Five simple tips that will save you loads on your European adventure

December 15, 2016
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Despite its reputation as the cheapest form of travel, the costs of backpacking do add up. Any means of saving money on the road can make a pretty big difference over time. Trust me — knowing that you’re being relatively responsible on a day-to-day basis helps reduce the sting of unexpected costs like a fifth round of cocktails, public transport fines and highly questionable impulse purchases.

Book direct

Third party accommodation aggregators like Hostelworld are super useful when searching for somewhere to lay your head. They allow you to filter hostels by availability, user rating, location and inclusions.

These services do have a downside, though: the rates they offer are inflated to include the commission that they charge hostels. To secure the cheapest possible rates, use the aggregators for research only. Once you’ve found a hostel you’re satisfied with, track down their website and book direct — this will likely be cheaper and can also yield benefits like free breakfast, room upgrades and free nights. The net result is more money for sangria.

Be savvy when planning your weekends

Each weekend, there are floods of stags, hens and leave-burners flying across Europe for a few days of revelry in a foreign city. Because of this weekly spike in demand, hostels — especially those in major cities — tend to up their prices on Friday and Saturday nights.

This bump can prove pretty debilitating; I stayed at a hostel in Dublin where the price of a bed increased from €16 during the week to a whopping €80 on Saturdays. Luckily I realised this a few days in advance, leaving me time to find a cheaper alternative.

The winner, in this case, was Airbnb. A lot of backpackers assume that its offerings are always more expensive than hostels, but this isn’t the case. I saved the best part of $75 AUD, and had the best night of Ireland stint with my host and his mates.

If Airbnb doesn’t provide the goods, another option can be to avoid big cities altogether on weekends — hostels in smaller towns generally don’t impose weekend price hikes as severely. When you’re backpacking, every day’s effectively a Saturday, so opting out of the queues, cover charges and projectile vomit on weekends isn’t too great a loss.

To SIM or not to SIM

Activating global roaming on your existing phone plan usually costs about $5 AUD per day, adding up to a hefty sum. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

Cheap local phone plans are available around the world — but these will only likely be suitable if you’re sticking in a single country for an extended period. Even then, fluctuating exchange rates can alter your phone bill considerably from month to month. Otherwise, consider going without a SIM card altogether and leveraging free WiFi. Speaking from experience, it’s bountiful across Europe.

Download apps like maps.me and Citymapper when you have WiFi, and then use their offline modes to navigate cities without using Google Maps or the data it chews up. If you’re ever in desperate need of WiFi, chances are you’re not too far from a Starbucks or an Apple store.

Hostel add-ons

Good hostels provide far more than clean linen and rickety bed frames. Their additional services can ensure that you’re kept fed, watered and relatively clean — but they come at a cost.

You’ll likely be shelling out anywhere from €3 for a hostel breakfast (usually a slice or two of bread, a mug of tea and a bowl of sugary cereal) to €10 for laundry service. There are, of course, alternatives: laundromats are quicker and cheaper than hostel services, while supermarkets offer more varied, nutritious breakfast options at a significantly reduced cost.

Walk, don’t crawl

One of the best ways to meet people in a new city is through a walking tour. The tours run by companies like Sandemans are technically free and last a couple of hours, but it’s best practice to provide a tip of about €5 for your guide’s efforts.

You’ll almost certainly get chatting to other tour attendees along the way, and the logical next step is to kick on for some food and/or drinks. Your guide will be more than happy to recommend a decent watering hole, and might well come along too. Often enough, you’ll end up on an impromptu pub crawl of sorts — minus the compulsory shots, the strict time limits per venue, and the €10-€15 signup fee.

John Rowley

John studied Media & Comms at the University of Sydney. He’s a lover of historical fiction, pop music, travel and lists.

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