In the last instalment, we found jobs and a permanent place to live, so it was time to start travelling…
I could write all day about travels, but this isn’t really a travel blog so I should probably just summarise things quite a bit. If people want to know more then I can go into more detail, but perhaps that can be the subject of a future post.
Being a bit poor initially, we decided that we would just travel in the UK for starters, so that meant that we went to Cardiff in Wales. This was the weekend when Cardiff were playing in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth, so the city was a bit crazy with the excitement and we still got to see the various sights. It was probably a good way to start as it just involved a domestic train/bus and renting a room in a small hostel in the centre of the city. Now that we had this under control, we figured that we were set for more international travel, so off we went…
Over the next 11 months we travelled to the majority of countries in Central and Western Europe, which meant going through a lot of airports and seeing a lot of sights.
This also included two extended visits to Sweden to visit relatives and hosting my parents for a few weeks as well.
The map (opposite) shows the various countries that we visited while we were living in London, but a list of the main cities that we visited can be found below:
- England generally
- Cardiff, Wales
- Edinburgh, Scotland
- Belfast, Northern Ireland
- Dublin, Ireland
- Krakow (and Auschwitz), Poland
- Gothenberg, Stockholm, Malmo and Eskilstuna, Sweden
- Oslo, Norway
- Barcelona, Spain
- Paris, Nice and Cannes, France
- Monte Carlo, Monaco
- Venice, Milan, Pisa and Rome, Italy
- Vienna and Salzburg, Austria
- Bratislava, Slovakia
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Berlin, Potsdam, Leipzig, Munich, Fussen, Germany
- Belgium, Brussels
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Zurich, Switzerland
- Athens, Greece
Regular readers of this blog will know that I love all things to do with Germany, and this country was therefore my favourite place to visit. We actually went there twice, with one of these times being to go to the Oktoberfest. I personally love the history, the castles, the language, the beer, and the traditions, and being in an historic city like Berlin and going to the Oktoberfest were real highlights for me. I also love the cliched German efficiency, with their public transport systems being very impressive indeed.
My wife on the other hand, would nominate Italy as her favourite country, and I can understand why. With cities like Venice and Rome, historic buildings everywhere and amazing food (it was pizza all the way for me), it really was an amazing place to visit.
Tips for travelling on a budget in Europe
Admittedly we hadn’t made the transition to a more financially aware lifestyle at the time, but we still worked out ways of saving money when travelling. With what we know now there would be ways to save even more money, but here were some of the tips we used when travelling through Europe:
- Travel with a budget airline: For us this meant Ryanair or Easyjet, but more often than not Ryanair were the cheapest.
- Read the fine print with budget airline fares: Ryanair and Easyjet would often advertise really cheap fares, but by the time you added in the various taxes and fees the airfare was a lot more than the advertised price. You therefore needed to ensure that you were weighing up the all-inclusive fare against alternatives (e.g. from traditional airlines).
- Plan the countries that you want to visit: By listing out the countries that you want to visit, and being flexible with your schedule, you can take advantage of cheap fares when they come up and therefore change the timing of your trip to suit. You should note however that just because a cheap airfare comes up, doesn’t mean that you should buy it – you need to make sure that it is actually a place that you really want to go. Some places are very cheap to fly to, but they are often places that don’t actually have a lot to see or do.
- Check which airport you will be flying into: The budget airlines often fly into budget airports that then require an expensive train or bus ride to get into the city. It can sometimes be cheaper to fly with a regular airline and land at an airport that has cheaper travel connections into the city. Ryanair has an airport called Oslo (Torp), which is quite deceiving because it is a long (~1 hr) and expensive train ride to actually get into Oslo.
- Stay in hostels: Except for a couple of times when it couldn’t be avoided, we stayed in hostels with a private bathroom/ensuite attached to our room. These were perfectly acceptable for us and were always clean. You can of course use the various travel review websites to get an idea of what a hostel is like in advance, and we were rarely unpleasantly surprised by our room.
- Check if breakfast is included: When comparing hostel prices, an included breakfast can make a huge difference in where to stay. If breakfast was actually included I always made sure to eat plenty so that I wouldn’t be hungry again until lunchtime. If breakfast wasn’t included, we found that buying something simple from the supermarket (like a croissant or some bread and cheese) was a very cheap way to start the day.
- Weekend trips: We often took short city breaks, and found that the most cost-effective way of seeing a place was to take an early flight on a Saturday morning, and then fly home on Sunday afternoon/evening. That way we only had one night of accommodation, and didn’t really miss anything as if we left after work on Friday we would have arrived late (and not seen anything) on that night anyway.
- Travel to the airport: We typically flew out of Stansted airport in London, but getting to the airport was a bit tricky from where we lived. Because we took very early flights, cheap train options were often not available, and we therefore had to take a bus. This was further complicated by the fact that the nearest bus stop was a fair way away, and we often walked for over half an hour to the bus stop at about 4 o’clock in the morning. Such commitment to saving cash (walking through freezing London winter at 4am with huge backpacks) was surely a sign of a future low-cost lifestyle! When booking flights from these airports, you really do need to consider the cost of getting to and from the airport as it can change the whole value proposition.
- Avoid big or expensive souvenirs: There is no point buying large or expensive souvenirs, as the bigger they are the more expensive they will be to bring home (and more likely that they will be damaged in transit), and if you purchase an expensive souvenir for everywhere you go the cost will quickly add up. We bought something from every country we visited, but tried to keep them to a price limit and make sure that they were small. Even so, our souvenirs are now in a box out in the shed and we never look at them, so I’m not sure that there was really any point in buying them. Photos are much more valuable and they’re free!
- Investigate city passes: Many cities have passes that allow you to use any public transport within a time period (e.g. 24-48 hours) and this can make travel once you are there more cost-effective. Many cities also sell tourist passes that allow you to see an unlimited number of sites within a time period and this is much cheaper than paying an entrance fee for every relevant site within the city. When we were in Potsdam, which was the city with various palaces of the Kaisers outside Berlin, we purchased a pass like this and it made it cheaper to see them all.
- Book ahead to avoid lines: Many tourist attractions (e.g. the Eiffel Tower) have huge lines if you just turn up, but they also allow you to book ahead. If you do this (often at no extra cost), you can just turn up at a certain time and go into a different line, which allows you to avoid waiting. I recall not being so organised at the Palace of Versailles, and after waiting in line for over an hour in December I felt like my toes were about to freeze off. If only we had pre-booked!
- Do your research in advance: Research a place before you go there, as it will allow you to make the most of the time while you are there. Some things also require you to book in advance (e.g. Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria), so just turning up without a plan may leave you disappointed.
So there are some basic tips for travelling on the cheap if you have a base in London, but I’m sure that there is a fair bit more that I have forgotten in the last six years. What tips do you have to save cash for expats travelling in Europe?
I know that I said I would touch on the Global Financial Crisis and the Lehmann Brothers implosion, but I will have to leave that for the next post. Tune in next time to find out how big investment banks respond to this sort of crisis (and be warned, it’s not pretty…)