OE Tips For Budget Travellers in Europe
Seven Tips For New Zealanders Travelling To Europe On A Budget
Are you planning to travel to Europe for your OE (Overseas Experience)? Are you a poor student on a budget, looking to get a bit of travel and tourism in before you buckle down to work and study?
The average New Zealander tends to head straight for Europe before, during, or after University. Some go for a short holiday, some go to work for a while and come back - some never come back, preferring to work off their student loans (or avoid them!) in England or Germany or Turkey. The one thing they have in common is that they are all on a budget.
I am lucky in that I have family in the UK and Germany, and when I go travelling, I can hop from one country to the next, and stay with family in England, and a hostel in France. These are some of the most important things I've learnt about travelling Europe cheaply and safely.
1. Book In Advance
Book early - most transport has early 'cheap' seats and last minute expensive ones, so the further ahead you buy train/plane tickets, the better. You can save half your fare!
Same for accommodation - you'll find the cheaper ones fill up fast (most will be dorms, as well - and you'll need to factor in travel cost if it's right on the outskirts of wherever).
If you know ANYone there, go stay with them if possible. Accommodation is the biggest cost of all.
Make sure you take enough money in the right currency, in cash - it's cheaper than using a credit card. But obviously HAVE a credit card you can use. Shop around before exchanging - banks will give you a better deal than little currency exchanges, but charge higher commission fees. If you have a lot of money, go to a bank, otherwise find a smaller place (and do it all at once!).
You can also get pre-loaded cards and money orders, but they're only one currency and you have to put a lot of money on them - these are fine if you are staying long enough/ only going to be in countries that use the Euro. Also, pay for everything in advance that you can - such as transport and accommodation. That means much fewer unexpected expenses, and you won't have to carry around several hundred euros JUST for those things.
That also goes for clothes and other items you'll take back home with you - make sure you don't need to buy any essentials while you're there, if possible. It will NOT be cheaper (unless the Euro plummets after I write this - obviously check the exchange rate!). Bear in mind your baggage limits on the way home, too. Books, technology and other locally mass produced items - and specialty items like quality shoes - may actually be much better value.
Food will be more affordable - probably. When I last went, the Euro was so high it cost the same overall, but it's gone down since. NZ has very expensive food, so overseas is much nicer (...relatively. It may not make much difference in NZ dollars). Also, divide the money into about four different wallets.This helps both with budgeting (each one to last a week, for example, or a 'daytripping' and a 'backup' wallet), and with security. If you lose the one you're carrying, you've got the ones in the luggage, and if someone goes through your luggage, they might miss one or more.
3. There are a LOT more things to see and do around Europe, but find out what they are first - and how much they will cost. Most places will have an entry fee (and so will occasional toilets) but there will be a lot of free things to look at, if you know to get to them.
A guidebook is extremely helpful here (and so is actually talking to a local). Knowing where to go and when, and what things cost and what you don't need to pay can save you far more trouble and hassle than you spend on getting the guidebook itself.
Tours will show you everything, and can be good deals if they include packages and guides - they can also be three times more expensive. Match up how long you're staying with how much you want to travel - and how many museums and art galleries you can stomach (free access to forty places isn't much fun if you only want to go to three!).
Check out the reputation of the place ahead of time - for example, Paris is also is much more expensive. Rome is also well known for its pickpockets and not being a good place to visit alone.
Munich is the safest city in the world and has amazing transport, whereas Paris is full of desperate people who will approach you and try and work various scams on you (which you can read about on the net in advance - something I strongly advise. It is much easier to resist a familiar spiel than an unexpected one, especially as they are generally very well practiced) . If you are an English speaker, they assume you are American, and will therefore be gullible and rich - and are therefore even harder to get rid of.
Keep a list of phone numbers and addresses and dates for every place you go - and if you lose your wallet, make sure you had your passport somewhere else and it contains the address of the place you're currently staying in (I lost my wallet on the Paris Metro - I had to walk back from the outskirts of the city! The staff found it, and rang the hostel, who greeted me by name as soon as I walked in, asking if I'd lost my wallet... ! I still had to go find a little office in a warren of tunnels at a station to pick it up from, but man, that was awesome).
Keep your wallet inside your jacket, not loose in your pocket - and do not worry about being rude to people if you think they are after something. On the other hand, locals are generally willing to help if you make an attempt at politeness, try and use their language and convey your desperation effectively!
5. Communication (Phone and Internet)
Internet access is NOT reliable, so get used to looking for internet cafes and comparing prices (the one a block off the main street out of site will probably be cheaper than the one in the prime location).
Paris has practically no public internet and it cost me NZ$15 (~US$11) for about half an hour there. There was wireless in one park, but I didn't have a wireless device (and even if I did, keeping things charged is tricky when you're on the move!).
Germany is much more decent (a couple of Euros an hour in Munich), and the UK varies hugely between the cities and the little towns. Most people have it at home, so for smaller towns it isn't worth bringing it in. Basically the older and less mobile (in terms of new business and tourism) the urban centre is, the less public internet will be available.
Libraries may offer public internet, but this is often restricted to members.
Check out the roaming costs of your mobile, it may be worth just buying a new SIM card locally. Overseas calls will cost a lot, so figure out a way for people from home to ring you, if possible. Look into buying international calling cards.
I cannot stress enough how valuable a current guide book is!
There will always be some kind of local transport ticket -- these are either tourist ones or longer term ones for the people who live there, and will save a lot of money if you make sure to get one when you arrive (e.g. London has an Oyster card, in Paris I went for a short term 'let me go everywhere and see everything' one, in Munich the local normal one was better value than the tourist one they offered).
Also, in Munich, the only way to get a map was to buy it/get it as part of the package! The tramlines only had diagrams!
There are trains all around Europe, and these will be cheaper than flights between countries for the most part. Buses will be even cheaper, but much slower and less comfortable to sleep in. Again, book ahead.
Insurance against missing a connection is a really good idea (I still remember a mad dash through a confusing underground in Munich, finding the train after it was meant to have left. A woman complained about it being late to me, and I said I was glad - or I wouldn't have been on it!)
7. Surprise Extra Costs and Savings
Check and see what these apply to, when you'll get a surprise extra cost and when you might be able to wiggle out of it. In the UK, if you have takeaway, you don't get charged the 'service' tax in cafes for example.
Youth discounts can go up to 25, with the right ID. Check what ID you might need for this!
You will always spend more than you expect. Budget for this.
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