This post is part of a larger collection of the 50 Things I Learned Abroad after a year spent in Europe. Stay tuned for more.
My next batch of Things I Learned is dedicated to money-saving travel tips. Many of these I learned the hard way… by doing the exact opposite of what I’m about to tell you.
#35 – Take a crazy-early flight.
Have you ever seen an amazing flight price only to shed a single, helpless tear when you see that it departs at 4am? Then you know my pain. You might be thinking “Just suck it up and get up early, you loser” but sheer unwillingness to wake up is only half the battle. How will you get to the airport when the metro isn’t running and taxis are too expensive or your airport is actually in another city (not uncommon with budget airlines)? My first move is always to look for hotels near the airport using sites like Venere that allow you to specify that in your search (bonus points if you find one offering a free shuttle). If that doesn’t fit your budget, you can always try sleeping in the airport the night before. I know it sounds like a great way to ensure that you’ll be hating your life all night but, in some airports, it’s not so bad. A great resource to try is Sleeping in Airports, a website that walks you through the sleep-friendliness of every airport. Find one with benches and no arm rests and you’ve hit gold.
#34 - Know your conversions by heart.
Before you step foot into the EU or out of it and into any other currency zone, know what you’re getting into it. I’ve tried to wing it, thinking I’d figure it out in due time but in the meanwhile I managed to get ripped off before even leaving the airport. You don’t need to memorize the conversion rate to the penny, just know if it’s basically 10:1, 1.5:1 or whatever. I also recommend not changing cash… pretty much ever. When you get to the airport or train station, find an ATM and take out money in local currency. Some debit cards even reimburse you for ATM fees internationally so you’ve got no excuse there. The only reason to change physical money is if you have extra cash with you when you leave a place and you know you’re not coming back. Or just buy yourself a snack for the road.
#33 – Read the fine print.
You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you read details when making reservations. Anyone who’s flown RyanAir can attest to the fact that they are the kings of trapping you into paying more than you bargained for. Find out how large and heavy your luggage can be and weigh/measure it at home. Don’t expect that you can puppy-dog-eye the desk agent into not charging you an extra €50 because they are trained to have no sympathy for you and your sad face. Even with the best of intentions, you may still fail though. On one recent flight, I had to wear 4 sweaters, 3 belts, a jacket and two scarves through security just to get my bag weight down. Luckily there is no fine for looking like an idiot at an airport.
#32 – Underpack (but be realistic).
I kid you not: I didn’t bring a coat to Europe. I brought several massive vintage 50′s era dresses that I never wore (not sure what I was thinking with that one) and no coat. One year later, I still didn’t have a coat due to a combination of stubbornness (“I bet it’ll warm up any day now! I can make it!”) and the knowledge that there was no way I’d be able to fit even one item more in my luggage to take home. Underpacking a little can ensure you have room to take home your awesome finds while abroad and that you don’t end up lugging around clothing that you’ll never wear but don’t want to get rid of. On the other hand, pack smart. Bring all the essentials and don’t expect that you’ll find everything you need where you’re going (especially if you’re a curvy gal, like myself).
#31 – Keep safe. Don’t be paranoid.
Many people I know were pick-pocketed or mugged at some point in the year, maybe including me (I say maybe because I may have just air-headedly dropped my wallet…). It should be obvious but keep on eye on your crap, people. Wear your bag on the front, zipper facing in and don’t totally zone out during your commute. When you’re on the metro or sitting at a cafe, just keep the thought in the back of your mind to watch your stuff and you’ll most likely be fine. That said, don’t be paranoid. If someone steals your stuff, whatever. It’s just stuff and hopefully you weren’t harmed in the taking of it so don’t live in fear, sitting all shifty eyed on the train suspicious of everyone. And don’t blame yourself if you do get pick-pocketed. These people are pros. I heard a story from one guy who had his iPod stolen out of his jacket while he was listening to it on his headphones and it still took him a minute to realize it was gone.
Do you have any time/money/stress saving travel tips?