Tiff K’s In Depth Europe Travel Guide for the Filipino Budgeted Traveler Part One: Planning Ahead
This post is 2 years overdue but never say too late/never right? This is an (LOOONG) IN-DEPTH guide cut into various sections which I will update as I continue writing this.
I’m sure that 95% of you readers have included “TRAVEL TO UNKNOWN TERRITORY/GO AROUND THE WORLD” written in their bucket list. It can either be a Euro-trip, Asia-trip, Africa-trip, America-trip or whatever trip but I am sure it has to be somewhere in your list. I have been fortunate to have been able to go on a “Eurotrip” at 20 years old although I am not an expert and it can’t really be considered as a Eurotrip because I wasn’t technically alone and I was only there for 4 months. To be able to go on a Eurotrip, I believe that one must devote AT LEAST A MONTH OR TWO in a specific place. You can’t go all Amazing-Race in France or Spain or Germany because… you must EXPERIENCE the place.
What do I mean by experience? Don’t just snap away with your camera while wearing Hawaiian shirts. Pause and breathe the different atmosphere. Inhale the different smells. Talk to the locals and find out about the unconventional stories and places. Eat local cuisine no matter how it looks like. Party at a local club. Learn the language. Stay at a local family’s home or backpacker’s hostel (REMAIN VIGILANT! Don’t just go to ANY family or hostel, research! There are trustworthy hosts definitely in the area. You just have to find them). GET LOST. So a one day trip in France? NO WAY.
There are plenty of ways still to experience a whole different culture but before you take the reins and gallop into the hills of Austria, there’s one thing you need to ALWAYS remember.
You may reason with me that your great great great grandparents came to your-country-now with only 5 bucks and with no plans in mind, but going on a Eurotrip is different. Your mission isn’t to run away and become a refugee in another country but your mission is to experience a totally different culture. And with every mission, one must have a plan. And I am here to help you with that plan.
If you are a student and would like to go on an exchange program, it is best to read this guide prepared by my fellow exchange students. They cover schools, fashion, academic calendar and whatnot but I think if you’re just going there for travel or would want a more detailed travel guide, this would be the perfect guide for you.
STEP ONE: CHOOSING YOUR SLICE OF PIE
Unless you are Suri Cruise, you cannot have the whole pie of Europe. The travel time alone will eat away a good deal of your life and also your money and as this is a budgeted guide, so must we budget our appetite. Have you always dreamt of running down the hills in Austria as Maria did in Sound of Music? Have you always dreamt of drinking a cup of coffee in those cute little cafes in Paris? Have you always wanted to visit the Jewish Memorial or concentration camps in Germany because you somehow want to understand the Holocaust? Now is the time to fulfill that European dreams of yours but with discretion. Concentrate on what you really want to do or else you might become one of the many travelers (myself included) who will only remember their trip as a fleeting dream. We know that this trip will end, but it has to be more than fleeting and more than just a shadow in the future. It has to become a part of who you are. That is your goal right? So choose a slice and relish it with gusto because you will be needing to select a “home” country there and apply for a Schengen visa which will cover TWENTY SIX countries in Europe NOT INCLUDING GREAT BRITAIN, RUSSIA, IRELAND. You will need to apply for separate visas for these but always apply for the Schengen first. If you still have a valid US visa then good for you because the process and application especially for British visa is WAY WAY faster for those who have one.
I will not include an in-depth guide to Schengen visa for Filipinos as I have only experienced applying at the French embassy in the Pacific Star Building in Makati and it was for a 6-month Student visa and we had assistance from our schools. I can tell you though that the staff at the French embassy are quite… inhospitable and NOT friendly at all. Do not expect smiles from the people behind the counters (I think the interviewer is nicer though My interviewer was Anais and she was really accommodating. Just a warning, the dude who takes your photo is quite unpredictable and sports a grumpy look so ALWAYS BE READY TO SMILE because he won’t give you any warning at all and you might end up with a horrible visa picture (like me).
1. Signed application form for Schengen visa with photo (35mm x 45mm, white background) plus 1 extra photo
2. Valid passport (3 months validity from the end of approved duration stay) and photocopy of valid and former visas
3. Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip as well as dates and places to be visited
4. Details about the trip: proof of accommodations, round trip flight ticket booking (please do not purchase your ticket unless your visa is granted BUT I still purchased my ticket BEFORE visa was granted because buying a ticket 6 months before is cheaper. It’s up to you :D), complete itinerary with departure and return dates, proof of employment, proof of income (bank statement), photocopy of the first page of your valid passport and all relevant obtained visas, birth certificate and/or marriage certificate authenticated by NSO, for minors: notarized affidavit from one or both parents if they don’t travel with the child, an international insurance (medical expenses and repatriation) covering the entire period of the person’s intended stay and valid for all Schengen states. Minimum coverage should be EUR30,000
Prepare to shell out 60 EUROS or 35 EUROS if you’re bringing a kid with you (but… it’s weird to backpack with a kid… well maybe this isn’t the guide for moms XD). ON TO THE NEXT STEP!
STEP TWO: PLEASE TAKE A SEAT
Mode of transportation is important and for budget travelers like us, we spend almost everyday on airline websites looking for the perfect promotional airfare. Based from my experience, airfares FLUCTUATE EVERY HOUR. Trust me, if you’re a programmer and can make a bot to monitor each hour for the lowest fare, that would be best. There is no specific date or season on when an airline decides to go all out with their promo so luck is your best friend here. That and persistence. Set a price ceiling for your “lowest fare”. For example, for an airfare from Manila to France, you are willing to spend 880USD, no higher, and this becomes your price ceiling. If you do indeed get something within that range, my advice to you is BUY THAT FARE. Chances are they might lower the price but chances are they might increase the price too and when you set a price ceiling, you wouldn’t feel so hard on yourself if you suddenly see in the near future they dropped it to 800USD.
*insert completely inappropriate meme*
You may also try nifty sites like Cheapoair which compare the cheapest prices but isn’t entirely accurate. Sometimes you have to dig in to individual airline sites to get the cheapest fare. So remember, CONSTANT VIGILANCE! ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY! *This guide is not prepared for sea transportation/floo network/portkeys*
Once you step on an entirely different soil, you must not forget that traveling does not END THERE. Once you’re in Europe, you may want to know the easiest ways to hop from one country to another. Here is now where you can clap your hands/shout in glee!
Budget airlines within Europe? Can I just hear you ask ARE THERE BUDGET AIRLINES IN EUROPE??
YES THERE ARE!
If you think oohh Cebu Pacific’s 1 peso promos is to DIE FOR, wait until you get to RyanAir’s promo fares. We’re talking about traveling to another country right? Well I am happy to say that you can get from France to Spain for just 10 EUROS. NO WAIT MAKE THAT 5. And that’s around 300php! 300PHP!!
Sorry I got carried away. Okay let’s go back to professionalism and no nonsense guides. There are a lot of budget airlines out there in Europe but RyanAir and EasyJet are the most famous budget airlines out there (please correct me if I’m wrong). Be warned that with low price, comes low expectations. Do not expect to be treated like royalty here. Do not expect good customer service. Do not expect meals. Do not expect flights to be on time, do not expect… well just expect that you’ll get from Point A to Point B. I didn’t really have a good experience with RyanAir because our flight got cancelled because of the Spanish air controllers’ strike but do take note that most budget airlines land OUTSIDE THE MAIN CITY so you still have to account bus fares and/or taxi fares. EasyJet is better because they actually do fly to some of the main city centers and despite it being a bit more pricey, I’d definitely choose EasyJet. But seriously these prices are less than the ones we pay when going to Davao :/
I recommend Easyjet. Really cheap prices even with checked in baggage. Just book early.
Note that these prices do not include CHECKED IN BAGGAGE. DO NOT RIDE RYANAIR IF YOU HAVE CHECKED IN BAGGAGE as prices drastically increase with those. IT IS SO NOT WORTH IT. Budget allowances for Cabin Baggage in Ryanair is MAX 10kg with dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm while Easyjet has no maximum weight but it should be no bigger than 56 x 45 x 25cm. Note that you can only carry ONE ITEM so you can stuff a bag within a bag (BAGCEPTION?) or be resourceful like me, stuff your other things inside your coat, pants, shoes, IT DOESN’T MATTER as long as it’s with you.
Remember to always research about airports as they might not be situated within the city center. You may also need to be at the airport at say 5 am for a 7am flight but remember, the METRO (or more popularly known here as MRT or LRT) do not open at 5am. Know thy opening hours and closing hours because you may have to cozy inside and overnight at the airport. (Hey it’s free!) For some reason, even though I had a laptop cracked open after falling asleep inside the airport at Paris Orly, I… didn’t get mugged :/ NOBODY stole my things or laptops or my friends’ things. It was a miracle! I AM NOT TELLING YOU to just leave your laptop or anything lying around because that is absolutely CARELESS BEHAVIOR. Things can get rough in Europe but I will save that for my later post. Always be mindful of your things no matter where you go.
So now that we have our tickets ready, what do we do? Oh of course a place to stay…
BUT WAIT HOLD ON FOR JUST A SECOND
We still haven’t reached the best part of Europe that we don’t conveniently have here (but which WE SHOULD).
To Travel Eurail or Not to Travel Eurail… That is the question.
I have to cut this first part because it is getting quite long and talking about the Eurail Pass would require another thousand words or so and would need a separate post on its own. For those who want to know more about it already, check out seats61 again, my best friend before getting to Europe. If you want a more personal guide, stay tuned for PART TWO!
Remember that even though you have made a detailed plan, you have to always leave room for adjustments because ANYTHING can happen. ANYTHING. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous but you need to acquire all the legal requirements and research before we can get to the fun part. Don’t forget CONSTANT VIGILANCE. You have been informed *wink*