by Ruby Bisson
I came to Europe with a mere 4700€ ($6500) in my bank account for a 33 week trip- because I was impatient to leave Australia. I knew I didn’t have ‘enough’, I knew a budget this small meant that I wouldn’t be able to shop, let alone sleep in quiet, comfortable beds. I knew I’d have to sacrifice entering into a museum or two and I knew I’d have to take long buses instead of quick flights. But I wasn’t going to let money stop me from seeing the European landscape for the first time.
I am driven to return in the future when I can afford that kind of trip, so why wait? Why not have this one as well?
So far, I haven’t met a single soul with a smaller budget and I honestly believe it’s because there are misconceptions out there about money and travel that need to be addressed. For those vagabonds who are Uppers and Leavers, I want to share some helpful websites and tips that can ensure a cheaper and potentially longer adventure, things I wish I knew before I left that would have saved me a truck load of cash.
1. The BlaBlaCar
A BlaBlaCar is essentially organised hitchhiking. You create an account, type in where you are and where you want to go, scroll through and contact someone who is making the trip at a time that suits you.
It’s easier than a bus. It’s friendlier than a train. It’s cleaner, smoother, faster. The best part? It’s cheaper. In fact, I believe in it so much I will be using this service to make the 700km journey from Berlin back to Amsterdam this weekend.
In terms of reliability and safety, everyone has references left- kind of like eBay. If you’re hesitant, pick someone who is a veteran driver and suss it out. Most of the time it’s a local making the trip, so it’s an opportunity to learn more about the country you’re driving through. If you’re an Aussie reader, you can get from Sydney to Melbourne for an easy $50 if you’re keen.
Again, make a profile and meet a local. Send out a message detailing how many of you are travelling, how long you need a roof over your head, what you’re interested in doing and you’ve potentially got yourself a free room. This is the theory behind it: when travelling, jump around and stay at people’s houses. Have the time of your life. When you return to your motherland, open up your doors and host others. It’s an excellent way to meet people and to see sides of the place you’re visiting that tourist books won’t detail. Again this operates via referencing and I advise for girls travelling solo, to be wise about where you choose to surf.
Again, if you’re an Aussie reader, there’s a huge couchsurfing community at home and you don’t need to be ‘foreign’ to do it. Head to the outback in Perth and stay with a local, stay with a family, get some authentic Aussie culture into ya!
When it comes to packing, you honestly want the lightest backpack possible. Lay out everything you want to take on your bed and then cut that amount in half again. Girls, don’t worry about heels. Honestly, no one wears them out to clubs and they’re truly pointless otherwise. In Europe the majority of the cities are cobblestones so they’re not an easy feat for those wobbling in stilettos.
You don’t need a sleeping bag. All hostels will have sheets or make you pay a couple of bucks for them. However, if you’re going in Summer and with some mates I suggest camping out on the beach or in a forest. Unlike Australia, there is no fear of snakes biting your little nose at night or deadly spiders crawling over your toes. I slept on the beach in Italy under a sky of shooting stars and it was absolutely perfect. If I wasn’t solo I’d have arranged to do this most nights.
Don’t try to be fashionable if it takes up space. Just don’t. Why would you? So what if your hair is not straightened in every photo, you forgot your makeup or you’re wearing the same black singlet top again. If you’re backpacking on a budget, you’re there to see the world and be comfortable while doing it. Stuff caring. Wear clothes than won’t show your backpack sweat.
If you’re in a group, this is another budget friendly accommodation choice. It’s often cheaper (and nicer) than the ever-so-cheap hostels. Simply put, it’s like renting someone’s holiday house for a week, except these places are everywhere from the centre of the city to outskirts.
I am definitely going to look into this for future travel expeditions. Go to Iceland for a couple of months and work in a family owned business for five hours a day. Get food and accommodation for your services. This is similar to WOOFing in Australia, except it’s not restricted to farms. You can legitimately go anywhere in the world and do anything imaginable. Train snow dogs in Norway. Teach English to gorgeous French kids in the countryside. Help an old artist tend his garden in Finland.
6. Hostel tips
Do a bit of research when looking for a hostel, don’t just pick the first one that comes up on Hostel World that claims to be the cheapest. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little extra to be closer to the city, so you save money on buses to the centre. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little extra if it means there will be wifi and a free breakfast. Cheapest isn’t always the cheapest in the long run.
I’ve slept in a 40 bed dorm. It wasn’t bad and it was infinitely less expensive. Always go for these options if you’re trying to save cash. I’ve also never locked anything up, and haven’t had anything significant stolen. I’m not saying you shouldn’t lock your stuff up, I simply didn’t have a lock and didn’t want to pay for one. Bring a lock from home.
Pick a hostel with a kitchen and make your own meals. The more meals you make, the less guilty you feel when you want to go out and try some traditional dishes that are a little on the pricey end during the week.
Bring a supply of earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. I’ve found that one person out of every ten is a snorer, two out of every ten leave at 4am for trains or planes and another two out of every ten come in drunk at 3am and forget about the fact that they’re entering a room of sleeping, tired travellers.
7. Sending postcards
I know this is probably obvious news to most, but it wasn’t to me. If you’re sending postcards, whatever country you buy the stamp from is the country you have to post from. I lost a couple of postcards at the beginning because I bought stamps in Italy but posted in Germany.
Don’t plan too much. I usually planned a day ahead, and still I felt restricted! You will meet people, flipping awesome people you’d never come across in your own little suburb at home. They will invite you to go to the next destination with them and if you’re bound by a rigorous schedule then you’ll miss out on an awesome adventure with friends! (It’s particularly devastating if you’re travelling solo- you finally make a connection with fabulous people and you have to leave them. I missed out on a fair few great opportunities).
That being said, if you’re travelling Europe in peak season, don’t rely on walking into a hostel and hoping they have room. I was stuck in Nice, France at night with nowhere to stay and had to walk a number of kilometres with about 40kg on my person until I found a place with an available bed. Others haven’t been so lucky. I’ve met people who’ve slept in luggage rooms, on couches, had to walk to train stations where it’s somewhat socially acceptable to sleep on a bench. It’s all an adventure, be open to changing plans!
9. Solo, but not solo-solo
I’ve done some of my travel completely no-plans solo, but a lot of it I did through Busabout, which I would highly recommend – especially if it’s your first time in Europe. They offer day trips, cheap hostels and a community of other mostly solo travelers (which is great if you want to meet some travel buddies!). It’s cheap and it is almost as free as if you were travelling without it. You can stay as long in each city or country as you want and when you want to leave, just go to the meeting spot at the right time and a bus will be there to take you to the next place.
I, personally, would never do a tour. I can’t do constant activity, I can’t do constant drinking, and I want to freedom to do whatever I want… alone. Busabout is the nice in- between.
10. Pay the extra amount to fly out on a flexible date. It’s my biggest regret, I want to stay longer. You’ll never know what opportunities will present themselves to you.
All images by Ruby Bisson, this post first appeared on her blog.
Ruby is a university student who is best known for her creative methods in avoiding class. She prefers to gallivant in forests and under waterfalls, attempt pottery and mixed media and read novels completely unrelated to her degree. She is loud and messy and contemplative and struggles to stay in one place for an extended period of time. You can usually figure out her location via her blog/ Instagram.