Monday, September 18, 2017

Tips & Tricks: Travelling through Europe

Here are several tips and tricks from my recent travels through several cities in Europe:

  • Public transportation
    • The public transportation in European cities is amazing. In fact you can get almost anywhere with either trains or buses.
    • In contrast, taxis are considered a tourist trap and the prices are often super inflated. In Budapest when I was late to a tour, I decided to hop on a taxi for a 1-mile ride to the central square. The taxi driver jacked up the price to 10 euro for 1-mile because he knew I was a tourist.
    • Thereafter, I decided to spend the first day or two learning the public transportation system and my time was well rewarded.
    • Buy the short-term or week long pass depending on your length of stay. Some cities like Berlin will provide a welcome pass to tourist which will permit you to go to the airport.
  • Busses.
    • I learned about FlixBus from several travellers.
    • The Flixbus is a European bus provider owned by a German company.
    • This is an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel between cities in Europe.
    • The prices are incredibly cheap and if you decide to cancel your trip you can get a full credit towards the next trip. I got on the Flixbus from Budapest to Berlin and it was a 12-hour trip.  The bus drove through Slovakia and Czeck Republic (Prague) and dropped off/pick up passengers.
    • The only complaint is that you don't have much time off the bus during the stops. After about 6 hours in the bus, I started  to feel cramped and tired and I decided  to go out to grab some coffee  during a stop and nearly missed my bus.   
    • There is free WiFi on board, the seats are spacious and there is a charging station for your phone and laptop. There is a restroom on board and lots of compartment space for your bags and luggages.
  • Housing:  
    • The first several cities I decided to stay in hostels that got excellent ratings. I usually use Hostel International locations. The accommodations were usually very reasonable and I could meet other travelers. But it was hard to sleep at night when my hostel mates would go in and out or snore. Unfortunately I think I got my money stolen as well during one of the hostel stays while I was in the restroom.
    • I decided to try Airbnb and I was a little anxious because I didn't know if the location was going to be good or not. But I had a fantastic experience. I relied heavily on the reviews. The total cost was only about 20-40% more than the hostel which I thought was very competitive compared to standard motel or hotel rooms. The biggest difference was not having to share the room and thus, I was able to sleep better at night. Also Airbnb rooms are much nicer and usually more spacious. Depending on the location and set up, I didn’t cross other travellers as frequently which was disappointing.
  • Google
    • This is a fantastic little app that collects your flight information and housing directly from your email.  This is like a guide book but in addition provides real-time information as well as addresses and directions. Because it is a Google application, it will sync directly with Google Maps and calendar.  
    • The best thing about the app is that all the information is in one place including your flight and hotel reservations.
    • I really like the points of interest. You don't have to plan ahead and you can just go with the recommendations.  It provides a filter function including top spots, indoor, outdoor, nightlife, family-friendly venues  and much more.
    • All the information can be downloaded so that you can use it offline.
  • Google Maps:
    • I use Google Maps all the time in the US but I really discovered its true value in Europe. Google Maps has real-time public transit information and  it's available in all the cities that I visited.
    • You can download the maps directly onto your phone in case you don't have WiFi.  Your location is detected by satellite and thus it will still locate you on the GPS without WiFi.  
    • Be careful though because it is not always accurate.  For example it'll tell me the bus stop is on one corner of the intersection but it is on the other side. 95% of the time, the locations are accurate but there are handful of times where it will be off. It's easy to have your face glued to the phone but sometimes once you're in the area, the best thing to do is to search for your bus or tram sites or ask around.
  • Google Translate
    • I went to 4 different cities which had four different languages. I didn't know how to speak any of the languages. But that was not a problem because I had Google Translate.
    • You can download the languages directly to your phone and  have it available offline. The app uses artificial intelligence to translate for you.
    • Unlike many of the other translation apps, you can talk directly into the app and it will provide both written and vocal translations out loud. The other person can then talk into your phone and you two can communicate. I was in Portugal and I met another traveller who spoke Portuguese. So I talked in English into the app and he would respond into his phone in Portuguese and that's how we communicated as we toured parts of Portugal together. It's very user-friendly and most importantly, it's useful.
  • Sky scanner
    • I learned about Skyscanner from several people during my travels. It's an app that finds the cheapest tickets for you. I usually use Kayak but I started using Skyscanner and people swear by it. I have limited experience so I will try it out and see how it works for me but so far I've had good experience  setting up flight alerts for my next travels.
    • I don't know if the app tracks your usage. I know that kayak tracks your searches and thus will inflate the prices when you search second or third time. So if you are using kayak then you want to be in the incognito mode so that your prices are not inflated. In fact, when I plan trips I always use the incognito mode so that my searches are not tracked and the prices I get are the market prices
  • Free tours:
    • All the major cities have free walking tours. Just Google it and find the location/time for the tour. These are based on tips, which is great. I suggest going on these tours the first or second day.
    • Walking tours usually last 3-4 hours and it’s a great way to learn about the city and meet other travellers.
    • Many cities also have bike tours which are usually reasonably priced. I love these because you can see more and also be active at the same time.

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