I’m guilty of spending an embarrassing amount of time that I didn’t really have to begin with- planning trips that I never even went on. That’s how much I enjoy doing it. I’ve become an expert at finding the lowest tickets possible and figuring out the ins and outs of traveling low budget.
Without being able to say I’ve been as frugal as a backpacker (although I do dream about living out of a backpack for a month to hike across Europe)… I’ve saved tons of money as a frugal solo traveler. Just me and my tiny pink carry on.
From Airbnb, to Couchsurfing, to BlaBlaCar… questionable situations or not- I’ve done it all and loved every bit of every second of it.
There is something so empowering as a solo traveler but (in the least sexist way) even more so as a female solo traveler. You’re in another country, you don’t speak the language, in case of emergency the closest family member is a 10+ hour plane ride at least, yet you manage to get yourself from point A to point B. Never knowing how truly capable you were and always have been until you had no other choice.
So maybe you’re a student, retiree with a lot of spare time, or just someone who has a love for traveling that’s deeper than the pocket of your wallet. Turns out there’s a whole community of travelers that fall into these same categories all over the world- and they are waiting to meet you.
I have friends from Germany, Spain, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Korea, France, Canada, Brazil, Slovakia, Russia, and I hope to continue adding to the list. Going on vacation and staying at a hotel is one thing. But going on vacation and staying with a local is a completely different experience of the city.
Quit making excuses and just buy a ticket! I love planning spontaneous trips and while most people will tell you not to buy a ticket with such short notice, you’d actually be surprised at some of the deals you can find. The Skyscanner app is my absolute favorite for booking flights. Since I just go with the flow of my trip, I like to find the absolute cheapest one way ticket into Europe then a one way ticket coming back. Those are going to be the most costly legs of your trip if you’re coming from the Americas. I then work my way from there. To find the cheapest can be time consuming but if done correctly, you’ll be saving hundreds. Europe has a great variety of low budget airlines. While they’ll try to charge you for any extra thing- if you turn into a low budget airfare expert… you’ll only be paying for your $30 dollar seat from Spain to Italy. That’s from first hand experience! Traveling all around Europe by plane in most cases, is more feasible than any other form of transportation. Let’s face it, I’ve paid more than $30 for a one way taxi ride from the airport.
Tips and tricks for budget airlines:
- To save a couple extra hundred you have to play with departure/return dates, it helps to be flexible, those 7 hour delays or arrivals/departures at 3am can save you tons of money if you can spare the time.
- Research the cheapest airports to fly in and out of internationally. In Texas, Dallas is always the cheapest, Houston is the second best and happens to be closer to me. Flying into Europe just depends on the time you are looking to go (skyscanner provides you with the dates that are cheaper to fly on). Madrid, Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris, Rome.. etc. all seem to be cheaper to fly into. While in Europe, if you’re looking at flying to lets say, Turkey or United Arab Emirates… Belgium’s airport might be the place to do it from. Those flights that are a little farther are always cheaper through Belgium for some reason. Again each airfare search is dependent on the time of year.
- Take the bare minimum- it all has to fit in a carry on. And I’m not talking about those carry on bags that have extra zippers and compartments that make it ten times bigger. This needs to be an approved standard carry on sized piece of luggage. Don’t roll your eyes, I’m the type of girl who takes 20 changes of clothes and 10 pairs of shoes for a weekend getaway. If I could manage living out of a little pink carry on for over 2 months… you sure as hell can do it.
Some of the travels of my little pink carry on (South Italy, North Italy, Germany, Spain, and the Czech Republic.
4.Eat and drink before your flight, its that easy. Try not to expect free food or drinks on these airlines… but also keep in mind that most of these flights from country to country only take about 45 mins to 2 hours.
5.The obvious, make sure you check in to your flight! But more importantly, find a place to print out your ticket. I made the mistake of assuming I could use an e-ticket through the airlines app then had technical difficulties and ended up having to pay 15 extra euros for them to print it out for me. Probably more than half of the ticket itself. The leniency varies from airport to airport, airline to airline, mood of one airline employee to the other… but just to be safe (on these budget airlines) if it’s not a physical paper copy of the ticket, don’t assume they’ll accept it.
How to save on other methods of Transportation:
- Ridesharing: I paid around 20 euros to carpool from Munich, Germany to Bassano del Grappa, Italy via the Blablacar app. Not only was it a beautiful ride through the vineyards and mountains… but I traveled with two Italians close to me in age who were just traveling back home from Oktoberfest festivities. Two of the most hospitable people I have ever met. We listened to the perfect road trip music (thanks, Eddie Vedder) and we talked for hours.
2. Trains: Surprisingly trains can be more costly than airfare in many cases. But if you are traveling to a lot of cities in close proximity make sure to check for tickets that cover an entire region. Atleast in Germany you can buy a ticket for a specific region and have legal access to all public transportation for the entire day. I emphasized “legal” because public transportation in Germany partially relies on the honor system. There were times I bought a metro ticket and had it checked immediately, there were times it took them 30 mins to get to me, and there were times I had bought a metro pass from the airport into the city and no one ever checked it. Don’t try your luck though, if they do catch you.. there’s a pretty hefty fine. If you find yourself traveling via train in Germany… download the DB app. Even German folks get a little turned around when it comes to the German train system. The Deutsche Bahn app or website gives you a detailed list of your stops and/or train changes among many other functionalities.
How to save on overnight stays:
- Airbnb is an app that allows you to search for locals in an area that are renting out their homes/apartments/private rooms. For instance, I found an apartment in Athens, Greece for the equivalent of $71 dollars a night. Thanks to my now good friend Panos. With Airbnb you can filter out your preferences- price range, how many rooms, a private room, entire apartment or entire home. Use my code: JNIKOLE to get $23 when you sign up and travel.
2. Couchsurfing is similiar to Airbnb in the fact that you can stay at a local’s residence, but different in that you won’t be renting out their place but staying as their guest for free. There is even the option to find locals in your area who may not have the space for you to stay but are happy to take you on a tour of their city. This exchange is more for the cultural experience. You have more of an obligation to hang out with and get to know your host. Who more often than not, host because they at one time or another did what you are currently doing and love meeting new people. Most of my hosts had some link to Australia. Most often they had “couchsurfed” down under and then came back home and wanted to pay it forward. You can make some amazing friends this way as well. While its free, It’s always nice to gift your host as a token of appreciation. This can be as simple as treating them to a meal, buying them a drink, or some couchsurfers even bring little nothings from their home country to give out to their generous hosts as they travel from one country to another.
The most important advice I can give you in regards to utilizing these awesome services is this:
DO YOUR RESEARCH, MAKE SURE THEY’VE HAD PEOPLE STAY BEFORE YOU AND READ ALL THEIR REVIEWS. ITS OKAY TO BE AN “INTERNET STALKER” UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES. IF YOUR GUT INSTINCT IS THAT YOU’RE UNCOMFORTABLE, DONT SECOND GUESS YOURSELF, JUST LEAVE.
In addition, while traveling alone I never went anywhere without letting atleast one person know where I was going and who I was going with. My mom back home and my close friend in Germany had a screenshot of my hosts profile, the number the host was contacting me with, a pin drop of the location I was at, and I would even send my mom a picture of my outfit for the day. I would let them know as soon as I had arrived and would give them a time in regards to the next time I would be contacting them- if they did not hear from me by then, then they could worry. I generally felt pretty safe in Europe, maybe even more so than I do currently in [Houston]. Stay up to date on current world news, times change, and there may be areas you need to avoid. While I never ran into any problems- just be cautious and learn to trust your instincts.
Bad things do not discriminate, they can happen to anyone… anywhere.
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the making of this. Click below to add some fuel & keep me going.