I love Vanessa! I've met her several times and she is loads of fun. Not only that she is a great writer and her piece on Europe is perfect timing as we draw to a close our wonderful year here in Europe.
Exquisite hotels, flutes of champagne, priceless art, dainty handmade chocolates- there is virtually nothing I would change about Europe. Nothing that is, except for the prices (and my own disadvantageous exchange rate!)
The Europe of my fantasies seems destined to remain just that, a fantasy. But that doesn’t mean my value focused European excursions are any less enjoyable. European travel doesn’t have to fall into two categories. You don’t have to be either prince nor pauper. I’ve left my days of grubby backpacking behind in favor of a more grown up form of European budget travel – and you can too.
Where To Sleep
I’m a firm believer that just about anyone can enjoy hostel accommodations. Gone are the days of sleeping on the floor or being crammed in a tiny dorm. Hostels now offer private rooms, gourmet dining, and more amenities than most hotels. But if you’re still convinced they’re not right for you, there are plenty of budget friendly options. Monasteries, convents, bed and breakfasts, house swaps, and “glamping” are some of the clean, well-priced, and safe options that balance humble amenities with 5 star locations, historic buildings, and welcoming staff.
If you are determined to have privacy and don’t mind sacrificing space or splurges, you can try one of the many pod or no-frills style hotels. We bunked down in a windowless EasyHotel room in London for 4 nights and didn’t end up killing each other! It was clean, it was comfortable, it was microscopic, and it was cheap. And it was all the more appealing once we put our savings towards some spectacular theatre tickets.
How To Eat
Eating and drinking on a budget doesn’t mean suffering through stale baguette. Bakeries, farmer’s markets, and neighbourhood bistros with no official menus are filled with delicious, authentic local food at a reasonable price. Eating what’s local and seasonal is always a good idea but in Europe it’s so much more than a trend – it’s a way of life.
Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations. Every region has its own special cheese, bread, stew, pastry, and sweet. A simple “Is it true that the best cheese is in Paris” or “So how come Bulgarian bread is so unappreciated” will prompt a flood of debate and, eventually, recommendations! Ask the staff at the neighbourhood laundry, library, or museum gift shop where to go for the best mussels, cannelloni, or roast chicken within a 10 minute walk and prepare to be rewarded!
Coffee based drinks are something of an art in Europe. One of the oldest European budget tips remains true to this day: enjoy your drink standing up by the counter to save money. Otherwise, you’ll pay for the privilege of lounging at the table – something that can be well worth it but likely not an everyday treat. And while you won’t be able to drink fancy cocktails on a dime, you can easily indulge in a locally produced beer or wine for less than the cost of a soft drink – another great reason to give going local a try!
What To Do
I have a travel motto that has worked especially well for me when it comes to European attractions: If it’s free, I go and see. If I pay, I stay away. While I would never advise someone to avoid the Louvre or Westminster Abbey in order to save a few dollars, many of the best European sites are absolutely free. Most houses of worship, government buildings, and botanical gardens are free and even the most expensive attractions have a regular free evening or day on a monthly basis.
An added benefit of the “If it’s free” approach is that it gets you off the beaten path and gives you a chance to discover something new and special. There are a lot of quirky nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored, like the Florence Nightingale Museum in Istanbul or the Reykjavik Museum of Photography.
Always Free: Making Friends
Parisians have a reputation for snobbery – and they’re not alone. But I’ve never encountered any real rudeness in Europe. In fact, I’ve always found it easy to make friends and with that comes unforgettable travel memories. When you take yourself out of the sterilized hotels and the pricey tours, you’re rubbing shoulders with locals on every step of your journey. Throw in a willingness to try the language, a good dash of self-deprecating humor, and a willingness to praise the local cuisine and I guarantee you’ll be making connections that you’ll love more than anything else.
Vanessa Chiasson is TurnipseedTravel: an ocean loving, former Maritimer now settled in Ottawa as a freelance travel writer and social media strategist. TurnipseedTravel.com is passionate about savvy spending and getting a great travel value, helping readers get the best bang for their travel buck. You can follower her travel adventures on Twitter: @Turnipseeds