These two guys devoted one year of their lives to travel, to discovering Europe while working on their personal development and the development of ESTIEM as well. Together they have travelled all across the continent, Jonas during 2013 and Gregor back in 2012. In this article they will explain how they managed to always find the cheapest way around Europe.
I got to know Jonas and Gregor already some years ago, well before they both made the decision to become a board member of the European study association for Industrial Engineering students, abbreviated as ESTIEM. As the Vice President of Activities they became responsible for a large number of events organised by students all across the continent and so they travelled to every far corner of it. Combined they participated in events, each during their own board term, in a total of 23 countries.
Since all their travels were funded by the organisation, they needed to be very keen on keeping the costs as low as possible. For this reason, Jonas and Gregor can be considered experts in finding their way around Europe at minimal costs. I asked them how did they do it: how did they do their research, find the most logical routes and struck the best possible deals? Scroll down to find their answers.
1. How do you do you research?
Jonas: “When I need to travel to a specific place, I often look at what other cities are close. Often there are uncomplicated trips across the border, such as the 1h commuter train between Bratislava and Vienna, or the buses from Germany through Poland and up to the Baltic countries. To find these, a good place to start looking is bahn.de, the website of the German national rail company. In fact it also covers a lot of the neighbouring countries and beyond.
Also you can check out the tool Azuon (azuon.com). This is a very detailed program with many options and good search algorithms specialised in searching among low-cost-airlines. You can use the free version and then find out about the airline by searching the trips suggested on Skyscanner or similar.”
Gregor stresses that you should also never forget to ask other travellers for helpful information as well! Online travel forums can be a big source of information.
Gregor: “The longer it takes to travel between two cities, the cheaper it gets. A local train for example is usually half the price you pay for a high speed train. Also, you can usually find a bus or train connections between two places that are half the price of the flight ticket. If you evaluate their total travel time (door-to-door), in the end there might not even be such a difference! Also it pays off to be flexible in your travel days (though we were often limited during our board terms) and to combine trips. Individual trips are always more expensive. Chain travel is the best way to save costs.”
Jonas and Gregor never travelled with checked luggage. They usually spent a maximum of €175 for a round trip, with the average trip during their board terms costing around €120. As a guideline Gregor tells that “if you have exceeded the €175, you probably haven’t searched long enough for alternatives”.
|Jonas (26)||Gregor (27)|
|Where?||Born in Göteborg (Sweden), also studied there||Born in Freiburg (Germany), studied in Munich & Hamburg|
|Board term during?||2013||2012|
|Days away from home?||220 days||242 days|
|Visited events in how many countries?||17 countries||17 countries|
|How many cities?||50+ cities||52 cities|
|Longest time between 2 destinations?||26 hours (St. Petersburg to Stockholm via Helsinki)||55 hours 10 minutes (Minsk to Belgrade, via Warsaw & Budapest)|
|Longest time away from home (hand luggage only)?||35 days||38 days|
|Weirdest place to sleep?||Helsinki & Budapest Airport||Breakfast bar, terminal 2 “El Prat” Barcelona Airport|
|Favourite place in Europe?||Göteborg, the Baltics in general, Finland & England||The Alps, the Arctic circle in Europe, Porto & Budapest|
2. How do you buy at the lowest cost?
Where to buy
Jonas: “Bahn.de is not always the cheapest place to buy tickets. When possible, try to book the same ticket in a cheaper country.” Gregor: “Indeed. If you are travelling to a country where the costs of living are lower compared to your own, always book your ticket through the local homepage. The amount of money you pay for the same trip may differ by up to 50% for the same trip – especially if the ticket provider doesn’t offer an internet presence in English. If you experience some difficulties, try to ask help from a local or use Google translate.”
Gregor: “What concerns the timing of booking your flight tickets, you should differentiate between low-cost airlines and the traditional ones. With low-cost airlines (Wizz Air, Ryanair, Vueling, Easyjet, etc.), it’s simple: the earlier you book the better. But with traditional airlines (KLM, Lufthansa, etc.) you should always watch out for booking too far in advance. Airlines charge high prices to people who plan their trips long in advance, like people who booked an all-inclusive holiday, or business men. When those spots are booked, they usually still have a decent amount of seats available on a flight. Therefore they start reducing prices between four and two weeks prior to departure. Afterwards they increase the price again, even if they have many seats available since they know there will be a reasonable amount of customers not flexible about the date of travel – e.g. business travellers. So from my experience, booking three weeks prior will often get you the lowest price.
Also keep in mind that the cheapest days to travel in general are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and some instances also Thursdays. On weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) people usually travel for weekend trips or start or end their vacation. And on Monday, Thursdays and Fridays most of the business customers are travelling.”
Jonas shares another important tip on how to get discounts: “If I am flying a certain airline, I usually translate the word ‘discount code‘ or ‘voucher‘ into the local language of the airline and search it on Google. For example when I’m booking on Lufthansa, I simply Google ‘Lufthansa gutschein‘ or ‘Lufthansa coupon‘. Chances are (9 out of 10) that they are outdated, but when you have also signed up to receive their newsletters, you still sometimes manage to get a few codes working in the end.”
Gregor: “Also consider to sign up for travel programs or discount programs. Discount cards like the Bahn card or the Wizz Air membership usually pay off already after the second trip”.
3. What about other travel-related expenses?
Jonas: “Read those boring flight policies once, it can be very beneficial. Always pack your jacket full and bring the tablet in your hand. It is often stated that you can bring one cabin bag, plus one coat, plus one item to read (in this case your tablet). For Ryanair actually the policy right now is that you can bring the cabin bag (55x40x20cm) plus one extra(!) small bag of size 35 x 20 x 20 cm. This could be a handbag, camera bag, or just something else stuffed with good things to have.
In airports where water is drinkable (which is in more places than most people think) I empty my water outside and then refill it from a tap once I passed the security. I always like some coffee and often buy it, but a tip would be to bring a thermos. If you’re having limited space to bring food, at least bring some water and a snack like some fruit or chocolate to avoid an expensive impulse buy. Maybe it’s at least enough until you can get something cheaper.”
Gregor: “Before I go somewhere, I inform myself if the tap water in the country I am planning to visit is drinkable. Also, I always try to buy my food in a local supermarket and I cook it myself in the hostel. Moreover its always good to ask locals for advice concerning local/cheap restaurants in a specific city. I you ask the people nicely you usually get good suggestions or you even get invited to share a meal together. Especially in the south European countries this is not unlikely.”
Jonas: “Indeed, always ask the locals. They might also help you by giving a ride or show you a cheaper transportation option that they use.”
Thanks for reading! Want to see more? Check out all my other interviews over here.