The annoying thing about those really cheap deals that you see advertised on the travel agents offices is that more often than not, they are geared towards the lazy traveler. No offence meant here, itâ€™s just that the best deals are to one location, often to a 4 or 5 star hotel which is in a nice suburb, where you will stay put the next 7 days, wallowing in the beautiful jacuzzi and the green hotel surroundings, basking in the pampering of the hotel staff. Now this is perfect if thatâ€™s all you are looking for – but if you are looking for some adventure, to get a sense of the real culture of the places you visit, understand the locals a little bit more than the stereotypes you have read about them, and travel to possibly more than one city in a country – we think alike! And here are just some things which I wish someone had told me before I learned them the hard way or after much effort. (This post might be more relevant for travel within or to Europe, though some general stuff may be true for all budget travellers.)
– Choose your time of travel carefully. It is best to choose the fringes of the peak season for your travels. Avoid the winter, because itâ€™s just too cold, a lot of attractions may be closed and you may not have enough daylight to maximise your visit. In most countries in Central and Western Europe, the high tourist season tends to be June-August, which will of course be the best times in terms of weather, but the cons are that everything tends to be a lot more expensive, you will meet more tourists than locals and its hard to find good accommodation unless you plan very well in advance. So, the months of April, May, Sep and Oct tend to be a better choice.
– There are several backpacker inns, where you can get cheap bunk beds. A good place to look for them is Gomio. If you are traveling as a less than 4 person group and you need to share the room with strangers, don’t rely on the goodness of people – ask for a locker (a lot of the places have free lockers) to keep your valuables when you go gallivanting. And valuables on a backpacking trip are not just those that are expensive, but anything, if lost, would make the next legs of your journey miserable. However, if you are traveling as a couple, some of the low-end and mid-range hotels, can offer you a â€™smallâ€™ double, which may be cheaper than two beds in a youth hostel. This is especially true in the off-season, because the youth hostel prices donâ€™t vary too much across the seasons, but the hotel tariffs do. But that said, you meet less colourful people at hotels as compared to backpacker inns. You often get the best travel tips, adventure stories and fun times at these places – so make your own trade off.
– In many European countries, special fares are available for those below 26. This is true for trains, museum entries, hostel stays and so on. Ask for them, because even if you look your age, the person at the counter may just be absent-minded and forgetful. On some train routes (esp. Thalys and Deutsche Bahn), even if you wonâ€™t get a cheaper fare, you may get upgraded to first class for a marginally higher fare – and thats really worth it too.
– If you are from outside Europe, the easiest way to get around, is often to get a rail pass, available at Eurail . But if you reside anywhere in EU, you canâ€™t buy that, and you have to resort to Interrail. But make sure you travel enough to make it worth it. I canâ€™t say one is better than the other because it depends on individual itineraries. But in the last two trips we planned, it turned out to be cheaper to buy train tickets separately. This is especially the case if you are planning on night trains (not all night train routes are served by rail passes) and if you are planning to go off the beaten path (often the train routes in the places less traveled to tend to be sparse and infrequent), making it a convenient option to go by buses or to rent a car.
– Make the effort to learn a few words in the language of the place you are visiting. Even if the only words you can mutter are â€˜Sieâ€™, â€˜Merciâ€™, â€˜Guten Tagâ€™, and you come off as linguistically-challenged tourist, your efforts will be appreciated and you will be better off than a linguistically-indifferent tourist. And you never know when you will be in a place where you absolutely have no way out without some local language and some words are better than no words.
– Eat heavy breakfasts and lunches and save on dinner. May be this one is really for the shoe string traveler, but I firmly believe that the less I spend on a particular trip, the more places I can cover with my fixed travel budget and so every penny counts. Bed & breakfast places tend to be good value for money, with a decent (donâ€™t expect the impressive breakfast spreads like they have in most Asian hotels) breakfast of breads, cold meats and dairy products. Most cities have good lunch menus which are filling and cheap. And dinners are just over the top! So, get to the local supermarket and buy a loaf of bread or some soup to keep yourself satiated till morning. And if you are a real foodie, a little research beforehand will ensure you find the best of any cityâ€™s cuisine.
– When you are booking hotels, first try the â€˜aggregatorâ€™ sites that search several hotels. Good ones are allukhotels, activehotels and hotel.com. There are several others specific to regions or countries, which can easily found by a google search. Not only do they save you time, but also they tend to offer slightly cheaper deals than booking directly at the hotels. Internet booking usually tends to be cheaper, but there are sometimes hidden gems in most cities that have no online presence and hence can be known only through word of mouth. Best places to find them – backpackersâ€™ travelogues and travel forums.
If you are still reading, I hope you could found at least one little tip to make all that reading worth your while!