Budgeting: Where to stay & How to get there

March 2021

I think we can all agree that ‘staying within your means’ is a lot easier said than done, but a good place to start is by doing a rough calculation of what known expenses you will incur while traveling and then rounding them off as larger costs. For example, if my bus fare is actually 33 euros, then I will budget it in at 50 euros, thus I will ensure that I have a buffer between what I have and what I actually will spend. By doing this, it ensures that I have more than enough available for any unexpected expenses that I may incur. This is just one example, but imagine if you were going to Valencia for 3 days, and you rounded all of your expenses up, then you’d A) have more money afterwards than you expected, and B) stay well within your means.

For me, budgeting is one of my most valuable skills!! I budget absolutely everything!! I am constantly thinking ahead about what sort of things I will have to pay for or will need money for, and how much I will be able to save in the meanwhile. Saving, like my dad says, is the single best thing you can do for yourself! Through planning out my available funds, I am decreasing my stress load, meaning less worry while at my destination(s)!

When it comes to traveling, your two biggest expenses are almost always going to be where you are staying, and how you are going to get to your destination(s), but they don’t have to be!

Where to stay

In my experience, Europe is one of the most budget friendly places to travel in terms of where you can stay. That is because just about every country, city, and even small town is littered with hostels. And it gets even better if you are in your youthful years, as Youth hostels will be your best friend!! They often do lots of awesome things at a cheap and affordable rate! For example, Pub Crawls are a major thing that they offer, as well as amenities like towels and sheets, kitchens, sight seeing deals and tours, and helpful advice on just about anything you can think of.

Specifically, if you are interested, be sure to check out Europes Famous Hostels, they are really great and have terrific ratings and reviews! I have stayed at several of these hostels and they are quite nice! A lot of the time, I use Booking.com and Hostelworld because they have excellent reviews and the websites are extremely user friendly. I also will occasionally go to Googlemaps and do a search in the general area that I want to stay in, then I can click on the hostels that come up and see some additional reviews of guests that stayed there. In this way, I am factchecking the rating and services of said hostel.

As with any place that you are going to stay, be sure to check over the ratings and reviews of previous guests. Sometimes a place can look amazing but then people expose the reality or sometimes you’ll think that a place doesn’t look all that good for you, but suddenly someones review changes all that! I have found that there are also times that you will be totally surprised upon arrival, either pleasantly or not so pleasantly haha. Whatever the case you will be able to work around it and push through, because although the place you stay at strongly influences your feelings about your trip, it is not the deciding factor for how your trip will turn out. Positivity, being able to take a deep breath, and perseverance are really wonderful traits to develop, particularly if you are traveling solo!

We have already discussed the best websites to allocate and stretch your funds, but there are many other ways to BUDGET & SAVE when you travel!

Just to give you an idea of what your precious money will get you as far as hostel go, I have a couple examples. When my best friend Emily and I went to Athens, Greece for spring break in 2018, we were able to book ourselves a 6 person hostel with an in-room bathroom in the city center for only 7 euros/night!! This was just about the coolest hostel one could’ve stayed at with a rooftop bar that had the most perfect moonlight view of the Acropolis. But when I went to Delft, Netherlands a small town in the countryside, I paid 35 euros/night to stay in an all female 4 person room that had a lovely in-room bathroom and sitting area. So honestly prices are all over the place, but I promise if you shop around and do your research, the majority of the time you can find a very decent hostel room with 6 or less people for 35 euros or less. And I would say that on average I usually spend anywheres from 15 to 25 euros. But it all depends, if there is a really great looking hostel for less, I will definitely book it!

In terms of what to look for in a hostel, I have found that I have certain requirements. These requirements are not about luxury, but rather about feeling comfortable, both mentally and physically while still going easy on my wallet, and about feeling safe and secure on my journey. I have stayed at a few less than ideal hostels where the website assured me that there would be “lockable” lockers, yet when I showed up there were only storage cubbies. So it is fair to say that more than likely you will appreciate having a few requirements for yourself.

First things first, do all the pictures and reviews say that the hostel was clean when they arrived? Cleanliness will aid in many factors, and especially with your bed and bathroom situation. Yes, I have seen reviews for several hostels where the guests said that there were bedbugs, and that is absolutely nasty. Also personally, I have encountered some pretty gross bathrooms, and seriously you do not want to get some sort of foot fungus. My biggest advice would be that whenever you stay in a hostel, no matter where you are, bring a pair of cheap foam flip-flops to wear while walking around and definitely while in the shower!! Being that they are flat, I often keep them in the laptop holder in my backpack in a waterproof shoe bag. So please, please check for such things!

Secondly, you will without a doubt need a room with a lockable locker to store your stuff. There is nothing worse than being paranoid that your valuables and things will be ransacked while you are out and about exploring your destination. If you use Booking.com, they always have an amenities tab for each place listed, and you can check to see if it says lockers included. Additionally, it is super helpful to check the guest reviews, for exactly the same reason as I listed earlier, it can say that is does but it might not be true in every room. Thus, if you see multiple people whom have already verified that there are indeed lockable lockers, then you are golden! Plus, a good idea is to keep a small cable and combo lock with you in your bag.

Thirdly, I have found that the best hostel room setups are when there are 6 or less beds. This is because it gets rather complicated when you have many more people than that in a single room, all with different ideas of what is a good time to wake up and go to bed, and all coming/going at different times, especially at night! So, to sum up, I have found that rooms of 4-6 are really great, and everyone in the room respects each other! Respect in a hostel is one of the biggest things you can ask for and need for your stay to be the most pleasant. Also, in-room bathrooms are really sweet, though I have had very good experiences with shared floor bathrooms : )

Fourthly, heat and hot water are two really important things!! I can absolutely speak from experience when I say that when you don’t have these your travelling perspective is seriously dampened, especially if you are at a cold, wet, and damp location. When I went to Northern Spain in December 2019, I booked a night at a ‘Youth Albergue’ in Ourense because it said that it had hot water and the price was right. However, when I got there, I quickly realized that an ‘Albergue’ was not the same as a hostel. For starters, there was only one larger open room with all the beds which is not how it appeared online. There were lockers, but then as soon as I went to wash my hands the water was cold. Before the desk lady went home for the night, she said that she had turned the heat on, but it got cold really fast! And then I went to take a shower and there was no form of hot water in the hostel! This was majorly disappointing because I hadn’t showered in two days, I was very damp from walking around, and I was soaked from the all the rain. I digress, but I reiterate that having hot water and heat are essential to a positive hostel stay!!

And fifthly, having a clean and decent hostel kitchen is super important if you are going to be traveling on a budget!! This is probably one of the biggest ways to save yourself time and money when travelling. That is because it costs about 10-15 euros for most restaurant made meals in Europe, not to mention the time it takes to sit and wait for a table and your food. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed some lovely and scrumptious meals out while traveling, rather it just means that I make a ‘meal plan’ for my self for the duration of my stay. My absolute golden rule for packing food before I leave and during a trip, is that if you can bring it with you or make it yourself, then do it! Being able to get a weeks worth of food or even a few things from the grocery store to make breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner will take your wallet a long ways!! Once you have stayed at a couple hostels, you’ll have a good idea of what sort of supplies they may or may not have. Plus, things like rice, pasta, S&P, silverware, pots and pans, and assorted kitchen tools are staples in almost any hostel kitchen. Emily and I often would be able to buy some fresh bread, and 15-30 euros worth of groceries each, including healthy produce, and get by just fine for a multi-day or weeklong trip.

How to get there

In terms of getting to/from your chosen destination, STA Travel, Booking.com, Omio are great places to look for transportation deals no matter your preference on mode: train, bus, car, or plane. I particularly love Omio, which was formerly GoEuro, because they have a truly awesome app that works like a dream and I can have all my tickets right there on my phone. A really great app feature is that they arrange the available option according to speed and price. For example, they list the train options from Naples, Italy to Rome, Italy according to ‘Fastest, most expensive,’ ‘Slowest, cheapest,’ ‘Second fastest,’ etc. Plus they show you all the possible modes available, so you can easily flip between them and decide how you want to proceed. STA Travel is pretty awesome too because they have student discounts available, and they search around for the absolute cheapest ways to get to your destination. There are some drawbacks though, they are the cheapest but they are often the longest, meaning I have seen lots of long layovers, leading to a 20 to 30 hour journey, instead of 8 to 10 hours. So it really depends on your preference, what your priorities are, and how much time you have on your hands. Booking.com is also very functional to use for flights, taxis, and rental cars, however, I primarily utilize it to find a place to stay during my travels.

Side note, whenever possible, it is best to travel with just a carry-on and personal item. That is because you will have more to lug around with you, will have to wait at the luggage carousal, and will risk having checked bag complications.

All around, it is soooooo much easier to just have what you need on you!! I generally opt for a small roller suitcase and a crossbody, a small backpack and crossbody, or just one large backpacking backpack. As I have suggested, less is more.

When I am flying to/from US and especially for long distance flights, I really love Expedia. Expedia has saved me many times with their perks because they really do have the best deals for the most part. For example, one time I booked a Norwegian Airlines flight to Madrid through Expedia, and because Norwegian is a ‘budget airline’ if I had booked through them instead I wouldn’t have gotten my meal and 1st checked bag for free. Thus, it is always good to shop around! Sometimes getting creative with how you can arrive to your destination will save you tons of money!! And, on every occasion that I purchase a long distance flight I buy trip insurance!! If you buy through Expedia you can always cancel free of charge within 24 hours, but I highly suggest that you save yourself future hassle and buy the trip insurance. I can speak from experience when I say that you will get your money back, it may not be as quickly as you’d like but as long as your reason is legitimate and aligns with their policy, you will be reimbursed.

For instance, when I fly to and from Madrid, I always book two separate flights, one between Syracuse, NY & JFK in NYC, and one between JFK and Madrid Barajas Airport. This is because airlines charge outrageous prices for connecting flights with small airports, and as a result I have to correlate my flight times and make it work in order to pay normalised prices. It is important to note that with this type of planning, you must be weary of layovers, possible problems that might occur, waiting times in customs, and any other delays or changes that might occur. But I have had really great luck with this type of planning, and it has allowed me to travel cheaper and further while not depleting my savings in the meanwhile. I’d also advise one to consider what seat you purchase for long distance flights. For me, I am not about being stuck in the middle or having my legs too constricted, since I am quite tall. : ) I have found that the best seats are in the aisle, specially on larger planes the aisle seat of the middle is quite good because you always can exit when you wish, and there is generally better overhead storage than the window sides. Now if you are traveling with someone, your circumstances may be different and then you may prefer to be seated together at the window, but always be sure to choose what is best for you!

When I am in Spain, I always use Renfe for any train travel that I wish to do. Renfe is without a doubt the best way to use train travel and short range public transit in Spain because they have excellent high speed rails that can move upwards of 200 Km/hour, and they are very efficient. I have arrived at both of the stations in Madrid with 10 minutes til my train departs, checked in, grabbed a coffee, and still got on my train with a couple minutes to spare. Something to consider with train seats, is what direction you are facing, as this changes constantly. Thus, be sure to double check when you book, and if you have a non-numerical seat, you may want to check what direction the train will be pulling out of the station in, as facing the opposite direction almost always makes me nauseous. Other super cool features include onboard cafe cars, luggage storage in each car, complimentary movies that play in each car, ability to stretch with spacious seating, and there are always onboard bathrooms. And you are always guaranteed a window view, if not an actual window seat, which for me is huge!

I really enjoy using Ryanair, IberiaExpress, and EasyJet for a lot of shorter domestic and EU flights, as they are reliable and user friendly budget airline companies that service the bulk of Europe, as well as other places. There are some important facts that one should know with these airlines and ones like them. First, YOU MUST ALWAYS PRINT YOUR TICKET AT HOME OR HAVE IT ON YOUR PHONE!! This is because they charge exorbitant amounts of money to do such things at the airport. Similarly with checking bags, and having too big, too heavy, or too many bags, you will pay significantly more at the airport than by doing it online. Furthermore, it is my suggestion that you download the airlines app, and ensure that you follow all of their requirements because otherwise it will cost you dearly.

I have found that they will always offer you upgrades for your flight as well, which may or may not be worth it. One upgrade that they will always offer you is to ‘select your seat,’ or they will assign you one prior to takeoff. This is a tricky decision because if you are like me, then you get sick being in the back of the plane, that is behind the wing. There is a 50/50 chance that you are placed in a good seat versus a bad seat. I have been place in both, and when I flew to Athens, Greece I actually got assigned seat number 1 in 1st class. But when I flew back, I got assigned a seat in the second to last row, and I was just minutes away from throwing up when we landed haha. If I choose a seat on shorter flight, I generally go with a window seat, and at or in front of the wing. Another common upgrade is whether you want to pay for ‘priority boarding,’ this can be really sweet if you are flying on a small plane because a lot of times you will be stuck with very little overhead bin space, and be forced to do a last minute bag checking. There is nothing worse than having to wait an extra 30-45 minutes at the luggage carousal for your “carry-on bag.” So as I said, it is for you to decide, and it depends on how much you want to spend, and how much you have to spend.

Sometimes flying just makes more sense, like for example you can fly to just about any region of mainland Spain in 45 minutes to an hour, or you can drive there within 7-8 hours. So which one would you choose? In most cases the cost benefit analysis leads one to select a flight and not sacrifice a whole day of precious travel time to driving, depending on how far you are going. But to each their own, and perhaps you have all the time in the world. This is where taking a train can be fun, flexible in terms of being able to move more than in a car/bus, and better because you are able to window watch all fo the magnificent sites along the way. When I went to Northern Spain, I chose to take a 7 hour train because ultimately, I would be much more comfortable than on a bus, and as it happened, no flight times worked out with my allotted travel time. Additionally, websites like Skyscanner, Cheapflights, and Cheapoair are good, but I rely a lot more on the other sites I listed because I have had better success finding the cheapest prices and my overall travel experiences have been more satisfactory.

To conclude, if you can mindfully, persistently, and constantly minimise and monitor all of your expenditures, then you will be able to enjoy yourself more when traveling without all of the stress on your checking account. Be tough on yourself and ask yourself if you really need to buy this or that. Is it really necessary for how long my trip will be? Do a quick cost benefit analysis, and no I do not mean with equations, I mean in your head. Start out by establishing just how much money you can allocate for said trip, and then consider what your willing to spend on transportation and where you are going to stay. Think about how and what you are going to eat, if it is really necessary to eat out every day, or if you would be content making your own food. Challenge yourself to make use of what you have, do research on what modes of transportation are free, and spend less overall!!! Do your homework, decide what your priorities are for where you are going to stay, and utilize multi-search websites to see what the best mode of transportation is for you in correlation with how much available time you have.

Happy budgeting! I wish you luck : )

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