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travel tips

Travelling in Europe can be quite expensive, so I wanted to put a few money-saving travel tips I've learned so far here. I hope these ideas help you save some money, too. (Can you think of something you'd rather give to than Deutschebahn or Eurail? I can!) Some of these tips will be more relevant in Germany than elsewhere. I recommend:

  • Taking the bus instead of the train: Most North Americans seem to only know about train travel in continental Europe, and they've heard of the classic train pass and backpack deal where people seem to jump on and off of trains at will for a few months. However, if you are over 25 years old, passes like this one start to get expensive. No matter your age, you might want to check out buses (or a bus pass deal). In Germany long-distance bus travel is relatively new, and is giving DeutscheBahn some intense competition. For travel within Germany with Meinfernbus or Flixbus, you can easily pay one third of what a train would cost to go the same distance. Buses are not available for all routes, but it's always worth checking. You don't necessarily have to book in advance, but if you do, you can get really great deals, like ten euro long-distance bus rides. Do be aware of where the bus picks you up and drops you off, as it may not be near the train station. Maybe because the long distance bus system is not so well-established, it doesn't seem as well marked as the train stations, and once we even missed a bus because we couldn't find it—getting to the station ahead of time could save you this problem. 
  • Booking the longer legs of your trip ahead of time: In Europe many times you can plan your train or bus travel a few days before or on the spot, but the cheaper way is to book the big legs as far in advance as you're able. In Germany or Switzerland your ultimate destination may be a small, obscure town, as many people live outside the major cities. But usually your train or bus will hit a bigger city, and from there you'll connect to a local bus or train or two that will take you to your final destination. My suggestion is to book the big legs of your trip as far ahead of time as you can, to get the best prices, and then buy the local pass on the spot if you want. The price of the big legs is more likely to fluctuate as time goes by, while the cost of a local train or bus is usually the same no matter when you buy it. Of course, when you buy ahead, there is always some risk that you may have a change of plans or be delayed and miss the train/bus you booked, and have to buy another ticket. However, because buying ahead can mean such a significant savings, I think it's usually worth taking that slight risk.
Now I'm on a roll, so here are a couple of my other recommendations for saving money on your European travels:
  • Eating smart: I think everyone knows that it's cheaper and often healthier to eat from the grocery store or cook for yourself than to eat out, especially in Europe. But often you don't have any choice but to eat out while travelling. So, one of your best options is to eat food immigrants make: generally foods like doners and kebabs in Germany are some of the cheapest "fast foods" you can get. If you ask them to lay off on the sauce and cheese, your kebab can be about your healthiest and cheapest option—my last one cost three euros.
  • Drinking smart: I usually drink lots of water, all day long and also with meals. In Germany you have to buy your water in restaurants and it's pricy. I'm learning to make sure I'm not thirsty when I show up at the restaurant, and this helps! Of course, carry a water bottle with you for all other instances, but it's taboo to bring out your water bottle in a restaurant.
  • Sleeping smart: Often when we travel, we stay with friends or family. But when that's not the case, we usually use our free couchsurfing profile to see if there's anyone in the area who'd be willing to host us at no cost. (We return the favour if people want to come to our city). This works best if you ask potential hosts a few months or weeks in advance, but can sometimes work even at the last minute. When possible, we look for fellow believers. If we can't find those, we look for people with lots of positive reviews and enough space for us. So far we have never had a bad experience, though I'd be very cautious about hosting or being hosted by myself (I've always done it with another person along). I've also heard of A Candle in the Window, a Christian hospitality network, though I've never tried it.
  • Using the envelope system: When I travel, I'm always amazed at how quickly all the little expenses add up—often you're spending all day: a bus here, an entry ticket there, lunch, a coffee, another bus or parking fee, etc. We've started to decide a desired budget for our outing and put that amount of cash in an envelope before we begin. We can't always finish the trip on the envelope amount, and have access to more with our bank cards if we need it, but seeing that visual of how much you've spent helps a lot with keeping within your intended budget.
There you have it, my best Europe travel tips. Gute Reise!

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