How to travel around Europe on a budget: 3 ways to save cash

Not everyone has the cash to pay for a flight in business class the day before they travel, take taxis everywhere and pay the fees for five suitcases when they go away. However, there’s no reason why those of us with limited funds should resist travelling abroad, or flounder around miserably spending more money than we can afford just because we were ill-informed or disorganised. Not having vast quantities of cash at your disposal requires you to be more prepared, more logical and more cautious, because there isn’t a wad of £50 notes in your bag that will solve things if you find yourself stuck. You can’t afford to be running fatally late for a journey you booked if there’s no more money to pay for another ticket, or pay the eye-watering last minute luggage fees at the airport because your bags are too heavy or you have more than your booking allows.

Desperate to go away but worried about cash? Don't worry, there are ways you can do it. (Photographer: Love_Haight; Flickr)

Desperate to go away but worried about cash? Don’t worry, there are ways you can do it. (Photographer: Love_Haight; Flickr)

Below is a brief guide to budget travel, applicable to the big spenders looking for a holiday that’s better value, the near-destitute travellers among us who’ve got a bad case of wanderlust, and those simply wanting to save some cash on their next trip. Use it well.

1. Be tactical

The time and day you choose to book a flight can make a huge difference to what you pay. On a Tuesday afternoon between midday and around 2.30pm, I was browsing Skyscanner and found return flights from London Luton to Budapest (and back) on the day I wanted to travel for £85.96 for two people. I didn’t book the flights immediately and took another look later on.

By 7.30pm that evening, the price had increased to £157.96. The next day around 1pm, they fell back to £85.96 again. Admittedly, both prices are ludicrously cheap for two return tickets (although I will smugly admit that I paid £9.99 to fly with Ryanair to Cologne once), but it’s proof that booking earlier in the day (ideally on a weekday), works out cheaper. My uncle followed this advice and it worked for him, too — he looked at flights late on a Sunday night, then checked again around midday on Monday and the price had halved.

Fancy Budapest, Cologne or somewhere else in Europe? Get on Skyscanner, check it regularly and it'll halve your problems and probably the price of your flight ticket. (Photographer: Mathis Apitz; Flickr)

Fancy Budapest, Cologne or somewhere else in Europe? Get on Skyscanner, check it regularly and it’ll halve your problems and probably the price of your flight ticket. (Photographer: Mathis Apitz; Flickr)

2.Take advantage of luggage allowance loopholes

Taking carry-ons only rather than checked baggage tends to be fine for most people going on a short(ish) European trip, and it’s a big money saver too. However, it might work alright on the outbound flight, but problems often arise on the return flight when you’ve bought too many souvenirs, clothes, or in my case endless packs of cheap cigarettes.
Some airlines, such as Wizz Air and Easyjet, allow you to take ‘one standard size duty free bag’ on board as well. So if there’s no space in your hand luggage for that new pair of sunglasses, all those weird snacks you bought from a foreign supermarket or anything else you found on your travels, don’t worry about it. Take them through security in a normal plastic bag or anything else that can be folded down easily later, buy something from duty free and then cram that bag full of everything that’s spilling out of your carry-on before you board your flight. Space problems solved, and you get an extra bag that no one can challenge you about. Besides, at duty free, you decide how much to spend, and on a budget trip that’s likely to be significantly less than what the airline would charge in last minute baggage fees.
Some airlines allow a bag of duty as well as other bags you have with you. Make the most of it! (Photographer: Kai Hendry; Flickr)

Some airlines allow a bag of duty as well as other bags you have with you. Make the most of it! (Photographer: Kai Hendry; Flickr)

3. Be flexible and sensible about transport
People who go abroad and say that they’d ‘rather not mess about with public transport’ are generally not travelling on a budget, or if they are, they’re not doing it properly. Personally I find the experience of navigating a new place pretty thrilling; for me it’s part of the trip. I also don’t have an aversion to coach travel, uncomfortable as it often is, because my priority is always to get value for money and minimise costs when I’m travelling between cities. If you’re the same, then check out GoEuro, one of my favourite comparison sites.

GoEuro is, frankly, very cool indeed. You can type in ‘Berlin-Hamburg’ or ‘Ljubliana-Klagenfurt’ on a certain day and search by the ‘smartest’ route, the fastest or simply the cheapest. It shows you prices and times for flights, trains, coaches and even car hire. Coaches are generally the cheapest option (presumably because they are arguably the least glamorous and usually the slowest). However, during my many hundreds of visits to this website I’ve found several routes where there’s only a 10-30 minute difference in journey time between the coach and the train, but the coach is half the price.

Ljubliana (above) is around a 2 hour train journey away from Klagenfurt. The average price for a ticket between the two cities is just £15! (Photographer: SzoszonBratku; Flickr)

Ljubliana (above) is around a 2 hour train journey away from Klagenfurt. The average price for a ticket between the two cities is just £15! (Photographer: SzoszonBratku; Flickr)

To conclude, if you get organised, make sacrifices and get a bit sneaky once in a while, you’ll be fine. I can’t imagine a life without travel, so if that means the odd 13 hour coach journey, being cramped into a packed aeroplane full of screaming kids or resisting the temptation to buy endless souvenirs from my trip, I’ll do it. It’s always worth it once you get to wherever you’re going.
Featured image © Images Money
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