turned out exactly as described. Do be very careful about your belongings in such places though, as you will be sharing your space with strangers. Also remember that most dorms in Europe are mixed, and finding a same-sex dorm will cut down your options.
Budget hotels in decent localities are available for euro 44 (approximately Rs 2,640) onwards. They work well for couples or a group of two to three, but not singles. Guesthouses -- mostly family-run places -- offer some great bargains as well, but most do not have Web sites or online booking facilities. This makes it difficult to find out about them in advance. For example, I found this really nice place called Archie's Guest House in Venice that cost only euro 17 a day (approximately Rs 1,020), but had no Web site or online booking facility.
Look for additional facilities
In Europe, a lot of places demand payment for the use of showers, toilets, towels, blankets and sheets. Therefore, ensure that your booking cost includes the cost of these. A place close to the metro station is a must, to avoid the additional cost of travelling from your hostel to the metro. Also ensure that breakfast is included. Buying breakfast outside will cost an additional euro eight to 10 (approximately Rs 480 to Rs 600).
Save on travel
Eurail (a train service that operates between countries throughout Europe) passes run from euro 280 to 1,300 (approximately Rs 16,800 to 78,000) and they won't pay for themselves unless you plan on travelling extensively (more than four destinations at least). If you do get a pass, maximise your use. For example, an overnight train or ferry uses only one travel day if it leaves after 7 pm (and will save you one night's stay at a hotel). You can buy your Eurail pass online or through your agent (Try RailEurope.com or RailPass.com). Most countries give students or youth (under 26) discounts, so bring your college papers along.
If you are dropping the pass and getting point-to-point budget tickets, you can travel overnight or take early morning flights/ trains/ ferries. I took an overnight train from Paris to Venice and it cost me euro 68 (approximately Rs 4,080) and saved me a night's hostel stay, as opposed to a regular euro 106 ticket (approximately Rs 6,300) on a 10 am train.
Commuting within the city
Travel by metros, buses and ferries within a city. Do not even think of cabs�they are exorbitantly expensive. Metro trains are the best bet as they are convenient, very well-connected and reasonably fast. Don't forget to pick up your free, easy-to-understand city and metro map available at the station or airport in most cities. Get tourist transport passes for travel by train/buses/ferries that entail unlimited travel within a defined region, valid for one, two or three days. These work out much cheaper than buying individual tickets each time. In Venice, for example, where the only mode of transport is Vaporetti (waterbus), a three-day Vaporetti tourist pass costs euro 12 (approximately Rs 720). A single ticket, even if it is just to the next stop, costs euro five (approximately Rs 300) and is valid for only 60 minutes. See the point?
Museum and monuments pass
Most tourist cities have a monuments/ museum pass that offers free entry. For instance, in Rome, you can pick up a Roma Pass for euro 18 (approximately Rs 1,080) that entails free entry at all museums and monuments. The cost of individual entry into the Collosseum is euro 11 (approximately Rs 660) and that of Palantine Hills is euro seven (approximately Rs 420). So, your Roma Pass pays for itself in just two places. Imagine your savings.
Value meals and buffet bargains
If you have no qualms about non-veg food, you can have a ball. Baguettes, croissants, buns, sandwiches, pizza slices, quiche and so on, filled with a variety of meats and sea-food such as tuna, turkey, ham, bacon, salmon, crab, lamb, chicken, prawns, lobsters, squids and more, can keep you going for endless days. Patisseries, pizzerias and bakeries are present at every nook and corner of Europe. You can walk in and pick what you like. For veggies, life is slightly difficult and choices are limited. Remember though, sitting down at the most regular pizzerias, bars and restaurants costs more than take-aways.
Once in a while, you could treat yourself to all-you-can-eat buffets with pastas, lasagnas, salads and meat platters, to get an authentic taste of local cuisine. Chinese and Thai restaurants also offer value-for-money meals and can satisfy your urge for rice and curry.
Water in Europe costs more than wine or beer. A small bottle costs around euro three (approximately Rs 180), so filling water straight from the kitchen tap makes more sense. It is absolutely safe and that is how all Europeans have their water.
Irish pubs for tanking up on your poison
Beer and wine are cheap if bought from supermarkets, but scotch, vodka, champagne and the like are expensive. A can of Heineken beer costs just about euro two (approximately Rs 120) if bought from a supermarket. The same beer served at a pub costs between euro seven and 15 (approximately Rs 420 and Rs 900). Irish pubs are an exception though, where you can get your stuff for much less. A Guinness beer, for instance, is available for euro 3.75 (approximately Rs 225) and a Heineken for four (approximately Rs 240). The ambience of an Irish pub is addictive as well!
Supermarkets versus tourist shops
Steer clear of fancy-looking souvenir shops (especially near tourist attractions) and museum shops. Supermarkets and discount shops have the same stuff for much less, and a wider variety to choose from. They often have offers going for a steal. I picked up a barbecue set for just euro 10 (approximately Rs 600) from one of these discount stores in Paris. The exact same thing was available at a tourist shop for euro 48 (approximately Rs 2,880).
Choose the right month
Europe is generally more expensive in summer. Air fare peaks between mid-June and early September (as well as during December/Christmas holidays). So, if possible, try to leave in May or early June. Not only will your flight cost less, you could also get accommodation at cheaper rates. You need to start doing the research and ground work now though.
The idea is to have maximum fun and do all that must be done in spite of limited resources. Go, experience the world!
Have you taken a budget trip abroad or in India? Share your tips and experiences
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