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.

Hostels

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.

HostelBookers
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!

HostelWorld
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.

Couchsurfing

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.

Hotels

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:

SkyScanner
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
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
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

Eurorail
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!

Buses!
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
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.

Automobiles
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.

It has been almost a week now since I have been in Lyon, and things are slowly getting easier. I no longer get lost in the mall; I know my way around pretty well! I usually go straight to the store, Carrefour, which international students like to describe as the French walmart equivalent. It is the best place to find cheap stuff, and they have a whole floor at the top of the mall that is a grocery store. It is a great place to buy food, but it’s a bitch to carry things home.

It has been raining ever since I arrived, so I’m anxiously awaiting nicer weather. I don’t own an umbrella yet, so it makes things a bit tough. I would also like to do some more sight-seeing, and take lots of photos to post here! I walked around town for a couple of hours a few days ago with a cool Canadian girl that I met outside the international students office. She overheard me and my friend Sarah talking in english, and she introduced herself. She showed me around the Belle-Cour, the Opera house, the town hall (Hotel de Ville), and where 2 of the 3 H&M’s are located. I cannot believe that Lyon has 3 H&M’s when Ottawa has 0. Where is the justice in that?

Things have gotten so much better here since yesterday. My friend, Sarah, who I had classes with back home, has been so helpful (she picked me up from my flight) and she took me on a trip to Ikea yesterday! I should have known that a trip to Ikea would make me forget about my homesickness, at least temporarily. I also had my first hot meal there since my flight.

I am so happy to now have a warm duvet to sleep in, and a REAL pillow! Yay:) I also bought a pot and a pan, so that I can cook hot meals for myself at home. Here’s to not getting food poisoning! aha! I made some chicken in tomato sauce and a side-dish of rice last night, and it was quite good.

I tried to buy some curry sauce for my rice, but I had such a hard time finding it at the grocery store. I think I may have to hit up a speciality store for it. Peanut butter is another item that is hard to find here, and when you do- it’s super expensive, because hardly anyone eats it. Back at home I would eat peanut butter toast (or a sandwich) every single day. I’m trying to brace the culture here, though. I now buy lots of baguettes. A baguette typically costs 0.85 euros, but I prefer whole wheat, and it is somehow cheaper at 0.45 euros- go figure!

The first time that I really felt like I was in France was on my first day when I saw an older man walking around with a baguette. Now I see people eating them everywhere. Want to buy a sandwich? It will be made with baguette. Going to the convenience store? You’ll see baguettes. Yummy!

Here is a photo of me and also photos of my new purchases:

Hello!

The pillows are square-shaped in France… I wish I could tell you why

We don’t have a shower rod in our bathroom, so I attempted to put up the shower curtain with strong tape, which clearly wasn’t strong enough. I guess I’ll have to visit a hardware store soon…

Cereal, olive oil, and 20 sided dice ^^ (in case there’s a party hehe)

My pot… that is probably too large

My new pan!

My PINK plates, cute cups, and baguette (or whatever is left of it)