Its summer time and all over Europe there’s thousands of young people on walkabout, pilgrimage, historical quests, academic journeys and short term missions. Here are some tips for traveling in Europe from someone that has been doing it over 20 years and has already made most of the usual mistakes.
1. Your passport is king. Don’t lose it or it will take a week and a lot of money and hassle to get another. Keep it in the same pocket in your jacket, preferably with a zip, at all times. Sleep with it in youth hostels. Don’t leave it in a bag. What I do is use the same pocket always for my passport, another for my wallet, and another for my camera and keys.
2. Those £10 flights out of London might be really cheap but chances they are for 7am on Sunday morning and the underground train system doesn’t start up in time to get you there . . . and you cant afford a taxi. Sometimes you can get a shuttle but getting to the shuttle at 5am will also be a hassle. Might as well pay more to get a flight at a decent time.
3. Those £10 flights early in the morning are still a good deal but you will need to sleep in the airport overnight. I have slept in all of London’s main airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton) and its not a bad experience. A sleeping bag with a hood to cover your eyes from the bright lights which never go off is a good idea and a camping mat will soften the floor. For the best places in the airport to sleep, check out the site called sleeping in airports. I have also had good experiences sleeping at Frankfurt Hahn, Glasgow Prestwick, and recently joined the campers at Dubai airport.
4. If you are driving/hiking/cycling around the continent, don’t expect to have really cold food or drink. Ice is hard to come by. Forget keeping anything cool. Instead, eat cheese, salami, fruit, and drink red wine rather than beer. You can survive quite well if you dont need to cool down or heat up food. Think French.
5. The bakeries in UK are great and they are also cheap. Eat big at lunch – pies, bread, whatever they have – but eat less at dinner time because the restaurants are expensive and the pound is strong. If you are really broke and need some hot food for dinner, most eating places will serve a plate of hot chips for £1.20 and that will keep you going. I am assuming you will avoid fast food chains like we do. Well done!
6. If you are driving across Europe with a team and dont wont to pay a fortune in hotel fees (or even camping fees), pay the extra for the autobahn/tollway and spend the night at one of the excellent rest areas. You can block off some space in the carpark with your car and lay out your mats. In the morning, have a shower and a coffee and off you go.
7. Tenting in Europe is charged according to how many persons but in the UK you often pay by the tent. Sometimes my family of 7 pays only £7 for the whole night because we have one big tent.
8. When in cities, youth hostels are great and old people use them also. If you are by yourself in a city then a youth hostel is a no-brainer. But if there are 4 or more of you, a hotel room will be cheaper. And camping on the edges of cities is also possible for large groups. We have camped in our tent in cities like London (Lee Valley) and Amsterdam.
9. Don’t be afraid to take a bus. I know Americans shun buses and envision themselves doing Europe by train but Europeans have no problem with buses and they can be a LOT cheaper. Trains might be a better solution that planes, however, because they take you directly to the city centers and they go everywhere.
10. Many of the airports that the budget airlines fly to are nowhere near the location you think. You may pay more to get to Frankfurt from Frankfurt Hahn airport (2 hours away) than you paid for your flight.
Also, you will be glad you took less stuff and a backpack is better than a suitcase. You probably don’t need your computer. You will need a padlock for the hostels. You cannot fly to UK and rent a car for the continent (someone asked me this recently). Rental cars don’t do the channel.
Europe is the best place on earth, for so many reasons. Enjoy your trip!