This is our biggest podcast ever, coming in at a massive 45 minutes and covering all sorts of hints, tips and tricks for saving money and having a blast while you travel in Europe this summer. For those of you who don’t really like Europe, there’s more than enough tips on flight and accommodation booking, travel planning, and travel gear to keep you happy.
We followed this podcast up with one on the best cities in Europe.
We want you to get out and travel this northern summer, so take a listen to the podcast or skim the Cliff’s notes below. If you have any questions, get over to the Europe travel forum and ask them there.
Planning your trip
If this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you might be tempted to attempt to see everything! It’s possible, but probably not the best idea: have enough time in your schedule to soak into the places you visit and to make sure you don’t get stressed about a timetable.
- Don’t do too much! Europe is really culturally dense, there is so much to see; new cultures, languages and foods are always just a few hours away, if not a few minutes … but trying to do too much will leave you exhausted, and you might not have a good time.
- If you’re a culture vulture, plan your city days around free museum and gallery openings. Many museums have one free day a week or month, and if you can match that with your visit — especially for the more expensive galleries — you can save hundreds of euros on entry fees. Do consider leaving a donation for the gallery if you can afford it.
- TravelGeneration.com gives you a little bookmarklet that you can put in your browser, and you can use it to save pages that interest you, then add them into a travel schedule … so your bookmarks become your calendar. Really handy for laying out this kind of thing.
- I like to get some travel photo books out of the library and sit down with them, looking for items of interest, then dig around online. We don’t really tend to use guidebooks any more except for really high-level things, like trying to plan a budget.
- Book yourself into a travel doctor about three months before your trip: this will give you enough time to get the full dosage of any vaccinations you need … and to absorb the shocking prices of the vaccination costs!
- Ask online for advice. There are plenty of travel forums where you can ask questions.
Transport is likely to be your biggest cost, especially if you are flying into Europe from another continent. Here’s where you can save well by booking early and avoiding the sliding scale of urgent ticket prices.
Getting to and from Europe
Check out several flight aggregators, like the search box here, to find out which carriers are going to and from your preferred cities. If there’s a good price, grab it: otherwise, subscribe to fare alerts and to the airline newsletters in order to keep an eye out for sales.
- Be flexible with your dates: a day or two either side could save you money.
- Packing light, with only one carry-on bag, might save you fees, especially if you plan to fly within Europe.
- Consider investing in a milage alert service, like the Travel Hacking Cartel, to bump up your frequent flier miles.
Getting around Britain
We’re covering Britain separately from the rest of Europe because it’s one of the most expensive places to get around, and one with the biggest savings possible.
- The earlier you book, the cheaper you’ll find it.
- Coach service Megabus often has one-pound fares on key routes, but they go fast.
- Eurolines/National Express is your other main coach option, which also offers excellent advance fares.
- Our favourite freedom campers, Spaceships, are available in Britain — sleep in your vehicle to save on accommodation costs.
- Train travel is generally efficient, but it’s the most expensive way of travelling in Britain. Use the Trainline to get an idea of routes, but book directly through the particular train network to avoid extra booking fees.
- Budget flights can be really, really good when jumping around Britain. Check our flights and airfare page or use Skyscanner.net for good options.
Getting around the continent
Apart from hitchhiking, there are four main ways to get around Europe: flights, trains, coaches and self-driving. Each form of transport has its own strengths (and weaknesses), and it’s sometimes possible to travel thousands of kilometers for just $10 if you’re not paying for petrol.
Flights around Europe
- Flights out of hub cities, like London or Berlin, can be really cheap.
- Most budget flights don’t have any kind of flexibility, so if you can’t take the flights on the dates you chose, it’s cheaper to lose the ticket than change it.
- Looking for flights on either side of your preferred date and time can save you a lot of money.
- Investigate flights to and from nearby airports as this can save you a lot too: just account for your ground transport costs when budgeting.
- Search for flights on our flights and airfares page or directly with airlines that service your route.
Trains around Europe
Train travel is our favourite way to get around Europe: you can sit back in your seat, wander around the vehicle, and enjoy the views while listening to your favourite podcasts or audiobook.
- Train travel in the west is generally better than train travel in the east. Things break down around Poland.
- Train travel in Mediterranean countries tends to be cheaper than in the north: Spain being the only exception.
- A Eurail Pass can save you hundreds of dollars, as we proved last year.
- Point-to-point tickets are good if you’re travelling less frequently; and you can compare with coach prices and times on those routes.
Coaches around Europe
- The go-to website for coach bookings in Europe is Eurolines.
- Avoid travelling routes at the same time as football fans … unless you hate peace and quiet, and quite like being surrounded by yelling football fans.
- Local options are available almost everywhere, but Eurolines is the place to compare price and service continent-wide.
Driving around Europe
Driving gives you the most freedom of all options, but it comes at a definite price: the ongoing cost of petrol and tolls more than the initial outlay of renting the vehicle.
- For every euro you budget for petrol, budget one for tolls.
- Be aware of motorway/highway taxes — talk with your rental agency about where you plan to drive.
- Understand your insurance options, and what to do in case of an accident.
- Europecar offers up to 25% off if you pay for car rental online.
After transport, accommodation is likely to be a big cost; either the cost of a room or the price of gifts and meals with your couchsurfing hosts.
- We love couchsurfing, although things will get really busy during the European summer.
- Have fun with your hosts: always have a gift for them, and take them out for a meal or two. Don’t be a sponge.
- If couchsurfing fails, Indie Travel Podcast’s accommodation page comes to your rescue!
- Hostelling is normally cheaper than staying in a hotel, and private rooms are available. Search for hostels using the search box here.
- We’ve sometimes found cheaper hotels, using the hotels search here.
If you can’t afford insurance, consider putting off your trip until you can afford it. We have a whole section on travel insurance here.
After doing 45 minutes of practical planning and travel advice for Europe, we didn’t have a chance to talk about any of our favourite places. If you’d like to hear more about destinations in Europe, start with our Europe travel section … and let us know you want more in the comments. If we get enough comments, we’ll do another big Europe podcast soon.