So at this point you have your cities all picked out… what is next? Figuring out where you will stay is a very good idea ahead of time. It is fairly easy to find a hostel or a room in larger cities, but if you’re in Verona, Italia at 4pm (in February) stuck outside in the cold for 5 hours asking strangers in italian how to get to a hostel on the outskirts of town, you are probably wasting a lot of valuable sight-seeing time. We ended up rushing around the next day, and we missed Romeo’s house!

Before you leave I suggest printing out google maps of your hostel locations. If you ever get lost then you can easily show the map to a local.


The main two options for starving students are hostels and couch-surfing. Hostels are really NOTHING like what you may have seen in that scary film of the same name… they remind me a lot of camp; there are generally bunk beds, and good hostels will have lockers. In Ireland I stayed at a hostel where the water in the showers would only run for 10 seconds, and you would have to keeppressing the button in order to have a longer shower.

The price is generally 15 euros ($22 CAD) a night, but it can be higher or lower depending on the season. Pay close attention to whether you will get charged extra for sheets. I was pretty shocked at having to pay extra for this when I arrived at my Barcelona hostel, although it is actually a fairly common practice in Spain.

This is my favourite hostel booking website; they impose no booking fees! You can search by city, and I find the best way to go from there is to filter the hostels by their ratings. The ratings are given by all of the users who visit them, and they are generally very reliable. I like also like reading the comments to see if there are any extra tidbits of info that could serve me well.

I like to pick the hostel by location; the best is when you walk right outside your hostel door and find yourself right amongst the best tourist attractions. This will save you a lot of money on public transit and taxi services!

This site is similar to HostelBookers, but they impose a service charge. I also prefer the navigation of the HostelBookers website. They do have some hostels that may not be listed on HostelBookers, so if you are having trouble finding a hostel, then this is a good place to search.


I have never tried CouchSurfing but I have heard so many good things about it from friends, that I feel like it really deserves mentioning. The essence is that people open up their homes to travelers all over the world, and the hope is that you will also have your door open for them if they are ever in your neck of the woods.

The description from the official website:
“CouchSurfing members share hospitality with one another. These exchanges are a uniquely rich form of cultural interaction. Hosts have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. ‘Surfers,’ or travelers, are able to participate in the local life of the places they visit. We also give more people the chance to become travelers, because ‘surfing’ lowers the financial cost of exploration.”

I believe that proper CouchSurfing etiquette is to buy at least a bottle of wine and/or groceries for your host’s home. I have heard many nice things about how gracious these hosts can be to complete strangers; doing laundry, cooking for them, and even showing the travelers around town. There are different types of CouchSurfing hosts; some are really into acting as tour guides, while others are more strapped for time

Whatever you decide, just be sure to do research to ensure that CouchSurfing hosts have been vouched for, and that you are staying in a safe part of town.


What you say? Hotels on the cheap? In groups, hotel rates can be reasonable! If you are going to a small town, too, there may not be many hostels around, and they could be all the way across town, so staying at a hotel might be the best way to go.

My friends and I stayed in a hostel in Avignon, and the price was right, but we ended up having to walk at least 30 minutes before we could get to the main part of town, and it was enormously difficult to find in the beginning. Because we were a group of three, we probably could have found a good rate at the hotel in the main downtown area (or in “the city” as my australian friends would say.)

There are so many options in traveling around Europe… there is an abundance of airline companies, bus companies, and even types of trains, but what is the best and cheapest way?

The easiest way to begin is to create a list of cities that you will definitely be visiting in Europe. Check out Google Maps, and get an idea of the length of time it takes to go from city to city, so that you will better know whether you would take a train, plane, or bus. I personally really love to take trains, as they are most often located in city centres, so you won’t be paying loads of money to get to the airport (either by shuttle bus or taxi) and you save time and money by not having to check-in.

An extremely cheap option is to take a night bus, which is what I did between Sevilla, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. I have to admit, though, that it was less than comfortable, as I had the creepiest guy on the bus sitting next to me for awhile before I gave him the evil eye, and he went to go sit next to some other girl. Coughing on creepy people also tends to help. Blowing your nose in an obnoxious manner is a nice touch, but the other people on the bus will not appreciate these tactics LOL. The buses are often packed, too, which does not allow for much comfort.

Resources for Aeroplanes:

This website is great, because it is a bit of an amalgamation of many cheap airline sites, and it gives you ideas on the transfers you would have to take to get from place to place, as well as showing the prices in different currencies.

Ryanair is the king of cheap flights in Europe. If you book up to at least a month ahead of time, you will find flights for as little as 5 euros (about $7 CAD). Sweet! I managed to get a flight at that price from London to Dublin. If you wait, though, you will end up paying a lot more. Visit their website often to pay attention to the great deals.

Warning: As this is a discount airline, you have to be aware that is really 0 frills. You will not get any food, and if you want to check-in a bag then you should pay for this option ahead of time on their website. Also, be sure to stay within the weight range that they list, or you will find yourself paying more at the airport. I have known people that have been forced to wear most of their wardrobe on the flight to avoid the exorbitant extra charges. Also, if you choose the online check-in option, then do it! Otherwise you will have to pay about $50 right before you take your flight… I learned this the hard way.

easyJet’s prices are generally more expensive than Ryanair, but they have deals from time to time that you should pay attention to. Also, they fly to areas not covered by Ryanair such as Lyon, France, which is quite handy.

Warning: Sometimes called sleazyJet for the reasons listed above in the Ryanair section- make sure to prepare everything before your flight

Resources for trains

A couple of my close friends purchased a Eurorail pass before heading to Europe. They had their entire itinerary planned beforehand with the help of the train timetables listed on the website, which is a super handy and easy to use resource, that I would recommend for anyone who is interested in taking trains on their travels in Europe.

If you are interested in taking a combination of trains and planes, then the pass may not be in your best interests. It is also important for me to note that some train networks are more highly subsidized by their national governments, so a pass would not be as helpful in this case. For instance, a pass may not be very helpful in Italy, because the ticket prices are already inexpensive, however, a pass might be helpful in France or Switzerland.

Also, there may be extra charges that come up for reservations and upgrades to TGV so be prepared to budget a bit more for travel.

Carte 12-25
I lived in Lyon, France for 6 months, so I purchased a Carte 12-25, a youth pass for people between the ages of 12 and 25. I paid 49 euros for the pass, and it helped me enormously in saving money. I know that a similar card exists in Switzerland. If you plan on doing a lot of travel in one country, then this might be for you!

Shamrocker Adventures
My best friends and I took a tour of Southern Ireland with Shamrocker Adventures! It was one of the best traveling experiences of my life. We had a real irish tourguide who was hilarious, and loved by all. He even pointed out the scenes from “PS I love you!” for me! I imagine that it would have been harder to get around Ireland without this tour. I would do another tour in a heartbeat.

Also, we got in without waiting at the biggest and best club in Killarney, and danced the night away…

Busabout offers a hop-on, hop-off system on certain routes. I have never traveled this way, but I imagine that it would be a good way to meet other like-minded student travelers. The advantages of traveling this way are that it is a good way of meeting people, and more flexible than your average tour, but the downsides are that it is likely more expensive than buying separate train tickets, and that you would not have the same flexibility in planning your trip as this uses routes.

Contiki tours
The mandate of Contiki Tours is to provide tours for people between the ages of 18-35. I have never personally taken a tour with this company, but I have heard many good things. If you are traveling on your own, then it is a great way of meeting friends. It is also likely more expensive than backpacking by yourself or with friends, but there is safety in numbers, they take care of all of the plans, and you will have a tour guide with expertise. Another thing that I have noticed is that seem to only spend one or two nights per city, and that would personally not be enough for me.

Topdeck Tours
This is a british company, which is similar to Contiki. I know of someone that traveled around Italy and Switzerland with this company, and they had a great time.

If you will be traveling around Europe for an extended period of time then it might be in your best interest to buy a car or a van. One of my cousins traveled around Europe a few years ago in a Volkswagen van with her boyfriend, and they had a great time. You might even be able to save money on accommodations every second night by sleeping your van haha… maybe not something I would advocate, though! I like doing things on the cheap, but I also enjoy a nice warm shower.

Transit in France

January 30, 2009

Living in France thus far has been quite different than living in Canada. As soon as I stepped outside the airport the first thing that I noticed was the lack of snow. It was incredible to me to be seeing fields of nothing but green while everything in my hometown is coated in a sheet of white, and walking for 10 minutes back home would result in bright red thighs and numb toes!

Also, the transportation system here is incredibly easy to use, and really fast. I really like how the tram on a nearby street comes every 5 minutes. A strike began, though, today which resulted in a decrease in the amount of buses and the metros that were running. It reminds me so much of back home and the transit strike! (Not that it’s a good thing). That is the only thing that I do NOT miss from my hometown- the terrible transit system. It is completely ridiculous that the transit workers have been on strike since early December; it really made it difficult to get to work and to my exams. I really feel for the people that still have to deal with that.

In Lyon, all of the public institutions are currently striking with the transit workers, which means that the post office, the train station, and the airports are closed. Talk about mayhem! I’m not sure, really, how long it will last, but I hope not long, because I would like to send some things through the mail. I really hope that I get some letters from back home… email and skype are super convenient, but nothing is better than getting a letter.

Velo’v (Photo from Wikipedia)

Luckily the Velo’v system is still running at least! The Velo’v system consists of stations of bicycles strategically located across the city. All you have to do is swipe a certain card, and then you can take the bike with you until you reach the next station wherever you are going. It costs about 5 euros to sign up, and if you already have a public transit pass, than you can use them anytime, and the first hour is free!

Speaking though of transportation, most of the cars here look like Honda Hatchbacks. They are mostly triangular in shape, and quite small (due to the small roads and lack of parking, I’m sure). A couple of cars that I have seen here, that I have never seen in Canada include the Renault Clio hatchback and Peugeot. I’m personally kind of partial to Japanese cars such as Honda, but you hardly see them at all around here. The only Honda dealership that I’ve seen sells motorcycles. One car that I really like IS quite popular here, though! It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that it is so popular in Europe, as it was prominently featured in the Italian Job movie… but it would be the Austin Mini!

Clio Hatchback (photo from Wikipedia)

There is a dealership in Lyon dedicated ONLY to the mini, as they are so popular. It used to be a part of the B&W dealership, but I suppose it warranted its own. Another type of car that you see a lot of is Mercedes Benz… most transport trucks and cabs seem to be Mercedes. It is strange to see them everyone here, when they are so rare in Canada, but it sort of reminds me of the film Valkyrie (although that film was set in Germany…)

Will write more another time ^^

Hope everyone is doing well ❤