Summer seems like such a long time ago, and with exams looming over us, life can seem really stressful. I often find that the best way for me to relax and have fun is going on holiday and getting away from it all. It might sound like an expensive option, but if you’re organised and in-the-know, a city break can be surprisingly cheap.
Holidays are often cheapest around February, when people are typically still recovering from Christmas, and the awful weather deters them from travelling. However, this is the perfect time for students, as exams are over, making it the perfect treat for all of that hard work. Personally, I love snow and winter, and so I think February is a great time for exploring European cities when there aren’t too many other tourists.
Cheap airlines such as Ryanair and Easy Jet often have deals advertised on their site for flights; but even without these deals, they are normally cheaper than most other airlines. However, bear in mind that Ryanair in particular have hidden charges that don’t arise until the booking stage. When looking at the flight, you’ve got the actual flight price, taxes and the European levy. However, when you click through further, they try to charge you for travel insurance, luggage (you get 10kg free onboard the flight which must fit into only one bag, otherwise you have to pay); and unless you use a debit card, you have to pay extra. However, don’t let these minor setbacks deter you in booking a mini adventure.
You now need to consider whereabouts you want to travel to, and the options are vast! If you’re looking for somewhere cheap, then the obvious choice is Eastern Europe. Prices are low over there, from a combination of the population’s lower wages, and the fact that many countries are relatively undiscovered, with not as many Westerners travelling there.
The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are really interesting countries to visit; especially with their dark history of being part of the former USSR. Having been to two of these countries, I would say my personal favourite is Estonia; but they are all so beautiful to visit. Between them, Ryanair and Easy Jet have these locations covered; but my advice would be to go to the capital cities (Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius respectively) because as relatively small countries, they don’t really have any other major cities like we do. You’ll find that money travels a long way here, despite the fact that Estonia use the Euro; and contrary to some people’s beliefs that Eastern Europe can be dangerous, don’t worry, these countries are perfectly safe! The only piece of advice I do have is DO NOT speak Russian: the Baltic’s are quite resentful towards Russia due to their previous history; and although you may think you’re being helpful by speaking Russian, they find that quite insulting.
If you want a taste of Eastern Europe but don’t want to be quite so close to Russia, then countries such as Poland can be a good choice. In fact, Poland and the Czech Republic are very popular places to visit, and are still really cheap once there. If you’d prefer to be in a country where there are other foreigners, then these two are good options. However, having been to Slovakia last February, I’d recommend going there. Situated to the south of the Czech Republic and to the east of Austria, Slovakia can often be a forgotten country, but its capital Bratislava is beautiful, and is only an hour’s train ride from Vienna. Prices are ridiculously cheap here (a three course meal with a drink is approximately €10 per person; and the most expensive bar – Sky Bar – had cocktails for just €6). However, the lack of tourists milling around the streets can result in varying behaviour from the locals: we found that people either loved the fact we were British and wanted to practice their English on us; or ignored us completely and refused to serve us. However, don’t let that put you off, as it’s an amazing place!
If you’d rather go to a more ‘normal’ (as my friends like to keep telling me!) country (or somewhere a little less off the beaten track) but want to do so on a budget, it’s probably best staying away from the capital and visiting a regional city instead. If you fancy Germany, why not head to Munich or Frankfurt; or try Antwerp instead of Brussels in Belgium.
Finally, my favourite place in all of Europe is most definitely Scandinavia, which admittedly, is not the cheapest of places (in fact, Oslo was recently voted the most expensive city in Europe, and the third most in the world!). However, by visiting regional cities instead of capitals can cut the cost right down… Bergen has beautiful fjords that can be visited; Gothenburg in Sweden has amazing shopping and nightlife; and Aarhus in Denmark is equally worth a visit. Ultimately, I think that if you want to go on holiday, and the country you really want to go to is slightly more expensive than somewhere else, you should just pay the extra as it’ll be worth it.