OK, so the Netherlands is not Japan, the signs that tell you that you’ve been here for too long are not nearly as hilarious. I mean, you don’t find yourself nodding your head back to the newscaster at the beginning and end of a newscast after a few years in NL. But there are some curious, funny moments when you realize you’re turning more Dutch than the locals.
- You get annoyed by people calling the Netherlands Holland.
- On birthdays of the Royal family you raise the flag.
- These birthdays are marked along with birthdays of your friends and family on the birthday calendar hanging in your toilet.
- You own a caravan.
- When you go on vacation (in your caravan), you bring a 10 kg bag of potatoes, a few kilo’s of cheese and two jars of Calvé peanut butter.
- You’re looking forward to this year’s Camping and Caravan Fair.
- You can taste the difference between belegen and jong belegen cheese.
- Your kaasboer at the market knows your taste in cheese.
- When abroad, you get irritated when you don’t get a cookie with your coffee at a restaurant.
- To your horror you actually like beschuit met muisjes.
- When cycling, you can multitask – read a book, roll a cigarette or even make out with your girlfriend cycling next to you.
- You and your wife own 5 bicycles between the two of you (plus two for each child).
- You measure distances in minutes of cycling.
- You think a pancake is a perfectly normal dinner dish.
- You recognize which province someone is from by their accent.
- People can recognize which province you’re from by your accent.
- You know what VVE, BZN and GVD stand for.
- Rivers flowing above the surrounding landscape don’t freak you out anymore.
- You can’t remember when was the last time you smoked weed.
- You can have a conversation on any topic using only quotes of Johan Cruyff.
- You own a t-shirt that says “Hup Holland Hup!” (despite point number 1).
There may be more than 21 signs you’ve been in the Netherlands for too long. If you have some of your own signs you’ve been in NL (or anywhere else!) for too long, I’d love to hear.
This is where you spend the summer vacation
What’s the best time to visit Europe? This is probably the biggest nonsense question asked about European travel. Any Google search on the topic will result in a virtually infinite amount of forum threads explaining why its a nonsense question, like this one, for example. Answers by Europeans can be summarized as 1- “Europe is pretty big, so it depends on where you go”, 2- “It really depends on what you want” and 3- “Any time is good”, none of which is really helpful. What if you are a budget traveller then? How can you time your European travel to keep your budget from going over the roof?
- Go in the summer
If you’re on a budget, travelling in the summer is pretty essential as the good weather allows you to save quite a bit. Thanks to the good weather, you can save for example by going camping instead of booking a hotel, or by having a picknick in the park rather than having lunch in a restaurant. Sure, you can do that “off-season”, too, but its much less fun in the cold November rain.
But summer is the high season?! The sad truth is, that in Europe, there is no real “high” and “low” season. Prices of food, hotels, train tickets and attractions are rather season-independent all over the continent, so you’ll probably pay the same in November as in August. Yes, the months of July and August are the busiest time in Europe. Fortunately, European summer is more than just July and August – in Scandinavia, for example, May is the driest month and the Mediterranean is still warm even in October. Europe, as I said, is pretty big, so outside famous tourist-traps like Venice or Paris its just fine in August, as better weather helps spread the tourists over larger areas. Actually, even in the most heavily touristed places its really not that crowded if you just take two steps off the beaten track.
- Go while you’re young
Isn’t budget travelling for young people anyway? What’s so special about going to Europe while you’re young? As it turns out, there is a catch here. Asia and South America are relatively cheap anyway. Even if you’re travelling with children, you can still have a great time in Thailand or Bolivia and not go bankrupt. Europe is a whole different story. In Europe it takes a bit more effort to travel on a budget. I’m not saying its impossible to camp with a family and you sure can go couchsurfing in your 50’s, like my parents did. But as a young person you’re slightly more likely to hitchhike instead of renting a car or to crash on someone’s couch for a few days. Plus, significant youth discounts, like 35% off the Eurail pass are available to youngsters living in or visiting Europe.
- Go when you’re a student
Don’t say “I’ll go after I graduate”. Don’t wait until you save more money. Go while you’re still a student. Why is it a budget move? Because your university can help finance your semester abroad, because there are special discounts for students on pretty much everything, because you will spend more time away and thus save on settling costs. Because your program may actually include travelling around. Because student parties have cheap booze. And because its great fun.
Young European students camping in the summer. One of them could be you.
Next time – my tips on what you can do for fun in Europe if you’re on a budget.
What are your experiences? When do you suggest is the best time to travel Europe if you’re on a budget?
OK, so you’re in Europe. Whether you are in a big country or small, North or South, rain or shine, at some point you need to get some sleep. And getting a place to sleep can eat quite a big chunk out of your budget. Fortunately, even in (relatively) expensive Europe there are good budget sleeping options, that sometimes throw a unique experience into the bargain.
I probably am not shocking anyone by telling about Couchsurfing (or CS for short). In case you’ve missed out on this one – its a way of getting a place to sleep on someone’s couch. CS itself is just the largest and most well-known of a number of similar clubs. The concept is simple – you make an account on a website, tell a bit about yourself and send potential hosts a message asking whether they will be kind enough to host you when you’re around. I’ve had some amazing experiences with CS, both hosting and staying, and a couple of not-so-great-but-still-better-than-a-hostel experiences. In case you’re freaked out by the idea of going to spend the night at a random stranger’s place, try going to a meeting of your local CS group, or perhaps use CS in your home town before you go. Besides a free place to stay, CS is a great way to get to know the locals and join them for some cheap thrills, like going to a Death Metal club in Glazgow, wine tasting in an Italian village bar or speed boating on Lake Luzern (all done by me via CS).
If it wasn’t for CS, I wouldn’t get to ride this guy’s 500 hp boat on Lake Luzern
If you like to get your hands dirty – why not go WWOOFing? Here the concept is a bit different – you get food and lodging in exchange for a few hours (4-6) a day of work on an organic farm. In addition to free accommodation you get a unique experience and an opportunity to learn new skills. WWOOFing needs an initial investment – to get the information about potential hosts, you need to pay a membership fee for the WWOOF charter in the country you are visiting. A way of circumventing multiple fees if you want to WWOOF in multiple countries is to get membership of “WWOOF independents” – countries where there are just several hosts and that don’t have a national group (in Europe this includes Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus (Northern), Finland, Georgia, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Russia, Slovenia, and Ukraine).
OK, so maybe not all WWOOFing locations look like this. Let’s just say that I just know what to choose.
Most European cities have a camping nearby or even within city limits. Especially in the summer months, camping is a cheap alternative to staying in the crowded, damp hostels. Even more remote campings sometimes offer pick-up and drop-off service from the nearest train station, so you don’t have to have a car to go camping. And did I mention that even in pricey Switzerland camping fees cost just 5 to 10 Euro? In addition, in less crowded areas of Europe (and there are plenty), you can just pitch your tent out of sight for free! By the way, camping does not necessarily mean that you have to pitch your own tent – many European campings offer places in already pitched tents, dorm-style. There are family tents as well, or, if you want more comfort, caravans.
No, you don’t always have to go to 4000 meters for a free place to sleep in Europe (on the slopes of Mont Blanc)
Mind you, these are only the free or almost free options. If you’re less adventure-minded you can find a cheap hostel or book a hotel well in advance (or off season) and get a great deal. But as you now know, even if you’re on a tight budget you can still get a good night sleep, sometimes in really cool places, too. Next time – the essence of travelling – how to get from A to B on a dime and a penny.