“How to travel when you're broke ”
So, a bit of context is probably necessary. In Spring 2015, my boyfriend and I went on an Interrail adventure in Europe. We went predominantly to central and eastern European cities because they are the cheapest and, in my opinion the most underrated.
How did I manage to spend only £800 on over THREEWEEKS including flights, accommodation, my train pass and extra reservations, food and drink, and all the fun extras and day trips?
Good question! Here are my absolute top tips:
1. Get the right resources
There are a few websites and apps that without you literally wouldn’t be able to plan and maintain a budget trip. Airbnb is an absolute must for choosing budget accommodation and keeping in touch with your host. Like A Local Guide is a great little gem for finding budget restaurants and things to do as recommended by locals - it helps you stay away from overpriced tourist traps which, when counting your pennies is really essential. Lastly is the Offline Rail Planner App by Interrail so you can check up on trains and plan your travels without using your precious data in a foreign land.
2. Think About Your Route
Like I said, some countries are cheaper than others. If you want to visit the likes of Paris, Amsterdam, Switzerland and Italy you are, quite simply, not going to be able to do it on a budget like mine and be able to eat and drink to your hearts content. So try to pick mostly cheaper countries to spend the bulk of your time in with a few pricier ones thrown in if you just can’t stay away from Paris. Another idea worth considering is try to plan your trip so you start and end in the cities in which you want to spend the most time in so as not to eat into your travel time (you have an allotted number of days to use for travel).
3. Train Tickets & Reservations
I’m pretty diehard when it comes to planning so there was no chance I was going to just jump on a train and go wherever I fancied whenever I fancied. Of course, for some, that is one of the joys of Interrail, but it won’t be so joyful when you get hit with a reservation cost you didn’t expect or you don’t get a seat on the last train. Not all journeys need seat reservations and not all will cost you an arm and a leg, but it’s important to find out which journeys do need a reservation and maybe you can choose a different route to avoid coughing up the cash. The Thalys direct train from Paris to Brussels took one hour and cost £40 to reserve a seat, but travelling from Paris to Lille to Gent to Brussels took an extra 2 or 3 hours but it only cost £7. Worth it, because those reservations and savings certainly add up. Hopefully this goes without saying but also make sure to find out which local travel is free with the Interrail pass, such as the S-Bahn in Berlin and use those as much as possible.
This is the part of the planning that can really eat into your budget and the bit that can really make or break a trip. Obviously no one wants to stay in a shithole, but to save money you really need to compromise on luxury. Sorry. Get a spreadsheet going and compare the cheapest places you are happy to stay in each place you are visiting. Check sites like Hotels.com, Trivago, hostelbookersand Airbnb to get a good idea of what’s available and for what price. We stayed almost exclusively at Airbnb’s and met some AMAZING people. You also get the chance to stay in some weird and wonderful places: In Amsterdam we stayed on a little two man boat about a 45 minute walk out of the city centre. A really important tip that people don’t realise is to not be put off by staying further outside the city centre. You’ll save so much money, the cities are almost always served by outstanding public transport and you can end up in some really cool places a bit off the beaten path.
5. Eating & Drinking
A controversial one but hear me out. I wholeheartedly recommend you plan some restaurants to visit while you’re there. Tripadvisor and Like A Local can give you some awesome ideas for cheap places to go and it will save you experiencing Pizza Hut Gate. *Shudder*. What is that, you ask? When arriving in Brussels after a VERY long day of not eating anything we were absolutely starving, didn’t know where to go, and couldn’t find the city centre (We are idiots, clearly). All we could find was a Pizza Hut and I was devastated we wasted one precious meal time eating a crap pizza we could have had at home.
You don’t have to eat off the food on your lists if you find other amazing options, it just saves you from situations like that. Some of the Likealocal suggestions we tried were our absolute favourites and we were SO glad we tried them, even if it did take away some spontaneity. If you do insist on not planning any meals, stay away from tourist spots where prices are disgustingly inflated - take a trip down side streets, find cool suburban areas, or eat off the streets (from stalls not bins, don’t worry). The Old Towns and Jewish Quarters are fail safe places to find some little gems. To really be thrifty - COOK. Breakfast can take up a big wad of cash if you’re looking for Full English breakfasts or home favourites, so buy a box of eggs, a tin of beans, and a loaf of bread, and cook your own. You can make breakfast for two on two days for less than a fiver. We made tuna pasta (using mayo sachets we “borrowed” from McDonalds) or tomato pasta and found a nice park or a bench somewhere pretty to eat.
Side note - I think it would be misleading to not tell you that we are not big drinkers. If you’re after a boozy holiday with wine and beer with every meal and nights out every night you will absolutely not stay on my budget. Saying that, Martin did have a beer with most dinners and we a few cocktails on sunny days or a few bottles in a few pubs. We also did NOT scrimp on treats - we had ice cream every day (Woops) and had lots of chimney cakes, crepes and waffles. Better than booze.
6. Out & About
Time is a luxury so unfortunately you won’t be able to do and see everything you want. Soz.. I suggest making a list of places you want to see, and divide the list into “Must Sees”, “Not Too Bothered” and “If Time/Money Allows it”. Note prices and then reassess - maybe don’t do 3 things in one city that are going to cost £50 each, just pick one. Instead of climbing the Eiffel Tower, is just seeing it enough? Do you really need a boat cruise down the Danube or will walking the banks with an ice cream suffice? Budgeting like this meant we had money to spend on fun extras we discovered out and about like getting drink in UV Mini golf in Prague. Of course, it goes without saying to make the most of free things and check if any museums allow free entry on certain days.
7. Miscellaneous Tips
I hope this is helpful to you and you can save a few pennies on your travels! Interrailing was one of my favourite holidays EVER and everyone should have the chance to do it without breaking the bank. Happy travels, all!