How I Travel Cheaply Around Europe

 

A lot of people believe that since I keep on coming back to Europe, not to mention my numerous trips around Asia and the Philippines, then I have plenty, if not unlimited, financial resource to keep this lifestyle. I have corrected this misconception many times and will still answer it now. That is simply untrue. Like everyone else, I save, research, and travel wisely. My trips are always in a budget but without compromising my comfort and safety.

As of this writing, I have traveled to 22 countries. 23 if you count my numerous domestic trips in the Philippines. I know what you are thinking. How I could travel this much as a student? How could I maintain this lifestyle? In today’s post, I will share with you Where Monica Goes’ Hacks on how to Travel Cheaply Around Europe.

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1. Apply for just one visa

As a third-world passport holder, there are many countries in the world that are not easily accessible to me without a valid visa. More often than not, these visa applications require fees, which could still cut me back a couple of dollars from my travel budget. Since I love going to Europe, a Schengen visa is the way to go. Currently, there are 26 member countries and 2 candidates for accession. Just imagine paying for just one powerful visa! UK and Ireland are beautiful destinations, but if they are not yet your priorities then applying for separate visas for these two are unnecessary. For Filipinos, here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Schengen tourist visa.

2. Maintain old friendships and create new ones

You may be wondering why this is included in this short list. In my experience, I have a lot of Filipino and foreign friends scattered around the globe. Despite the distance, we still keep in touch and promise that we will meet again someday. Well, some of my old friends are in Europe and you know what it means – free accommodation! Of course, it goes without saying that you should not keep or make friendships solely for this reason. READ: Change the Way You See Friendship.

3. Stay in a hostel, not a hotel

If you do not have friends in Europe yet or they are unavailable, save your travel funds and stay in a hostel. I understand you might have misgivings moving away from hotel accommodations you are used to, but trust my word that staying in a hostel has more rewarding experience. Pay for a €10 dorm bed in a hostel and spend the rest of your money with activities and food. READ: Top Must-try Food in Germany. Traveling cheap and in a budget does not have to be uncomfortable, you know. Hostels in Europe, from my experience, are cool and safe even for single and female travelers. Why pay for an expensive hotel room when most of the day will be spent outdoors? Travel cheaply, sleep cheaply!

Of course, you can also try Couchsurfing and learn the culture from within – instant friends, personal guides and FREE accommodation!

4. Travel with a group

Well, they say the more the merrier! That may be true, but traveling with someone or in a group can also make trips cheaper. Not only do I have someone to share accommodation, food and other expenses with, but my transportation cost can also be lessened. How? In Europe, there are a lot of cities and countries that reduce fare price for group traveling. In Munich for instance, a 24-hour unlimited public transportation for a single person costs €6,40 while a group ticket for up to five adults only costs €12,20. So invite your friends to join you to travel cheaply on your next European trip!

5. Use public transportation

I think it goes without saying that when you are in a foreign land, you should not use taxis unless it is very necessary. If you can help it, walk or cycle around Europe. On one hand, strolling around the continent is free, just wear your most comfortable shoes. On the other, many cities offer one-hour free bicycle use. Rental is also cheap. But if you are covering great distance or simply tired from walking, I highly recommend using reliable public transportation.

One of the things that make me love Europe so much is its fast, safe and reliable public transportation. Of course, fares seem expensive compared to what we have in the Philippines and other developing countries, but I will share you how I was able to travel cheaply around Europe with these important travel hacks.

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I. Train Rides

Back home, I usually don’t take trains. For me, they are slow, always late, overcrowded, and unsafe. In Europe, I love them and they are my #1 choice of transportation. They are fast, efficient, and on-time. They have clean coaches, comfortable seats, and large space. You can even take your bicycles, baby trolleys, and dogs with you! But they are not cheap. After my first-ever trip to Europe, I learned ways how to get train tickets cheaply and did not commit the same mistakes again in my succeeding visits. Here’s how.

ÖBB Sparschiene

Österreichische Bundesbahnen or the Austrian Federal Railways offers Sparschiene (saving rail) or discounted tickets. Instead of paying €90 euros for a one-way trip from Vienna to Frankfurt, I can wait for Sparschiene offers in the company’s website and grab affordable tickets available at €29 or €39. More than 50% off, right?

TIP: Use ÖBB’s main website or mobile app to get Sparschiene tickets. Better book in advance as there is only a limited number of inexpensive offers available per trip. Don’t forget to print your ticket!

Bahn Card (Train Card)

As mentioned, traveling with train is really the fastest way to get from one place to another. However, train rides in Europe are not cheap. In some places, it could be even diamond-expensive! Yeah, I sometimes exaggerate, but you get my drift. For instance, my 3-day pass in Switzerland cost me €195. For frequent train users, I suggest getting a bahn card or train card. Many European countries have this service but in different names. For instance, I have the Austrian Vorteilscard as well as German’s Deutsche Bahn Card. My Austrian card enables me to travel with trains around Austria (and sometimes in other countries) with 50% discounted price while my German card gives me 25% off only.

TIP: I highly recommend purchasing a bahn card if you will stay longer in one country or would really travel around with trains.

II. Car rides

If you want to travel and meet new people along the way, you should try carpooling in Europe. Back home, they have a different notion of carpooling and I hope it will change soon. In Europe, people can travel with strangers if they are going to the same direction. Blabla Car is famous for this. It is a ride sharing website which allows everyone to travel with others and share the cost. For instance, from Göttingen to Berlin costs only €19 per person compared to a train ride with DB of €30.

TIP: Ensure your contact information is correct when you book your ride with Blabla Car. Also, contact your driver and make sure that you understand and agree for the pick-up point.

For a FREE ride, you may also try hitchhiking your way around the Continent. Not sure if it applies all over Europe, but Germany has friendly drivers who can take you in.

III. Bus rides

Recently, this has been my favorite way to travel around Europe. A lot of my foreign and European friends prefer to use trains because they are fast and well connected, so it is only this year that I started taking bus rides. I wish I had done so earlier.

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Flixbus

Aside from hitchhiking, this is the favorite way of my fellow exchange students to travel around – Flixbus. It is a German’s start-up bus company, which now offers 900 destinations in 20 countries. It is very affordable compared to Sparschiene and Bahn card discounts. It takes longer though, sometimes twice the time for a train ride. Well, you get what you pay for. On a positive side, Flixbus offers comfortable rides, free luggage allowance, toilet, snack bar, power outlet, and the most important of all – free WiFi!

How cheap: From Frankfurt to Amsterdam, I got a one-way ticket for €11,11. I booked it during a promo since the regular rate is €25, but it is still cheaper than a train ticket of €120 with Deutsche Bahn. Amsterdam to Brussels regularly costs €9, while Frankfurt to Vienna is only €33.

TIP: Download the app to have hassle-free and paperless travels.

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Hellö

Flixbus seems to have a new rival starting this year – Hellö. This is a very new Austrian bus company under ÖBB. I was lucky to learn about it few days after it started operating this July. It features comfortable and spacious seats, free luggage allowance, mobile apps, power outlets, toilet and a snack bar. Like Flixbus, it offers free WiFI but unlike the former, Hellö has uninterrupted Internet connection after crossing country borders.

Currently, it has a starting promo of having €15 for almost all of its routes! Promo ends in September and until seats last. Some of its routes include Vienna to Frankfurt, Vienna to Venice, Innsbruck to Zurich, etc. It is crazy cheap! Hellö offers €15 for Vienna-Frankfurt while €33 for Flixbus. I wished Hellö were already operating before I went to Venice!

TIP: Try this out until the promo lasts.

PLUS POINT: Student Semester ticket

As I have mentioned in my previous post (READ: Welcome to Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany), the only thing I paid in my German education is the semester ticket. This costs €250 for international students. Is it expensive? You may think so at first. But if you consider not paying any tuition fee in Germany (I paid my full tuition fee in my university back home though), this is really a steal. Also, once I tell you the benefits of this ticket, you would want to offer your Euros in exchange for this.

Basically, a semester ticket allows students from my university to travel around the area of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund – RMV for free. Yes, we students can take buses, trams, subways, metros, and even IC/EC trains of DB Fernverkehr within the semester and is valid for full seven months entirely free.

For instance, Frankfurt is only one hour away from my university in Marburg, but a one-way ticket for the slowest train possible is around €20. Because we are traveling for free, we can go to Frankfurt at least once a week and do sightseeing and shopping there.

TIP: If you are studying in Philipps Universität Marburg as well, always travel with your semester ticket! Try your best to travel to all cities and locations in the ticket as well.

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These are my major travel hacks on how I am able to roam around Europe with a student budget. Remember, it does not have to be a luxurious trip just so there is something to boast back home or follow where everyone is going. There are numerous ways on how to make a European trip affordable and comfortable without cutting all your savings. I hope these tips help. Come back here for more travel tips, guides, and itineraries in Europe and beyond. You can also subscribe to Where Monica Goes via email to get the latest updates straight to your email.

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Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad

Are you considering studying abroad but uncertain whether or not to take the plunge?

If you are looking for a new challenge or simply want to make your high school or university life so much better, why not study abroad? Studying overseas is a major decision to make and it can have a huge impact on one’s life, but the fruits of this endeavor are priceless – opportunity to know yourself better, learn about the world, and transform your future, among others. Don’t believe me yet? Continue reading and check out Where Monica Goes’ Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad.

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GAIN NEW PERSPECTIVES

Studying and living in a foreign country and different culture give you the opportunity to see the world with a new perspective. After observing how people behave and things are done, you get to have a different way to look at things. You broaden your horizons. You become more open-minded and culturally sensitive. Your prejudices will be cleared and opinions more educated. You learn to appreciate a different outlook on daily life, social and maybe even political issues.

DEVELOP LANGUAGE SKILLS

Classroom classes, textbooks, audiobooks, and online apps can aid you in learning languages, but there is something much more helpful if you are immersed in it in a local setting. Even though you know next to nothing about German, living in the foreign country for a week could make you understand some simple words and phrases already without you realizing it. With an overseas education, you get to learn and practice the language first-hand as you go dining in a restaurant, haggling in a flea market, or making new friends.

Since you are studying abroad and somehow forced to use (and hear) foreign language everyday, you are soaked into this new world that will ultimately bring you to hone your skills conveniently.

ENHANCE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES LOCALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY

It can start with your CV. By adding that line about your study abroad experience, you get ahead by some of your peers in the eyes of prospective employers. They would be more interested in you and perhaps let you get that dream job. Employers look for self-motivated, independent and flexible individuals who also have time management, organization, and people skills which all describe foreign students. Along with being able to go out of your comfort zone, ability to handle stressful environment, willingness to learn, and worldliness, an overseas education highlights your language skills, cultural sensitivity, and sense of adventure. You will appear and become a worldlier and more culturally aware person, something that not anyone can describe themselves in their resume.

GET IMMERSED IN A NEW CULTURE

When you study abroad, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience new culture from within. Different from being a traveler, studying overseas will ultimately give you a new perspective on the country’s culture from the inside. You observe customs and traditions that travel guides only mentioned in passing. You get to know which tourist attractions are really worth it, sample best and hidden restaurants, and the cheapest places to hangout on a Friday night, for instance. During your stay, you learn a new culture by simply living in it. In a globalized world, the best way to understand how people are is to immerse in a new culture.

GAIN LIFELONG FRIENDS

One of the most significant reasons and the second-best by-product of studying abroad is establishing international friendships. Everyone you come across in your journey can enrich your overseas experience – students in your language class, colleagues in seminars, host families, backpackers and hitchhikers you meet on the road. You get to meet complete strangers who speak in foreign tongues, believe in various religions, have different colors and races, eat with chopsticks or forks, who will become your lifelong friends and acquaintances and be treasured for a lifetime. These people who may or may not share your interests can inspire and transform you to a much better person.

LEARN MORE ABOUT YOURSELF.

Left to your own devices in a foreign land, you learn to be independent and self-reliant. You realize things that you can do by your own. Back home, you always have your family and friends to rely on, even when you are living by yourself. Staying overseas is another story. Each day is a new challenge. You get to be pushed to your boundaries, testing your limits. When you put yourself out of your comfort zone, you get to know more about yourself – strengths and weaknesses, abilities and skills. By studying abroad, you gain invaluable life skills, which will enable you to grow more. Even though the beginning may be scary and everyday is not always filled with happiness and rainbows, you will end up becoming a stronger, more confident, and more self-reliant person. This is, I believe, the best by-product of studying abroad.

TRAVEL THE WORLD

The most rewarding experience and Where Monica Goes’ top reason why you must study abroad is the chance to travel the world. Not only are you in an exotic and foreign location for at least a semester, you also get the opportunity to look around your locality and see the sights no traveler can do. When you are done learning the ins and outs of your university town, go out and explore nearby cities and countries. Even though you are just staying for a semester, you have all the weekends and holidays off to travel. Yes, go and discover the world!

Studying abroad is the ultimate opportunity for globetrotting youth. You may be traveling on a student budget, but the experience is worth it. Go backpacking for a weekend or school holiday. Book via Mein Fernbus, Euro Rail, or Ryanair. Eat tapas in Barcelona. Ride a vaporetto in Venezia. Sleep in a 16-person hostel room in Zurich. Enjoy free Mozart symphony orchestra in Vienna. Get drunk in an underground pub in Prague. Attend Oktoberfest. Cool down in Plitvice Lake. Get lost in the streets of Paris. The options are limitless. Take advantage of being an international student and benefit from discounts you can get.

Those are my top reasons why you must study abroad. May it be for a semester exchange or long-term study, I believe the opportunity to gain exciting and once-in-a-lifetime experience should not be missed. Why skip the chance to try this incredible event in your life?

Already convinced, but want to know more? Read Where Monica Goes’ 10 Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program

10 Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program

Preparing to join a student exchange program can be pretty exciting, especially after you have received those admission and invitation letters from your host university. However, when the initial excitement finally went down, the images of tasks ahead can be overwhelming and exhausting. It requires a lot of researching and meticulous planning especially if it is your first long-term trip away from home. Also, it usually comes with long lists of required documents, appointments, and tests to be done and passed. I hope that with determination to grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, these administrative and bureaucratic requirements would not deter you from reaching your dream.

As a current exchange student myself, I would like to share stories and experiences while I am on this journey. This post would be a part of a regular series where past, current, and would-be exchange students can read and learn from each other various survival tips as we leave the familiar back home and plunge to the exciting unknown.

To aid you on having a smooth transition to your new life, I am providing some tips on how to prepare for your student exchange program adventure. The list seems basic, but you would be surprised to know how many students and even seasoned travellers forget one or some of these. It won’t hurt to have a guide, right? All in all, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to be in a foreign country merely because you overlooked a simple requirement.

10TIPS_4

So without further ado, let me present my Ten Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program. Do note though that these tips are only for those who have already passed the admission requirements by their partner/host educational institutions.

1. Prepare, double-check, reproduce, and bring your documents. We still live in a paper-based society where not everything can easily be scanned through smartphones, so yes, paper documents are necessary. I highly recommend to duplicate or triplicate all your documents, so you would always have a copy with you, at home, and your new accommodation.

  • Check whether your passport is still valid and have several required remaining pages. More often than not, your passport should be valid more than six months before you travel. If yours would be expiring soon, better have it renewed while you are still in your country.
  • Get valid visas. Your host country (and the countries you might be traveling to while studying) might require visas, so do check this as well and prepare the necessary requirements.
  • Make several copies of your letter of admission and matriculation for safekeeping purposes. Also, there are instances when these need to be translated in your native language, so please bear this tip in mind.
  • Bring your language proficiency test results if you have any.
  • Take note of your embassy’s contact information for emergency purposes.

2. Visit your physician before leaving. Health is important, but it is always sad to know that many travellers take this for granted. In a foreign land, it is recommended to be prepared for all emergencies that may arise.

  • Get a certificate attesting to your good health and a copy of your medical record.
  • List down all of your known allergies and bring required prescription drugs, as you will never know if your host country has them. It would also be helpful if you have the translated versions of this.
  • Take the required shots and bring your immunization records when you travel.

3. Be insured. No one knows what may happen and it is wise to be always covered by insurance policy. There are already a lot of international travel and health insurance providers out there, but choosing what is best for your situation requires careful research.

  • Check if your insurance policy is recognized in your host country. You can just look up at the embassy page or send an email to your coordinator in the partner university to inquire this.
  • If required to get a new insurance coverage, research which offers the best and worth the money.

4. Book your tickets in advance. Whether through plane, train, or ship, it is always best to get your reservations ahead of time when prices are cheap and good seats are still available. The longer you wait, the more expensive the price can get.

  • To get the most out of your bookings, do not forget to use your frequent flyer information. Sometimes, typing these little details can get you free business class upgrade for instance.
  • If you are traveling by train, always use your discount cards. In Europe, DB (German), ÖBB (Austrian), and SBB (Swiss) have train cards that can give you up to 50% discount of the original fare.

5. Know how you can access your money abroad. There are banks that require you to have your account unlocked so you can use it outside of the country. Know this ahead of time and better contact your bank if you have no idea whether your cards are eligible to use overseas or not.

  • If you haven’t one yet, create an online banking account so you can easily monitor transactions you make while abroad.

6. Study or refresh foreign language skills. Chances are you would be spending your semester abroad in a country, which does not speak your native tongue, so I recommend studying the appropriate foreign language prior to your departure. Although most beneficial, you do not have to get to a formal class for this. Just hit on the Internet for most common and useful words and expressions so you will not feel at lost as soon as you arrived at the airport. Watching films and TV shows, listening to songs, and buying a pocket dictionary can help in overcoming those first few days while you are still adjusting.

7. Know the culture. Be aware of what are acceptable and not in your host country. Slurping while eating your noodle soup is normal and okay back home but does not automatically mean you won’t be frowned upon when you do this abroad. Read and research. You do not want to make a fauxpas on your first day.

8. Stay in touch. Don’t be a stranger to your family and friends as soon as you left your home country. Of course you want everyone to know every wonderful moment you are enjoying in your amazing student exchange program.

  • If required, have your phone unlocked then get a local SIM card from your host country. Research the best local network provider. You should look for those affordable bundles like 200 local calls and texts plus 750 MB for several Euros.
  • Create a Skype account and/or other messaging platforms that offer free voice and video calls. Family and friend chat groups are also good.
  • Set up social media accounts if you don’t have anything yet for easy updates from you to your friends and family.

9. Pack light. I wish I could highlight this more. I know many exchange students who bring their entire home with them (me included)! If your program has a suggested packing list, stick to it. If there is none, do your research or ask current students in the university. Please check the weather and temperature of your destination, as packing thin clothes for Europe in February is just plain silly. Leave things you can easily buy in your host country e.g., shampoo, body wash, etc. Take your chargers, travel adapters, and gadgets. Bring several photos and other mementos with you to help cope those homesickness moments.

10. Be mentally prepared. Saying goodbye to your family and friends, albeit temporary, can still be tough. However, this is part of the experience. When you are finally in your host country, expect the unexpected! You will be out of your comfort zone and the world will be your one giant classroom. You will meet people from around the world who have different customs and perspectives from yours and you should be open-minded and not judgmental about this. The same differences will later enrich your student exchange experience and understanding of various culture and people.

Alexander Graham Bell once said that preparation is the key to success and I strongly believe in that. To have a successful and enjoyable student exchange program, being prepared is necessary. I hope that these tips can help you achieve that. All the planning and preparation can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking at first, but believe me that all of these would be worth it. Just imagine yourself being here!

Are you an upcoming exchange student? Already have an experience spending a semester abroad? Share your thoughts and questions.