Europe is the classic dream destination, a history education, an epicenter of culture, a palette of landscapes and a slice of the good life. The one thing it’s not, is cheap. Even with over a decade of planning my own itineraries, Europe made me feel like a rookie.
To begin with, there is the first world problem of too much information and too many routing options, I didn’t know where to begin. Then, my fierce hunt for affordable hostels and transport was yielding abysmal results. Throwing me into more intensive information seeking. And before I knew it, I was in an overwhelming, sleep-slaying vicious cycle.
It took me a couple of weeks to concede that I will not achieve near third world prices in the first world, crumbling economy notwithstanding.
Europe doesn’t give much room to wing it or get lucky. But there are some elementary hacks I discovered on my trip that will help save, stretch and juice the last drop out of your Euro.
So, if you want to bust the oxymoron, use my 7 deadly hacks.
1. Research free entrance days. Queue up early.
Most tourist monuments in Europe allow free entry on either the first or last Saturday/ Sunday of the month. I saw the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill for free in Rome as I was there on the first Sunday.
Online tickets cost extra to skip the queue. Line up early instead. And you don’t have to rise with the sun to get ahead in the queue. Western tourists are not big on queues the way we are. I zealously reached the Uffizi museum in Florence an hour in advance only to find one Chinese ahead of me.
Arrive half hour in advance, in most places, and within 5 minutes you be through the opening gate.
Savings – Free entry – €8-15 per ticket Online booking – €2-4 per ticket
2. Don’t buy water.
All of Italy has beautiful street fountains with constant running water that’s fresh and bacteria-free. The locals confidently drink from it and don’t drop dead. Most other countries, too, have drinkable tap water.
So, all you need to buy is one empty bottle.
Savings – €2-5 for a 500ml bottle
3. Put your resilient bladder to work.
The biggest advantage Indians, especially women, have over other tourists is our resolute bladder control. Exercise it to find free loos. Most monuments and exhibitions don’t charge for toilets. Coincide the use of loos with use of restaurants. Trains and long journey buses have loos. Some cities like Paris have gratis loos that are disinfected for two minutes after each use.
Please don’t pay the price of a beer to release the water you made of it.
Savings – Between €0.40-2.00
4. Research with aggregators. Book direct. Book early.
Booking early is a no-brainer. If your dates are fixed, grab your stay, as prices are particularly volatile in summer.
However, if you like to plan on the fly, as is the joy of backpacking, aggregators like Booking.com and Hostelworld.com make it easy to compare prices along with location, connectivity and reviews, with the flexibility to cancel for free. When you freeze on your stay, book directly for slightly cheaper on the property’s official website. A bit sneaky, but so what.
Savings – €3-5 a night off the current price
5.Bargain. Poochne mein kya jaata hai?
Europeans appear straightjacketed and uptight and negotiating prices does seem daunting. But you’ll be surprised how some politeness, humour and a smile thaws them. In flea markets where some bargaining is expected, you’ll save more. Even some stores [not big brands] will bring down prices or throw in extras in lieu of a sale.
I got a prized pair of sunglasses from a rather tough entrepreneur for half price. I did always think I had a nice smile.
Savings – This truly depends on how talented you are
6. Why save when you can earn.
There is tremendous dignity of labour in Europe and odd jobs are welcome from the floating population. Like manning the bar, singing, playing an instrument, teaching a language, translations. For the unfazed, there are opportunities in subway concerts. Some hostels have open announcements. Some opportunities surface over conversations. I got paid €37, a night’s stay, for my photography that covered a hostel event.
Earnings – Depends on the nature of job
7. Free walking tours. Pay with a hug & a kiss.
Walking is the best way to explore a place, at a pace that lets you immerse in the local sights and culture. ‘Free walking tour’ lets you sign up even last minute. Typically led by a guide for about 3 hours around places of historic importance or parts of city with a sub culture. In the end, you tip the guide the amount you like.
The first time I sought one, I took the word ‘free’ literally and didn’t carry any money. But I was saved the embarrassment when my guide accepted the payment with a warm hug and a peck on his cheek.
Savings – If you pay the standard tip, you save an approximate €20-30 on organized tours
These savings may be miniscule. But I recommend that you multiply the figure with the number of travel days, the number of times you use the service in a day, and the number of people travelling. Go on, do the math. And, pull a chair while you are at it.
Kunj Shah is a Floh member who recently went backpacking in Europe. She also shared her experiences with Floh members at the the event ‘Backpacking Tales’.