Flying “no frills” can be a great way to save money on travel in Europe, but budget airlines are more than a little crafty in making up what they loose in ticket sales in the form of add-ons and extras. Make sure your cheap air travel stays cheap by looking at the following:
Stay on the ball when booking your flight
When we say crafty, we mean crafty. When booking through budget airlines some may pre-tick unnecessary boxes for you, charging you for things you don’t need. Untick these along the way to make sure you get only what you want.
When booking, airlines may also highlight buttons to opt-in for extras and hide buttons that dismiss these extras. Again, look carefully before you click to make sure you really are getting only what you want.
Take a packed lunch
Budget airlines make a killing selling overpriced food to half-starving passengers. Beat them at their own game and bring a cut lunch instead.
Check the exact departure and arrival ports
Low cost airlines save on taxes by using smaller and less central airports. Sometimes, the cost and time taken getting to and from these airports can exceed the money you saved by buying a cheap ticket. You might still be getting a good deal, but be sure to double check.
Don’t get stung by fees for check-in luggage
If your Europe trip is more of a weekender than an expedition, you probably will be able to get away with just hand baggage. If you are carrying your worldly possessions, find out how much it costs to check-in a bag. You might find that the budget ticket is not so budget for you. The charges for carrying overweight luggage will be outrageous once you arrive to the airport, so find out how much your luggage weighs and what hand-luggage dimensions you’re restricted to and pay for luggage costs before you travel. It’s almost always cheaper to pre-buy your check-in luggage than to purchase it at the airport so get this sorted early.
Check into your flight online
This is a great feature of low cost carriers that allows you to check-in online, saving you you time, money and hassle.
Join the program
While most budget airlines won’t be affiliated with frequent flyer programs, if you’re the kind to travel a little more luxuriously, joining an airline’s program can be beneficial. You’ll rack up points for flights you’re already intending to take and with those could score yourself a free flight or upgrade down the line. Some airlines in Europe with awards are British Airways, Emirates, Alitalia, Finnair, Lufthansa and KLM.
Buses are often the cheapest option for travel between countries in Europe. Be prepared to sacrifice a bit of comfort and don’t count on them to save you a night’s accommodation because unless you can sleep through an earthquake you are going to want to get a few hours sleep during the following day.
Google Map your stop locations
The bus stops for cheaper lines are sometimes located a little further away from the main central bus stations. Be sure sure to check exactly where you need to go.
Book your bus ticket early
Like flights, bus prices tend to increase the closer you get to its departure date. Book early to get the best price.
Without getting too black-and-white, generally trains are quite efficient but also quite expensive in Western Europe. On the flip-side, they can be quite inefficient but affordable in Eastern Europe. Take of that what you will but before you train, check the price and the journey time to make sure it’s the best transport option for you.
Book your train ticket early
Similar to bus tickets, buying your train ticket early anything from one week to three months in advance can see you snap up advance rates. This is particularly true for trains in and around Austria, the UK, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Some trains may also charge more for travelling during peak periods. If your departure time is flexible, take advantage of this to shave even more costs.
Rail passes such as Rail Europe passes enable travel between many countries and are popular with travellers. Sounds like a dream but consider the decision carefully. They are not cheap and while they will suit some travellers, how much of a deal you are getting depends on your personal travel itinerary.
For example, Eurorail passes can be great in France as trains are expensive, but across the border in Spain trains are pretty cheap and most of the time your pass won’t get you much of a discount. If you plan to travel by train from Western to Eastern Europe check the extras you need to pay on each reservation.
In some cases you might need to pay extra for each new train you take. In Eastern Europe train travel is pretty affordable and your global pass might exceed the cost of normal train travel or other travel options.
Dealing with fake train guards
If a train guard inspects your ticket and declares it invalid when you know that it’s not ask for ID or offer to have the local police sort it out.
Validate your ticket
One of the most common mistakes travellers can make is not realising they need to validate their ticket. It doesn’t matter if you’ve purchased it in good faith and followed every other rule, inspectors generally won’t be forgiving.
Following what others do is not highly recommended as many locals have subscription passes that don’t require validation. Instead, research prior to arrival whether you need to validate your ticket before or after boarding trains, trams or buses. Generally, if your ticket doesn’t display a specific date and time on it, you’ll need to validate it.
Car rental is good for Central Europe and the Balkan or the Baltic regions where countries are close together. For example, it will take you less than four hours to drive from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to the Latvian capital of Riga.
Save on car rental rates
Many car rental companies will have by-the-hour rates which can be a fast, convenient and cheap way to get from “a” to “b”, especially if you are travelling in a group.
Cut down on costs by opting to travel by Uber instead of a taxi or for other similar rideshare apps like myTAXI and BlaBlaCar.
Toll roads and highway tickets
Almost all highways in Europe require you to pay for use. Some allow you to pay for these by cash or card at designated booths, others require you to purchase passes to use toll roads.
If you’re taking it easy you might not need to think about this as non-toll roads often take a similar route to toll roads and provide you with the advantage of getting to stop in weird and wonderful towns along the way.
If you are in a rush, stop at the last petrol station before the border or the first one inside a border to check if you need a specific pass. Slovenia, for example, requires you to purchase and display a vignette on your dash. This allows you to drive on toll rolls for a specified number of days. If in doubt, do a quick Google search before entering a new country.
Road and traffic patrols are frequent especially around national borders and they tend to target foreign and rental cars.
Petrol stations and roadside stops
Petrol stations on major roads in Europe are often well-equipped mini cities that appear like an oasis for weary drivers. You can count on them for showers and bathrooms, mini (or big) supermarkets, mechanics and restaurants. Like in Australia however, they are often more pricey than supermarkets.
Hitchhiking is an acceptable mode of travel in many European countries. You’ll find drivers in most places are pretty happy to have a chat with a random roadside drifter with a good smile and a stand-out sign.
We say sign because thumb isn’t exactly the best way to hitchhike. The easiest way to do this is to grab a sheet of paper and boldly write your destination on it. It’s more likely a passing driver who knows they can carry you some or most of the way will stop for you rather than one who has room but isn’t sure you’re heading in their direction.
Hitchhiking is a game of trust and luck. Most people are kind, friendly and happy to help. If you don’t feel okay about something remove yourself from the situation. Only hitchhike in daylight. More than anything, you are harder to see in the dark which can be dangerous especially in regions where people have never heard of drink driving laws.
How much to pay?
You may notice that in some countries like Romania locals catching a lift on what feels like their daily commute will often pay for the ride. As a tourist however, you are generally not expected to however buying the driver a coffee at the petrol station when you stop for a rest is a nice gesture and will surely be appreciated.
Where to stand
Be careful when standing on highways to hitchhike as it is illegal in some countries. Others do have more common and accepted hitchhiking points. If you plan to hitchhike, Hitchwiki is a fantastic resource for location, advice and etiquette.
Some countries are better than others
Not all countries are hitchhike friendly. Places infamously poor for hitchhiking are Italy, the South of Spain and Sweden. Ireland, parts of France, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Germany will likely be easier. Bring your sense of humour and a load of patience with you when you hit the road.
If you are at home on a pair of wheels consider travelling by bike around Europe. It’s more common than you think and the European summer is suited to trips from village to village as you slowly make your way between two destinations.
Take your bike on a long journey
Many trains allow travel with bicycles. Popular long-haul trips are Berlin to Istanbul or Rome to Dubrovnik. You can just do one leg by bike, say from Vienna to Budapest and then continue on by other methods. It’s a cheap alternative way to see the continent.
Hire a bike for short journeys
Europe is overflowing with bicycle-friendly city that operate tourist bike borrowing systems for cheap. Popular cycle cities include Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. In London, you can rent a Santander Cycles bike (formally a Boris Bike) for just £2 a day or for free for 30 minutes.
Getting around in general
Download the app
European countries are super savvy about their transport apps now with most public transport systems having their own apps which let you know what the fastest route from A to B is as well as what’s the cheapest route. For an all-in-one app, try Citymapper. Compare prices on different routes and transport modes to help you save while discovering the city.
Download offline maps
Instead of burning data on Google Maps, download offline maps when you have Wi-Fi. If you star places that are important such as your accommodation, train stations and city landmarks you’ll be able to search for directions to these without having to access your data.
Make use of tourist or daily travel passes
Many cities have tourist transport passes that provide you with unlimited daily travel on public transport in the city for a set price. This is handy if you’re short on time or know that you’ll be hopping from one-end of the city to the other in the day. If you just want to travel into the city, walk around and return home this is probably not worthwhile. Consider how large the city is and how many trips you’ll be making in the day first before committing to a pass.