A mattress and pillow needn't break the bank!
We've all been there: you've managed to wangle some time off, you're spoiling to get away from the hassles of everyday life, you've found a cheap method of travelling to your exotic destination of choice...but wait! The cheapest hotel is £40 per night, excluding meals, laundry services, bedding, the sneaky £85 deposit, heating, a shower or roofing, but complete with FREE WIFI! and STUNNING LOCATION OPPOSITE PARK (which just so happens to be the local drug dealer's favourite hangout). You weigh up the pros and cons of shelling out that much for a 12' x 8' box, but in the end you're forced to concede that a Mediterranean tan just doesn't compensate for having to live off of beans on toast for the rest of the academic year. No-one likes beans that much. The cheap seat on the Eurostar that once seemed to have your name written all over it instead goes to a grey-suited man, last name Smith, first name John, on his way to spend a week grinding through a soul-destroying office job on the mainland, blissfully unaware that he's denying you the chance to spend 5 nights destroying your liver by downing shots off a bellhop's stomach.
But it needn't be that way! After conducting much thorough research on the topic (read: freezing my nuts off on a cold November night in Amsterdam - see below!), I've managed to compile a few quick tips for the budget traveller, so that never again will you give up a fantastic opportunity because your wallet isn't quite deep enough for the Ritz.
Tip 1: Be social!
I've met plenty of people in my few years on this earthly plane who immediately turn their nose up in disgust upon hearing the word "hostel". For many, the word conjures up images of halfway houses, leaky ceilings and cold school dinners. But I'm here to tell you, ladies and gents, that if you'll just open your minds (but not too much, lest your brain fall out!) to the idea of getting down and dirty with a group of 20-somethings searching for meaning and purpose in a lonely and purposeless world, you can save a fortune!
A few months ago, I took a coach to Newcastle to see their medical school. It was my first time staying in a hostel, and I was apprehensive. I was worried my stuff would get stolen, I'd be kept awake by people coming and going all night long, and maybe - just a little - that I'd get molested, kidnapped and set on fire whilst tied naked to a tree. Instead, I met a pair of Australians who both happened to be travelling around the world, and the three of us had a fantastic night in the "party capital of the UK" that culminated in my putting on an awful Aussie accent to seduce the bouncer of a nice Geordie pub-cum-strip-club into letting me in without checking my ID (having been 4 days underage at the time!). Though our time together was short, all of us had a fantastic time that would never have been the case had I locked myself away in a fancy private room. And all for just £17!
- Extremely social - you may even make some lasting friendships!
- Fantastically cheap.
- Often run by modern, trendy owners who are used to catering for students.
- As per the stereotype, some hostels can be a bit lacking on the "facilities" front. But what you lack in warm showers, you more than make up for in atmosphere!
- Can sometimes be located in the "less desirable" parts of town.
A great place to look for hostels is on the HostelBookers website.
Tip 2: Go out of season!
So many people flock to holiday destinations abroad during the summer that even a cockroach would have a hard time finding room at the inn! To compensate, hotel and hostel owners alike ramp their prices up to stratospheric heights, leaving students - quite literally - in the dust. But if you're willing to look past society's view of a "good" holiday, top-class digs needn't break the bank.
I recently visited Berlin, a fantastic city that combines rich cultural opportunities with one of the best party scenes in Europe. All of this is available 365 days a year, and yet when I went - the depths of February - there wasn't a holiday-making soul to be seen! Why? I'm thinking the -17 degree Celcius weather may have contributed. But did I feel that having to wrap up warm detracted from my holiday experience? Not a jot. In return I got to stay in the luxurious Georghof Hostel for a measly 4 Euros per night! In Summer, I could have expected to be paying 25-50 Euros for the exact same room, not to mention the fact that I would have likely been sharing my room with 11 raucous foreigners rather than one lovely girlfriend and one inconspicuous Berliner.
- Seriously posh rooms can be grabbed for peanuts.
- You get to see your resort of choice in its "natural habitat".
- Climate may be less than ideal!
- Some particularly touristy attractions may not be open all year round - at least in Berlin, where February seems to be the month for covering the main historical sights in shrink wrap!
Tip 3: Go al fresco!
As I alluded to earlier, not all of this advice came about through comfortable experiences and plain sailing. No, instead it was a direct result of deciding that, when travelling to Amsterdam in the middle of a cold, damp November, booking any sort of accommodation was nonetheless completely unnecessary.
Here's a tip for the future: when in a foreign country without a room for the night, as a chilly darkness draws in all around you and tempers start to fray, head for the nearest public park. One thing, and one thing alone, may prove to be your saving grace - the humble treehouse. In our case, we huddled up on the middle level - yes, it had 3 levels! - and made it through the night quite comfortably (the standard of "comfortable", here, simply being "making it to the morning without having contracted pneumonia"). In fact, it was so snug that we decided to go back again the next night! Not only was it free, we got an entire night's worth of fresh park air...and an unwanted morning visitor in the form of a local hobo!
- Don't pay a penny for your overnight stay in any of Europe's finest cities!
- Have a story to tell the grandkids.
- Run the risk of illness, theft and possible death.
- Don't expect to actually, you know...sleep.
And there we have it. 3 simple tricks to travelling on a student budget. Go on, get out there and give them a go! And when you get back, feel free to drop me a comment and tell me how you got on - but no, I will not replace those shoes that were stolen while you slept!
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