Let’s face it, not everyone can stay in five-star hotels and eat in swanky restaurants, but actually, who wants to? The best way to get to know a country is to see it through the eyes of those who actually live there and the best way to see and meet locals is to stay with them.
Fortunately, for those of us whose pockets are not particularly deep, there are ways to travel without having to pay a penny for accommodation.
Using sites like Couchsurfer or Housesitting sites allow us to step into other people’s lives, live as they do, and get to know the town or city they are living in, while wild camping allows us to see nature in its most untamed facade.
You can travel to Europe for very little money by getting the hang of the cheapest ways to travel Europe and I should know, I spent a month traveling around the Continent and spent very little indeed. I hitchhiked down through England and hopped into a car with a nice family for a free ferry trip across the Channel. A bit of planning upfront had been required: I had spent the last week or so on the Internet, hooking myself up with places to stay for the next few nights. I figured I could wing it once I got into the swing of things, but for now, I was keen to ease myself into it by being super organized.
My first host was in Calais, and the kind family I had hitched with for the ride across took me right to the door of the flats. I came armed with a bottle of wine – my first expenditure of the trip – as a “thank you” for the girl who was hosting me. The girl was quiet but friendly enough. We had an early night after she cooked tea – she insisted. The next morning, it was time to move on.
After a few hours of dreary wait on the side of the road, I was picked up by a man in a white van, who spoke with a strong northern French accent that was barely comprehensible in English or with my rusty French. He was very friendly, however, and was able to take me much closer to Paris, which was my next destination. He left me at a service stop near Amiens. I was picked up again almost immediately, by a middle-aged lady who lectured by on road safety and took me to Beauvais airport, where she said I should pick up the shuttle bus to Paris. It had been a long day so I agreed and took the inexpensive bus to the center of the city.
Paris can be expensive, but as a writer, I had arranged to stay at the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop for the next two nights. While there, I made several new friends and saw much of Paris that can be seen for free – the islands, the Seine, walking the gardens. I bought food at the markets and if I did go to a cafe, it was one that was well off the well-trodden tourist path. I could have couch surfed again here, but decided that the waterside location right by Notre Dame was too good to pass up.
After I had spent a few days in Paris, I decided to head towards Germany. I walked towards the outskirts of the city but had trouble finding a good spot for hitching, so I took public transport to Fontainebleau, where I was able to get a lift to Troyes with a couple and their young baby. Unfortunately, I was stuck near Troyes in the countryside near the edge of a small village when it began to get dark. Fortunately, there was a municipal campsite just a mile or so down the road and I had brought a basic tent for just such an eventuality. France, while not the most expensive of countries, is still fairly pricey for some things, but camping is not one of them. It was only a few Euros to pitch up for the night, and these handy campsites are in practically every small village in the country.
My travels throughout Europe continued in much the same vein. I went through Germany, hitchhiking and couch surfing with the occasional camping, and into the Austrian Tyrol. In Uttendorf I stayed with an elderly farmer and his wife, then in Salzburg and Linz with people of more my own age. In the Czech Republic, I drank way too much with two young Australians and in Prague, I could not get a lift for the life of me. I had many adventures and many misadventures throughout my travels, but I did not regret a moment. I have proven to myself that it was possible to travel by having recourse to the cheapest ways to Europe, with a ridiculously small budget, and still have the time of my life.