We all know that one of the biggest challenges to travel is trying to accomplish all you want to do without breaking the bank. Luckily there are a lot of alternative travel options out there that can help you save money without sacrificing the experience. In some ways, avoiding the top restaurants and hotels can actually make your travel experience even more rich, and help you experience the "real" part of the country you're visiting.
1. Couchsurfing and AirBnB are great options.
Instead of heading right to the hotels take a look into the many many house stay options out there. Between Couchsurfing (which is totally free), AirBnB, Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO), and hostels you can really save a good chunk of change. Hostels have started to creep up in price over the past few years because of the increase in popularity, and in some cities, a hostel is hardly cheaper than some hotels, but it really depends. VRBO isn't necessarily all that much cheaper than a hotel, but depending on how large a group of people you are traveling with, you can rent a whole apartment or house, cram a lot of people in and you can cook instead of going out! Couchsuring is the cheapest, because it's totally free, and is based around the idea of meeting new people, so you never know who you'll end up staying with! You have to spend some careful time on the site, and pick a host that you think is in line with what you want out of the experience. You may not be staying in the absolute most convenient part of the city, but look at it this way, you'll see somewhere you never would have otherwise.
2. Trains, planes, or automobiles?
Most people by now are aware of the major discount airlines, but Europe is actually filled with tons of discount airlines not to mention other travel alternatives. The biggest piece of advice is to shop around. While getting the EuRail pass is romanticized, and was at one point very economical, that is not as much the case any more. While trains are a very beautiful way to travel, they are also very time consuming. The passes are quite pricey, are generally limited to a certain region of the continent and don't cover all of the costs of the train. For most countries, you will still be required to purchase a seat reservation which range from 8 euros to over 100 euros. Often flying one of the many discount airlines (Ryan Air, Easy Jet, German Wings, Veuling, WOW, etc.) can save you a lot of time and money. The bus is also a good option that is often overlooked. Sometimes a bus is actually going to be the most direct (though less glamorous) way to get where you want. A great app that can help narrow down your options is Rome2Rio which compares general prices and time for all of the different transit options out there. You can't book anything through the actual app (like Kayak it will take you to the actual website to complete a purchase), but it's great for research.
3. Rethink that shiny Ristorante with a "Tourist Menu"
Food is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling, getting to experience the authentic cuisine of another culture. But it can also be extremely expensive and hard to know where to go. The number one tip you absolutely should follow no matter where you're visiting is avoid eating anything in very touristy areas. Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule, but in general, food in touristy ares is overpriced, unauthentic, and not very good. It is geared toward tourists who don't know any better. The second piece of advice, is don't be afraid to ask locals; they are going to know the best places to go, better than any guide book. This is another great thing about using Couchsurfing for lodging, you have a built in local who is generally more than happy to offer advice about their city. And bonus: they usually live in non-touristy areas so you can discover places that the average tourist would never see. Hostels are also usually pretty good resources for recommendations on cheap, delicious food. Some of the best food you'll have is the small local place, with reasonable prices. A lot of European countries are also known for their various street food, so find out what that is and dig in! I spent an entire weekend in Berlin subsisting off of kebab and currywurst, and I couldn't have been happier!
4. Find alternate sites to see
While you obviously want to hit the major tourist sites if its your first time visiting a new place, there are often really pricey entrance fees -- some places are worth it, some aren't. Pick the absolute must sees to go inside, the others you'd be fine just walking past, and skip the rest. While it's gratifying to say you've seen the big site, some of the most fun you'll have is creating your own unique memories in each city. You'll save a lot of time and money (and annoyance of being in large crowds) by exploring off of the beaten track, finding cool neighborhoods, and discovering the parts of the city that makes it unique. I would also recommend avoiding the pricey guided tours. While you can find some great free walking tours, the bus or paid tours of major tourist sites are grossly overprice, often don't include admission to the actual site, and can even spout incorrect information. Not to mention that you instantly give yourself away as a tourist and annoy all of the locals. Grab a map, go for a walk and talk to people!
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