Make practical decisions in Europe
I am a student. I am also a European traveler.
But I am a student first, which means I have no money. Don't let this stop you from traveling this amazing continent - make some smart financial choices, and you can enjoy an unforgettable trip this summer.
Europe gets cheaper the farther south and west you go. You will see outrageous prices in the United Kingdom - but pay practically nothing in the Czech Republic.
I recommend traveling in the off-season, but more sights will be open in the summer. Just be prepared for long lines and inflated prices.
And the difference between a frantic European tour you'll never afford again and one on which you can relax, knowing you're not breaking the bank and can return someday, comes down to three things: sleeping, eating and getting around.
There are plenty of deals for getting around in Europe if you're willing to do some research. Flights from the United States are reasonable if you book far enough in advance, and travel agencies like STA travel offer student discounts.
Once you're in Europe, flying from country to country is dirt cheap. Ryanair, Easyjet and www.opodo.com are just a few online resources for flying in Europe.
Everyone I know recommends a Eurail pass if you're travelling for an extended period of time. For one prepaid price, you criss-cross by train. I paid $438 for 11 days worth of travel over two months. It easily got me around Europe for a month, though some trains require an additional reservation deposit.
Public transportation is much cheaper than taxis. But don't underestimate the strength of your own legs - taking the Tube from sight to sight might save time, but you miss out on the little extras you discover when you travel by foot.
My advice: pick and choose what you really want to see and do in Europe. Don't try to do everything.
Many sights are great from the outside. Why climb the Tower of Pisa when you can get the full satisfaction from just looking at it? Churches and cathedrals are free, unless they charge you to climb to the top or see special tombs. Don't pay for the elevator in these cases - use your legs and climb the stairs. This applies to the Eiffel Tower, as well.
Don't overdo it on museums and art galleries. It's worth it to visit the Vatican Museums in Rome and Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. I didn't think the Jewish Museum in Berlin was worthwhile, and my friend thought the same of the Prado museum in Madrid. Paris offers one pass for all its museums - definitely worth it.
Shell out a few extra euros for an audio guide in big museums - you won't regret it. You've already picked the museum and paid the admission fee - why not make an effort to understand the art you're going to see?
Other free and very worthwhile stops that are unique to Europe are the concentration camps. It doesn't make for an uplifting day, but they were unforgettable, life-changing experiences.
Again, don't skip a sight you want to see just because of the entry fee. Trust me, you'll regret it.
Why spend $400 a night for a private, 4-star hotel suite when you can meet people your age, pick up practical travel advice and sleep in a cozy bunk bed at a $15 per night hostel? Granted, I've gingerly laid my head on a few sketchy pillows - don't sleep cheaply in Athens, by the way - but the savings are phenomenal, especially if there is a kitchen.
Check out www.hostelbookers.com or www.hostelworld.com for deals, but be warned that many exaggerate their amenities. And don't pick one located miles from the train station and major city sights.
Many people save on a night's accommodation by crashing in airports or train stations. Not comfortable - but free! Overnight trains are also an option.
There are plenty of ways to save money on everyday meals. My friends tell me kebabs - gyros - are great in every country, and food in side-street cafes is generally well-priced. Grocery stores make for an inexpensive meal. Try to treat yourself to at least one big meal in every city or country; you won't regret it. And eat gelato - Italian ice cream - every day.
As for drinking, don't buy a lot of alcohol when you eat out. Pick up a bottle of wine at a grocery store and people-watch, as one of my friends did, or go out and use your foreign accent to pick up free drinks (probably works best if you're a woman).
More travel tips
Are you a student? If you're reading this, you probably are, and therefore qualify for great deals all across Europe. I bought an International Student card for $22, which you can always flash in hopes of a few bucks off your entry fee or meal. Many places just wanted my student ID, however, so carry that, too.
Believe it or not, there is now a company in Europe that offers free walking tours of major cities. I took the New Berlin tour in Germany, and it was phenomenal. Visit www.neweuropetours.eu for more information.
Don't be too cheap, however. If I was as stingy as my travel partner last month, for example, I would have missed out on the greatest experience of my trip - paragliding in the Swiss Alps. For 183 Swiss francs (about $150), I leapt off a cliff and glided down through the most spectacular views imaginable.
My friends and I haggled with a gondola driver in Venice, and though the trip still wasn't cheap, it was totally worth the experience.
And if you find that special, can't-find-it-anywhere-else souvenir, you'll kick yourself later if you don't just buy it. I picked up original prints and artwork in every country, which is a great way to remember my travels.