15 Tips to Save Money Backpacking Europe

15 Tips to Save Money Backpacking Europe

1) Travel in Eastern Europe

The prices of everyday backpacking necessities in Europe such as pasta, beer, buses and hostels will vary greatly depending on your area. Needless to say if your a broke bagpacker then head East (especially if you smoke) to save money backpacking Europe.

As a general rule Scandinavia and Iceland are the most expensive (around €25 for a bed in a hostel dorm). You will probably feel short here too.

Then comes Western Europe or the countries which use the Euro currency, the UK and Switzerland (around €15 for a bed in a hostel dorm).

Then there’s Central Europe, the EU countries without the Euro like Hungary, Poland and Croatia (around €10 for a bed in a hostel dorm).

Eastern Europe comes a big sickle and hammer Soviet first, cheapest but definitely not least interesting. All of the Eastern countries that are outside of the EU such as Ukraine, Albania and Serbia. (Around €5 for a bed in a hostel dorm).

Turkey doesn’t geographically apply to the rules because of it’s stupidly high alcohol taxes and the fact it’s more developed then Eastern Europe. So to avoid any confusion let’s just leave Istanbul in the Asia category.

2) CouchSurfing

Getting accommodation without paying for it will certainly help keep your travels prolonged. Couchsurfing isn’t always straight forward but it certainly can work wonders and isn’t just limited to writing requests on Couchsurfing.org.

You can try posting on back-packer FB pages to find hosts or meet people at Couchsurfing meetings. Be positive and outgoing and you should be able to find a host in every city that has over a million people.

Girls will have no problem finding a host.

Guys won’t be successful just sending requests to hot girls unfortunately.

couchsurfingKeep in mind that Couchsirfing isn’t just about free accommodation but rather getting to know locals. Your host will want you to be a good guest who shows an interest in the countries culture, if your just here to party then stick with the hostels.

3) Pasta Diet

Time to pack in the three course meals and drunken kebabs. Pasta cooked in the hostel kitchen will suffice to keep you alive, add tuna on a Sunday for extra nourishment.

4) Responsible Pre-Drinking

Budweiser or Guinness? No, how about two bottles of the cheapest yet strong wine to wash down that pasta with then head out.

Pre-drinking

5) Shop Around with your Cash

The exchange shops furthest from tourist attractions and train stations will offer better exchange rates.

6) Bring a Student Card

Student discounts creep up in cities with high student populations like Budapest regularly.

7) Forget Taxis

Just work out the cities local public transport, ask people at the metro or tram stations. Most young folk in Europe have enough English to help.

Better still just walk

8) Free Maps

Maps can usually be got free at your Hostel, or use screenshots from Google Maps.

9) Free Walking Tours

Every city has them, and a small tips is all that’s expected in return for a tour. Ask at your hostel.

9) Book Hostels Online in Advance

You will probably get a better deal if you book online using websites like Hostelworld.

At least use the search function to find the cheapest hostel’s location and rates.

10) Work Exchange

Websites such as Workaway, Woofing and HelpX offer backpackers the opportunity to find places to do a few hour’s work (usually five) a day in exchange for free food and a bed. Jobs can vary from farming and labouring to language help and cooking. Signing up costs around €30 though yearly.

Asking in hostels too (especially Central and Eastern Europe) might land you a free bed in exchange for some cleaning work.

11) Hitchhiking in Europe

Of course I would suggest that you hitchhike, but it’s by far to best way to reduce travel costs. I have went thousands of km without paying a penny. I don’t car to know what these journeys would of cost in train tickets.

Hitchhiking in Europe often lands you some free food too or drink with generous drivers.

hitchhike sarajevo

12) Bring a Tent

Works best when hitchhiking since the chances of being out in the open countryside are higher. A tent and sleeping bag gives you the freedom to sleep anywhere for free.

camping in turkey
Bring a pot too and some water.

13) Cheap Airlines

Keep an eye on Skyscanner, airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz Air often have ridiculously cheap flights, I’ve flown Dublin to Glasgow for €9 in the past.

14) Tips?

Don’t bother…. Unless the foods exceptional that is, or you fancy the waitress/waiter.

15) Don’t use your phone

Keep Mammy posted through Skype, Email, FB or with a drunken message in a bottle cast into the Danube (all free).

Don’t feel the need to text her all your terrible selfies.

piatra climbing
Even if your on top of a mountain in your beautiful Celtic top.

Have your own secrets to save money backpacking Europe, then be sure to let us know by leaving a comment.

 

 

 

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Driving into Turkey with UK or Irish car.

Driving a UK Car into Turkey.

Driving to Turkey with a UK car was not much trouble. I had an Irish driver’s license and my friend Connor had a British License (the car was under his name).

The car was a Peugeot 206 by no means flash or fancy.

We were clearly two young guys who could be carrying lots of alcohol or weed too in the eyes of the border police.

Vignette

This is some sort of road tax, required in some European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary included). We got caught out at the Romania Bulgaria border for not buying one. The fine was over 200 euro, a 50 dollar bribe sufficed though in our case.

It’s better to get one though at the first petrol station you find (usually less than 10 euro for a month).

We never bought one in Turkey and I don’t think you need one, instead you pay motorway tolls.

Motorway Tolls

These can’t be paid by cash or credit card. Instead you register your car registration at a PTT (Yellow Post office in Turkey) to enroll in the system and credit your account. Then every-time you pass a toll the cameras will charge your account.

At least that’s the jist of what I was told.

I was told in theory that every-time we passed through the toll without this set-up we were receiving a fine, the cameras had the registration after all. If my friend didn’t receive the fine by mail we would be charged when we drove the car over the Georgia border.

In reality we drove though many tolls on our way across Turkey to Georgia, setting of an alarm every single time. In reality also much to our relieve the Turkish police’s computers at the Trabzon to Batumi border did not know that we had skipped all the tolls across the countries northern coast. We never paid this fee.

I would recommend you do visit a PTT if staying in Turkey a while though, we could of just got lucky in the smaller 206 which didn’t catch attention.

First Aid Kit, Fire Extinguisher and Two Warning Triangles

Never checked at the border but you might aswell buy these bits, we got them all as a kit in a Practikar in Bulgaria for about 15 euro.

GB Sticker

Nope, I’m Irish and Connor is Scottish (the failed referendum was soon) so we decided that we could talk our way out of this one if we got caught, never did get questioned about the sticker.

Headlamp Converters

Seen this mentioned on a sign, ignored and never questioned. Can’t see the point once your dims work fine.

Certificate of Ownership

Something that will prove you own the car, like the log book with your name written on it just the same as on your passport.

Home Insurance

Something that will prove your insured inside the EU, probably not needed but bring it anyway in-case.

Cash is King for Insurance

Cash (Euros) to buy Turkish Insurance. Pounds are probably good too but not Scottish pounds for some stupid reason. Best to just have Euro at the end of the day.

The cost will vary depending on your car size, we got the diesel 206 insured for 6 months (no shorter period allowed for us) in Turkey for around 60 euro. This was cheaper then the signs suggested so be sure to try chat with the border police, I’m sure it’s a bit at their discretion to give a good price.

You will get a printed certificate of insurance, keep it with the car at all times. In our case either of us could lawfully drive the car (both full license) but a crash would be liable to Connor (the owner).

Good Bulbs

You always have your dipped lights on here, even during the brightest days by law.

The Search

Be prepared for a search of the car, they didn’t look rigorous but don’t be bringing tonnes of Alcohol into Turkey (even though it’s a good idea since its far more expensive than Bulgaria). No recreational drugs either, Marijuana is a big deal in Muslim countries, a prison cell big deal.

The Driving

Turks are dangerous drivers, be careful on the roads and expect that 30 foot truck to over-take you on the bend. Good idea to always have a passenger to help you with over-taking since you will be driving on the right-hand side of the road in a left-hand side car.

Istanbul is insane to try drive around with a population of like 20 million, bring a sat-nav.

stray dog bulgaria
Meet this stray dog near the Bulgaria-Turkey border, throw him a bit of bread if you see him. 🙂

Hitchhiking in Romania Tips

Hitchhiking in Romania Tips

Capital : Bucharest

Population : Around 20 Million

Languages : Romanian

 English (Many but not all younger people)

 Hungarian (Parts of Transylvania)

 Italian (Common amongst the Guys)

Difficulty : Great for Hitch-hiking.

Money : Leu (Cheap)

Hitchhiking in Romania is quite easily done, especially on the countryside roads of Transylvania (see hitchhiking in Transylvania).

People often say that you will need too pay for rides in Romania but that’s simply not true. I hitchhiked over 20 lifts in Romania (cars and trucks) and was only asked for money once in the middle of nowhere near Zarnesti. I just said Nu Bani (no money) and offered a cigarette instead.

Romanian truck drivers are especially helpful and often speak Italian or Spanish.

To flag a car down you can either hold your thumb up or point at the ground while making eye-contact with the driver.

Most male drivers tend to drive a bit more recklessly then in other parts of the world, and two of my drivers managed to get lost too in the countryside.

Complimenting Palinka “the local home-made alcohol” is usually a good way to get off on the right foot with your driver. Speaking highly of your Hungarian friends is not recommended at all. Many Romanians will claim all of their neighbours (especially Bulgaria and Hungary) are not worth a visit and might even try persuade you not to cross the border. There no need to listen though, rivalry between neighbouring countries is common in Eastern Europe.

It’s a good idea to try learn some Romanian too (Multumesc meaning thank-you), since it’s a Latin language it’s not that difficult for anyone who knows Italian, French or Spanish too.

IMGA0396
Van driver I hitchhiked with.
IMGA0206
Scenic roads in Transylvania
IMGA0395
Truck driver I hitchhiked with for two days.

Free Things to do in Budapest

I made a more detailed blog about my time spent studying in Budapest Here.

Free Walking Tour

Budapest is a large city so if you need some guidance take a walking tour. These tours are given daily, last about two and a half hours and the guides work only on tips. Link!

Chill on Margaret Island

A great place to spend the day relaxing with some friends during the summer months play football, Frisbee, go for a jog etc. I’m not sure if drinking is allowed on the island but I was never stopped whilst living in Budapest so I don’t think the locals really care, but obviously don’t litter.

There is another park nearby heroes square also but it’s not as busy. There is also some eagles on the island and deer (both caged).

Fruit Market

Located on the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge, the Great Market is housed in an ornate 19th century building. Covering three floors, the market is a vast array of sounds, smells, colours and tastes, should you decide to sample some of the local foods or palinka there is lots to offer. Upstairs is full of cheesy souvenir shops.

Wander the Jewish Quarter

Enjoy something different with a nice walk through the streets of the Jewish quarter

Explore Kerepesi Cemetery

The resting place of many Hungarian influential people, the cemetery is truly huge and you could get lost here for hours exploring.

Shoes on the Danube

Shoe sculptures by the River Danube, marking the spot where a group of Jews were shot before being pushed into the river. An emotional spot, highly recommended on trip advisor.

Climb Gellert Hill

A very rewarding walk with magnificent views at the top from the fortress, my favorite place to walk to in Budapest.

View the Hungarian Parliament

From outside is free, I believe tours of the inside can be arranged for EU citizens.

Heroes Square

A square full of statues in honor of Hungarian heroes, worth a visit also there are museums, a bath and a zoo nearby here.

Walk the Chain Bridge

Stunning piece of architecture, enjoy a breath-taking walk across Budapest’s first Bridge.

Visit Buda

Walk up the hill and visit the Fisherman’s Bastion, there is a stunning view of the Parliament from here.

Janos Hill

A Budapest gem which is rarely visited by tourists, getting here requires more effort than the other sights but the amazing view on top of the lookout point is definitely worth it, Budapest’s highest point.

 

What to Bring Hitchhiking

What to Bring Hitchhiking

So what do I need to hitchhike the world? First aid kit maybe, or a shotgun for safety.

Nope its really and simply not anything drastic, and the smaller your bagpack the more enjoyable your journey will be.

Water / Snacks

No matter how short the journey bring water, even if there’s no chance of getting stuck somewhere carrying a bagpack is definetly thirsty work.

Felt Tip Marker

What else for making those artistic signs.

Cardboard

Can usually be found around bins or asking in shops. If your going to be away from the cities then pack some just incase to make your sign.

Lighter

To start a campfire or light a cigarette, never know when a lighter will be needed.

Soap

Clean yourself for fucks sake.

Smokes

Good to offer your driver or share with others on the road, especially in Eastern Europe.

Map / Compass

A map of course for finding your way around, where there is a language barrier just pointing at the map will do the job. I bring a compass too when hiking a bit off the beaten track.

Cash

Always useful in emergencies, when hungry or maybe you will need to catch a bus to get to your hitchhiking spot. Hitchhiking without money is for the more experienced traveller.

Sleeping Bag

When travelling any long distances its essential. Pack for the expected weather conditions.

Tent / Camping Bed / Tarp / Hammock

If you plan on camping of course, if you do get stuck outside by accident a sleeping bag is more useful then a tent. Many people don’t bother if just moving from one city to the next one and staying in hostels or couchsurfing.

A tent is the most common camping gear yet its heavy (never 100% waterproof) and a pain to set-up and pack-up everyday. Only really needed in colder weather, provides the best security too since your bag can’t be seen.

A hammock is my favorite method of sleeping outside, especially in warmer climates, just getting off the ground feels so nice and they pack so light. A mosquito net too is essential for anywhere with bugs. You can tie your bag on the ground to the hammock too so that if anyone tries to steal your bag you fell feel the vibrations. Get inventive and maybe stuff your bag up the tree tied to the hammocks ropes.

A tarp is light, trustworthy and can be used in so many ways. Over a hammock it provides rain shelter, you can cook under a tarp in the rain. In stealth camping situations I usually just get in my sleeping bag and roll up in my tarp too. Fast, effective and light. Dosent keep bugs out though like a tent does. Tarp, sleeping bag and hammock are my choice, and I wear extra layers in cold weather.

Pot

To cook some lovely pasta over the campfire. Only if you expect to cook though, otherwise its just a heavy burden.

Book

If you ever get bored on the road then bring a book.

Passport

Not just for emergencies and crossing borders, I was once asked by a driver if he could check my passport before giving me a lift.

Phone (One with Flash-lamp and Wi-Fi)

In case of emergencies or maybe you will find new contacts on the road. Wi-fi is very useful in towns, just stand outside a café and use their internet to locate a hostel or your couchsurfing host.

Camera

If you want to capture the moments on the road.

Small Umbrella / Sun Screen

An umbrella isn’t needed if your hitchhiking in Iran, however do plan for the expected weather.

Reflective Arm Band and Flash Lamp

Night time hitchhiking can occasionally occur. I don’t recommend it though, you should try start early in the morning.

Instrument or Art Materials

How do you make money on the road if you end up living this lifestyle for more than a few months, harmonica or selling bracelets?

Faith

Remain positive, be brave and don’t give up. I have often found the most useful lifts when at my wits ends on the side of the road after hours of walking.

 

Is there something different that you pack? Let us know.

11 Tips for Backpacking Eastern Europe

Backpacking Eastern Europe Tips

Want to know some tricks that will help you to not stick out like a sore Western thumb when backpacking or hitchhiking Eastern Europe. Just follow some simple rules. Nostrovia!

The countries I am referring to are the more Soviet ones, predominately Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Serbia, and Bulgaria (all still have the Cyrillic alphabet on road-signs) Moldova and Georgia too.

To a lesser extent Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuanian and Montenegro.

hitchhiking Soviet-Union

Inter-railers have been travelling through Central European cities like Prague and Budapest for donkeys years thinking they have been visiting Eastern Europe. There is a difference though, even if they were all once part of the USSR some are more “Soviet” than others.

So if you want cheap alcohol, smokes, beautiful girls, some wild nature and to witness a more traditional style of life while hitchhiking then follow these 11 simple rules.

1) Smoke : An important part of everyday life from the age of 14. Even if you are completely against smoking be sure to carry a pack when hitchhiking. The offer of a smoke to someone is a good method for making friends and finding lifts. It’s also a nice gesture when getting into a strangers car. Smoking by the petrol stations and hitchhiking spots somehow makes you look more approachable too.

Beggars are always delighted to take a smoke too and considering a packet will cost less than 2 euro then that’s 20 beggers not bothering you anymore.

All girls and guys smoke too in the bars and nights-clubs, and in some countries like Serbia they smoke inside too. So don’t expect to socialise with locals in a bar without getting smoke in your face. In other words, don’t complain about smoking in Soviet Countries.

2) Enjoy local Vodka / Wine : So you get into a Bulgarian car after 20 minutes of hitch-hiking and he offers you a shot of his home-grown 40% alcohol Rakia. It’s insulting to say no, so just drink it and smile. Even if you make a horrible face from the taste he will be delighted to have shared his own alcohol with you. Offer a smoke in return and you have a comrade for life.images2QYO4NV3

This happens a lot more often then you would think because the alcohol is cheap and most farmers make their own. Whether it be Rakia (Bulgaria, Serbia), Wine (Moldova, Georgia), Vodka (Ukraine, Belarus) or Palinka (Romania, Hungary).

3) Have a Phrasebook : Countries like Georgia have had to fight off invaders from large empires for many centuries and still managed to hold onto their native tounge. Its a good idea to learn maybe hello and cheers in the local lingo as a sign of respect. The Eastern countries are very proud of their language’s and history so don’t expect the people to have an interest in speaking English. A translation of the Cyrillic alphabet will be helpful too.

4) Hate your Neighbour Country…. and Turkey…. and Gypsys : If you are in any of these countries you should speak poorly of the immediate neighbours. Bulgarians don’t like Romanians, Serbs don’t like Bosnians etc. Just pick any country that borders you and curse them!

The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) savaged the Balkans and Georgia hundreds of years ago leaving a sour taste in their mouths and they aren’t prepared to forgive. Don’t praise Istanbul as your favourite city.

Russia on the other hand is half in half. Some people despise Russia and the language while some people are happy to learn Russian. Much of the older generations remember communist times fondly (seriously). None more so then in countries where Russian is still spoken by a large population. Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia and Belarus are examples, some people hate Putin and others admire him. It’s hard to know who’s who so its best really to avoid Russia chat.

Germany gets off scot free by the way, Hitler’s third Reich also raped Eastern Europe but an ill attitude towards ze Germans is very rare. In fact many people learn German rather than English or Russian as children in school.

Gypsys are very despised by the people who aren’t themselves Gypsys and some people will claim that they came from “Fucking Turkey” originally. Especially in Romania, it’s easy to tell a Gypsy from the rest too, they always have much darker skin.

5) : Don’t stand out : Subcultures and fashions such as goths, rockers, hippies etc. do not exist in Soviet Europe and girls often wear jeans to night clubs. Dress plainly, brush out them dreadlocks and throw out that Che Guvera t-shirt. Try not to smile too much either when first making conversation. I’m not saying people are overly serious but a bit more reserved, just don’t come on too strong with high fives or fist pumps.

10475511_1523474794539370_7515058759075277743_n
David, Tom and Myself (far right) with some local Ukranians. Notice how there are no Iphones, bag-packs, seashell necklaces or beat headphones on display. David obviously stood out a lot being black but he blends back in by not smiling. Well done!

6) Enjoy Cabbage Soup : The national food of Ukraine, stews and soups will make up your diet when travelling through Eastern Europe. Vegetarian’s needn’t worry.

7) Carry Some Cash and your Passport : Just incase it’s needed, euros will be accepted almost anywhere and exchange stalls/shops are never far away (often far more competitive than banks). Get some exchanged when you can though. I have had to exchange cash before on the street with random people because if your fifty has even the slightest tear on it that angry old bitch in the exchange stall won’t accept it.

Cash comes in handy for a quick bribe too (you never know).

The Passport is required in some countries to be with you at all times, spot checks can happen from the police.

8) Don’t Keep Falling in Love : Yes they are all hot, every young woman. Your going to have to get over it eventually.

Mila Kunis is a typical Ukranian woman but she was raised in The States
Mila Kunis is an almost typical young Ukranian woman.

9) Meet a Local : Couchsurfing is superb for meeting locals, just post a conversation topic in the main page of whatever city you are in. You now have a free tour guide because most young folk actually know their city’s history in Eastern Europe.

10) Be Tolerant : When out socialising just remember that some aspects of education and what’s accepted by society are certainly different here. Don’t claim that Communism was horrible or that the Allies could of won WW2 without Russia, it will lead to heated debates. Who’s to say your education is perfect?

Also don’t complain about issues like the lack or rights for gays, racism or how Gypsys treat horses etc.

Yes it’s not fair but your not going to change the mindsets of millions of people while starting an argument at a bar. You might however get your head kicked in by Dimitri and Igor.

11) Don’t do Drugs : The educations system in some of these places has people convinced weed is about as harmful for you as heroin. Do not under any circumstances approach a border carrying weed (or any other recreational drug). If you do you could be facing jail time in some very shit conditions.

In countries like Bulgaria (where weed can grow wild), Ukraine and Belarus you can’t even find skins for rolled up cigarettes easily, and you definitely won’t find a bong for sale. Alcohol abuse and chain smoking is common if not encouraged, but drugs are seemingly the devil! Just don’t bring any.

Good luck comrades!

Why I Hitchhike?

Why hitchhike alone? Most people ask me, aren’t you afraid of every possible conceivable thing that could go wrong?

It was close to midnight and I was stranded at the side of a motorway near the AustriaHungary border. I was standing in an area for trucks to pull in and take a nap, and there wasn’t a petrol station in sight to say the least. The only other people at the spot were two Romani gypsy’s in a Spanish registered Transit van, paying me no attention.

Times like this I curse the road and wonder what I’m at in my life to be here, nowhere and down to my last cigarette.

In the pitch blackness I couldn’t see anywhere ideal to camp and I was depressed, cold and hungry. It all can change so fast though, and suddenly a gesture from another person can bring you onto a whole new high, making the stress all worth while.

I saw a Swizz registered car pull in and out gets a Hungarian looking man to take a piss, he looked in his early thirties, bald and wearing a business shirt. I make my way over.

“Excuse me but I’m trying to use autostop to go to Munich?”

“Hello, where are you from?”

“Ireland, I’m a tourist”

“Yes,  Munich is no problem get in, I am driving to Zurich” .

It’s that simple really, once you remain patient even when at your limit, yet without a doubt the question I get asked most is “why?”. I guess for me there are four main reasons.

1) Saving Cash: The most obvious but not only reason, sure you save money by not needing to pay for transport and if you bring a sleeping bag you might even save on accommodation too. Whether it be sleeping in a truck or in a wilderness far from cities.

2) Meeting People: It is by far the bet method to meet locals when traveling, people who don’t intend to meet tourists and aren’t trying to sell you something. Real genuine people just going about their day who were sound enough to offer a lift.

I have learnt so much history and picked up words of the local languages from trying to string together a conversation with the driver and made many great friends, contacts to help find work and even got set-up on a date with one Serbian driver’s daughter!

Who knows what kind of adventures you can end up on with strangers.
Who knows what kind of adventures you can end up on with strangers.

3)Personal Growth: Every time you talk to a stranger you step outside your comfort zone a little.

“What if I get mugged?”.

All these new experiences meeting strange people will be pushing your fear to the limit.

This will cause change in your perception of the world, after a while standing on the side of the road with your thumb up you will eventually lose any care for what others think of you and the people you will meet along the way will restore your faith in humanity.

“I couldn’t even imagine getting mugged.”

4)The Rollercoaster: the emotional ups and downs as perceived in the opening paragraph becomes addictive. Buses and trains will seem so uneventful in comparison to the randomness of hitch-hiking. IMGA0102

Variety being the spice of life then you are sure to have some eventful stories to tell the grand-kids someday from the road.

Why not hit the road yourself and discover a new adventure every day?

 

 

Leave any questions about hitch-hiking in the comments section and I will be happy to reply.