Around the world

Traveling is a passion of mine. One of my biggest passions.:-) No doubt about it. Every time a friend introduces me to someone new, they will remind that person that I'm that well-traveled guy they told them about. Inevitably, the first few minutes of every new conversation mostly concern traveling. Where have I been? What have I preferred? What's the best place to visit? What's the most beautiful city? Yada yada yada!;-)

For so many people traveling is perceived as a luxury. That is the greatest misconception about traveling. Just as it is with nearly everything else, the choices you ultimately make will have repercussions on your wallet and bank account. I'm not saying that you must forgo all comforts in order to travel on the cheap. That's all right if you want to travel on a shoestring budget. However, millions of people have discovered that budget traveling makes for a wonderful experience. You just need to plan and prepare accordingly...

With spring on the way, the perfect time to see all the wonders that Europe has to offer, I've decided to write an article on budget traveling. It might provide those who are planning their own adventures a couple of ideas and tips. And it might also convince a few of those who have always wanted to travel that they can do so without going bankrupt.

Who am I to write about this, you ask? Well, I've been in 25 different countries in the last 5 years. I've traveled with trendy tour operators, with Contiki, on my own in 2 or 3-star hotels, and I've backpacked my way through most of Europe. Having done all that, and moreover having done it in different manners, I'm persuaded that I'm experienced enough to write this thing!;-) From a 5-star hotel in Rome, to a crappy dump in Budapest, I've done it all!!!

So where have I been? That's always the first question people ask me. Canada, the USA, Greece, Turkey, England, Italy, the Vatican, France, Monaco, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, Morocco, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

I've spent as little as one afternoon (Gibraltar) and as much as 3 weeks or more in each respective country. Last summer I spent 100 days traveling around Europe, stopping in 14 countries along the way. But habitually, I can only afford to stay between 2 or 3 weeks.

How can you afford to travel like this? People have been asking me this for the last 5 years. Well, tell yourself that the price tag attached to any adventure will largely depend on what comforts and luxuries you can and cannot do without.

If you want your cake and eat it too, you'll have to do business with tour operators such as Insight Vacations, Globus and Cosmos. It's going to cost you a lot of money, that's for sure. But if you have money, what the heck, right? Keep in mind that by doing so, you will be spending more than 2 weeks with senior citizens who are retired. I have nothing against them, mind you. But don't expect to have a lot of companions tagging along with you when you want to check out that club in Athens or Florence. My very first traveling experience was with such a group. All were really nice to me. But never again, I vowed!;-) When you're part of a Contiki tour, we refer to those groups as "Antiki."

Okay, so let's talk about Contiki. This is a tour operator dedicated to the 18 to 35's crowd. They are often imitated, but never equalled! They offer a very broad range of tours, both Superior and Budget. Contiki is the perfect way to travel if you've never been abroad before. The groups are comprised of English-speaking guys and gals from all over the world. It's a wonderful way to travel and meet new friends from around the globe.

The greatest thing about Contiki is that they take away the "planning" element which appears to be so daunting to so many would-be travelers. The tour operator takes care of transportation, hotel reservations, a number of meals, etc, and you always have a tour manager to give you a hand. This is ideal for students or those who have no time to spend weeks on planning a trip. You just select your tour, et voilà!:-) You just need to worry about what you'll be doing with your free time!

I've been on 5 different Contiki tours in the past: Spotlight on Greece, with the Golden Fleece cruise of the Greek Isles and Turkey; Simply Italy; Best of France; and Spain and Portugal. I now have friends all around the globe and some of my favourites memories associated with traveling are from those tours.:-)

Being part of a Contiki tour is more costly than doing the very same itinerary on your own. But you have no hotel to book, no reservations to confirm, no search for a place to stay when you reach a new city, no trains to catch, no waiting in line at the train station in order to buy a mandatory reservation for a fast train, etc. Hence, if you are looking for a no-hassle type of vacation, Contiki is designed for you! Check out their website at, where you can peruse their tours and order a brochure.

Contiki's main drawback is that you don't always get to do your own thing. But if you want to make the most of a region in a short period of time, they remain the best option.

Of course, the cheapest way to travel is to do it on your own. By acting thus, you get your own personalized itinerary, sure. But you also get all the hassle which traveling like that implies. Regardless of that, it's still the sort of traveling which often offers adventures that are the most rewarding.:-)

Plane ticket: Yes, you can wait for sales, but they don't always come on time. If you are eligible, get your hands on an ISIC card (International Student Card). For a mere 15$, it will allow you to save between 100$ and 200$ on your flight alone. Plus, it intitles you to a vast number of discounts on museums, attractions, accomodation, etc. It usually pays for itself before you even leave home.

The best tool to plan any trip is, without the shadow of a doubt, a Lonely Planet guide. You can also check their website,, where you will find a lively community. In these guides, you have all the information required to plan and budget your adventure. Your LP guide contains info on everything, from how to get there, what's to see and do, dangers you must worry about, where to stay, what to eat, where to go out, etc. With candid reviews and plenty of advice, it makes everything a bit easier for you, especially at the planning stage of a trip.

Use your LP guide to see if it's a good thing for you to buy a railpass. Everyone buys them, thinking that they are saving a bundle. But that, my friends, is a myth!;-) Truth be told, most pay a lot more for their railpass than it would it would have cost them to buy regular second class tickets. All in all, a railpass is usually a good purchase only if you plan on traveling long distances with each segment (Paris to Barcelona, for example), or if you wish to travel a majority of your segments on high speed train such as the TGV, etc.

A good way to save on accomodation is to register on websites such as It allows you to get in contact with people in the cities you are planning to visit and get a free place to stay. I used their service to a place in Antwerp, Belgium, and it was a nice experience.

Another good way to save money on accomodation is to stay in a hostel. Yes, some are dumps. But doing a good research in your LP guide and on the web for confirmation should permit you to almost always find nice and comfortable places to stay at. The Circus in Berlin, the Guesthouse in Lausanne, the Euro Youth Hotel in Munich, the Wombat's in Vienna, and the International Youth Hotel in Salzburg are all perfect examples of terrific hostels which only cost about 20$ to 25$ a night. Keep in mind that what you save on accomodation can be spent on sightseeing and other fun experiences.;-)

Food is another factor. If you select accomodation with kitchen facilities, you'll save a bundle on restaurants' bills!

A good source of information on every facet of traveling is Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine. You can also check their website

So why is such an article on this blog? Well, most fantasy readers like history and mythology. Traveling gives you the opportunity to see firsthand what you've been reading about and what you've been seeing on television for years. Imagine yourself at the summit of the Acropolis, standing before the Parthenon; standing inside the Colosseum in Rome; walking around Stonehenge; standing before the pyramids in Cairo; the list is endless...:-)

Too often people say that they'll do it next year, or the one after that. But in the end, most never will. My aunt dies of cancer last year. She was in top shape one week, and died a few weeks later. It goes without saying that her death shook the family to its core. And it made me change my perspective concerning life. Now I know that tomorrow may never come. So if there is something you desire, don't wait. Do it now. Now is the time to travel, if traveling is something you have always dreamed of. You can get that car another year, etc. But traveling is an experience that will remain close to your heart for the rest of your life...:-)

We'll have to wait and see how people react to this article. If there is interest, perhaps I will be writing other travel-oriented pieces in the future. Gods knows there is countless things to talk about! I will leave you now with a little bit of traveling wisdom: «There are no strangers; only friends that you haven't met yet.»

Have a great weekend,


P. S. To the Americans who are reading this, please heed this warning. When traveling, never, under any circumstances, enter in a beer-drinking contest with an Aussie, a German, a Canadian, a Belgian or a Scandinavian. Believe me, it's for your own good. First of all, you cannot win. Get that through your heads!!! What passes for beer in the USA is considered lemonade in many countries. Plus, with the advent of the digital camera, a headache and a wounded pride may not be the only consequences of your actions!!!;-) Some people could have blackmail material pertaining to you for years to go. One day I'll have to tell you about that guy in Interlaken, Switzerland. He didn't listen and he paid the price. The 2 Aussies who beat him at that contest are probably still laughing about it in Sydney!!!:-)

3 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Salut Patrick, très bon conseils qui pourront m'aider dans mes voyages à venir. Je sais où te trouver si j'ai des questions et tu vas être mon agent de voyage personnel.
Je vais commencer à voyager très bientôt, comme tu l'a si bien dit, avec ce qui nous est arrivé l'an dernier, pourquoi remettre à plus tard ce que l'on veut faire aujourd'hui. On a qu'une vie à vivre, autant la vivre au maximum, on ne sait jamais ce que demain va nous apporter.



Anonymous said...

you should prolly mention Ryan air on your cheap ass guide to see europe, 99p for a trip from london to almost anywhere in europe, can't beat that deal..
and speaking about the drinking, and maybe it's cus i'm in the military (and all we do is drink) i've found canadian's to be jokes, the brits to be sissies (stange liking of VK, and american beers.. never got that), kiwis to be ok, and aussies to be on par with americans. Yes, the beer is stronger... but the liquor's the same.. and most americans can put that down (much cheaper in the state s then here to drink 'spirits')
anyways.. good article, i try to travel somewhere new every month.. being that it is so cheap to do so over here.

Kelly said...

I also like to travel, but unfortunately I didn't visit 25 countries... But I saw almost all Europe and then realized that Prague is a fairy-tale town of magical beauty sitting at the very hearth of Europe. The Prague Castle, Vltava with nice restaurants, bars, Prague hotels on the river banks and Charles Bridge in autumn.... Frequently it is said to be difficult or even impossible to admire it fully in the course of several days only. Even more intricate is thus trying to introduce it using nothing but a couple of words.