Far From the Madding Crowd in Europe

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

What have you done in your own visits to Europe to make it more budget-friendly or to get away from the crowds? If you were going to spend several weeks – or several months – in Europe, where would you go (and why)?

note: i wrote a more general entry about how i save money while traveling for the #indie30 project last year.

on the majority of my trips to europe, i’ve spent very little money either out of circumstance or necessity. they were either a) with my family (=i barely had to pay for anything, thanks mom), or b) as a fixed-/limited-income grad student in germany. while the former is perhaps the best way to go if you can stand your family, having limited means but the urge to travel really gave me insight on how to do it on the cheap (err, cheaper). that isn’t to say i haven’t splurged on trips from the states to europe basically just to see concerts (see that entry above), but i’d rather get a deal than spend a deal!

here are some things i’ve picked up:

  • hotels: don’t be afraid to stay outside of the city center/old town. depending on your travel style, you may enjoy this more since you get to experience something a bit more “real life”, and prices will undoubtedly be cheaper when comparing similar types of lodging. especially in large cities, the public transportation system is usually pretty good, so you will have no problem getting around. definitely do the research, though, to double check that the hotels you’re considering are indeed served by public transportation (check frequencies, especially at night) and that that’s an inconvenience you’re willing to deal with.

The view from a €55/night hotel in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. Not the most splendid, but it was clean, functional, and convenient to public transportation.

  • flights: there’s no way i could have traveled so much as i did when i was a student were it not for low-cost airlines (specifically Germanwings and TUIfly). beware: some of them fly to airports that aren’t the main ones/close to town, so you may be in for a relatively long bus or train ride once you arrive. you can find more information on discount european airlines and how to find flights on them on wikitravel.
  • trains: while most people think about getting a rail pass when going the train route, it may not be the cheapest option. many train operators offer discounts if you book early and can commit to taking a particular train: in the case of german rail (deutsche bahn, the sparpreis ticket), up to 50% off round trips. another example from germany (since that’s what i’m most familiar with): deals for regional weekend travel (schönes-wochenende) that will save a ton if you’re traveling in a group.
  • where: don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. smaller cities usually mean cheaper and fewer crowds — there’s more to europe than london and paris and rome!

Fish drying in Nazaré, Portugal. The town was dead in the off-season (a good thing!).

  • when: as always, off or shoulder season is my preferred time to go. the weather may be a bit crappier, but the crowds are thinner and prices (for things like hotel) are usually cheaper. this worked best when i was a student since it was pretty easy to sneak away (heh) and there were a ton of random holidays in germany (if you look at this list, we [BW] got it pretty good!).

There may be a chill in the air and the trees may be missing some leaves, but winter or spring travel can be wonderfully tourist-sparse. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, early April.

  • make friends: whether it’s online or in school, the more places you can stay free and have a local host, the better. join twitter, make friends, reconnect with old ones that may have moved overseas.

My first trip to Luxembourg was a day trip from Saarbrücken, where I visited (and stayed with) some friends of mine from grad school.

  • try and time it right: if you can make it during a festival or other event you’re interested in, go for it and kill two birds with one stone (a vacation and an experience). don’t know what’s going on? even better — researching a destination is part of the fun, imho! this is definitely easier said than done, since few of us are so flexible (i know i’m not, especially with my job), but it can be worth it.

Granted getting to Berlin from Tübingen was pretty easy, but there was no way I was going to miss a chance to go to Love Parade (*sigh*, RIP)

  • become a resident: this was, hands down, the best thing i’ve ever done in terms of feeding my travel addiction. being a student in many european countries is pretty cheap (when i did my grad school in germany, it was pretty much free, just pay for room and board and living expenses). once you’re there, the continent is your oyster.

My admission letter to the MA computational linguistics program at the University of Tübingen.

now to quickly answer the second question — where would i go if i had time and money? let me count the ways. ireland (never been), scotland (visit some twitter friends), denmark (never been), norway (never been), romania (love the language, never been), ukraine (never been). there are other countries in europe that i have not been to, but these top the list.

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