Sleeping in the Seat

Traveling in Europe is expensive. However, there are lots of ways to cut the costs, if you are willing to be flexible and ready for adventure. I saved hundreds of dollars on my trip, simply by being relaxed about where I ate and slept.

I flew to France in 2015  to see the Tour de France and also planned some further travel: after a week in France, I spent 3 days in the Swiss Alps, a few days in Norway and a couple more in England. As a 19 year old college student, I didn’t have the funds to go on a high-priced tour with a guide and all my daily needs covered. I decided to really prioritize my preparations. I asked myself, “What is it that I want to get out of this trip?” For me, it was important to see the land, the cities and the people. I wasn’t worried about going to fancy restaurants or staying in the grand hotels. Those are experiences I want to have some day, but on my first trip the goal was to see Europe as simply as possible.

My first decision was to travel light. I packed my things in a small North Face backpack. This freed me of checking luggage, and I was also able to use the pack as a pillow for naps. Another bonus is that I became less conspicuous as a traveler–I looked more like a local student than I would have with a loud rolling suitcase and two bags over my shoulders. I packed outdoor clothing from REI primarily: the kind of apparel that can be worn for a few days in a row without looking grungy. It’s true that this barred me from any dressy restaurants, but it did afford me the comfort of weather-resistant fabrics that kept me warm and dry.

Next, I didn’t eat out at restaurants all the time. I did eat at several memorable places (a tavern on the slopes of the Alps, a cafe near the Eiffel Tower, a cafeteria on a ferry crossing the North Sea and a bakery by the pier in Bergen, Norway) but by getting my food at local grocery stores, I saved money and met the locals on their own turf. Too often when you go to a restaurant you are greeted with the facade prepared for tourists. But at a grocery store you are just another shopper strolling the aisles. Additionally, this allowed me to eat on-the-go, saving time to get to the next destination.

The big money-saver of my trip was in my sleeping arrangements. Out of 15 nights, I spent 5 in hotels, 2 in a hostel, and the rest on the train. I had actually budgeted enough to spend every night in hotels. But once I was there, I found that the trains were perfectly comfortable, safe and suitable for sleeping. The Eurail pass I bought for about $500 was already a travel expense, so sleeping on the train allowed me to save money. It also maximized my sight-seeing time. Consider this: if you travel during the day, that’s time you could be out on the street, seeing the buildings, meeting the people and eating the food. Instead of being out there experiencing the land, it’s more likely that you will have your nose buried in a book or maybe even dozing on the train. If you can get comfortable, you might as well arrange to make your city-to-city travel overnight and save the daylight hours for sleeping.

This approach may not work for you in your travels. I certainly want to revisit Europe with a lot more money in my wallet and see the posh and luxurious side. I do want to stay in the nice hotels and enjoy the restaurants. But for a first time and with a limited budget, I had a great trip and didn’t break the bank.