Top Tips for Travel in Europe
European Travel Tips
By Kent St. John
GoNOMAD TRAVEL EDITOR
Updated January 2015 by Peter Bittman
A European adventure is many travelers’ first overseas adventure. The chance to explore so many different cultures and world-class sites within easy reach of one another greatly justifies that choice. However, with that choice comes higher prices and bigger crowds.Planning is essential. Here are some tips that will help you visit Europe more cheaply and with fewer tourist headaches.
CROSSING THE POND CHEAPLY
Don’t expect low oil prices to translate into cheap airline tickets anytime soon. The transatlantic fare will likely be the single biggest expense of your trip. Peak summer season travel means peak airline ticket prices so, if possible, try to schedule your European voyage to the shoulder or off-season. Departing in May or September can save big dollars on airfare.
If you are traveling during the summer, look at alternative ticketing. The goal is to cut between 20%- 30% off the regular airline fares. The best time to start your search (if you haven’t already) is now.Two of my favorite sites for finding low cost transatlantic flights are skyscanner.com, which are often better at finding the cheapest itineraries than big name booking sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz.
If you want to find the lowest fares but not necessarily book from the the same site, check out Google Flights, which shows prices all over a map from a set departure city.
The city you fly into (and out of) is a big factor in finding a low cost ticket, so any added flexibility you can muster could save you hundreds of dollars. While routes to major hubs like Paris and London boastfairly competitive pricing,the huge demand—especially from tour companies—means you likely won’t find the best possible prices. Instead, here are five European cities to consider as your jumping-off point in Europe:
For a full list of the cheapest European cities to fly into from the U.S., check out priceoftravel.com
· Compare itineraries and fares across multiple booking websites. Consider flying into one European city and returning home from another. It might save your budget!
· Remember that mid-week flights tend to be cheapest regardless of the season.
· Purchasing flights and hotel stays through the same booking company can result in significant savings, but this generally holds true for travelers willing to spend more in the first place.
· Consider budget European airlinessuch as Airberlin, Condor, Icelandair, XL Airways,and Norwegian which offer transatlantic routes. Prices are generally lower but choose carefully. Smaller planes (and seats) mean you may be in for a less-than-comfortable ride. Check out seatguru.com to findthe best seats for each flight and itinerary on 100+ airlines.
· Last but not least, read about how you could potentially save loads of cash by easily fooling common search algorithms. Seriously. time.com
POINT TO POINT: TRAVEL WITHIN EUROPE
Europe’s small size and well-developed transportation make it easy for even short-term visitors to cover vast distances. A lot depends on the time you plan to spend in each location. What’s your goal as a traveler? Is it to see as much as possible or get to know several cities or regions intimately? Consider the trade-offs and discuss your preferences with co-travelers as you make plans.
Knowing the amount of time (and money!) you want to spend in each locationbeforehand will help you shape your itinerary. It will also help you search for the most economical options as you plan your trip details. For example, if you are staying in one city for a given period, buying a 2, 3 or 7-day transit pass will certainly be cheaper than single tickets.
Note: Some cities like Paris and London offer “all access”multiple day passes (e.g. parispass.com and londonpass.com) which include public transportation,no-waiting-in-line museum admission, and other discounts and perks. Be sure to search for discount codes and make reservations soon as prices usually increase after January!
Train travel in Europe is one of the best ways to get around. But no matter if you are using a Eurail pass or taking a single train trip, there are some things you ought to know.
- As Americans, it can sometimes be tricky to book European train travel.Planning to traverse the famous “Chunnel” from London to Paris? Eurostar will not send tickets to U.S. addresses—instead have them hold them for you at the train station or send them to a local address (e.g. hotel). With Eurail they will onlysend tickets to an address outside Europe. The lesson: read the fine print and plan accordingly.
- Many cities in Europe have more than one station; for example Paris has six mainline stations. Make sure you know what station serves your destination.
- European trains run on military time -- the twenty-four hour clock. Try to become familiar with the times.
- Reservations may cost a few dollars more, but can be well worth the cost, especially during holidays. Making an outbound reservation when arriving to a city is also a good idea.
- Reservations are also needed for couchettes (sleeping bunks). Most night trains leave in the evening and arrange to arrive the next morning, regardless of the distance.
- Most high-speed trains will require a reservation and -- even with a train pass -- an added fee.
- Sometimes trains are split up and going to different destinations. Make sure you are on the right car. This is especially common during night travel.
Here are a few of my favorite websites for planning your European train travel:
· www.seat61.com– an amazing collection of resource, tips, and recommendationsfrom a British train traveler extraordinaire! Lists of European railway websites (often cheaper than their American counterpart ticketing sites), suggested routes, and much more.
· ricksteves.com – comprehensive online guidebook to navigating Europe by train.
Consider flying on budget European airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair, Meridiana, and Vueling but be careful. While their listed prices may beat their larger competitors’, hidden fees can quickly add up (e.g. overweight/oversize luggage, airport check-in, etc.)Be sure to read the fine print! Find which budget airlines service your itinerary and link to booking sites using www.dohop.com or whichairline.com.
GOING MY WAY?
All through Europe there are services that connect travelers with drivers. This is a great way to meet some of the locals and see the countryside. Inquire about ride-sharing services at tourist offices and hostels or simply hop on mobile-friendly uber.com to find a ride nearby wherever you are! Another great way to share transportation costs and meet the locals is via carpooling.com, a popular web service started in Germany andused throughout Europe. Unlike other rideshare sites this one is mainly for travelers going long distances (the avg. trip is 125+ miles). There’s also a convenient app for apple and android.
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
One of the biggest joys of traveling Europe is the variety of accommodations. Here’s a list of useful resources covering the full spectrum of budgets and travel styles.
couchsurfing.com– a free global network of shoestring travelers and hosts willing to offer room and board.Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals and learn about diverse cultures from insiders, but does not come without risks. Personal references and a system of credit card-based identity verification serve as the network’s currency but travelers should always exercise caution and sound judgment. In many cities couchsurfingcommunities hostopen multicultural socials at bars or pubs.Note: backpackers, check out this list of the best European cities for your budget: priceoftravel.com.
workaway.info– at little cost (23 euros/person) you can access a global database of hosts willing to provide you with room and board for extended work exchanges—usually several weeks. As a traveler you are typically expected to laborfive hours for five days a week. Locations, lodgings, and hosts’ expectations are highly variable and, like couchsurfing, travelers must be sensible and vigilant.
hostelworld.com– an excellent site for finding the perfect digs in your destination city. Choose from thousands of hostels using ratings and in-depth reviews to pick the accommodationsbest suited for you. Hostels with a wide variety of rooms including singles, doubles, and dorms are available. Even hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts advertise here.
lastminute.com and eurocheapo.com– both great places to search for bargains on hotels. If you’re flexible or in a pinch, lastminute can help you make reservations within your price range. Meanwhile, Eurocheapo offers excellent reviews and has a straightforward rating system.
There are however some basic rules that can help you make the right choice, be it hostel, pension, or a charming two star hotel.
- Always ask to see the room you will be renting. The owners or staff may not show you the cheapest room first unless you ask. If it isn’t right, work your way up.
- Always ask the total cost, with tax and any extras like breakfast.
- Take a moment and monitor fellow guests if possible. This is a great way to judge a property. Asking a guest about their stay will also speak volumes.
- In some places in Europe there is a discount if you stay more than three nights. Ask.
- Railroad station locales often have the largest concentration of hotels, though they may be noisy.
- In many cities, the later you arrive the least likely you will find that perfect room. Try to arrive early.
- If all else fails, go to the local tourist office. Tourism Offices not only have access to hotels you might not know about, but they can also find you a room in an otherwise sold-out property or city. You may spend a little extra for the convenience of having them do the legwork, but it will give you more time to actually enjoy the city.
Before you depart on your adventure, check out this list of top-rated travel apps to download before your trip. travel.usnews.com
With these apps on your smartphone you’ll:
· Find where the locals hang out, instantly!
· Never wander in search of wifi again!
· And, of course, send a postcard to mom (from your phone’s camera)!
As in all travel, your attitude will make the difference between a good trip and a great trip. There is nowhere else quite like Europe; where a bad day can turn so dramatically into a great night. If your room isn’t that great… remember that nearby are amazing art, food, wine, and experiences.