Budget Travel: Transportation

I believe that travel should be accessible to everyone and that money should not stand between someone and their dreams. Though this is too often the case, I did find many easy ways to save money while I was traveling. Last week I wrote about a couple of the accommodation resources I used to save money and shared my experiences with them. This week I want to continue by writing about ways that I saved money on transportation.

When you think of traveling of course you think of the flight, where you’ll be staying, what you’ll be eating, and all the rest, but it seemed that the most stressful part for me was figuring out transportation. Of course there are a dozen ways to get rides— ride sharing apps and public transportation such as trains, buses, and subway systems are wonderful resources.

I will discuss some of the transportation methods I used in my travels and provide some insight on what did and didn’t work for me as a budget traveler.

Popular Ride Sharing Apps: Uber, Lyft, My Taxi

Most people know about these apps already. Coming from a more rural area and already owning a car, I have not had much use for these apps in the past. An unfortunate side effect of this is that I forgot to download them before I left the United States. Since I didn’t have an international data plan for my phone, I was not able to receive the mandatory text message that would have allowed me to create an account. So though I did not use Uber or Lyft, my spot of advice for you is this: download the apps before you leave home! This may seem obvious to other people, but in the last minute rush of preparing for a trip, downloading Uber and Lyft were not that high on my to do list.

My Taxi does not exist where I come from, but some European countries use this as their primary “ride share” app. This was the case in Ireland, where I was told Uber and Lyft were practically non-existent. Really, it’s a taxi summoning app, so the prices are not usually as great as Uber or Lyft, but it still really comes in handy when you’re freezing your butt off on a street corner at 7:00 am in Dublin looking for a ride to the nearest ferry.

A Special Word for BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a ride sharing/ carpooling app that is a wonderful resource for people trying to save money on rides, as long as they have an open schedule in their travels. It works like this: Say I am planning on driving from Paris to Lyon next Saturday and want to make a little extra money and provide a service. I list my car and trip— including time of departure and possible stops along the way— and set a price per seat available in my car. Once I’ve done this, people who need to travel from Paris to Lyon can check the app to see if anyone is also going that way. If so, they can request a seat in my car, pay through the app, and there you go! Most rides that I saw on the app were about 20 to 30 euros, depending on distance and the host.

Though as was the case with Couch Surfing, I ended up not personally using the app for a ride myself, but it was always one of the first places I checked to scope out potential savings on my transportation.


There are multiple long-haul bus services in Europe, but I found myself most comfortable (and saving the most money) with Flixbus. This is a great option for both long and short distance travel, as it is super affordable and the buses usually seemed to be punctual. My overnight ticket from Genoa, Italy to Friedrichshafen, Germany was about 45 euros. To put this into perspective, the train tickets that I looked at— which granted were much quicker, though did have a good deal of train hopping involved— were about 180 euros! So obviously my wallet and I agreed that Flixbus would be the way to go.

Now I am not going to make it sound like this was a perfect experience. Most of the long distance trips happen overnight and transfers are often involved. This meant that I spent a chilly hour and a half in Zurich, Switzerland at 2:00 am on a little bus bench in the near dark, desperately hoping my life didn’t turn into a horror movie. I had a similar experience on my way to France, when I found myself on another overnight bus ride (with Flixbus) and once more found myself in Zurich at a time a bit too long before sunrise. So I have been to Zurich twice, and have yet to see it in the light of day.

That being said, if you are someone who can sleep on a bus (unlike me), and don’t mind the early morning hours, Flixbus is great. Honestly, though it was sort of miserable for me at the time, I didn’t regret those long-haul overnight trips because I always arrived in a new location with the dawn or early morning light and was always too excited about the next adventure to be too tired or dwell on my less than perfect bus ride.

Hop-On Hop-Off

This is a popular tourist bus service that you can find in most cities and tourist destinations. At first I was a little skeptical. They never seemed like the best way to see a place and really experience the best of what there was to offer. When I went to Barcelona, it was my first time exploring a big city alone. I did a lot of walking and riding the underground, but some places that I really wanted to see— museums, parks, and the like— were a little too afar for me to feel comfortable making my way there alone in a city where I didn’t speak the language or have a deep understanding of the culture.

So I caved an bought a two-day pass. There are two circuits around Barcelona, meaning I could see one end of the city one day and the other side of the city on the next day. When you buy a ticket you must print it, they won’t let you show your confirmation on your phone. If you don’t have a printer you need to make your way over to their office (near the city center in the case of Barcelona) to have it printed before you can get on the bus. This can be a serious hassle, but at least now I (and you) know!

When you get on the bus you will be given a receipt that you must keep on you (it needs to be shown every time you get on the bus) and a pair of headphones. Every set of seats has a headphone jack that allows you to tune in to the radio system that provides you with an audio tour of the city as you are driven around. (The greatest part of this feature was that it was available in about a dozen languages!) Most buses had a top open-air deck, where you could have a panoramic view of your surroundings. I felt very much like a tourist, but it was still fun.
The great thing about the Hop-On Hop-Off bus was that you could be picked up and dropped off at any of the predetermined locations— as listed on the maps that they give you. A new bus would swing around every twenty to thirty minutes, so you never had to wait long in one place if you didn’t want to. It was great to know that I had a way to get back to where I started as long as I planned things right and was aware of my time.

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus was a great supplemental service for my time in Barcelona. The two day pass cost me about 40 euro, but for two full days of travel around the city without the worry of finding metro stations or catching rides, it was worth the price and I considered it a deal. If it had been my only method of exploration, I would have missed so much, but as part of a greater adventure, it was wonderful for helping me see the city, gain insight into its history and culture, and get from place to place safely, quickly, and rather affordably.

Trains: Trainline and Trainline EU

Trains are my favorite mode of transportation. They are (usually) fast, clean, safe, and comfortable. If I could take a train everywhere I go, I would. There are many train services. Each European county has its own sort of train system of course, and many of them have apps that you can download to purchase tickets (like OUI.sncf in France), but this can be difficult to keep track of if you are visiting multiple countries.

The two services that I used most often for booking train tickets were Trainline and Trainline EU. Trainline is primarily used for trains within the United Kingdom, and Trainline EU is for most of the countries within continental Europe. I found these sites to have the most affordable options, and I always managed to find a train that was going where I was headed.

Though I adore trains, they do tend to be much more expensive than other transportation methods, and the variation in services between countries can be exhausting to deal with at times. There are passes for extended stays that can make this a bit easier, which will allow you to buy the single ticket and use it as many times as you want within a certain time period, but these are often extremely expensive and some of them need to be purchased while you are in your home country and cannot be purchased while you are already abroad. So if you have some extra money, want a super open travel schedule, and don’t want to deal with booking tickets as you go, train passes are a valid option.

If I could have taken the train everywhere I went, it would have been ideal, but as a budget traveler that is often not the case.

A Word on Underground Services

The two underground systems that I used were in England and in Barcelona. This is probably the best public transport method available in most cities. I have noticed that it takes some leaning though. I found myself lost and confused a multitude of times, and ironically, the attendants in England did not seem to be much more helpful to me than the ones in Spain (and the latter and I didn’t always speak the same language). If you plan to use the underground for an extended period of time, I suggest purchasing passes (there are various types based on zones and lengths of your stay) and always trying to arrive early, just in case you find yourself a bit lost (like me).

These were just a few of the transportation methods I used while abroad. Most of my motivation for using these particular services was the ability to save money so that I could travel longer. There are many other resources that I may explore more on another adventure or in another blog post, but for now, there it is!

If you have any suggestions for other affordable modes of transportation, let me know in the comments!

(Image is from the morning that I arrived in Friedrichshafen after a long 11 hour Flixbus ride and watched the morning break over Lake Constance with somebody special)

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Budget Travel: Accommodation

I am a budget traveler.

I have never had much money to spend, and once I caught the travel bug (after being a part of a short study abroad program in Ireland which was thankfully funded by my university), I realized how tight my daily budget really was. Coming from Hawaii, everything is expensive— rent, food, gas— everything. Saving enough money to do something “luxurious” like traveling is a test of will, income, and faith. There were many days when I had to weigh my dreams of traveling again against what I was going to eat that day, or for the rest of the week really.

That being said, I did manage— over the course of a year and a half— to save enough money to travel with. But even after all that time of saving money, I still didn’t have enough for a week at a resort or eating out at five star restaurants, and I wanted to make my time abroad last.

I am a traveler that travels to experience new cultures, languages, foods, and ways of life— not to feel pampered or as if I am on vacation the entire time. Travel is a source of learning and growth for me, not just relaxation (though obviously I enjoy some of that too). So in the months leading up to my departure I did a lot of research on how to save money primarily on accommodation and transportation, and how to keep myself out of the tourist mill as much as possible.

In this week’s post I will focus on accommodation services. Though my research turned up many resources, I will write about the ones that I used myself or felt would have been the most helpful while I was traveling.

Work Away

This was my favorite accommodation resource, and I used it for my time in both Italy and Spain. This website links volunteers with those who need volunteer work, most often in return for a place to sleep and usually some meals. Other times volunteers will be given a small stipend and a place to stay in place of meals, or some other variant of give and take.

When you create a profile through Work Away you will be able to view and contact the profile pages of the hosts that you may be interested in. Every host page includes a rating (as left by volunteers who have stayed with them), a section for comments or reviews, and of course, an outline of who the host is, where they are, what their availability is, what services they are looking for, and what qualities they may be seeking in a volunteer. Once you find a host you are interested in staying with, you can contact them through the site and hope that they respond!

A great way to enhance your chances of getting a reply is to spend time and effort on making your volunteer page (your profile) as accurate and interesting as possible. For example, I highlighted my love for the English language and my tutoring experience on my profile and in the course of a couple of months I received about a dozen requests to teach English to children from across Europe.

Work Away is a wonderful resource if you like to volunteer or give back to the communities that you visit in your travels, and if you like the idea of spending time with “local” people as opposed to tourism industry workers and other tourists. Hosts can be found in essentially every country around the world, and you can find volunteer work for virtually any interest— teaching English to children, restoring old buildings, working in gardens, work at bed and breakfasts, hostels, and hotels, animal care, house sitting, and many others.

Just so you know…

I must stress that every host is different. Hosts decide as individuals if they would like to host you or not, and an agreement on the time and length of your stay, your transportation, and other variables must be discussed directly with them. If you have issues, the Work Away staff is there to lend a hand, but they cannot force a host to accept you or change a host’s mind on what is required by a volunteer, etc.

There is also the matter that this service is not free. As someone who is not a member, you can view host profiles but you cannot directly contact the hosts without paying the fee of about 35 euro per year. I am not usually one to pay for these sorts of things, but in a lonely and worried moment in a hostel in Bath, I decided to take the plunge and I am so happy that I did!

My Experience

I spent five weeks in Bracco, Italy helping run a bed and breakfast that overlooked the little town of Moneglia and the sea. My host cooked three delicious traditional Italian meals per day, and some of my best memories were of helping cut vegetables and speaking our broken English and Italian back and forth. He took me and the other volunteers to nearby cities and I saw more of the beach during my time in Italy than I had seen in two years back home in Hawaii. I got to greet guests from all over the world (one of my favorite things was trying to figure out which language I would be hearing in response to my Ciao!), and made some very dear friends during my time there. I spent the mornings cleaning, doing laundry, and singing to myself and the afternoons lounging in the sun on the beach or reading a book in a corner of the garden shaded by grape vines. I cried when I left because my time there and the people I met became a part of my heart.

I also used Work Away for my time in Barcelona, Spain. For two weeks I spent weeknights helping teach young people Spanish, and spent the days and weekends exploring the magnificent city of Barcelona. My host was enormously kind, provided me meals, and took me on multiple tours of Barcelona in her free time. It was my first time alone in a big foreign city and I could not have felt more safe or at home knowing there was someone I could turn to if I really needed it. This peace of mind alone was worth my membership fee, and all of the experiences, people I met, and great times that I had were priceless.

Couch Surfing

I must begin by saying that I did not actively use this resource during my travels as I ended up solidifying plans through Work Away and by staying with friends, but I spent a good deal of time on the site during my travels and I asked multiple people that I met while traveling about their experiences with it— all of which seemed positive.

Couch Surfing is wonderful because first of all, it’s free.

You can make an account and create a profile where you can share a bit about yourself, your interests, and your travels. You can even add what countries you plan on visiting and when. Your account will also have an area for references, where people who have hosted you (and people that you have hosted) can leave a review about the experience, or where a friend who knows you can leave a personal reference (this really helps for people who are new to the platform as hosts are more likely to host those who have reviews).

There are hosts for Couch Surfing all over the world, and one of the great things about this resource is that nothing is expected of you (if a host decides to have you) other than showing up and leaving when you agreed, being respectful, and maybe bringing a little gift of appreciation (this last part is not required or even directly suggested, but it seems like a good rule, doesn’t it?). Most Couch Surfing hosts are on the site to enjoy cultural exchange opportunities. So for example, if you plan on staying with someone in Paris and you come from Seoul, maybe bring some popular candies or a post card from home, or use your cooking skills to cook them a “traditional” meal or share your language with them. This is part of what makes Couch Surfing such a fun community.

Just so you know…

Though Couch Surfing does have a sort of support team, it is a little less secure than other resources may be. What I’m saying is that it pays to be smart and selective when offering to host someone or when you are traveling and are looking for a place to stay. This is when references and profiles come in handy. Of course, there may be some great people out there who haven’t managed to rack up any shining reviews yet, but all I’m saying is be careful and be smart, as you always should when traveling.

My “Experience”

Though I did not directly have an experience with Couch Surfing, a dear friend of mine who I met in Italy told me that she has been both a host and a guest, and both experiences went very well for her. My Work Away host in Spain also uses Couch Surfing, and has hosted dozens of people from all across the globe (she even has a map in the spare bedroom where every guest can add a pin to identify where they come from). She is a leader of the Barcelona Couch Surfing forum— the group that listens to people’s concerns and issues as they may crop up— and after seeing her dedication to it, I had a lot more hope in the safety and kindheartedness of the Couch Surfing community as a whole.

I was thankfully able to receive a personal reference for my Couch Surfing profile from each of these wonderful ladies, and I created one for each of them. So hopefully next time I find myself traveling, Couch Surfing will be a useful resource for me.

These are the two accommodation resources that I found to be the most useful or prevalent for me in my travels. As I stated previously, there are other resources out there, which I will more than likely write about in the weeks to come, but these two provide people across the world with opportunities to travel affordably and also help form a community around travelers.

Next week I will post about the most budget-friendly transportation services that I found and what my experiences with them was like.

If you have any other suggestion for resources drop them in the comments!

(Image is of one of my favorite places in the world— the living room and kitchen area of the Bed and Breakfast called Bella Vita, in Bracco, Italy— where I had many delicious meals, conversations, and quiet cups of tea.)

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