“Travel the world while you’re still young.”
That has been my motto all these years. That’s why five years ago, I decided to quit my day job and started travelling the world. But how could you travel the world without enough funds, you ask?
I say, it’s all about being creative and resourceful. I have embarked on countless journeys and most of them on a budget. To give you some tips, I am sharing with you my two-week trip to Iceland, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Spain for less than €500.
First leg: Reykjavik, Iceland (April 11-14)
Santiago de Compostela (Spain) to Paris (France) via Vueling Airlines: €39,99 Paris to Reykjavik via WOW Air: €80,00 Accommodation (Welcome Apartments):
€20 x 3 nights = €60 Total expenses: €179,99
Reykjavik is one of the best European cities I have ever been to. The city is so tiny, you could probably see the whole of it in one day. But just seeing it is different from exploring it so here are some of my recommendations.
Wander around the trendy city of Reykjavik. Start your day by having a nice breakfast in one of the local restaurants or better yet, prepare your own breakfast back at your apartment before heading out. Walk around the city and get to know how Icelanders live their everyday lives. Visit the largest church in the city called Hallgrimskirkja for an spectacular 360 degrees view of the city. You can also go to the pond to see the City Hall, the famous lake Tjörnin, the conference and concert hall called Harpa located near the port, the Viking Maritime Museum, among others. On your way back to your apartment, don’t forget to drop by the Viewpoint for a picturesque view of the snowcapped mountains.
A great gastronomic experience awaits you. Rotten shark meat maybe awfully pungent but it’s all worth a try.
I ate one for free at the flea market near the harbor area. You can also try the smoked sheep’s head, sheep’s blood soup, or the puffin bird meat. But of course, there are other less exotic dishes on the menu. When in Reykjavik, do as the Icelanders do. In the end, we all want to say, “Been there, done that!”
See the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. Anytime between September and April is the perfect time to be awed with this amazing natural phenomenon. The changing colors of pink-violet to blue-purple to green are a sight to behold. Never leave Iceland without capturing this beautiful memory.
Do the Golden Circle Tour. Although relatively expensive, it is worth every single penny. The trip brings you to the outskirts of Reykjavik to see Thingvellir National Park which boasts a dramatic landscape of cracks and fissures alongside the largest lake in Iceland. It is followed by a trip to Geysir which is simply divine. The sheer power of water and stream erupting from the ground due to the build up of extreme heat is truly awesome and really makes you feel how the ground beneath us is really alive. Lastly, you go on an unforgettable visit to the Gullfoss, one of the country’s most popular waterfalls.
Visit the Blue Lagoon. For some extra euros, arrange a day trip with your airport shuttle to this famous tourist spot. You can either walk around the lagoon taking great photos while nursing a warm cup of coffee or soaking yourself in the warm waters of the lagoon. Just a note though: Be ready to use lots of conditioner for a couple of days as the minerals in the lagoon make your hair super stiff thereafter.
Second leg: Paris, France (April 14-16)
Reykjavik to Paris via WOW Air: €80,00 Accommodation through Airbnb: €20 x 2 nights = €40,00 Total expenses: €120,00
I’ve been to Paris six times already. It’s not one of my favourite cities but each time I go there, I still find lots of things to see and do in this romantic City of Lights. My last trip to Paris lasted for two days only. The first day, I went around the city to tour a friend. On the second day, we visited the Palace of Versailles which is just an hour’s train ride outside Paris.
What can you do in Paris for a day? The best way to explore Paris if you are pressed for time is to begin your walk at Cite to see the Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was held prisoner. From here, you can cross Pont Neuf up to the northern side of the Seine. From there, the Louvre is only a short walk away. Then, visit the Jardin des Tuileries and Place de Concorde. From here, you can go directly up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and cross Pont Alexander 3 which is by Grand Palais and Petit Palais to see the Hotel des Invalides and the Musee de L’Armee. Walk past the Musee Rodin and straight to the Eiffel Tower. Whew! You can easily do this in around three to four hours.
In the evening, if you’re still up for a stretch, you can first visit the Center Pompidou and sit down for a crepe break. Then, take the metro to Montmartre (Abbesses line 12) and walk around the area a bit. Hike up the Sacre Coeur Cathedral on top of the hill to see the stunning view of the city at night. Go downhill directly to the Pigalle area where Moulin Rouge is.
Third leg: Luxembourg (April 16-18)
Paris – Luxembourg via car-sharing: €20 Accommodation through Airbnb: €20 x 2 nights = €40 Total expenses: €60,00
Luxembourg may be just a small country on the boarder of France and Germany but it is very unique and charming in its own way. A railway network provides easy access from all three adjacent countries such as France, Belgium and Germany. Mind you, this country is one of the most expensive in Europe. Suffice to say, there isn’t much choices when it comes to accommodation or lodging. Hotels are expensive, and hostels are a trickle that the only way to enjoy this destination on a budget is to stay at one of Airbnb’s accommodations.
Things to do around the city vary depending on your taste. If you fancy a more relaxing afternoon, walk around the Old Town. You can pretty much do it in an hour or so. Wine or dine al fresco at the Place d’Armes, the main square. Hang around the main square where there is a cornucopia of international restaurants, bars and designer shops like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Longchamp Paris, and a lot more.
From here, you can go straight to Place Guillaume II (also called Knuedler) and take a look around the market especially onweekends. See the changing of the guards at the Palais Grand Ducal nearby. Walk down South the narrow street to Place du St. Esprit to take the lift down to the Grund near the river Alzette. This is a fantastic way to spend your afternoon as there are lots of bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from.
Be captivated by the mere sight of the Chateau de Vianden just like it captured Victor Hugo. Perched on a rocky hill over Vianden’s town, the chateau is one of the largest and most beautiful feudal residences of the Romanesque and Gothic periods in Europe.
Witness one of Luxembourg’s most festive time of the year by visiting this country on June 23 to celebrate the monarch’s birthday along with thousands of tourists. It is around this time that the days are longer and the celebrations don’t stop until after the fireworks have gone at nightfall.
Fourth leg: Strasbourg, France (April 18-20)
Luxembourg – Strasbourg via car-sharing: €10 Accommodation through Airbnb: €20 x 2 nights = €40,00 Total expenses: €50,00
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in Eastern France. It is also the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border of Germany, Alsace’s architecture is influenced by both the Germans and the French.
I simply love Strasbourg, and let me tell you why. First, accommodation is generally cheaper than any other cities in France and Airbnb has lots of them around the province of Alsace. Rents range from €20 to €30 per night. Second, French people on this side of France are friendlier. Third, you can spend the whole day just walking around the city and feasting on the best things the city could offer.
What to do in one or two days? When the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg (Notre Dame) was built in 1874, it became the world’s tallest building. Now, it is 6th in the world. This was followed by Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the city. You can start your city walk from here. The whole city is just sprawling with buildings and houses with such a unique architecture only found in Alsace. Beside the cathedral is the scene-stealing Maison Kammerzell. Built in 1427, the structure’s German Renaissance and late Gothic styles are hard to miss. It has an excellent restaurant on the 1st and 2nd floors.
Not far from the cathedral is the large square called Place Gutenberg, which is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. It has lots of excellent cafés and restaurants. The Chamber of Commerce building occupies one side of the square and is easily recognizable with its Renaissance style combined with a sloping roof that is typical of Alsace, where the winter snow is a way of life. Another attraction is the flea market that is often set up around the statue at the centre of the square.
Petite France is not far from the cathedral. It is an area on the Grand Ile called the “Venice of the North” because of its narrow streets and canals. It is a delightful place to visit, taking you back to Medieval Strasbourg. Around this area, you will be amazed of the well-preserved half-timbered houses that served as homes of fishermen, millers, and tanners in the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, a hospice was built on the island for small pox victims and later, for French soldiers suffering from syphilis – which the Germans called the “French disease” –to stop the local girls from sleeping with the soldiers. Just to the west of the area, you can visit the Barrage Vauban, a weir that crosses the River Ile. The weir was built in 1686 by Jacques Tarade. It has 2-storeys with wonderful sculptures on the main level.
Strasbourg to Basel via car-sharing: €9 Accommodation through Airbnb: €18 x 2 nights = €36,00 Total expenses: €45
Switzerland is perhaps one of the most expensive countries in the world. But it shouldn’t stop anyone from spending a marvelous time in the fascinating culture cities of Basel and Zurich located on the banks of the Rhine river.
First off, grab a map from the nearest Tourism Office. Start your day at the Marktplatz, a famous square dominated by the Rathaus (City Hall), the seat of the Government of the Canton of Basel City. The market square that is just right in front of it is a cornucopia of local produce, flowers and homemade breads and delectable desserts. It is perhaps the best way to enjoy breakfast. You may want to purchas a slice of bread or a piece of warm bun as you walk through the various stalls. From here, you are now ready to stroll the Old Town where churches and government buildings are just as impressive. A visit to the Basel’s Münster, a Gothic cathedral that was built in the 11th century is a must.
By dusk, the city brims with a lot of things to do. There are numerous restaurants serving most common types of ethnic cuisines but there are also that serve traditional Swiss dishes. Eating out in Basel is very expensive so take your time to go around and check their menus and the prices as well. Waitstaff in general do not expect tips for the great service they provide you. There are also a variety of dance clubs and clubbing options but a lot of people go to Zurich
for a much better option. You may check out the Basel Symphony and Basel Chamber orchestras for a change.
The day after, you can head down to Zürich by train. In my case, I took a carpool service by Blablacar.com for only €5 and the same back to Basel in the afternoon.
Zürich’s Old City or commonly called Zürich Altstadt lies between Limmat River and the train station. The city was originally surrounded by walls, which you can still see up to this day.
You may start your stroll from the train station heading south to complete that traditional walking tour indicated on the map, which of course you can get from the Tourism Office located inside the station. Bahnhofstrasse is Zürich’s premier shopping street. They say that rental rates here are among the most expensive in the world. As you walk south, you will reach Rennweg. Walk on until you reach a pedestrian- friendly cobblestoned street. You can head left on Strehlstrasse and then to Lindenstrasse where a quaint park overlooking the Limmat River awaits you. It is the site of the former Roman fort.
Continue on to Schlüsselgasse and to Thermengase until you reach the excavation site of a former Roman bath. Then head towards the Münsterhof, which name had been derived from the existing Fraumünster and the former convent located here. The Fraumünsteris famous for its five stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. After leaving this site, head across the Cloister Bridge to the East bank of the Limmat River. On the right is the Helmhaus, a church with an exhibition centre.
Sixth leg: Barcelona, Spain (April 22-24)
Basel to Barcelona via Easyjet: €25 Accommodation through Airbnb: €10 x 2 nights = €20,00 Total expenses: €45
Barcelona is one of the most exciting cities of Spain. It has no limits but your calendar does. So it depends on how much time you can spend to get to know this amazingly diverse city.
On the first day, it is a good idea to start your adventure visiting the Sagrada Familia where you’ll discover the rich symbolic masterpiece of Gaudi. Farther up, at the Park Güell, you will find the key to the Gaudecture (that’s how I call the interplay between nature and architecture). At around noontime, the neighbourhood of Gracia is a great option. A wide array of shops, restaurants serving world cuisine and design and art shops dot the area.
In the afternoon, you can resume walking again from the not-so-distant Passeig de Gracia where you will find the heritage district, the Quadrat d’Or. Here you can visit Gaudi’s Pedrera and Casa Batllo and otherlandmarks such as Domenech I Montaner and Puig. Head down Plaza Catalunya and stroll your way
down to the Mirador de Colon passing by La Rambla and La Boqueria Market. Go back up a little bit to Liceu Metro station and head northeast to visit some of Barcelona’s churches and museums. You will be passing by the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi then moving on to Barcelona Cathedral. Walking along, you will encounter Jaume I where you will find the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar as well as the Picasso Museum and the Chocolate Museum farther on. There is too much to see and do in this area so I suggest you spend an ample time exploring the nooks and crannies of this city.
So there you go folks. Two weeks in five amazing European countries. Always remember that in every destination, good and bad things await so always pay attention to your flight schedules, personal belongings and of course make sure you’ve got plenty of courage to always ask questions.
First, instead of staying in hotels, I stayed in privately owned properties. Airbnb provides such accommodations at a hostel price but with a homey environment.
Second, I avoided the stressful bus and train rides and utilized planes and car-sharing instead (check out Blablacar.com).
Third, when booking a flight, do it on the wee hours and most especially on Tuesdays when airline reservation systems are flooded with cancelled bookings of the previous week thus offering flight rates at the lowest. Pay special attention to airline companies such as Easyjet, Vueling, Ryanair, Wizzair and Wowair.
Before travelling, research well about your destination: What should you see and do. Check the weather forecast so you can plan your wardrobe. Take note, you are going to some of the world’s most expensive cities so dress stylishly. Being stylish doesn’t necessarily mean bringing your whole closet with you. Travel light.
This article was published in the Travel Issue of The Filipino Expat with the original title The Traveler’s Guide to Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams on a Budget.
Also known as Facebook’s Pinoy Backpacker in Europe, Ken Subillaga is a photographer, a teacher, a baker, and a writer. Ken decided to quit his job in 2009 and started to embark on a journey around the world visiting 38 countries and counting.