The Colosseum in Rome.
The Colosseum in Rome. Michelle Buckman

DIY guide to organising a fantastic European getaway

IMAGINE struggling to communicate with an attendant at a railway station in Spain, only to discover your ticket is for yesterday's train?

Or, arriving at a destination to find out that the hotel has no record of your booking?

These common fears prevent most non-seasoned travellers from booking at least some of their own European holiday themselves and saving heaps of cash.

For today's informed traveller, most of these events are unlikely to eventuate.

Today, most Europeans speak English. Booking on-line is easy and safe if you follow sensible procedures and visit well-known reputable sites.

 

Do your research

There's always one member of the family who loves doing research.

Read as many travel books and internet sites as you can.

Read reviews written by other travellers.

Find out which day of the month local museums open for free.

When are the local festivals and markets happening?

 

Book online and save money

Find out when early-bird savings occur.

For most of Europe, the cheapest bookings are available when secured in advance.

Unlike Australia, last minute in Europe often translates as very, very expensive.

For example, the Eurostar opens bookings 120 days before the day of travel.

Diarise ahead and be one of the first to secure seats.

This will ensure you save anywhere from 25-60% of the cost if you book closer to your departure date.

If you want to attend a major sporting event to watch Australians compete, check out overseas-based websites. They are usually cheaper.

 

Know your websites

There are fantastic sites to explore such as booking.com, seat61.com, raileurope.com and country-specific rail sites such as bahn.com or sbb.ch. Understand how each site works.

 

Secure bulk rail tickets

Buy a Eurail pass of 10 rail tickets that can be used anywhere across Europe in a given time.

This will ensure you save around 25% and travel first-class every time.

Avoid taxis. You can travel by local transport for about a tenth of the cost.

A railway in Europe is organised the same way as a railway in Australia.

You just need to read the timetables in advance or at the station and buy a ticket.

If you are in London, get an Oyster card and save 50% on each journey.

Efficiency plus at a railway station.
Efficiency plus at a railway station. Michelle Buckman

Book an apartment rather than a hotel

Eating in restaurants three times a day is expensive.

Make your own breakfast and enjoy local fresh produce in your own apartment.

Visit the local patisserie and taste croissants in France.

Buy from local markets and find a park to enjoy your lunch.

Have a cocktail at home some nights to help your cash flow.

Find a bar and order local on-tap beer (not Fosters) to people-watch. Immerse yourself in the culture.

 

Check the cost of using your debit and credit cards

It's not just the exchange rate you have to worry about.

The charges most banks slug you with today are horrific.

Check around and try to get a loaded-up card with minimal charges attached.

 

Spread the cities and pack lightly

Don't try to beat Phileas Fogg and travel around the world in 30 days.

On average, plan to stay in one location for five to seven days.

There are places that you can cover in less time, but racing through 10 countries or cities in a month isn't fun.

If you learn to save money, you will travel more often.

The days of carrying 20kg-plus suitcases are over.

Buy a small suitcase and a decent set of travel clothes from a retailer such as Kathmandu and hand-wash daily.

Stonehenge in England.
Stonehenge in England. Michelle Buckman

Join a frequent-flyer program

While it can be tempting to switch airlines to secure the lowest airfares, the loyalty programs are worthwhile.

In time, you will get advantages including upgrades.

 

Keep in contact

Unlike Australian hotels, wi-fi is free almost everywhere in the world.

Take a small iPad or phone and keep in touch via emails rather than expensive phone calls.

Buy local SIMS or calling cards if you must use a phone and don't forget to switch off data roaming to avoid expensive phone bills.

 

Avoid eating in tourist strips

Eat with the locals. This will rarely be on a main drag close to a major tourist attraction.

Read Lonely Planet guides and eat where other tourists have done all the testing.

Otherwise, you will end up eating very average food for a very high cost.

Most tips in Europe by law are included in the bill.

Chez Thereza's renowned Socca (a typical Nicoise savoury chickpea-flour pancake) stall in Nice.
Chez Thereza's renowned Socca (a typical Nicoise savoury chickpea-flour pancake) stall in Nice. Michelle Buckman

Buy travel insurance

Always travel with Imodium, and buy a decent camera. Travel insurance may avoid later heartache.

There is nothing worse than having an upset stomach when the seatbelt sign is on.

And buy a decent camera (that doesn't have to cost a million dollars).

You will have lots of memories to share and we all love those photo nights, don't we?

 

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