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Top Tips for Traveling Solo on a Budget: Europe Edition

July 22, 2017

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A sunny gal from Cali living in the south of France. I adore slow living, magic, and celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I’m a self-proclaimed Disney nerd (as is my husband!), obsessed with cats and cocoa, and you can often find me swimming with the fishies in the salty sea. Come along and enjoy the magic, the simple joys of life with me...

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Solo travel is the most liberating, thrilling and nerve-wracking experiences but it’s one that I always encourage others to try. It takes guts to take that leap into the unknown and wander to a place on the massive earth that you’ve never explored before. But it is, indeed, one that will change your life for the better. Here are my top tips for traveling solo on a budget….in Europe.

Eurail : the best way to travel if you’re going to use it

If you’re planning on visiting 2 or more countries in Europe, invest in the Eurail pass. It offers plenty of flexibility and is affordable if you plan on using it.

Because I was spending 10 weeks in Europe and visiting over 12 countries, I invested in the Global Pass. It’s a bit pricey, but I used it an unlimited amount of times during my time hopping from country to country. You pay the price up front online (link here) and simply fill in your destination information on your pass before you hop on the next train. Show the ticketing agent when he passes by, and you’re good to go!

The only drawback with this pass is that they don’t include reserved seats on special express trains (example: Venice to Rome, Milan to Nice, Paris to Amsterdam). When I hopped on my express train from Berlin to Budapest, I was beyond lucky that I grabbed an available seat and the ticketing agent didn’t ask for my reservation ticket. If you’re planning on taking an express train (with no local stops), go online to book your reserved seat. They can range from $5 to $50, depending on where you are going and what time of year. If you’re visiting 

during the slow months (any time NOT during the summer June – August), you might be able to slide by without reserving a seat.

Save on AirFare

Internal flight in Europe are so cheap these days with the expansion of budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. I use the SkyScanner app all the time and have found loads of last minute cheap airfare throughout Europe. My boyfriend and I bought a super cheap flight from Paris to Brussels a few days prior through Ryanair – it worked wonders!

Accommodations

While backpacking Europe as a solo female traveler, I used two apps: Airbnb and HostelWorld. I simply created an account and looked up the cheapest accommodations in that area. Be sure to book 2 days in advance during the busy summer months. If you’re going another time, you can book your bed the day of.

Most nights I booked a dorm bunk (the ultimate and cliche way to backpack Europe, of course!) in order to save money. A bed ranged anywhere from $8 to $25 a night. I spent the most money for a bunk bed in Copenhagen $$$, Switzerland $$$, France $$ and I saved a ton in Prague, Budapest, Italy, and Germany.

If you have a limited amount of money for your backpacking trip, spend more time in locations that are cheaper to live in. I spent a month living in Italy because my bunk bed was $12 a night, as opposed to my 5 nights in Switzerland where my tent was $25 a night and bunk bed was $40. Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries will clean your bank account out. Eastern Europe will not.

Turn off your data

Sounds super obvious, but be sure to contact your phone carrier and make sure you switch off your mobile data before heading overseas. If you don’t, at least, let your carrier know, or turn it off manually under your Settings, you’ll find yourself with a very unpleasant phone bill at the end of your travels. Instead, get a local SIM card if you are going to be in one place for an extended period of times or just utilize free wifi everywhere you go. I turned off my phone completely for the 10 weeks I was in Europe because at the time Sprint didn’t have a great overseas plan; I just used wifi to contact my family and friends through email, social media, and Skype! Also, definitely create an account with Whats App before you fly out! With Whats App, you can text and call anyone who has a Whats App account! No cost at all.

HelenaWoods 8 predeparture Tips for Travel

Pack a Picnic

It’s so easy to get to a new city and eat out every single night. I don’t know about you, but I love restaurants. I love treating myself to gigantic meals and desserts, but it is also the biggest killer of funds. Go out and experience a fine restaurant or two,  especially if you’re in France or Italy, but head over to the local supermarket and pack a nice picnic for lunch! Breads, cheeses, cold cuts, veggies and fruits – and don’t forget the sweets! There is nothing that screams local than sitting on a patch of grass in a park and snacking on more affordable food. 🙂

Eiffel Tower: Paris Family Portrait Session The Comédie-Française with Destination Family Photographer Helena Woods

Get Social!

In my opinion, the best part about solo traveling is the ease at which you can befriend people. People in Europe, Australia and Canada travel….a lot. In fact, whenever I am traveling abroad, I hardly ever meet another fellow Americans. But there are tons of Aussies, Canadians and Europeans traveling solo around the world for extended periods of time and it makes it really easy to meet other travelers and join in on their fun plans! Staying at a hostel will encourage you to get social with fellow backpackers due to the plentiful common and kitchen areas provided in hostels.

As an introvert, I was nervous going on my first solo trip abroad (in fact, I still get nervous and shy!) but I found that traveling during the summer months, when the majority of young students and backpackers were traveling, and living in hostels made it a very easy and seamless transition. Most backpackers are making their plans as they go, so they are planning to head in the same direction as you, why not join forces and travel as a team? It makes it a lot more fun, and you’ll always have those memories to look back on. Plus, by joining together, you can save a ton on transportation and Airbnb costs!

Paris Family Portrait Session The Comédie-Française with Destination Family Photographer Helena Woods

Be Safe

As a solo traveler, and especially as a woman,  I get really nervous when I read the news and hear horror stories about solo female backpackers that randomly disappear. Obviously, it doesn’t happen to the vast majority of solo travelers, but it is a reality, and it’s important to be aware and cautious wherever you are.

I often carry a whistle or two on me (one my backpack near my right shoulder) and one on me in my pocket or in my purse. If I’ve befriended a few travelers at my hostel, I’ll casually mention what or where I’m planning to go explore that day. I also never follow anyone into secluded areas; common sense, but it’s especially important if you’re a female traveler. I’ve heard scary stories,  and I personally just won’t put myself into any of those situations, even if it’s a tour guide or local showing me directions. Stay in groups.

Free Learning

If you enjoy learning about the history, art and culture of the city you’re traveling to, be sure to download the FREE Rick Steve’s app onto your smart phone! You can download free walking tours and guides (some locals interview on the show, as well!) about each European city. Be careful, there’s a ton of guides to binge, especially in Rome and Vienna – and listen to Rick’s puns and awkward dad humor as he educates you on the history and art of each destination. I also love Pocket Lonely Planet travel guidebooks and stuff them in my pocket. They have the best walking tours listed and plenty of the best local restaurants and shops inside.

Another tip, if you’re under the age of 26, major discounts are in store for you. The majority of museums are free if you’re under the age of 26 and the Eurail pass is also significantly cheaper. No time to travel like the present!

Money-Saving Tips

It’s so easy to unnecessarily lose a ton of mullah through bad exchange rates, expensive ATM fees and international transaction fees. Those fees add up fast. My advice? Open up a checking account with Charles Schwab and keep your savings for your trip in that account. Any international transaction fees will be refunded into your account at the end of the month! Seriously, how amazing is that?! Whenever you need to withdrawal funds, go to a local ATM. Please, please don’t waste your money on currency exchange desk at the airport.

The other – and better – option is to use an international travel rewards credit card. I get free flights all the time by earning points on my travel rewards card and using those points to pay/reedem for flights. Not only do you not have to pay any international transaction fees abroad, but every time you use your card to pay for a flight, hotel, transportation, groceries, etc, you earn points that go towards your next flight. When I travel, I only ever use my travel rewards credit cards. In return, I earn free flights…like my flight to Iceland next month? Totally free. You can open up as many travel rewards credit cards as you want, just be sure to put your card on “autopay” so that every month your entire bill is paid off on time and no debt or interest accrues. You may be skeptical about opening up a credit card and the stress and debt that may come with it, but if you manage your money wisely and pay off your bill every month from your earnings, there’s no reason why opening + closing accounts should dramatically affect your credit score. I currenly have 6 credit cards, zero debt and a near perfect credit score: travel hacking works, my friends, and it’s a magical way to make traveling a consistent lifestyle.

My favorite travel rewards cards that I currently use are the Capitol One Venture One Card and the American Express Premiere Rewards Card. I’ve also heard great things about the Chase Sapphire card. If you’re interested in learning more about travel hacking and saving money through travel cards, check out this post I wrote!

Don’t Forget that Student I.D. While Traveling Europe!

I’ve saved plenty of dollars with museum tickets, entrance fees and train fare discounts for being under the age of 26 and having my student I.D. on hand!

I hope these tips help you on your journey through Europe! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach me at helenawoodsphotography@gmail.com

Enjoy the adventure!

xx Helena

 

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I'm Helena, your new kindred spirit.

Sunny free-spirit, writer and creator in love with documenting the simple joys of life. I am passionate about noticing light and truth around me and reflecting it back to others.

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