How have I made the most of my limited budget abroad? It goes without saying, “Prepare, prepare, prepare!”
Research and development
Although down-to-the-minute planning can be limiting, doing some research on the best hotels and hostels, and the best modes of transportation, is the key to saving your money later. If you can do research about your intended destination before you even get on the plane, all the better.
For me, the preparation began the day I realized I wanted to get the heck outta dodge and head back to Europe.
Through some crafty internet research and a few phone calls, I was fortunate to get hooked up with an artist residency that paid for my room and board while I was there. But I was expected to work an eight-hour day on a farm. (In my next post, I’ll explore ways that the average Cheapo can find similar kinds of set-ups.)
Here are my most important tips for a budget-friendly European experience, Wandering Cheapo-style:
1. One big meal a day is plenty.
Budget for cheap breakfasts (unless you’re in Ireland, and then that can be your big meal), grocery-store lunches (I love the sandwiches at Tesco in London), and then wolf down a bigger dinner if you like. This is especially important if you are going on a longer trip. Your money will drain fast, especially if you’re stopping here and there for bottled water, snacks, and aperitifs.
2. Make a budget for yourself that is weekly on a longer trip, daily on a shorter one.
Sometimes, you arrive in a city and find that there are great tours and museums that cannot be missed (Please don’t leave Paris without visiting the Louvre). Admission charges will quickly eat into your budget. But don’t fret. On a longer trip, think about your budget in terms of weekly caps. That way, if you go over your budget on one day, you can compensate on another day. Have fun, but keep disciplined at the same time.
3. Always have a notebook and pen handy.
Sometimes you’ll want to take notes on a place, or you’ll want to jot down the location of a cheap restaurant that you come across and want to check out later. You may need to get the e-mail of your new best friend in, say, Latvia, or the phone number of a good hostel that doesn’t offer on-line booking. Try to find a notebook with a pocket so you can collect train tickets, pamphlets and brochures, and other helpful info easily.
4. Talk to everyone.
I know that this may not seem like a budget tip, but it definitely can be. When you talk to other travelers, you find out where to go and when to go, what to spend time and money on. And when you talk to locals, you find out all sorts of money-saving insider tips about a place. You might even snag a free meal or a night’s lodging just by engaging someone’s interest. (It goes without saying, use your gut and follow your instincts along the way. If you feel uncomfortable around someone, think twice about accepting their hospitality.)
5. Everywhere you go, ask about discounts.
There are thousands of discounts to be had in Europe. If you’re a student, you’re pretty much set. Those of us who are late-blooming travelers need not worry either. Some museums and sights are cheaper – or FREE - on certain days of the week. Restaurants offer fixed-price menus at certain times of the day, often including a free beverage. Sometimes by picking up the right piece of paper in a city, or maybe a magazine or flyer, you can snag discounts on stuff. Ask, ask, and ask again. “Do you offer discounts of any kind?” You will often be happily surprised.
For more about Reinhardt’s travels, visit his blog: The Pork Chop Express.