Solo travel is perhaps the second best way to travel, if not the best! Independent and free as a bird one can make travel plans on their own, change them at will and take full credit or blame oneself for the whole experience. All-in-all, it helps grow a sense of self-reliability and makes one feel more smart in their own skin. One of the best confidence boosters in my opinion. I traveled to 5 countries of Europe in Aug 2016 on my own (Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Czech Republic). Relentlessly reading blogs to get more information, tirelessly making plans, meticulous planning the destinations and time schedules and carrying them out to perfection (well mostly)! I am gonna share the shortcomings which fellow travelers might have had or the one's planning to travel can have, so that it becomes easy to obliterate a few uncertainties.
- Plan ahead and well in advance: Planning in advance (and by advance i mean 4 months) is the MOST important aspect prior to undertaking the actual travel because Europe is by no means a budget destination given the huge price difference between Euro and INR! Ta-da : That's a reality check which we got to accept! Planning includes getting early and cheap flight tickets, making a shortlist of the sight-seeing points, travel plans including train numbers and timings and accommodation plans.
- Get a traveller's card from Thomas Cook/Cox & Kings etc - http://www.thomascook.in/tcportal/Foreign-Exchange/Buy-Prepaid-Cards In today's cashless world, Europe is a breeze because mostly everything can be done by cards. However, I strongly insist on getting a traveler's card from one of reputed tour operators because if you happen to lose your wallet or belongings then you are stranded in a foreign country without cash or card. A traveler's card comes in handy in this regard ! You call up their customer care and after identity verification they arrange for Cash transfer by Western Union money transfer (limited to 700 Euros within 24 hours, which i think is good enough to survive a week unless one plans to shop at Milan or Paris) within a couple of hours. Also, every time you use a credit card issues within India, there is a transaction charge on currency change factor which is an unnecessary burden. Using a travelers card eliminates any such deductions and you pay only the price without any hidden deductions.
- Eurail website - the wonder site : Use the Eurail website to plan travel by trains. Its a very comprehensive website listing out all the trains between stations and the timings. Trains in Europe are mostly on time with a few rare occasions when they run late by 20-30 minutes. The following link is especially helpful http://www.eurail.com/plan-your-trip/eurail-timetable Very simple user interface. Just enter the originating and ending stations and Voila ! It lists out all the trains. But be informed, you CANNOT purchase tickets on this site. You can also refer to http://www.seat61.com/ for tips and recommendations on train travel in Europe.
- Stay in HOSTELS to save money - Hotels in Europe (barring a few countries) for the most part are pretty expensive. So, staying in hostels is the best option in my opinion. Hostels in Europe are pretty good by global standards (as was the opinion of fellow hostelers who had traveled to many places) in terms of their comfort, hygiene and safety standards. The hostels where I had boarded were really well organized, smooth check-ins, clean and well-maintained and above everything - very affordable (12-15 Eur per night for a bed)! Some places even provide fresh linens every time a boarder checks-in and complimentary breakfast (YIPPEE !!!). Towels can be hired for a very nominal charge. Website like www.booking.com and www.hostelbookers.com come in very handy.
- Travel at night - Well, this might seem to be a very lame statement at first sight, but this is economic in a way. The reason is whilst travelling at night, you save on a night's accommodation! Also, when you reach your destination, you have a whole day at your disposal for sight-seeing, enjoying local cuisine and drinking freshly brewed beers/fruit juices/ice-creams and what not! Night trains sometimes need reservation which can be done in advance, while purchasing tickets over the counter or also by the Ticket checker on the train.
- Store luggage at lockers at train stations - If you have a single day reserved for some particular location, don't worry about getting a room in a hotel/hostel to store your luggage and baggages! Railway stations come at your help here. La La La - all the major train stations in Europe have locker facilities where people can store even their biggest and jumbo sized suitcases and backpacks for a charge (which is usually 4-5 EUR for 24 hours). They come with secure locking facility and are coin operated, so be sure to keep coins handy !
- Don't purchase drinking water bottles everywhere - There's a myth which goes like 'Beer is cheaper than water in Europe'. Well Beer lovers. the good news is the myth's true, but there's a reason behind it. Tap water is drinkable in most places. In places where it is not, there is a sign indicating Not fit for consumption. In countries like Croatia and Czech Republic, tap water is not safe for drinking which means you have to buy water. But in most places, an empty disposable plastic bottle is all you need. So keep refilling and stay hydrated !
- Don't buy Eurail passes without extensive research - This is one mistake many backpackers do and then are left to repent on a hasty decision. Eurail passes are definitely a money saver but only for people who are travelling exhaustively. The reason is the number of travel days within the time period is fixed. More on this later in another blog, but more often than not getting point-to-point tickets works out to be more economical. Also, with careful planning one can get the early bird tickets which come with hefty discounts.
- Explore the options of travelling by buses - Bus journeys in Europe are extremely picturesque, comfortable and above all CHEAP. Agencies like Flixbus, DB Bahn, Students Agency and some other operators provide state-of-the-art bus service connectivity between all major points. The seats are comfortable, many buses have on-board wi-fi and toilets and are punctual. However, the tickets get sold out easily and sometimes a few months in advance is its the peak tourist season. So its best to check their websites to get useful info. and seat availability.
- Bring sturdy shoes - Unless its your honeymoon trip or a pre/post wedding photo shoot, be absolutely sure to get a sturdy pair of hiking/outdoor shoes because most of major sight-seeing places require a lot of walking to reach the viewpoints or involves hiking. Better safe than sorry .. err I mean in using band-aids to heal blisters on the soles of your feet. Of course, keep a quirky or stylish pair in your suitcase to impress on the clubbing nights. Who knows where you might meet the perfect dance partner 😉
So, I hope these practical tips helps in planning your dream Euro trip without burning a hole in your pocket. Best policy is to stick to the basics and remember the lessons taught during camping in junior years in school. And while you leave/checkout, dont forget the golden rule of CHECK, CHECK ... DOUBLE CHECK to ensure you have packed all your belongings and not left anything as a present for someone who discovers it !!! Wishing everyone a safe and happy trip (no pun intended ... lolz) !