Friday, November 25, 2011

Managing The Europe Budget. Maximizing Your Money.

This involved staring at my excel spreadsheet and multiple open tabs and windows of my browser for hours. I frequently got lost in the maze and overwhelming information available online. I stretched, rolled up my sleeves and slaved away my eyes and brain for hours over the next couple of weeks to carefully create my itinerary with budget for this trip.

You can draft a rough budget on”a per day, per expense basis”. Example:
Plane fare – USD 1,000
Accommodations- 25-40 euros a night
Sightseeing – 30-50 euros
Food - 30-40 euros/day

I found this approach in doing my research online. However, I don’t think I can fly with this draft budget only. I poured time in crafting my own itinerary.

Scout for Cheap Plane Fare

Plane fares are cheaper if you buy them way ahead of your travel dates. If you are lucky enough, you’d be able to catch a nice deal when airlines offer seat sales. That’s why it would be good if you have a draft itinerary prepared so you are ready to pounce on the next seat sale. However, make sure that the ticket is refundable since you still need a visa. A round trip economy plane fare will cost you around USD 1,300-1,500 USD. You could also scout for airfare deals in travel fairs.

I bought my roundtrip ticket for USD 1,000 via Cathay Pacific five months before by departure date. Lucky me that there was a seat sale! It was refundable subject to a minimal fee. Note that a round trip booking is not a requirement for the Schengen visa application. I took a risk of booking a ticket already. A plane reservation is required for visa purposes. A travel agent can help you with this one or you can go to the airline directly. Can’t expound on those options since I didn’t do that.

Should you get a Railpass?
This will benefit you if you plan to visit two or three adjacent counties. If you are thinking of getting a Railpass, do a cost-comparison of buying point to point tickets vs. getting a railpass. I know, it is time-consuming and you’ll need lots of patience. Of course, as a devotee of excel and online research, I painstakingly devoted time in doing a cost comparison. For my plan, I saw too many conditions (reservations, exclusions) in using the railpass. Also, I find myself thinking of passing by other cities which are not in my “priority list” just so I can maximize the railpass. For my plan, a railpass is not worth it. You should do your own cost-comparison too. Sorry, don’t know any shortcut answer here.

Train or Plane?

Before I immersed myself in full planning mode, I had this notion that I just had to use the train to travel all over Europe. Yes – but a train is not the most economical option. It is actually cheaper to fly. For example, I was traveling from Cologne, Germany to Venice Italy. The train from Koln to Venice costs €200+ and that is a 14-hour train ride with one train change. I knew I could do a stopover in Munich or Austria but those cities are not my priorities for this trip. Reading travel forums, I learned that flying is actually cheaper. I constantly did mock bookings of flights using Easyjet and Ryanair. It is way cheaper when you book months before the actual date. However, like the budget airlines here in the Philippines, their fares are non-refundable. So if you book these tickets, you might end up flushing money if your visa is nor approved. I chose to book the plane tickets and take the risk.

My ride from Rome to Paris:

Cheap Accommodations Please! Hotel? Hostel? B&B? Homestay?
Hotel rates are outrageous – as expected, when you convert euros (EUR) to pesos (PHP). There are cheap options available. There are B&Bs which can be cheaper (but sometimes more expensive) than hotels. There are also residential rooms for rent which are advertised Airbnb and Crashpadder. These are relatively cheap options and you get to experience staying at a local’s house.

My hostel in Amsterdam:

If you are the not the fussy traveler, hostels may be the thing for you. I was traveling alone on a budget so hostels were perfect for me. It was a fun way of meeting fellow travel enthusiasts and its saves you loads of bucks. I spent 25-40 euros a night in hostels. I’d definitely do it again next time! Read up on hostel etiquette before choosing to stay in this place. I’m fine with the idea of sleeping in the same room with strangers. Are you? I’ll write another post about my experience in hostels.

I booked a hotel for my last night so that I could properly rest before my flight going back to reality – no snoring and smelly roommates.
Join Guided Tours?
Since I was traveling alone, I thought about joining group tours per city. I won’t be completely alone, I get to meet other people and somebody will take my picture (the ultimate reason and driver of this idea). I did not like the idea of tour groups because of the “set schedule” so I thought joining guided tour groups one city at a time would be good.

The first tour I joined was a walking tour of Amsterdam. At the onset, the tour guide said that we only had time to “click and go”. No time to camwhore and to fully experience the place. That’s exactly what happened. I did learn a lot about the city and some interesting bits of trivia as we went along but I was not listening 100% of the time because I opted to use it taking pictures instead. After that, I skipped the other walking tours that I planned to join and just did the tours myself. I just joined one other tour in Italy for Cinque Terre.

These tours have really nice tour guides who will give you superb information about the different landmarks. However, time-wise, this is not the best option since it will still be constricted. It did not fit my idea of being with other people who can take my picture – they were busy taking theirs since we had limited time. Also, I noticed that the guided tours in museums are being ushered to specific areas only. I am not an artsy-fartsy person but I did stop at a painting that intrigued me once in a while. You can’t do that with a guided tour – well you can, just keep up with the group and don’t get lost. Choose wisely which destinations warrant a tour guide.

Should you get the ride-all-you-want pass of the city?

Some cities offer an integrated pass for all of its transportation – bus, trams, train. This one is a bit tricky. It depends if your itinerary is set in stone. You can do the cost comparison from points A to B and so forth. In some cities, buying transportation pass is not worth it since you can use one cheap ticket and then just walk to the other tourist spots.

My stash of passes:

Amsterdam – got the IAmsterdam card for 48 hours
Venice – got the 36 hour pass

Even with all the planning that I did, I eventually got lost almost on a daily basis. Bwahahahaha! Hence, getting the passes were sooooo worth it since I didn’t worry about getting lost or going down at the wrong stop since I can just ride and ride again! Also, there were days when I still had free time and my itinerary was done for the day so I felt like wandering somewhere else.

Tour/Museum Pass?
Most guided tours already include the entrance fees of the tourist destination (be sure to check the inclusions of the package). Again, I am not an art aficionado so I can’t really maximize the value of these passes especially when they include lots of museums. It is worth a look though, so you don’t have to think about it if you have the time to go to this museum or not. Just go!

Most passes allows you to skip the line buying the ticket. It does not allow you to skip the line getting into the museum. That is a different story and it can still take an hour or so of waiting. Also, the audioguides are not included in these passes. The lines for audioguides is a different line too. I did not avail of any audioguide when I was there.

Overall, there are no direct simple answers for these concerns. To maximize the value of your money, you have to check the details of each option and carefully compare these with each other. Of course, I have a lot to share about planning for a trip to Europe but I am not an expert. This post intends to summarize the major choices that I had to make for my own DIY Europe trip.


  1. such an informative post...glad I bumped on your blog as I'm also planning to hopefully and finally do Europe next year.
    Totally,agree with the walking/guided tours, it could be a hit or miss thing.

    Another option that can work is the Hop On Hop Off but the downside is for the bus timings because one the bus left you it will be a 20-30 min. waiting time again.

    And yes the MOST FRUSTRATING part when travelling solo is the picture taking have to have the patience to lug around a tripod :)

  2. Thanks for dropping by! :)

    I was supposed to do the Hop-on Hop off in Paris but after seeing how it was done in other cities, I ditched the plan. Found it to be limiting.

    Not having my pic taken at the moment I want my pic to be taken was frustrating but I managed to muster all the courage I have to ask a stranger. Almost all of the time, the strangers are quite nice and even offered to take another one at a different angle. Hahahaha!

  3. hi, worried ako about the plane ticket kasi if i buy it before i apply for a visa (like what you did)malaking amount din yun na mababawas sa account ko,i want to show pa kasi an amount sa consul that could really convince them na i could afford the trip on the other hand kung saka pa ako bibili baka mahal na.have you tried checking before kung mga mgakano ang tickets like a month before a travel date,lets say medyo peak season na travel daTE?

  4. Hi JJ! I checked and found out mas mahal sya, but I can't recall by how much though.

  5. hi,how did you pay for the plane tickets?did you just do it online with a credit card? and will the consul asked for your credit card statements upon application?pls help me...i'm in a planning stage na.balak ko feb or march kasi mahal na daw sa spring

  6. Hi JJ! I booked online using my credit card. Yes, I presented my CC statements. Reflected naman sa CC statement ko yung purchase of flight pero parang di naman sya pinansin ng consul.

  7. hi i've another question,if you wouldnt mind.yung sinakyan mo ba pa europe strict talaga sa dimensions ng they really check or measure it?cebupacific lang kasi nasakyan ko so far.balak ko kasi magdala lang ng malaking handcarry tapos ipasok lang dun yung sling bag ko.i dont like to check in baggages kasi.8-day trip lang balak ko.

  8. very informative loraine! thanks for this.

  9. Hi! Loraine. Your blog is so informative. May I know how you got around to finding guided tours in different areas you had been to? I would like to do that in case i end up going by myself. hope to hear from u. thanks!

    1. I Karlee! I joined the tours arranged by the hostel. Most of these tours are tip-based, you don't really have to pay for anything, but you give the guide a tip at the end of the tour. You will be the one to give price to the guide's services. Hope you'll have an awesome trip! :)

  10. Europe Trip Planner Map

    I just found your Europe Series a few days ago. It inspired me to also pursue my dream of going to Europe someday (from my current job I think it will take me 2-3 years of saving up hehehe). I might also do it solo like what you did. I really enjoy reading all your entries. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

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