Posted by: rngerlach | July 23, 2007

Travelling Europe on a Budget

If you are like me and lacking a continuous source of income right now, but you have saved money for a travel fund, a well-planned budget must be prepared.  I just hope to provide some helpful tips for saving money through European travels.  Europe is not like South or Central America or even Southeast Asia where the US dollar carries a lot of weight.  Sure it costs more to catch a flight to those countries, but once you are there living is very cheap. Most European countries have the Euro (€) as their form of currency.  Do not and I repeat do not underestimate the power of the exchange rate.

The Euro is around 1.36 to the US dollar.  For instance, every time I withdraw 100€ from the bancomat, ATM, I check my bank account which shows that I withdrew 136 US dollars plus the banking fees which are about 8 dollars. So spending 100€ is the same as spending roughly 145 dollars.  My best advice is to prepare your travel budget with the exchange rates included. Just to review the power of 1.36 to 1.  I brought a little over 4,000 US dollars for two months, yet I only could spend 3,000 of it because 1,000 went to just covering the exchange rate, yes it is powerful.

Some countries don´t use the Euro such as Sweden (Krona), Denmark (Danish Krona), Czech Republic (Krown), and Switzerland (Franc).  I made the mistake of not researching the exchange rates on these currencies and paid heavily since I never really knew exactly how much to withdraw.  In Czech Republic, I withdrew cash four times in three days since I never really could get the exchange rate clicking in my head.  Had we prepared our budget around how many Krown we could spend instead of US dollars, the bank account would have been much more pleasant to see.

The more preparation you do beforehand on the exchange rates, the absolute better you will be with your travel fund.  Some other tips on travelling with a budget:

Choose your meals wisely: Unless you have tons of cash to spend for your travels, you will not be eating like you do in the US.  You want to get the fine local cuisine in every country you visit but you do not want to break you wallet in the process, so find the balance.  We would visit a local supermarket whenever we needed to and buy granola bars, bread, and nutella or peanut butter.  Most European countries don´t sell peanut butter but nutella which is like chocolate butter.  I am a huge peanut butter fanatic so this was hard to handle at first.  Fortunately, when we arrived in Switzerland, the first market we hit had peanut butter.  Yes, we stocked up on the jars of peanut butter to last us the rest of the trip.  We would just use the food from the markets to get us by during the long days on trains or walking 5-10 miles through the European cities.  Then you want that fine local cuisine, so allow yourself one or two good meals to splurge on to get a taste of that fine local food.  Depending on how long you are in each city of course because it is all relative.  The average time we spent in each city was 3-4 days, so base it on that scale.

Validate Your Metro Tickets: Never think that you can get away on a metro without validating the ticket.  We saw two girls in Prague who were on our metro car and they hadn´t validated their ticket.  It was not pretty seeing a pissed off Czech officer charge these two girls the equivalent of 80 US dollars each.

Know the Train is Booked Before the Hostel: This is somewhat harder to do, but if you are travelling Europe by train with a Eurail pass, some trains require you to make a reservation.  The trains that require reservation charge supplement fees as well.  The Eurail doesn´t cover everything unfortunately.  We probably paid about 400 dollars just in supplement fees for trains.  There is always alternate routes that may take longer but will save you money.  We ran into a situation where we had a hostel booked in Barcelona but the train was all full from Bern and Geneva, Switzerland to Barcelona.  So we paid for a night in Barcelona while sleeping in a train station.  Now this rarely happens but it can so always be aware of what trains you can take, and book ahead of time.  Important to note is that you can only book a train from that actual station, there are no online bookings for Eurail.  Thus, it is sometimes harder to book trains if you will not be in that city until the day of departure, which does happen often.

Always Be Aware: One thing about travelling anywhere is you have to know when you are in the area of a pickpocketer or gypsie.  They are very sligh with this too.  I was never pickpocketed or robbed by a gypsie, knock on wood, but I had encounters.  One lady was trying to act as a prostitute in Prague and kept reaching into our pockets and we knew immediately what she was after.  In Napoli, Italy, three kids tried distracting me and picking my pockets but the best defense is acting crazy.  It helped in this situation that I was feeling crazy from lack of sleep so my temper allowed me to flip a switch and make the kids run away with empty hands.  In Barcelona, we were in a bar on Las Ramblas chatting with some guys from America, one was boasting how he had not been picked yet. No sooner after we left that bar, two prostitutes ganged up on him and he thought he had defended them until he checked his pockets and all 50€ of his cash was no longer there.  I am telling you they do this for a living, so always be aware.  Your best bet, is to put everything in your front pockets and when on metros put your own hands in your pockets, this was my best defense mechanism.  Regardless, do not let this scare you from travelling, it is just part of the game and you always have to be smart and alert.

These are just a few tips I could share for travelling Europe with Eurail.  I think it is the only way to travel Europe. There are so many more tricks of the trade when travelling anywhere, so feel free to ask for more. Either way I hope this helps if you ever decide to take that adventure and if so, safe travels!

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