A $2 flight to Poland? $18 to go to Paris? $22 for a flight to Africa? It sounds a little too good to be true but I kid you not when I say that this was my experience traveling in Europe last year. Last fall, I had the opportunity to study abroad at NYU’s campus in Florence, Italy. Ever since, I’ve talked the ears off of anyone who will listen about how I couldn’t recommend going abroad more. One of the biggest highlights of my time in Italy was how much I got to travel within and around Europe. In fact, I actually traveled more in those 16 weeks than I have in my entire life. Also, because I’d never been to Europe before (or really anywhere except the US and India lol), I was determined to cover as much as I possibly could without deviating from my very minimal budget as a student. My travel budget consisted almost entirely of tutoring money I’d acclimated from the summer before—all my flights, Airbnbs, excursions, food, and nightlife were limited to this small, quickly-depleting fund. Nonetheless, I managed to knock out 12 countries and 33 cities in just one semester.
However, many of those who ventured across the pond after I did had a very different experience. They returned to me angrily, questioning the tales of budget-friendly, life-changing travel I had misleadingly promised them. Oddly enough, their flights were much more expensive than I’d ever remembered. Could I have just gotten lucky and that all of Europe decidedly reduced their travel prices in anticipation of the one semester I’d be there? There was no way.
So, I reflected. I thought back to exactly how I managed to pull off and find the deals that I did. And today, I present you with this list of things you could also do to travel Europe without breaking the bank. This list was derived from my own personal experiences, other travelers’ recommendations, and a lot of research.
2. Turn on Incognito Mode. In this day and age, websites pretty much profit off of tracking your virtual movements and selling them as data. Therefore, always look for your flights and hotels in Incognito Mode (refer to picture). I remember one time, my friend and I were sitting next to each other and had the same exact Airbnb listing opened, except mine was significantly more expensive because I wasn’t in Incognito Mode. Basically, Airbnb could tell I was looking to book and had been for a while and thus took it as an opportunity to upcharge me, which isn’t uncommon.
4. Look at nearby airports to fly into. Honestly speaking, the Florence airport (Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola) was not the best airport to fly from. Many times, the airport closest to you won’t be the one with the cheapest flights, which tend to fly into the more obscure airports. These flights also tend to be at ungodly hours of the day. My $18 flight to Paris left a 6am (which meant I woke up at 3am) and flew into Beauvais, so I had to take a bus into the city center. If your starting point is Italy, I suggest looking at airports in Pisa, Bologna, Rome, Milan, etc… Disclaimer: Be mindful that your overall trip cost will be more after buses/trains/transportation to and from the airport. Nonetheless, you’ll most likely still be saving at the end as oppose to if you had taken a more expensive flight to a closer airport. Be sure to compare all your options.
5. Check for bus and train alternatives. Two words: Flix Bus. By the end of the semester, I’d grown a fondness and admiration for the ghastly neon green color of these unmissable double-decker buses. Overnight buses are the best because they save you money on transportation AND hotel/Airbnb accommodations. FlixBus isn’t always the cheapest but if you download the app, be sure to check for periodic sales. I took a $35 FlixBus from Paris to Amsterdam that brought me right into the city center. Trains are also occasionally cheaper than flights, usually for domestic travel. I suggest using GoEuro, which gives you a side-by-side comparison of your flight, train, and bus alternatives.
Bonus Tip: Budget airlines are notorious for delays… just know that you are entitled to compensation if your plane is delayed by more than a certain amount of time. Use this
Bonus Tip #2: Budget airlines are also notorious for charging people exorbitant fees for their luggage… so pack light or risk being charged an extra 50 euros for a bag that’s a tad too big
7. Sign up for airline mailing lists and download airline apps. As you might’ve assumed, FlixBus isn’t the only travel company that does periodic sales. Almost every budget airline does as well, and this is really where you can get the most bang for your buck. In fact, we came across the $2 flight to Poland from a RyanAir flash sale. When doing your travel research, be sure to check the company website you’re booking from to see if there are any sales going on. If you’re booking through GoogleFlights, it should direct you there anyways.
9. Join the secret flying mailing list. This is actually something I heard about after I finished my semester. You can sign up here to get the best deals delivered to your mailbox.
10. Use Airbnbs/hostels. Using Airbnb/hostels instead of hotels is a steadfast way to save money. Obviously only book the Airbnbs that have positive and recent reviews (if your host is a Super Hosts, that’s a great plus). For hostels, I used this. Bonus Tip: The bigger the group, the cheaper your Airbnb will be. My cheapest Airbnb was in Germany, where it was $16 a night.
Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, study abroad will change your life regardless of whether or not you decide to leave your host city. The mere fact that you’ve pushed the boundaries of your comfort zone and placed yourself in an entirely new environment should be marveled in itself. However, I also believe that you can and should use this time to travel beyond your comfort zone without compromising your budget. Hopefully, these tips will be at least a little helpful in your doing that. If you need any more advice about this or life in general, feel free to reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to talk. Also, while you’re here, be sure to check out my good friend Caitlyn’s blog about her travels in both Europe and Asia. She goes into more depth about being a student abroad. Otherwise, thanks for reading— have fun and safe travels!