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Europe as a budget destination – part I – where to?

December is an expensive month. The gifts, the travel, the meals, the party’s all cost a bunch. Come January and you’re left with a huge financial hangover on top of the common one, with the European vacation you’ve been eyeing for this summer further out of reach than ever. Europe as a continent does not enjoy the reputation of being a “budget destination”. Totally undeservedly, if you ask me. I’ve spent years roaming around Europe as a penniless student and I can tell you that if you do it right, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to tour this beautiful continent from end to end on a reasonable budget. And over the next few weeks, through this weblog, I am going to tell you how. Assuming you don’t go on an organized tour but want to travel on your own schedule, taking your time, I promise you that if you keep reading, you will discover that Europe too can be a budget destination.

When travelling, or thinking of travelling there are a number of topics to consider. Usually, these can be divided into the following: “Where and when do I go, how do I get around once I am there, where do I sleep, and what do I do while I am there”. There is, of course, the “how do I get there” question, but my guess is that you’ll be perfectly able to figure that out by yourself once you’ve settled your mind on the “where and when”, so I’ll just ignore the “how to get there” part and start with “where do I go”.

If you are going to Europe on a budget, first of all, don’t go to “Europe”. Its just too big and too diverse to cope with, especially on a budget. Go to “Europe” and you’ll end up getting lost in the maze of countries, currencies and customs, “seeing” a lot but experiencing only frustration and lack of time. Is there anything you can do? Yes, you can!

  • Go to a big European country
    Big European countries, like Spain, Italy or France are home to a great diversity of landscapes and regional cultures. If you spend most of your time in a big country, not only will you save on buying one guide book instead of many, you’ll profit from getting familiarized with the local transportation system, knowing which supermarket chain is the cheap one and so on. You may even learn some of the language and if you get bored – most big countries have many neighbours, making day trips to other countries a piece of cake.

    France is the most diverse European country. If you get bored in France, you'd get bored anywhere

    France is the most diverse European country. If you get bored in France, you’d get bored anywhere

  • Go to the Eurozone
    Maybe not the cheapest part of Europe, but staying in the uniform currency area will save you the hassle and costs of changing money at every border. Getting used to the exchange rate can prevent costly mishaps, saving you more than you would think. And a Eurozone country is not necessarily expensive – Estonia, Slovakia, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and as of 1st of January also Latvia are all using the Euro and are comparatively cheap.

    Not all countries that are using the Euro are in the EU - like Montenegro

    Not all countries that are using the Euro are in the EU – like Montenegro

  • Go to Central Europe
    The West and North of Europe are rather expensive and travelling in the East is difficult (and expensive) due to large distances and language barriers. Plus, countries like Russia or Ukraine lack facilities for the budget traveller such as hostels and campings. Staying in the “golden middle” will keep you from overspending while allowing you to enjoy excellent facilities and relatively short travel distances. The only problem is – what is Central Europe? I think it can be limited to members of the EU that have been behind the Iron Curtain. Just check any list of “cheapest European cities” and you’ll find most of them fit the definition of Central Europe I propose.
  • So where to?
    Seemingly, the advice I just provided is contradictory, as there are no large countries in Central Europe that use the Euro. But I never said you should fulfil all the conditions at the same time. Besides, perhaps you’ve forgotten a country? What about Germany? Its big, it uses the Euro and its as Central European as it gets – even the geographical centre of the EU is in Germany. And, of course, a large part of Germany was behind the Iron Curtain – the Berlin wall must count for something! Plus, don’t forget that Berlin is one of the most affordable cities in Europe.

    Berlin, one of the most affordable European cities, has plenty of iconic sights

    Berlin, one of the most affordable European cities, has plenty of iconic sights

Hope this gives you inspiration and confidence that Europe is doable even on a tight budget. Next time I’ll share some tips about where to sleep cheaply (or even for free). And if you have budget tips of your own, your comments are welcome! Happy travels!

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Filed under Europe, Europe on a budget, Tips and tricks, Travel

Bite-sized Europe

I often read weblogs about Europe and a lot of those are written by people planning or reviewing their first trip to Europe. Some are visiting on package tours, others go on a honeymoon. Others are coming to Europe as part of a RTW trip or for study. All these people are confronted with a common enemy – Europe simply has too much to offer. Sure, its a small continent, but its geographic location makes it host to a wide range of climate zones, and with over 50 countries (by my count) its second only to Africa in number of states. No wonder travellers to Europe, especially those coming to the old granny for the first time have a hard time choosing.

The question most often asked by people planning a trip to Europe is “what’s the best itinerary?”. (Un)Fortunately, there’s an infinite number of answers to this question, depending on several factors, like when are you going, how long will you be staying, what is you budget and what are your preferences. There is no “best” itinerary, only what’s best for you. So what to do? If you’re going to Europe just for a week or two, then I’d say it makes no sense to rush around. Choose a big country, like France, Germany or Italy, and stick with it – there’s plenty of choices within these big boys to keep you busy.

But what if you’re coming for longer, and want to explore the endless variety of European customs, cuisine and climate? My tip to you is – regionalize. In the geographical and political maze of (small) European countries, national borders increasingly lose their meaning and the regional ties, formed by common history, language and geography are becoming (again) more defining. Staying within a region for several weeks will allow you to get a taste of several (small) countries with relatively little travel hustle, and if you’re staying longer, hop on to another region for a radically different setting.

There are, of course, numerous possible divisions of Europe into regions – for example, the classic division into North, East, South and West (and perhaps Central) Europe. Most of these divisions create regions that are way too big for travelling itinerary purposes. So I’ve decided to create my own regional map of Europe. I am not running a travelling guide, but as there’s an obvious need for qualitative inside information on reasonable travel planning in Europe, I will be kind enough to shine a light on this topic. Obviously, it will take me some time to produce quality articles on the topic, but to give you a hint of what’s to come, here is my division of Europe into bite-size travel regions:

Europe by travel regions

Europe by travel regions (created with National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive)

Disclaimer: The regional division shown above is chosen for travel convenience. The names of the regions are for illustration purposes only and do not reflect any political concepts or beliefs.

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Filed under Europe, Europe by region, Round-the-world trip, Travel