You’re in a foreign country, take every opportunity to see the world! I love this cliché quote by Ibn Battuta that goes something like:
Travelling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. It gives you home in a thousand strange places, then leaves you a stranger in your own land.
My dream when I first arrived in the UK was to experience, not simply visit, every country of Europe and I think I’m on track thus far. The most common response I get from friends has always been, “How do you afford that?” Little did they know, with the right tricks, travelling internationally to Europe can be cheaper than travelling within the UK. The extremely competitive aviation industry driven by budget carriers has pushed flight prices so low that it is very possible to get a return flight to a European city for £30. My record was £20! That’s equivalent to a one-way ticket to London!
Here are my tips to get you started:
1. Plan early!
As obvious as it sounds, don’t book a trip 1 week before. You might get lucky and find something cheap but unless you’re extremely flexible with your dates, it usually isn’t the case.
Check the official university website for term dates and when the semester breaks are here. Do plan ahead for all your course work (get it done during term time is my best tip to have a worry-free holiday). Once you know when you can travel, head to step 2.
If you have to apply for a travel visa, things will get slightly more complicated with having to plan ahead even earlier. It is daunting the first time round, but you’ll learn how to be efficient and meticulous in the future!
2. Skyscanner is your best friend.
Skyscanner will be your gateway to your adventure. The secret is here:
Enter the “From” destination as Manchester or Leeds (try both, Manchester has more international departures as it is a bigger airport but Leeds will surprise you too).
Enter the “To” destination as EVERYWHERE/FLEXIBLE and this will list out all the countries and cities sorted according to price.
“Depart and Return” dates can be set to a fixed date or whole month with the latter giving you the cheapest dates to fly in and out from.
The rule of thumb is that the more flexible you are with your destination and dates, the cheaper your trip will be!
3. Be open minded to Hostels!
I have friends who have never tried hostels before, turn their noses up at the idea of staying in a room with 6-10 strangers and sharing toilets. That isn’t untrue, but that inconvenience is its beauty. Firstly, you WILL make travel buddies with a simple Hello! I haven’t come across less than a handful of people that aren’t eager to be friends or make travel plans together.
Hostels that I have been to are always clean and guaranteed to be cosier than an affordable hotel room. The perks of hostels that I can think of off the top of my head are:
Communal activities for you to make friends. In Krakow, I had free dinner and drinks every single night organised by the hostel. In Valencia, I joined a bike tour around the beautiful city with my hostel friends. In Malta, my hostel receptionist booked a last-minute van to bring a group of us sightseeing around the island! You get the picture, hostels = more fun.
It is cheap(er). Especially if you’re solo travelling or travelling in a small group in an expensive city, hostels are often the best way to stretch the dollar. Not only in the price of the bed, but also the price of food (usually cooked by the locals working in the hostel) and activities.
Check-in and out flexibility. Budget flights tend to be at pretty weird timings, such as arriving at 7am in the morning or leaving at 11pm in the night. Hostels (but not all) are usually manned by a 24h receptionist to welcome all travellers arriving all day and night from trains/ferries/planes whereas B&Bs or local hotels in Europe tend to have fixed reception hours. Hostels also provide free luggage storage before and after check in if you want to make the most of your day in the city!
It’s designed to be a home away from home, so grab your map and chat with your receptionist! They’ll tell you all the local haunts and local hang-out places. Ask what their favourite eating places and bars are, where you can get the best deals to buy local crafts or best still, connect you with other travellers who have asked the same question and you can head there together!
There’s more but I’ll leave you to find out the beauty of it yourself!
4. Free walking tours!
Free walking tours are independent tour guides or companies that hire freelance local guides to show you around their city for “free”. Unfortunately, nothing in life is free but they can be cheaper! Your payment is purely your tip for their time, expertise and company. Usually I am upfront that I am a student and I appreciate how they’re doing this to show travellers around the city the local way and they’re always more than happy to hear that and don’t expect much. If you can tip more, please do to support the local community but sometimes I’m coming to the end of the trip and the wallet gets a little tight, I’ll do my best.
5. Student discounts!
Bring your student ID everywhere and on you always! You never know when you can get a discount. You can get into many museums and places of attraction in Paris like the Pantheon for free!
This applies to many more countries too, simply just by being a student in the UK. Even if it’s not free, it can be heavily discounted. It doesn’t hurt to ask, Hi (smile), is there a discount for students?
6. Eat in markets not restaurants.
Search for local markets and food court-type places. There’s tons of benefits to doing that. Locals eat in the market, not in restaurants and especially not restaurants in the touristy area where your hostels are probably located. Market food is wallet friendly and delicious! There’s always a similar variation in most countries. In some they’re called market/Mercado/markts and in others they’re known as food halls or food courts. I ate at a Michelin Guide restaurant in the Mercado of Valencia that I couldn’t have possibly afforded otherwise!
A quick search on Google gives you all you need to know! For example, click here!
There’s more that I would love to share, but I’ll stop here for now and do a sequel in the near future. Some sneak peeks of what I’ll share are things such as Sleeper trains across countries to save on accommodation, interesting customs in different countries, how to handle unforeseen circumstances during travel (I was stuck in Paris 3 weeks ago due to a strike by the French train and aviation staffs), solo travelling and more!
Till next time,