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?
Of the past 10 years, I’ve spend 8 studying or working in a university in a small European country. In these years, I’ve learned the tides of the academic calendar quite well. Like the months of the Zodiac, each month of the academic year has its own mascot. The calendar I present here is tailored for the academic year in the Delft University of Technology, but with minor adjustments it is applicable to academic years of most small European countries.
Have you ever wondered how hip neighbourhoods become hip? What is the life cycle that makes the SoHo’s and Jordaans? Well, I think that the cycle goes largely like this:
A city is growing, and as it grows, it attracts masses of newcomers, often poor and uneducated. To house the ragged masses, the city decides to build a new neighbourhood for them, located conveniently far from where the city council members live. The architect assigned with the task sees his chance and designs a model neighbourhood with all the modern facilities available. Real life kicks in and the drawing board plans get chopped down due to lack of budget and a densely populated working-class neighbourhood appears, with all the necessary modern facilities such as a cloister and a prison. A musical pavilion is the only remainder of the architect’s Grand Vision.
The prison takes a central place in the new neighbourhood
Densely built working-class dwelling
The only remain of the architect’s Grand Vision
Life in the neighbourhood is tough and short, though after a while the poor uneducated masses get some education and do their best to leave. Their place is taken by immigrants who bring new blood, new customs and new troubles. The church loses its grip on the population and a part of the cloister is converted into a community centre. The rest is run-down. Finally, to make the neighbourhood’s misery complete, power-drunk hippies in the city council “renovate” the urban landscape by constructing modern versions of the working-class barracks. The neighbourhood is at its lowest point.
Part of the cloister gets a new life
Old institutions are taken over by newcomers
The scars of 70’s urban renewal are visible throughout the area
Then something happens. At least, in some neighbourhoods it does. The rents (thanks to the crime rate and state of property) are low, the city has sprawled further and what was once on the edge is considered quite central, so students and aspiring artists move in. Most of the time students graduate and move away, but some decide to stay, having discovered that the area’s run-down houses can be bought cheaply and renovated into proper apartments. The artists community squatting in the cloister suddenly becomes fashionable and successful. The second (and/or third) generation of immigrants gets better education and re-brands dad’s halal butchery as an “oriental deli”. The birth rate dropped a couple of decades ago and now crime rates go down as the supply of angry young men dries out. Students and immigrants start to interbreed until you don’t know anymore who is who. Before you know it, what used to be an urban gutter features more yoga studios then Rishikesh.
The old prison is up for sale! Your fixie-shop hepe?
Yoga studios and deli’s replace garages and sex-shops
Urban renewal as it should be – respectful to what’s already there
The area is in the lift and the first hipsters on fixies are seen in the streets. Now’s the time to move in. Prices are still low, there are even empty plots available and plenty of unique property is up for sale – the old prison for example, or the last part of the cloister. Or, if you don’t have the means or the will to invest, just come by for a stroll to see what a hip neighbourhood looks like right before everyone knows its hip. Before the hipsters take over.
All photo’s are taken in the Oude Noorden neighbourhood of Rotterdam.
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