The happy hippie inside me was stoked about my plans for the holidays. I had crafted an incredibly ambitious travel plan for the busiest time of the year. Over Christmas, I flew from Madrid to Malta; then hopped on a flight to Cyprus. I bussed around the Baltics, ending up in Riga; from there, I ended up in Warsaw and Berlin.
The best part of this trip? I did it all on a budget. Here are some tips for travelling super cheap, while still being environmentally conscious—and of course, leaving room for some shenanigans along the way:
Find cheap transportation
On the 22nd of December, I found myself gasping at the brilliance of the Asturian landscape as I made my way to Madrid in a Blablacar. They're often cheaper and faster than buses and trains, especially in Spain, where everyone seems to be providing rides due to expensive fuel prices.
When I arrived in Berlin, I stayed with a friend I had met when I lived in a student dormitory in Berlin in 2018. If you can find cheap or free stays, take them. Just make sure you are courteous and grateful in return. Homemade treats always make a great thank-you: I made chocolate chip cookies for my friend and his parents before I left Berlin.
If you can find cheap or free stays, take them— just make sure you are courteous and grateful in return. Homemade treats make a great thank-you.
Couchsurfing or hostels? Find what works for you
Couchsurfing is a great option, but make sure you find hosts you can vibe with. Otherwise, it may get awkward or uncomfortable. A lot of hosts on Couchsurfing want to hang out, so unless you are okay with this, look for hostels. I usually opt for hostels since I don't want to be obligated to spend time with someone, especially when I'm in a place for a short duration and just want to do my own thing.
Fly with Skyscanner
From Madrid, I flew to Malta. From there, I flew to Paphos, Cyprus. I had been planning this trip for a while, so I made sure to frequently check Skyscanner. Most of the flights I booked were with Ryanair. With budget airlines, check their baggage requirements to make sure you don't have to pay up at the airport—the fines for extra baggage tend to be huge. Even though I spent about thirty euros on a new bag for this trip, in the long run it saved me a lot of money I would otherwise have to spend on airline fines.
Also, make sure to check in online and save your boarding pass on Adobe PDF reader. Saving the boarding pass as a photo on your phone runs the risk of the barcode not scanning at the airport.
I must admit that I did feel guilty for taking flights. Climate change is real and we all must do our bit to make sure we save this planet for future generations. So, I limited myself to four flights on this trip. In the months to come, I will try to reduce this further. The only way I eased my heart was telling myself that I had not flown a lot earlier in the year. I also looked for flights that expend less CO₂.
Book in advance
I used Hostelworld to book hostels well in advance. When travelling on a budget, organization is your friend. Try staying close to the city centre in order to avoid further transport costs. From Cyprus, I flew to Kaunas, Lithuania. I used public transport and checked schedules to make sure I wouldn't have to take expensive cab rides back from museums, clubs or pubs.
Also, be sure to research local apps, which can end up saving you a ton of money. Download them as soon you get on hostel wifi. For example, the ride-sharing app Bolt in Lithuania really saved me money while travelling at night.
Since I was a vegetarian during the trip (I have been vegan since January 1st), I did not have as many options when going out for food. Unless you are a proper foodie, I suggest you utilize the kitchen facilities in hostels to eat cheap and healthy food. Plus, cooking acts as a bonding activity. In a hostel in Riga, I cooked Indian food for the woman who ran the hostel because I was feeling a bit low, and Indian food is great comfort food.
Be mindful when drinking
While out at bars, don't be an idiot. Don't drink if you're not in the mood—if you feel like having a drink, go for it, but don't order overpriced cocktails just because everyone around you is doing it. I have noticed a lot of people go all in on the alcohol just because it's there. I've been guilty of this in the past, and my habit of enjoying fine beverages—from coffee to wine—has definitely put a dent in my budget.
On the other hand, don't be a miser either. If you're going out with a bunch of people and everyone is buying each other drinks, don't quietly sip the alcohol while never once offering to pay. Manners are manners. Be respectful of other peoples' money, and if you feel like you are freeloading, offer to buy a round.
Consider a night bus
I travelled all around the Baltics on buses and trains. I went from Riga to Warsaw on a 14-hour bus ride. Apps like Omio definitely help you compare prices. Also, sleeping on a bus overnight saves money that would otherwise be spent on accommodation.
Side note: if you are only in a city for a couple hours, you can often call up local hostels and ask to keep the luggage in their locker room for a small amount of money. Since most hostels are in the city centre, this leaves you with the freedom to explore without baggage. I did this in Vilnius. And, lucky for me, a guy I knew from Kaunas, Lithuania was in Vilnius, and I went to meet him to give him back the shirt he'd forgotten in the Kaunas hostel. In the process, I met with the hostel management, and they were kind enough to let me keep my luggage at the hostel for free. Moral of the story: be a decent human being and exchange contact info with likeable people. You never know when it will come in handy.
The best travel tip of all? Be a good person
One of the best parts of travelling is making friends all over the world. The more you make personal connections on your journeys, the more likely you are to have a place to stay, or a great local tour guide, when you visit the next time. Be respectful, considerate, and watch the magic of life unfold.Add this article to your reading list