Cheap ways to travel in Europe
The summer is coming even in the Netherlands and with the end of the semester, the eagerness to travel grows bigger in each student. Since I started my studies in Groningen, I’ve met many people that told me that traveling on your own is the best way to discover yourself and the world. That inspired me to hit the road myself. Traveling alone, that meant I had to persuade myself that I actually didn’t need other people. Further on, I understood that being alone was not meant literally: people are very eager to make contact with lonely travelers. During my journeys, I have always met people on the road who I went on unplanned trips with. Another obstacle that hindered me was the worry about money. As of day, one I decided to try the cheap things that everybody was talking about, but nobody does, like Couchsurfing. And I loved it! Ever since then I dedicated myself to the real, ultimate, cheap traveling experience.
The first part of traveling is to go from one place to another. All research classes turned out to be worth it because traveling cheap requires one big, long, awesome research of different ways to reach the place you want. So as a true Hanze student traveler, the summary is: Flixbus, Ryanair, Wizzair, Megabus, BlaBlaCar, Eurolines and handy transport offers such as weekend and group tickets. By the way, true adventurers try hitchhiking. It might sound unsafe, but on Hitchwiki you can read very useful information about hitchhikebility and waiting time, straight from other hitchhikers. As for drivers, use your common sense and keep in mind the golden rule: traveling with someone else is safer.
The easiest way is to search for a cheap hostel, but I prefer Couchsurfing. You can search for people that are willing to host you for free in their houses in exchange for cultural talks, activities in their town and dinners. Many people are afraid to try it out, but it’s a very secure social platform. People have profiles in which they describe themselves and moreover: you can find recommendations and experiences of previous couch surfers. So far, I have never had bad experiences and I have been a guest of 15 different people in different countries and I have been a host myself 8 times.
On one occasion in Geneva, I was staying with a guy who had a private pool in his building. Or in Rome, I stayed in a super fancy apartment of a successful hairdresser. Another time, I had a private room. That is better than any hostel in the world! It is true that sometimes you have to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag, but you always know that in advance, so it is your own decision. All couch surfing people are amazingly kind to share their private lives, show you their city and have conversations that enrich your life. As long as you are open-minded, respectful and honest, couch surfing will be the best thing you have done.
One month is a long time to be in a new place on your own or to sleep at other people’s houses. So, it feels right if you do something in exchange. The first thing I did was becoming an au pair (AKA nanny). The family provides you with food, bed, activities and a small salary. Being an au pair is a job but actually, a great way to work and to travel around during weekends. The kids might go out of control sometimes but that is alright. If you are capable of surviving exam periods, you can definitely manage kids. As an au pair, you will be able to experience home-made, local food, have a lot of conversations, learn a new language and, most of all, have fun.
Ever heard of WWOOFing?
WWOOF means worldwide opportunities on organic farming. Basically, you choose an organic vegetable, cattle or herb farm in any country around the world. You work for four hours a day in exchange for a bed and food. Actually, WWOOFing brought me new skills as taking care of animals and growing vegetables. Two days a week you have time to travel. In the farm in the French Alps that I chose we stayed with two young French farmers, two Americans, one Frenchman, one Bulgarian and two Australian WWOOFers. We took care of the goats: milked them, made cheese and sold that on the local market in Geneva. So WWOOFing is a great chance to meet other people, eat organic food, travel around and learn something useful. Most hosts prefer the participants to stay for two or three weeks, so they can get into the routine of either child care or farming. That’s a fair deal, right? More than fair, I would say.
What about Erasmus Plus Projects?
Erasmus Plus Programs are funded by the European Commission's Programme for education, training, youth, and sport for the period 2014–2020. These projects are available to people under 30 years old. You can find projects that have a duration of 1 week to 6 months in different countries with different topics. Those topics can be art, education, sport, culture, learning skills and more, so it is truly worth trying it! I have done a few projects myself in Turkey when I was in high school. The project was about culture and meeting people from around the world. The people that participated were from Poland, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland. The organizers made a program that included some activities, trips to get to know Turkish culture and finally a small showcase with what we have learned. Most of the projects are very cheap like 50-100 euro that covers going to the country. All the rest is provided by the program. I have a friend who did a project in Italy for 6 months, cleaning beaches and diving with turtles. Another friend was doing a project to project hopping so she traveled Europe for almost no money. You can find your own projects here. The other way to find them is to write in Facebook: Erasmus Projects or Erasmus + (Country, example Bulgaria) and join the groups. Regularly, in those group are searched participants who can represent their own country at the projects. I would recommend people trying out at least one project. It is a great way to meet people, get to know cultures, learn new things, travel, have fun and be more tolerant of differences in other cultures.
In conclusion, I have given up some comfort as sleeping in a very good bed, always eating good food but I gained cultural knowledge, saw inspiring places, met new friends and learned new skills. I always tell myself that I can be in comfort when I am 80 years old and when probably I won’t have any choice to go and do things as freely as now. I encourage every young person to just go and travel because there will always be but in every case as… but money, but education, but work, but family, but relationship… the world is safer than we hear from the TV, and people are mostly helpful and good. And even if you can’t travel far away, travel your own country- there are so many things that you do not know…
Disfruta la vita!