TRAVELLING ON A BUDGET
You have found a flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona for £50 at 6am on a Friday morning and snap it up. There was one at £60 at 9am and you congratulate yourself for saving £10.
The day before your flight, you look into getting to the airport. You need to be there by 4:30 am. But how do you get to the airport? Gatwick Express departs from Victoria Station but the underground is closed at that hour. A taxi will cost over £10. The night bus is slow and do you really want to be on it at 3:00 am?
If you had booked the 9am flight you would have needed to be at the airport by 7:30 am. You could have taken the tube to Victoria station at 6am, then hopped on the Gatwick Express at 6.30am and been at the airport comfortably before 7:30 am and would have had more sleep. So plan ahead, and consider all the factors.
Planning your trip
Plan your journey from your doorstep in the UK, to the doorstep of your accommodation at your chosen destination, and do not book a thing until you have done this. Getting to the airport in London can be more challenging sometimes than the actual flight, and likewise when you arrive in your chosen destination. Sometimes these budget airline flights are so cheap because the airport is so far away from the city you hope to see.
One destination, which is of particular relevance to this rule, is Paris. The Eurostar is often an expensive choice, and you might find cheaper flights. But the Eurostar departs from Kings Cross in central London – you don’t have to waste time and money getting to the airport. Likewise, the Eurostar plonks you right in the heart of Paris; whereas a flight would land in Charles De Gualle airport which is on the outskirts of Paris.
Check different airlines’ websites. Easyjet.com, ryanair.com, ba.com (British Airways) and the European carriers (though these tend to be more expensive they often have sales) lufthansa.com, alitalia.com, airfrance.com, klm.com, etc).
Dodging Budget Airline tricks
Budget airlines such as Ryanair appear at first glance to be super cheap. But if you book a flight that costs £111, in a few short clicks (add baggage, insurance, text message charge of £2.49, seat allocation, airport transfer, paying by credit card charge), you can reach £198.29 in no time. (actual experiment carried out by me). And if you don’t check in on-line AND print your boarding pass ahead of time — not always so easy to do when travelling — you will be charged at least £60 if not more. So it might be cheaper to go elsewhere.
Do not assume it will all be crystal clear when you arrive. Due to language barriers and cultural differences, the airport you arrive at might feel like a maze or may be located in a rural area with little transport links. Look up the airport before you leave and print off relevant information to take with you. Don’t rely on your cell phone working, or having wifi when you land. Have a paper back-up, with your hotel name and directions on how to get there.
Hostels, bed and breakfasts and hotels all offer deals online. So research before you go, and make sure you look up where the accommodation is. Areas near European train stations are not always the most salubrious.
How hostel rooms tend to work:
– The cheapest options is a mixed-gender dorm room, where you could be sleeping next to a complete stranger. I would avoid this, unless you and your friends are going to occupy the whole dorm.
– There are also same-sex dorms, where you share with strangers. Again, this option should be treated with caution and don’t leave any valuables in the room.
– The next cheapest option is a private room with a shared shower-room.
– The final and most expensive (but still cheaper than a hotel) is a private en-suite.
Learn to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you” in the language of the country you are visiting. And smile. It is appreciated, and although many people speak English, your attempts to speak the language of the host country will be appreciated, no matter how terrible your accent may be.
Look up the currency of the country you are visiting. Don’t assume it’s the Euro, since there are some exemptions. Switzerland uses the Swiss franc (CHF), as does Liechtenstein.
Usually you can draw out the local currency at an ATM within that city. You might want to bring some cash just in case your card doesn’t co-operate. You can exchange money at a Post Office before leaving, or Marks and Spencer’s also offer good rates.
Pick-pocketing is a big problem in European cities, particularly in touristy parts. These criminals are extremely good at what they do! So pay attention!
Don’t take your passport out with you. If possible, leave it within a safe at your accommodation. Take a photocopy of your passport and keep it on you to use as ID.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you need to report this to the police and apply for a replacement passport. Contact your country’s Embassy or High Commission in the country where you are now for information on how to do this. You may need to wait some time before you have your new passport.
Sometimes there are lots of hotels with the same name within one city. If you tell the cab driver to take you to “The Ibis Hotel”, there may be a choice of three and you could end up at the wrong one.
Returning to the UK
Make sure you have your passport and visa in your hand luggage when you return to the UK. It will be the same procedure as when you first arrived.