I recently returned from three weeks in Europe, and I’ll be starting graduate school in exactly one week. I plan to chronicle my time in grad school through posts on this blog, so more about that later. During my time in Europe, I traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Ireland. My time in Ireland was spent overnight in airports, so while a unique experience in its own right, I hope to go back relatively soon to explore some of the more scenic destinations. However, I got to spend a decent amount of time in the other countries, and I’m so glad I took the plunge and got to go. As a person who loves saving money, I was very nervous before I left about how expensive traveling internationally is. Through careful research, I found some ways to mitigate the overall cost, which I’m excited to share below.
Find a Cheap Destination
So, if anyone’s wondering why I spent two nights in the Dublin airport, it’s because I found a roundtrip, international flight for under $250. Yep. It was less pricey to go to Europe than it is for me to fly home for Christmas. I booked with Norwegian Air about 6 weeks before my trip. Since my boyfriend and I were flying to Europe together (he’s interning there for the summer), we paid a little extra to upgrade our seats, and got to sit next to each other. Since we planned to check bags and the seat upgrade gave us a “free” checked bag, it was worth it. Once we arrived in Dublin, we went through customs and the baggage claim to grab our stuff. Then, we promptly went back through security to get to our next flight.
Flying Within Europe is Hecka Cheap
Ok, so if you want to fly directly to Munich (which is where we were headed), then you’re looking at a roundtrip flight of about $1,500. I don’t have that kind of cash. However, if you’re looking to fly from another European country (say, perhaps, Dublin?) then you’re looking at a $30 flight. Catch my drift? What we ended out doing to get from the US to Munich was book two separate flights on two separate airlines. We took Norwegian from NY to Dublin, and then we took RyanAir from Dublin to Munich. Ryanair provides super cheap flights within Europe. They also provide only the most basic service and require an upcharge for EVERYTHING, so you need to be careful when purchasing. However, cheap is cheap, and by booking on two separate airlines, we managed to save ourselves over $1,000. That’s like, three textbooks for grad school!
Pro tip: If you don’t have an EU passport, you can’t use RyanAir’s mobile boarding pass, and they charge an insane amount of money to print it at the airport. Make sure you print it yourself before you leave! Also, make sure you get a “visa stamp” at the check in, before you go through security. Technically, they can deny boarding if you don’t have it.
Use FlixBus for Quicker Travels
So once we were in Munich, we had to get to Switzerland. Now, Switzerland is notoriously expensive, and even a short train ride costs a lot of money. Supposedly, they don’t allow buses to travel within Switzerland (I say supposedly, because they actually do allow for tour buses, which are of course, expensive). Luckily they do allow for buses to travel into Switzerland from other countries, so we found a ride from Munich to Zurich through a bus company called FlixBus. FlixBus is by far the cheapest option for traveling (aside from ride sharing, which honestly, I’m not brave enough for), and if you have the time, it’s a great way to see some scenic destinations as well. You can actually download the app and book right from your phone, and the cost for a bus to bus ride comes out to about $15 (and probably less for shorter travels). We ended out using FlixBus to get to Italy, and since Italy has less strict guidelines regarding buses, we were able to travel from city to city with them.
Trainline EU in Italy
Once we were in Italy, we used an app called Trainline EU to travel short distances. Like FlixBus, Trainline EU is a downloadable app, which is very convenient because it means you don’t have to print a ticket. It was also great for comparing prices, because we could choose the routes and times that cost the least. Trainline EU is only hooked up directly to France, UK, Spain, and Italy, so it’s definitely worth downloading if you plan to travel in any of those countries.
Airbnb is Even Better Than Hostels
When comparing prices, I was surprised to find out that the cheapest option was Airbnb. I had fully expected hostels to be the cheapest, but the Airbnbs we stayed in ended out being less than half of the going rate for a night at a hostel. If you don’t know what Airbnb is, it’s essentially an app that allows people to rent out spare rooms to guests. There’s a rating system that allows previous guests to leave reviews, and I’ve never had a bad experience while using it. The key is to check for additional costs before booking, and make sure the general location is accessible to you from wherever you’ll be arriving.
Airplane Mode All the Way!
We turned our phones to airplane mode before we left the states and decided to rely on wifi for the duration of our trip. The hardest part about not having any data was orienting ourselves without a digital map. We learned that the best way to do this was to search the location while we were on wifi and mark it as a favorite location. Later, if we were lost, we could bring up Maps on our phones, and the map would be already loaded even though data wasn’t turned on. While we couldn’t use play by play directions, we could see what streets we’d need to take to get where we wanted to go. By not using data, we ended out saving $10 a day.