This is part One of a Three part story of our trip to 8 countries in Europe in a span of one month.

Before the Trip – Prep Work Required

When the day for leaving finally came, it felt surreal. Everything leading to the Europe Trip had been so meticulously planned and yet, when D-Day came, we had butterflies in our stomach. We drowned the butterflies with some beer on the way to the airport, but like Pheonix, they rose again by the time we reached the airport. We went through our folder with all our bookings and plane tickets one last time. In this day and age, in the times of apps and passbooks, one thinks it’s easier to just ‘keep it all in the phone’ but we are a little fanatical about making sure we have print-outs and since you need to show your entire itinerary to get your Schengen Visa, it would be prudent that you just hold on to them. It’s also a reminder that magical trips don’t happen with magic and that there is a lot of preparation required to make the magic happen.

The preparation that went into the trip was immense and there was nearly a year of planning before we boarded the plane. The first thing we did was book our tickets. Since we knew that we had some time in hand before we took off, we had the luxury of going through various ticket prices before we finally decided on it. At a round trip cost of just a little of Rs 30,000 (Kolkata to Frankfurt) on Etihad, we blocked the tickets and the game was on. (Note: The site we used was www.skyscanner.com)

After we booked the tickets, we started to plan out our itinerary. We knew we were going to Germany since our plane landed in Germany. Then we brought out the map and started plotting the places that one can go from there. We chose Amsterdam, then south to Belgium, then back to Germany to explore it properly and see Heidelberg and then we moved south towards Switzerland. From there, we had a toss up between going to Spain or to Italy and we chose Spain for two reasons which are that firstly, Spain is cheaper than Italy and would help ‘balance out’ the trip especially since we are going from Switzerland which is the most expensive country in Europe (more on that later) and secondly, Italy is vast and should be explored at leisure at a later time. This is not to say that Spain is not vast, it is, but we wanted to do one city in particular which was Barcelona. From Spain we went to Prague and then back into Germany to finish the last leg of our trip of Berlin, Lindau and the Black Forest.

One of the purpose of making the blog is to show how young couples from India can dream of traveling on a tight budget. We were both fresh into the working scene and it did cross our mind several times if we could really pull this off. The first thing we did was set targets for ourselves. Keep targets which you know you can get. Like for us, we initially kept a target of reaching 800 Euros. We would keep money away every month for converting into Euros and every Rs 5,000-Rs 7,500 would be converted when we got our salaries or in my case, a payment. What seemed daunting at first, saving, came easily to us once we got into the rhythm of saving the 800 mark was crossed and then 1000, and then 1200 and by the time we left, we had nearly 2000 Euros each. Honestly, 2000 Euros was a little bit of an overkill per person but it just meant we had no stress and Debjanee got to shop more! Now, another trick I need to mention here is that when you are converting, use smaller shops. In Kolkata, there is Sudder Street and in particular, Rupam Travels or R N R Travels which lets you convert anytime and draws up the bill for it before your trip. The rule that bigger places (like Thomas Cook or Cox and Kings) have is that they will not convert your money before 3 months from the time you travel which puts a real dampener on your savings mechanism. This type of saving style also protects you against fluctuating currency exchange rates. A lot of people suggest using Forex cards but we decided to just stick to cash and credit cards since we have heard some negative stories about Forex cards like unfair processing fees, random charges and higher exchange rates than what is currently available in the market. Forex do have a host of advantages and if you prefer the peace of mind of carrying a card instead of cash albeit at a little extra cost, you can opt for it.

The third thing on the agenda was booking the hotels. We are budget travelers which means we are not back-packers and neither are we looking to spend money exorbitantly on luxury hotels. Throughout the trip, except on a few occasions when we booked double rooms in Hostels, we relied on Airbnb. Airbnb has become the norm for travelers as an alternative to hotels and we can say that it is safe for Indian travelers. During our trips, most of the experiences at Airbnbs were very pleasant barring one instance in Spain where we had to change to another Airbnb. We did not experience any form of racism or any judgement, being a young unmarried couple, which we were apprehensive about before the trip. The trick to finding a good Airbnb is to go through all the reviews before you finalize on it. There may be a few details which are mentioned in the review like for eg. the apartment is on the fifth floor without a lift, which may not necessarily reflect on the rating but will caution you to expect some serious climbing. At this point you need to balance the pros (which was that it was at the centre of the city and cheap) to the con (fifth floor without a lift) and decide if you are willing to make the sacrifice. Also, as a rule of thumb, look out for hosts which have a minimum of 4 star ratings with sufficient reviews (1 or 2 reviews of 5 stars is not as good as a 4.5 star rating giving over an average of, say, 50 people) and keep a note of how long they have been hosting to gauge if they are slacking now.

And the fourth horseman, that we needed to cover before the trip, was the transportation. Transport, transport, transport. Get that drilled because that is where a LOT of your money will go. Throughout the trip, we did not hire a car to go from one city/country to another. We used UBER in Amsterdam and Prague (so cheap!) to travel within the city itself but traveling long distance was covered in buses, trains and planes. There are a few absolutely essential tickets that you must get before you travel, especially in a continent like Europe which can get expensive if you book at the last minute and book single journeys for each of your destinations. If you are traveling in Switzerland, make sure to take a pass from www.swiss-pass.ch which has a variety of schemes for how you would like to travel. Keep in mind that a train journey for a single journey averages about 30 Euros and then there are all those trams and buses which could decimate your budget. We took the 4 day unlimited pass which was pricey but worth it if you compare it to the amount we would have paid had we not had the pass, which would have been a LOT. However, this pass does not cover the cable car on mountains such as JungfrauJoch, which needs to be bought separately. The other Rail Pass that we got was the German Rail Pass from www.germanrailpasses.com which allowed us to travel within Germany during the time we were there as well as use the Bus to get to Berlin from Prague. The Germany Rail Pass is also useful if you want to travel to nearby countries such as Belgium (Brussels), Austria (Kufstein and Innsbruck), Italy (Bolzano, Verona, Bologna and Venice), Czech Republic (Prague) as well as Poland (Krakow) – so you have an array of neighbouring countries to explore with a single pass. We chose the 7 day within a month pass for our travels and keep in mind that it helps to have an extra day on your pass for the last day of your trip for your trip to the Airport. Again, remember that these passes includes all modes of transport, such as buses, trams as well as local and regional trains. Apart from these major passes, there are still smaller passes and train tickets which need to be booked so make sure that when you prepare your itinerary, you see all the angles in terms of which ticket to book. And there are also plane tickets where we suggest you see Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) or Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) for travel within Europe and Vueling (www.vueling.com) for tickets to, from and within Spain.

All these were packed into our yellow folder and we were on our way. The flight departure time was 9pm in the evening and we were at the airport about two and half hours before the flight took off. We reached the airport early because of hour excited we were and also because we wanted to make sure we were well in time for immigration. Once we had checked in, we headed to the Airport Lounge where Debjanee and I had some food and drinks before the flight. Kolkata has a full fledged luxurious airport lounge (TFS) with the best drinks and a huge buffet of very tasty food which is accessible to credit card holders who have this facility for free or a nominal fee of Rs 25. At the time, I had a Mastercard Superia card which allowed me this privilege of the lounge but on inquiring at the reception, even my Axis Bank My Wings would have allowed the access I needed. It is best to talk to your Bank or Relationship manager t0 see if you can enjoy the benefit of Airport Lounges and coupled with a Priority Pass which comes complimentary with some of the higher valued cards, you can get a nice experience at these lounges.

As we board the Etihad flight, the first thing that struck my eyes was how clean it was and how nice the gold and beige looked. Even though we were traveling in economy class, the experience really felt very premium. When we got to our seat, we noticed that there was more than sufficient