“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
-Augustine of Hippo
Photo Credit: Tay, Shiyun Amanda. Iceland. 2016
As much as we berate the Singapore university education system for its competitive and rather intellectually stifling nature, the rigour of the curriculum also means that there are plenty of overseas opportunities accorded to students.
Every year, thousands of students are presented with the opportunity to embark on overseas exchange programmes all around the world, for them to broaden their horizons and learn from a different culture.
However, depending on your destination and extent of your travels, the total cost of embarking on an overseas exchange trip can range anywhere from SGD $5000 to $20,000 and up. Finding ways to stretch your dollar is essential, to make the most out of your 3 to 6 short months away from Singapore.
Being a young and minority race traveler in Europe can be intimidating, but after going on an overseas exchange programme in Stockholm for half a year, I’ve learnt — sometimes the hard way — how to manoeuvre through the sometimes dicey streets of Europe whilst maximising my Euros.
Here is a traveller’s guide that will help you to save money and experience the full colour and diversity of Europe.
It never hurts to plan ahead
A few months in Europe may seem like a sufficiently long enough time away from home, but in fact, you’d hardly be able to scratch the surface of what Europe has to offer. This is especially so since many tourist attractions are seasonally-dependent — they coincide with holidays and festivities or are weather- and climate-dependent.
That being said, plan your time and budget wisely when traveling to tourist hot spots during the peak season; popular tourist destinations are likely to be money-sucking tourist traps. Take your time to get recommendations from locals and get out of the main city to explore more interesting and less traveled areas.
Traveling around Europe
Photo Credit: Chong, Zi Xiang Ryan. Up in the sky. 2016
Once you’re in Europe, it is easy to pop over to the neighbouring countries over the long weekend. But even so, frequent domestic travel can still rack up quite the bill. The most obvious thing to do would be to travel during non-peak periods and book budget flights.
However, you can also exploit on the many student privileges available to European students. Aggregator sites, like Kilroy.net, provide specialised discounts and privileges for student travelers. You even have the flexibility to change your travel dates and sometimes enjoy cheap or free stopovers along your route. It’s as simple as obtaining the International Student Identity (ISIC) card to unlock the bounty of student benefits across Europe.
Photo Credit: Tay, Shiyun Amanda. Sunset by the sea. 2016
Alternatively, you might even be able to travel by cruise ship to neighbouring European countries at incredibly inexpensive prices. For instance, the Tallink cruise is available from Stockholm, to destinations such as Finland, Russia, Estonia and more. For those who like to imbibe, many cruise ships even sell duty-free alcohol for you to kick back and while away your time on your voyage.
Photo Credit: Tay, Shiyun Amanda. On the road. 2016
Finally, though time-consuming, tour buses are a good way to get around and are usually the cheapest option. There are many bus agencies available that provide decent levels of comfort and amenities for long journeys ( think free WiFi and power sockets). Many even provide additional student discounts for ISIC and student card holders.
In determining the mode of transport, it’s imperative that you do research prior to booking your tickets, and assess the option that will best suit your needs and level of comfort. Overnight long haul bus rides are undeniably cheaper, but you might want to give a second thought if you are a solo traveler, as you will be a prime target for thieves and pickpockets.
When you’re exploring the crevices of Europe for months on end, you will have to look for more budget-friendly accommodation other than your typical hotels.
Hostels are usually the cheapest option, and allows you to befriend fellow travelers from across the globe. However, if you’re traveling with a large group of friends, an increasingly popular option is Airbnb.com. You can choose from shared rooms, private rooms and even entire apartments. Depending on the type of accommodation you book, you might even have locals to show you the hidden gems of the city you’re in, and perhaps even prepare some local meals for you from their culture. Of course, it’s always nice to return the courtesy and whip up a hearty meal of Char Kway Teow and Yang Zhou Fried Rice for them as well.
If you’re a solo and more adventurous traveler, you can even consider bunking on someone’s couch through portals like CouchSurfing.com. Couch surfing is generally free but from experience, hosts tend to prefer guests of the fairer sex. However, when choosing to house with local hosts, it’s always advisable to err on the side of caution, especially for female travelers. Always ensure that you do your own due diligence so that you can make an informed decision on your accommodation.
Student tours and discounts
Photo Credit: Tay, Shiyun Amanda. Louvre Museum. 2016
Many museums and attractions around Europe offer free entry for European students. Imagine visiting the Louvre or scaling the Eiffel Tower for free! With my university and ISIC, I managed to save at least 100 Euros in Paris and Greece alone.
Photo Credits: Tay, Shiyun Amanda. Tallinn, Estonia. 2016
However, if you are not one for planning and research, you can also opt for student tours organised by tour agencies. A recommended tour is the Baltics Tour by Scanbalt Experience. Though we were quickly shepherded from destination to destination, the tour provided plenty of time for us explore on our own. Furthermore, many student tours allow you to share rooms with other foreign students, giving you the opportunity to make new friends from other cultures.
Safety, safety, safety
The most important tip — which often slips into the recesses of an excited traveler’s mind — is safety. Here in Singapore, we’re accustomed to flashing our smartphones and leaving our bags unattended at crowded food courts.However, being an eager Asian in Europe is bound to make you a huge target for thieves and scams.
As much as possible, always keep your valuables within sight and close to your body. Stay vigilant and watch out for sweet old ladies who may be standing a little too close for comfort, or cunning train conductors who may be asking for a little bit too much in train fees.
In dire situations, a proven tactic to extricate yourself from shady situations is to gesture wildly and reject all understanding of the English language (Editor’s note: In particularly dangerous scenarios, always comply with the individuals who’re accosting you). Though a flailing Asian person in the middle of Europe may raise a few eyebrows; it’s a tried and tested method to get you out of a difficult situation in a pinch. Not to mention, it’s bound to be a great conversation for years to come.
Your youth is the best period of life to travel. Let time and money be less of a factor, preventing you from exploring what Europe has to offer.
Amanda Tay is a writer at ShopBack Singapore. ShopBack provides cashback on your travel bookings, as you travel and explore the lands in Europe.