You always hear stories from people, who seemingly fly endlessly in and out of Europe, about how cheap it is to fly and stay there. Yet when it comes down to it, you can never find those so-called deals and cheap flights. Sucks right? With all the photographic potential Europe has to offer, you want to be able to cash in on that experience too. But how?
As someone who flies in and out of Europe 4-5 times a year, here are my tips on how to get there and travel around on a budget.
There are multitudes of flight-scanning apps available which claim to provide the cheapest flight options available. This is not often the case. Instead of jumping from app to app to find the best deals – which they all seem conflicted on – I just stick to two: Travel Pirates and Google Flights. Hear me out.
Not a lot of people will agree with me on this one, as it is TRUE that other flight scanner apps do find cheaper flights. This is rare. But it happens. I would say that 90% of the time, Google provides the best options available, and it allows for some key manipulation that end up more rewarding in the end.
Google Flights allows you to select ‘Europe” as a destination and then provides a list of the cheapest trips from your city of origin to multiple locations across the continent (versus other flight apps which require you to select a city and search anew every time). This is great because let’s say you want to go to Amsterdam, but the round trip to London is significantly cheaper. Google Flights will show you that along with a list of other cheap destinations. You can then go and see how much a trip from THAT city to Amsterdam is (usually significantly cheaper with Europe’s budget airlines) and most likely reduce your trip cost (if you were to select the Amsterdam trip direct) by $100-$200).
Google Flights also allows you to be flexible with your dates, showing cheaper flights in a two month range. If you open the calendar after selecting your city of destination, the app will show you the cost of flights for every day for the next two months, allowing you to select the cheapest dates.
This is a gamble app. Travel Pirates scours the web for error fares and sales and then passes that information along to it’s users in the hopes that they purchase the fares before the error is detected or the sale ends. Usually it is last minute sales or freak errors. But the good news is that the airline has to honour those prices to people who want to purchase it. Travel Pirates also provides the date range for which the error occurred (sometimes these are 3 months ahead, other times two days ahead) so if you get lucky, you can find yourself in Europe for $100 each way.
Another flight trick I use is keeping track of WOW air. The Icelandic airline often offers discounted tickets with the caveat that you stop in Iceland on the way over. For $100 flights, it is worth the one hour wait.
Once you are in Europe, cross country travel is cheap. Often it is cheaper to fly than take the train, as Europe has so many budget airlines. Again, I use Google Flights for this and fiddle around with dates until I find the cheapest options that work for my dates.
Another option is Europe’s premiere bus line, Flixbus. Flixbus offers budget bus travel to the majority of the country for about half the price of the train. While less comfortable and a lot (but not much) slower, the bus has free wifi, makes stops and offers snacks.
Again, these options tend to vary by country, so a useful app is Go Euro. Go Euro lets you input your origin and destination, and then comes back with the prices of various modes of transport to your destination (air, bus, train, rideshare) and lets you select the one that works best for you. Sometimes flying around France is cheaper than taking a bus or train, but in Italy the train rules while flights are pricey. It takes a bit of planning and research, but if you are willing to do a quick check of your route, Go Euro will show you the most cost-effective ways to get there.
I am a fan of boutique hostels. They are the perfect in between hotel and budget hostel. Usually they are refurbished homes, or even actual homes, owned by a local family (who has a Nonna waiting to feed you her homemade pasta). If you are travelling solely to shoot, and are on a budget, hostels are generally the way to go. Europe is renowned for having some of the cleanest and most stylish hostels in the world, as European budget travel is an industry. Quite often, hostels are better than budget hotels, and offer a lot more bang for your buck with extras like breakfast and free tours, common rooms and local guides. The hostel workers too are usually backpackers who have decided to extend their stay in a country, and they tend to have valuable advice and hot tips hard to find elsewhere.
That being said, hotels in Europe can also be very cheap if you are willing to stay outside of the city centre. This doesn’t work if you are planning on travelling to the city every day, as you then recuperate those costs in transit fares. If you are planning on travelling all over the place, it also makes sense to then be near the city central station, as they tend to be hubs and you will end up having to go there anyway.
Hostelworld is my favourite app for booking accommodations as they offer a rating, reviews by their guests, and have an adjustable price range option so you can tailor your accommodation to your budget. Quite often, the more expensive hostels have lower reviews, so I tend to go by those over price. But generally, anything rated 7 or above is ideal. This depends on your preferences. But in order to maximize your budget, it is worth thinking about using overnight trains and busses in order to save on a night’s accommodation. For example, if a 9 hour bus from Amsterdam to Paris is $30, but a night at a Parisian hostel is $40, save by taking the overnight bus and sleeping on it, rather than sitting on the bus all day and then having to pay for a hostel that night too. It is a waste of time and money – but if you feel you will get no rest on the bus, then maybe the other way works for you. It all comes down to what you are comfortable with.
Another option, for the person who is really on a shoestring budget, is to couch surf. Couchsurfers is an app that connects travellers with locals in the city who have, you guessed it, a spare couch to spare at no cost. While couchsurfers tend to want to spend some time with the traveller – it is a culture swap incentive – you will most likely gather some useful location specific information and free guide in your host.
Europe offers plenty of budget options when it comes to food, as long as you eat away from tourist attractions. In order to maximize your food budget, you can hit up a grocery store and use the hostel kitchen to prepare meals (personally, I am too lazy for this), or just stock up on snacks and indulge in local culinary experiences between shooting. Each country has a unique cuisine that begs to be tried, and the authentic, not overpriced option can often be found, as a rule, a ten minute walk from the tourist centre of any city. Hostels usually include a free breakfast, so it’s worth it to have a huge breakfast before heading out.
A random way to save more costs is to pack light. Often, budget airlines will tack on an extra fee to check luggage (this is how they are able to have cheap tickets – they cut out the extras). If you can pack everything you need into a carry-on, you will save between $10-$30 per flight for not checking a bag. As there is an abundance of laundry options available, this is easy. My rule of thumb is to pack clothes for ten days and underwear for fifteen days (just in case), and just do laundry every ten days (usually costs $5). While Europe is generally stylish, nobody really pays attention to how travellers are dressed. Your equipment may take up more space though, so this may be an unavoidable cost. Models too, may not be able to squeeze their wardrobe down to just a carry-on, but if it is an option, I recommend trying to do so. The standard travel kit comprises of: two denim pants, one black pant, two white tees, a black tee, a grey tee, a sweater, a jacket, a camisole, a dressy top, one sneaker, one going out shoe, underwear and accessories. This provides enough options for ten outfits, and can be layered if it gets cold.