I lived in the Netherlands for almost 11 months where my one and only goal was to explore Europe. In the months of saving and tight budgets, I rode on a train from the one Dutch attraction to the next while planning trips to other European countries. I made plenty of mistakes, but also learned from them. Here are five of my top tips for first time Europe travellers:
1. Book your flights with Skyscanner
Skyscanner is a convenient website which gathers information and prices from all the airlines and put the cheapest ones in a calendar for you to compare. You can scroll through the different months to look for the cheapest departure and return date. Once you’ve decided on a date, Skyscanner redirects you directly to the relevant airline, which ensures that no third party costs are involved.
2. Book your flights 6 months or more in advance
The earlier you decide to travel, the cheaper is your flights and the more time you have to save. My parents came to visit me in the Netherlands in September 2018, we booked their tickets 7 months in advance, and they only paid R5 500 per person for their return flight! Have you ever imagined flying to Europe for less than R6000? It is possible when you plan and book early enough.
3. Book your accommodation with Hotels.com
Hotels.com’s policy states that they are willing to match any price lower than what they offer. This can leave you with peace of mind that they are the cheapest website to search for accommodation. They have plenty of reviews and price options available to ensure the perfect stay at your dream destination. Hotels.com also offers every tenth booking free! That means you can save around R1 500 for you and your partner on your trip.
4. Make use of the European public transport
Europe’s rail and bus system is one of the most impressive transport systems and so convenient and cheap when you know how to use it correctly. Train tickets are released in different price batches every month. You are able to start buying your tickets three months before your travel date when they are cheapest. Every day from the three month mark, the prices start to increase. The prices can double or even triple the closer it gets to the travel date. Almost the whole of Europe is connected with trains and buses, so it is much cheaper to get on an express train to Paris, than flying. I even took a six-hour bus trip to Paris for less than R500 retour, where plane tickets could be up to R3 000 for the trip.
5. Buy food and drinks at a local supermarket
You’ll want to treat yourself once or twice at an authentic Italian restaurant to taste their famous pizza, or try a moreish pub lunch in Ireland. You can, however, cut your food budget almost in half if you stock up on food, snacks and drinks at the local supermarket rather than eating out or at fast food restaurants. Try a picnic at the Rembrandt Plein in Amsterdam with a freshly baked bread loaf, a whole salami, dutch cheese, olives, mini cucumbers and tomatoes, dutch crackers and spreads, and a whole packet of Stroopwafels for pudding, all washed down with a cold Heineken. This will cost you half the price of the restaurant bill just across the street.
During my 11 month stay in Europe, I have learned that every trip can be done and can be affordable if planned well and booked in advance. Take the first step, book that plane ticket, and don’t be scared. Once the travel bug bites, you’ll wonder why you didn’t started earlier.