I am currently planning a one month backpacking trip with my good friend, Joanne. So, for those who have been asking me on how I go about doing it, I will take you along this journey from the beginning to the end of this trip. For this post, it will be the foundation of the trip whereby you will need to lay down your “when”, “where”, “what” and “how” of the structure of the trip. For Joanne’s sake, I will plan in detail for this trip and try to follow the laid down itinerary. If I travel alone, anything goes and I change the itinerary according to my whim and fancy! I will reveal how I get inspired to travel other than when my feet start to itch real bad.
1. SUBSCRIBE TO AIRLINES TO GET FIRSTHAND NOTICE OF CHEAP FARES
Isn’t it a great bonus if we could fly to our destinations at ridiculously cheap fares? How do you know when there are cheap fares available? In Malaysia, we have travel fairs whereby travallers are able to purchase air tickets and travel packages at special rates. This is one way whereby cheap fares can be found when you know where you are heading. As for me, I subscribed to a few airlines such as Eithad, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Tiger Air, Jetstar and the list goes on and on. When these airlines are having promotions, I will receive notifications via email or Facebook. So what sparked off this coming backpacking trip to Europe is CHEAP FARE. Vietnam Airlines is having cheap fares to many destinations and I thought it’s time I revisit Paris. The last time I visited Paris was 22 years ago and since the return airfare is only 420 Euros or 460 USD, I decided to undertake a backpacking trip in Europe. This was supposed to be my yearly solo backpacking trip but Joanne, a close friend, wants to try backpacking and requested to join me. At the time of writing this post (July 2015), the promotional fare by Vietnam Air is still running. I know some people do not like stopovers but I do not mind if the fare is low enough. Most airlines will go back to their hub before continuing on to other destinations.
2. DECIDE ON THE DURATION OF THE BACKPACKING TRIP
Before we booked the air tickets, Joanne and I needed to decide on the duration of the trip. My initial plan was to backpack solo for six weeks but Joanne could only be away for 1 month. So we booked our tickets departing Kuala Lumpur on 8 September with a stopover in Ho Chi Minh and returning from Paris on 9 October 2015. Once I made the flight bookings and paid for them, the trip is officially ON!!!! When you travel on promotional fares, only certain dates are available and the closer you get to your intended travel date, the more expensive the fare will get. I actually wanted to travel in August but I procrastinated and there were no longer any cheap fares during that month by the time I finally made my decision. There is a time limit to book promotional fares and the quicker you decide on the dates of travel, the higher will be your chance of securing the fares you want.
3. WHERE TO GO AND FOR HOW LONG?
There are so many places I have not visited just and yet again price will determine where I will go. Portugal and Iceland are the two countries which I really desire to visit. So with that in mind, I started to shape my itinerary. Joanne has never been to Paris and I think it will be a shame if she didn’t see the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum amongst others. I have never been to Versailles and therefore we decided to stay 3 nights and cover as many must-see attractions as we can. I use the trustworthy Skyscanner – my travel bible to hunt for cheap fares. If you have not used it before, go the Skyscanner.com and read the Guide to Skyscanner. After three full days of checking every possible flight connections which resulted in my eyeballs coming close to knocking each other, I finally made all the flight bookings. TIP: Using the above Skyscanner picture above, if you want to find where is the cheapest place to fly to from where you are, fill in “Everywhere”. Instead of exact date of departure, fill in Whole Month .. which is September 2015 in the above case. The red circle area will denote the fares to various countries beginning from the cheapest fare.
If you press Search, you will be able to get more details as to which airlines are giving the cheap fare. If you press “Switzerland”, it will show you the city which Swiss Air is flying to at RM48. By using this method, I was able to secure my fare from Porto, Portugal to Madrid Spain at 15 Euro!!
4, BOOK TICKETS WELL IN ADVANCE AND USE BUDGET AIRLINES – THEY MAY BE CHEAPER THAN TRAVELLING BY TRAINS!!
In Europe, there are many budget airlines and my favourite ones are Easyjet and Ryanair. There are many limitations when you travel with budget airlines. But if you know what you are up against and are prepared for it, then you will not be slapped with extra unexpected costs. Budget airlines normally use smaller airports which are located much further away from the city. Do check out how much you will have to pay for transportation to get to town. You will have to print out your boarding pass before you reach the airport or else you will be charged for it. Read carefully about the size and weight of the hand luggage. If you need to check in your luggage, it’s best to buy it online instead doing it at the airport as it will cost you much more. Poor Joanne! She has to learn to travel light and our maximum weight that we can carry is only 8 kg. She does not even own a backpack and has to buy one for this trip. She is now slowly coming to the realization of what she had unwittingly got herself into! With budget travel, the timing of the flights are normally not that great. It’s either leaving very early in the morning or arriving late at night. Using sleepinginairports.com as my guide, I will check whether the airports are safe to stay for the night. For instance, if my flight leaves at 6 am, I will take the last transport to the airport the night before. I reckon this way is safer than taking a taxi at 3 am alone and of course way cheaper. I will then find a place to crash out for the night.
Voyages-sncf.com is a recommended site for booking train tickets. If you are planning to go to Europe and want to travel by bus and train, buy the tickets well in advance. In 3 days, the train ticket from Paris to Nice went up three times and I had to make a snap decision to book without consulting Joanne. There are rail passes and bus passes which can be purchased but do make a calculation to check whether the amount is worth paying for the frequency of your travel. Seat61.com is a very good website for train travel not only for Europe but all over the world. It gives recommendations of reputable websites for booking train tickets. As for bus travel, Eurolines has the most extensive network covering 400 major European cities in 25 countries. Subscribe to Eurolines to get good deals and you definitely need to book way in advance. If you are very certain with your travel in Europe, you can cut down your transportation costs by booking months ahead. There are so many bus companies to choose from and you can make comparisons to get the best available price.
5. WHERE TO FIND ACCOMMODATION
I am currently checking on accommodations via several websites such as Agoda.com, Booking.com (my website is affiliated with these two), Hostelbookers.com, Hostelworld.com, Airbnb and Couchsurfing.com. Yeah… after so many years of travel, I am finally trying out couchsurfing. So far , it has been very encouraging. I have received two positive replies from 2 hosts i.e. from Paris and Geneva and really looking forward to this new experience. Do check out the reviews of the accommodation and more importantly the location. For me, I like my accommodation to be near the bus/train/Metro stations whereby it’s easy for me to travel about. Joanne is not too keen to stay in a mixed dormitory. Finally getting her to stay in a female dormitory is really a big sacrifice on her part and an equally big achievement on my part in convincing her to do that. Normally if I travel on my own during off-peak season, I do not book any accommodation in advance as it will give me the liberty to stay on longer at a place if I wish to. It is advisable to prebook accommodations during peak season though. I remember having to crash out in Helsinki Airport as I could not find a single place to stay during the August peak period.
6. PLACES OF ATTRACTION.
When all your flights and accommodations are booked, then it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of finding places of attraction to visit. I will spend hours poring over travel blogs, reviews and articles pertaining to the places I want to visit. There are so much information on the net but really, it’s entirely up to the individual’s personal interest, fitness level, financial budget, the willingness to go the extra mile, etc to visit attractions. At times, I even check out tour agents’ itineraries to see how they go about travelling from one place to another. At this very moment, I have yet to finalise the itinerary for each country. For both of us to enjoy the trip, I will do this together with Joanne so that when we travel, we will be on the same page on every place that we want to go to.
For the first time, when I travel this coming September, I will post my travel tales as I go along. This would mean carrying my laptop and taking lesser clothes. So, drop in my website to check out the places I will be visiting.