How to do a budget Euro trip – and have a unique experience in the process

2017-05-21 08:30 - Marisa Crous
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Much like losing weight or going on a blind date, the prospect of spending money on an overseas holiday can be daunting and anxiety-producing. 

To be honest, it can be a challenge. Especially if you're earning a measly salary or have a family on a budget along for the ride. 

But wait, there is a glimmer of hope – and you don’t have to give up on that beautiful Amalfi Coast sunset you want to view from your balcony while sipping on Prosecco (Italian bubbly).

Plan now, be impulsive later

Planning is really everything. Start planning, like, a year before heading off, and bottle all your impulsivity for the actual trip. 

Often, people think they can’t afford to travel overseas because they can’t drop R40k all at once. I would say about R20K for a good 2 weeks - even less if you're visiting cheaper places like Istanbul and Berlin. But it’s really all possible when implementing adult-like planning.

Save for flights and book them first, or save for half and spend two or three months afterwards paying off the other half.

Then spend the last six months before you head out sporadically booking and paying your accommodation – this will help you stagger and manage your expenses.

It's like having an Edgars account, really.

Try leaving for your trip soon after payday (or just after your debit orders go off). This way, you'll be able to use your latest salary during your travels.

Then, the month before you leave, live like a peasant. Eat plain noodles every night if you have to. Refrain from going out to restaurants and bars, and, for the love of Athens, stay away from malls (unless it’s crucial for survival on your upcoming trip, like an adapter or a new bikini).

Small cuts can make all the difference.

When you go counts

If you're planning to do Europe, then don't do it in summer. Think Cape Town beaches in December. It's just not worth it. 

Rather go around the middle or the end of May, or at the beginning of September. For the most part, the weather is swell, and prices are not at their peak (if you fail to heed this advice, you run the risk of having to fork out 4 euros for a scoop of pistachio gelato… don’t do it!).

Choosing accommodation

Stay central, but stay cheap. Many people opt to stay out of town to save on accommodation - like staying a hop, skip and three trams away from the centre. Unless this far-flung accommodation is for free, why stay out of town when you have come thousands of kilometres out of town to visit said town? No, it makes absolutely no sense, does it?

Don't stay in a dump, but when travelling (well, when travelling well), one is not supposed to frequent one's own hotel room. You only need the basics. When you feel “settled into” your hotel room, then you know it’s time to leave. You sleep there, and you get out. I will allow for a shower.

And note, when visiting seaside towns like Positano in Italy or Mykonos in Greece, it is vital to find a place with a balcony. Here, the view is like water, crucial for one’s daily sanity and spiritual sustenance. 

See a balcony as an investment in the budget-friendly possibilities of your trip (I'll get to that in a moment). 

Getting around

Staying centrally will allow you the freedom to walk most places. 

Don't take a taxi in Berlin (besides, Uberphiles, the city has outlawed your favourite ride-share service), hire a bike; don’t fall for the Speedboat Specials sold at Büyükada's Ottoman-era ferry terminal in Istanbul when visiting the Princes’ Islands. Do as the locals do and take the public transport ferries. Yes, that might mean taking a boat for double as long and squashing, sweaty thigh to thigh, with someone you don't know from atom, but it's like 4 euros instead of five times that – and it’s an experience one should undoubtedly have.

Take the metro, local buses, walk for hours and get lost, discover the things you simply can't be told in travel guidebooks - let your impulsive side shine bright. It's a crucial part of letting go, de-stressing during your time off. 

Eating the town 

I can't imagine travelling and not taking advantage of the food in Rome, Prague and the culinary spoils of the Greek Islands. And neither should you. When it comes to saving on food and other consumables, forget what you think is "a must".

Oh, we’re only here once, we must eat here. Oh we’re only here once, let’s just pay 32 euros for plain pasta with three tiny prawns and a slightly sour (and very diluted) tomato sauce.


You might be here only once, so make it count. 

Forget what others say, for example that you HAVE TO eat bruschetta in Italy. If you are invited into an elderly signora’s home, sit down with her extended family and are invited to dine and wine with them, then yes, eat the damn bruschetta. But paying 6 euros for, essentially, a slice of toast with tomato and pepper mush as a topping is money not so cleverly spent.

Rather buy a bottle of Prosecco and pop it as your watch the sun set over the bay (Remember that all essential balcony view I spoke about). 

Like so many things, European food and restaurants have been romanticised. But because you have to get creative with money, you can create your own brand of romance.   

Not all ‘local’ advice is best

By all means, seek out the locals’ advice; their insider knowledge is unparalleled. But some in the hospitality industry might want to give you the “expected experience”. Upon arrival at the Amalfi Coast apartment we’d  staying in for the next three days, an elderly Italian man checked us in and then proceeded to offer us some advice.

(Imagine thick Italian accent)

“You go, you go for breakfast. Just down the road, it's a not a, not a very expensive.”

He proceeds to point out the restaurant on a map of Positano.

Walking down for this not a very expensive breakfast the next morning, we arrive to see a pretty average looking spot (with a great view, yes) but a tacky banner reading: Full English Breakfast - 21 euros. 

For bacon and eggs? Are these famous chickens? Basta!

Italians don't eat fry ups for breakfast; they have glorious pastries with coffee so strong it makes your head spin.

So instead I found a tiny hidden bakery and bought fresh pain au chocolat, a custard-filled croissant and two coffees. Price? 5 euros.

This became a daily ritual.

In Mykonos you'll find similar - let’s call them financial - obstacles. 

Your average meal: Two small glasses of wine + two humble meals will set you back close to R1k.

Eat at restaurants, but not every meal. And don’t pay exorbitant prices for things you can easily buy from a shop.

Always think of balancing things out. Stroll down to Caprice for a sunset cocktail – you’ll literally sit a few centimetres from the ocean. Then leave your taste buds to their own devices as you peruse local grocers or munch on street food like dolmades or gyros for under 4 euros.  

Local stores sell organic olives and good produce like fresh tomatoes, fresh bread and tzatziki. Go sit on your balcony (clever investment, no?) from where you can enjoy the (cheap) spoils along with the vodka you bought at the airport.

Googling “Places to eat at for under 5 euros” has also gotten me some great finds.

So instead of falling for touristy meals in centrally located spots, like buying gelato at a café just outside the Vatican, eating goulash in Prague’s Old Town, going for frites at Dam Square in Amsterdam or opting for a warm bratwurst just outside Tiergarten in Berlin, go in search of (more authentic and much cheaper) unexpected options. 

Avoid the expected and the romance will follow. 

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