Many of us travel the world through smartphones, scrolling down every night before going to sleep and wishing that one day we could go to Rome or have a delicious breakfast in Paris or even enjoy the deep blue sea in Greece.
Many are dreaming about the airport moment, the gate to a next destination abroad, to explore the other side of the world, to gain new experiences, to get to know new people and to taste new food.
However, travelling around Europe or even visiting one country can be very expensive, and planning such a trip needs money for flight tickets, hotel accommodation, transportation inside the country, food and sight-seeing. A lack of money is often the main reason why many people don’t travel.
But the good news is that you don’t need to be rich to travel. “All you need is a laptop, some research and patience,” says 23-year-old Egyptian travel expert Mayar Medhat Mahboub.
Mahboub often travels twice a year in winter and summer and believes that the first decisions you need to take will be about the number of people travelling, the type of the trip you are planning, and the destination. You can travel either in a group or by yourself, but in case you decide to go in a group, make sure to choose people that you agree with. You might have very different interests, and these could lead to splitting up your plans. Then comes the type of trip and whether it will be relaxing and chilling, sight-seeing, art and exploring, or shopping and nightlife.
You need to think of the destination and if you will visit one country and go around it, or if you will visit multiple countries. All this will be according to the budget available.
After that you will have to go through paperwork requirements. Almost the whole of the Schengen Area in Europe requires the same papers for tourists. “However, it is always better to go through the official website of the embassy of the chosen country and check the short-term Schengen visa requirements,” Mahboub recommended.
In case of multiple countries, you can make good use of Nomads, a Facebook group where travellers share their experiences of visas and how to apply for them, she added.
The next thing to do is to check country specifications. “The most important things to check are the weather during the dates of your travel, so you pack the right clothes, the currency, and the means of transportation,” Mahboub said.
Most European countries have metros, buses, and sometimes ferry boats. “The cheapest way is to buy tickets available for a certain period of time, like three days or one week like in Italy. This will save you an average of six euros a day, and usually you can use the same ticket to use any means of transport,” she advised.
Some countries like France have mobile applications for the metro that provide you with the route of your trip from your location to your destination. This will save you money and time instead of getting lost. “You can also use Google Maps, as this is trustworthy and gives you the route by all the means of transport available,” Mahboub recommended.
As for transportation from one city to another or from one country to another, you will need to explore the cheapest tickets, so you can use websites like Comparabus, Eurolines, Radiojet, Omio and others that will compare all the available means of transportation with their prices for you to choose the best price. Some websites offer car-pooling trips, Mahboub added.
Now for accommodation. Forget about hotels, with Mahboub suggesting going for hostels instead. “They are the cheapest available, sometimes 10 euros per night. Go online on hostelsworld.com or booking.com, which will provide you with the details of the hostel, its location, room details, and photographs as well,” she said.
There is no need to book your breakfast in the hostel as you will want to explore the restaurants and local food of the country. Never eat in fancy restaurants, as they are way too expensive. Always go for small taverns for dinner and grab-and-go places for breakfast. The TripAdvisor application will help you find the restaurants with the highest rates and will allow you to filter from the cheapest to the most expensive.
As for sight-seeing, “Google will help you a lot in planning and knowing the monuments, ticket prices, and the working hours of the places you want to visit. When you arrive at the hostel you can ask for a map of the area to help you explore the neighbourhood,” Mahboub said. For shopping, “try to target sales and also check small boutiques, as they may have more beautiful and valuable pieces,” she added.
For Mahboub, you may find more exciting activities in small cities in Europe rather than in capital cities, and you may also find interesting things in countries you have never heard of. Try to live as a local not as a tourist to feel the experience of the place, and this will help you to reduce the cost and make the best use of your budget. Whenever you see a group of people gathering around in the street, think about joining them as there may be a band singing or playing music or an amusing show of some kind.
Another good piece of advice is about packing small things like toothpaste, shampoo, and some medicines and painkillers, in order to save the money that you might spend on such things that can be expensive in Europe. As for souvenirs, you can find some good bargains at small boutiques, like keychains, notebooks, postcards, or even chocolate bars, Mahboub said.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.