Many years ago, I was a backpacker and traveled the typical routes that the Lonely Planet guide suggested. Most of the backpackers I met on the road also traveled with a Lonely Planet book (this was WAY before the internet even existed). We often asked each other “What would Tony recommend?” referring to Tony Wheeler, the inventor of Lonely Planet and the original travel guidebook guru. This was my introduction to budget travel.
A few years later, I graduated from backpacker to “Non-Revenue” traveler. I worked for an airline and flew at deeply discounted rates (mostly free). We also got some great hotel discounts which really helped stretch the travel budget. And since I was gainfully employed, my travel standards went up quite a bit.
Fast forward to now. I’ve retired from teaching English and my only income is a small monthly pension from my airline years (and a few dollars from this blog). I’m stretching my savings until I can touch my IRA penalty-free. So, right now I’ve got more time than money and I need to find creative ways to afford travel. Luckily, I’ve figured some things out!
Sit back and relax as I reveal a few of my budget travel tips!
Discovering Trusted Housesitters honestly changed my life. A few years ago I was living in Taiwan and sensed it was time to quit teaching English and leave Asia. To where? I had no idea. So I rented out my apartment and spent 3 months in England doing some house sitting. In a one-week gap between sits, I flew to Nice to visit a friend.
Well, I fell in love with Nice and now I live here! It makes a great home base with a wide selection of budget airlines offering cheap flights. This gives me a perfect chance to explore more of Europe!
I recently confirmed a house sit in Vienna, taking care of a sweet cat named Pamina. This house sit covers the cost of accommodation in Vienna for the week and allows me time to discover the magic of the city!
Since Budapest is located very near Vienna, I decided to extend my trip by exploring Budapest first and then taking Flixbus from Budapest to Vienna. Flixbus is kind of the Greyhound Bus of Europe and is usually much cheaper than the train.
So I book my flight from Nice to Budapest and search for cheap accommodation. Here’s how it unfolds…
Flight Deals in Europe
Whenever I apply for a house sit gig, I compare prices on Skyscanner first to get an idea of the price of flights to that city. Flights from Nice to Scandinavian countries tend to be expensive, so I focus on cities where the top budget airlines fly: Easy Jet, Ryan Air, Eurowings, Wizz Air, Vueling, and a few others. The cheapest destinations departing Nice are usually Barcelona, Budapest, Vienna, Geneva, Zurich, Rome, Venice, and London.
My flight from Nice to Budapest on Wizz Air costs $65, which includes one checked bag. From Vienna to Nice I booked Eurowings for $59 (plus baggage). These fares are pretty good, but last year I actually booked a flight from Marrakech, Morocco to London for just $31! There are amazing deals out there if you just know where to look!
Budget travel tip: always start with Skyscanner!
Hotel Deals – Booking.com
Like many major tourist cities in Europe, Budapest seems to lack cheap, basic-but-clean hotels. I found the same situation in Barcelona recently and opted for an affordable hostel instead. I survived the Barcelona hostel (it was kind of a test!), so now I search for a decent hostel option in Budapest.
I’ve got six nights in Budapest before I need to be in Vienna, but I’m not sure I want to spend the entire time in the city, so I book the first three nights at an upscale “boutique” hostel called Aventura Boutique Hostel. It’s got large, tastefully decorated rooms and – best of all – a female only dorm with just four beds and lots of personal space.
Booking.com Cash Back
I book the first three nights at the Aventura Boutique Hostel in the female dorm using a great tool – a Booking.com discount code from a fellow blogger allowing $30 cash back off a booking of $60 or more. My first three nights in the female dorm comes to $66. So, after the $30 cash back bonus, my first three nights total just $36!
A few weeks later I finally decide to spend the entire six nights in Budapest before going to Vienna. When I check the Booking.com site for Aventura Boutique Hostel the female dorm is full! Reluctantly, I book the six-bed mixed dorm which totals just $44 for three nights. Since it’s less than $60 total, it doesn’t qualify for the cashback offer I used on my first booking. Instead, I use a discount code from another blogger – $20 off a booking of $40 or more. The total for the last three nights is just $24 after the cash back bonus!
Using this amazing tool from Booking.com I am able to book six nights at a clean, quiet, “boutique” hostel for just $60 total.
Let’s do the math:
Nice to Budapest flight = $65
Hotel in Budapest = $60
Flixbus Budapest to Vienna = $10 (actually it was free since I used some existing credit)
Hotel in Vienna = Free using Trusted Housesitters
Vienna to Nice flight = $59
Total = $194 for 2 weeks
Skyscanner to Everywhere
I confirmed another house sit in Paris for mid-October and checked for return flights on Skyscanner. Sadly, I find that a Paris to Nice flight on a Sunday is expensive (well, expensive for me at $84). So, I decide to play a little game I like to call “Skyscanner Roulette” to find cheaper options departing Paris. I go to the Skyscanner website and type in the search box “Paris” to “Everywhere” using my intended flight date.
Amazingly, I find a flight from Paris to Zadar, Croatia for just $16!
Tempting, and since I don’t have the time to properly do Croatia right now (it’s on my list!), I consider spending just a few days in Zadar. Then I’ll take a ferry to nearby Venice to fly back to Nice. After further research, getting to Venice is a bit more complicated than I realized so I spin the wheel again and type in: “Zadar to Everywhere”.
The result: Zadar, Croatia to Baden Baden, Germany for just $12!
I’m intrigued by a few days in Baden Baden in mid-October, but then where? I type in “Baden Baden to Everywhere” and the results are shocking:
Baden Baden to Rome for $21! Baden Baden to Palma for $21! Baden Baden to Athens for $24!
You see where this is leading? Right down a rabbit hole!
Realizing I may never find my way back to Nice, I opt for a cheap bus ride on Flixbus from Paris to Bruges, Belgium. I book a cheap, clean, affordable hostel (using the previously mentioned Booking.com tools) and search on Skyscanner for a flight out of Belgium. The result: Brussels to Nice for just $46.
Someday I’ll play Skyscanner Roulette for real. But not today.
Secret Flying – the secret to budget travel
Secret Flying is an amazing website offering cheap airfare and hotel deals from around the world. I signed up for their daily emails for the current deals from the US and Europe. Although they have amazing deals on flights and hotels worldwide, you can specify specific areas for their daily email updates.
Last year this site came in handy when my parents wanted to visit Rome and asked me to do their trip planning. The following day I got an alert for a fare sale from Minneapolis to Rome for just $444! We booked it, they flew Air Canada through Toronto and had a great trip!
More recently I found a cheap fare from Milan, Italy to Hurghada, Egypt for only 62 Euros round trip (about $73 USD). Milan is an easy train or bus ride from Nice, so I start planning. Using the Hotels Combined website, I find cheap (but still clean and decent) hotels in Hurghada, Luxor, and Aswan and plan 10 days for around $100 total. (Seriously cheap!)
And then an Egyptian woman I met warns me how dangerous Egypt is, especially for single women. She snaps me back to reality so Egypt is on the back burner. For now, anyway…
Do you have any budget travel tips or tricks to add? Please share!
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