After spending nearly a decade of combined time in London, we’ve done, to our best estimates, over fifty trips into Europe. Over this time, we’ve learned a few lessons. And not all of them were bueno. So here are our top tips to travel like a boss, in the following chapters:
Chapter One: the art and science of booking
In this section, we’ll explore how to get the best bang for your buck and the most efficient travel routes. Sometimes you might not know where (or when) you want to go. Here are some tips on deciding and booking your destination:
1. Booking online: navigating the maze
The first thing you should do when researching flights is to enter your browser’s privacy mode (i.e. incognito mode), use an extension (i.e. Ghostery), or even a whole new browser (i.e. Duck Duck Go) to block cookies and other tracking devices. This will help you avoid targeted pricing, which ends up costing you more. There is some dispute whether this actually happens, but anecdotally it’s been true for us - so no harm in making the precaution.
When it comes to choosing the best option, there are lots of flight aggregators/comparators to choose from. We’ve found the best to be: SkyScanner, Kayak, Google Flights, and momondo. But we also encourage you, once you get a deal, to check with the airline directly before booking - occasionally it can be cheaper (and much easier). Often you’ll find yourself booking through third-party agencies, such as edream, opodo, omega travel - we’ve had good experiences with them, but many haven’t - so caveat emptor.
Lastly, if you’ve lots of lead-time on your trip, we would recommend setting up price alerts on your desired travel timeframe. Apps such as Hopper help you do this easily and without too much stress.
2. Trains, not to be overlooked
Traveling by Eurostar has been one of our favourite ways to travel - with the important exception of dealing with Gare du Nord in Paris (it can a disorganised nightmare). If you book around 3 months in advance, you can get some great deals, but be warned, closer to the date the prices can really escalate. But seriously look at this if you're going to Paris, Lille, Rotterdam, Brussels or Amsterdam - the convenience of taking a train from the city centre with no liquid restrictions etc is significant.
Generally, seat61.com is the best resource for all types of train booking. The only thing to add really is that Deutsche Bahn Europe Saver Fares can bring up some great bargains if you're going to or from Germany.
3. Need some #travelinspo?: finding your holiday
If you don’t have a particular destination (or date) in mind, there are a number of ways to get some holiday inspiration. Apart from scrolling the gram, most booking websites now have an “inspire me” option built in.
SkyScanner is a great example. Simply enter your departure city (make sure to select “London (Any)”) and choose the “Everywhere” option to be shown all available destinations and prices. Bonus tip: also consider flying out of nearby cities to reduce flight prices (London airports have notoriously high taxes). To score an even better deal, select “Whole month” if you have flexibility over dates within the month or “Cheapest month” if you have complete freedom throughout the year (#goals). You’ll then be shown all countries (with sub-categories for each city) with the lowest price available for each destination. Once you choose a city, use the calendar to manipulate dates to snag the best deal.
4. Pack it up, pack it in: travel packages
After you’ve locked down your destination and dates, it’s worth searching your holiday on travel package websites like Expedia, Kayak, and Lastminute.com. These companies bundle flights and accommodation together, often offering a substantial savings on the total package. This is only beneficial if you’re staying in the same city for the duration of the trip, but can be a great way to score a little extra savings and reduce the stress of booking separate flights and accommodation.
If you’re a fan of the slots, you should also check out the app LuckyTrip. This app randomises packages including flights, accommodation and a local activity based on filters including budget, dates, and holiday type (think adventure, off grid, and beach).
5. It's better together: group booking
The group chat has finally settled down, the destination is sorted, and you and your mates are ready to lock down your flights. Ever been the last to book, only to find the price has skyrocketed? Not cool. Airlines use dynamic pricing, so if your crew starts booking flights independently, the airline senses higher demand and jacks up the price. Avoid this by nominating one person to purchase all the flights together (see notes on Splitwise below to easily sort the cost-share afterwards).
Bonus: low-cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair don’t let you select seats on the lowest fare option, but they’ll often seat you together when tickets are purchased at the same time. Some airlines also offer a small discount for bulk purchases (at the very least you’ll only pay one booking fee), so there’s really no reason not to go all in together.
6. Off-peak: timing is everything
A final point on the booking process - you need to be constantly aware of timings/dates. Obviously travel around bank holidays is going to be more expensive, busier, and generally less pleasant. If you make it work for you, travelling during the week is always cheaper and easier.
Chapter Two: finding where to go (and doin’ it for the ‘gram)
In our information-rich age, working out where to go can be a twenty hour affair. This can be even longer for those who want to do more local and less touristy activities. So we’ve assembled a few tips to help you accelerate the process:
1. Guides for cities and neighbourhoods
Depending on which cities you head to, you can use the following resources: Dojo, On-the-Grid, and more traditional providers such as Wallpaper and Monocle always produce great guides. It’s often worth checking out Eventbrite to see what’s on during your stay, and Facebook groups for nationals/expats in a particular city can also be a treasure trove of tips (for example: Aussies & Kiwis in Berlin).
2. There’s no place like a...subreddit?
Lots of cities have their own dedicated subreddit (for example, r/london) and these are great places to find hyper-local news, developments, and upcoming events. Definitely worth checking out before and during your visit.
3. Using the ‘gram
Pics or it didn’t happen? Instagram can be used for much more than your sorority squats and duck face selfies. Use this millennial-favourite app to find all the best spots for food, must-sees, and that coveted #viewpoint pic. The first, and most obvious, thing to do is simply enter the destination in the search bar and browse through the various geotags, hashtags, and local destination guide accounts (city tourism accounts, local foodies, etc.). If you wanna go next level, get creative with your searches. A little-known tactic of some travel influencers (*cringe*) is to search through wedding hashtags to find the most scenic parts of the city … now that’s really #doinitforthegram.
Chapter Three: where to stay…airbnb v hotels
There is no uniform approach to deciding between hotels and Airbnbs. In some cities, the cost equation is easy; in Paris, Airbnbs are great value, in Berlin, hotels come out on top. Often the length of duration and time of arrival will help determine matters - a super late arrival will often lead us to hotels, which are well-oiled machines and generally reliable for awkward check-in times. Airbnb can provide more unique locations and hip, local experiences. It is usually a case of checking both options.
A final tip for booking hotels, is an app called Hotel Tonight - you can actually get really good last-minute rates, but it does require you to book only a week or so prior!
Chapter Four: and don’t call me Shirley - airport tips
Whether we like it or not, airports and train stations are usually a significant part of your trip. Understanding how to best manage these hellish spots will help you travel with less anxiety (and leave you lots of spare time to grab that pre-flight avo toast 😉):
1. Are you registered?
If you are from an eligible country, we cannot recommend the Registered Traveller programme highly enough. A yearly subscription allows you to bypass non-EU border control, giving you access to e-gates or shorter UK border queues (say goodbye to those pesky landing cards!). Research it, if you can join, do it. It will save you so much time at the UK borders, including the notoriously infuriating border control at Paris’s Gare du Nord.
2. Not all airports are made equal
Picking which airport to fly out from in London can be tricky and might depend on where you live within the city. Equally, when deciding on flights, remember that commute costs to airports can vary. To that point, we’d recommend booking advance tickets for any Express trains (Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express etc) as you often score advanced purchase discounts.
Generally, you can rely on swift airport security at Gatwick and Stansted (and of course City). We’ve found Luton and Heathrow can be pretty hit and miss. Especially during holiday season. Southend of the sea...we’ve never risked it...
3. Non-EU passport probz
While all low-cost carriers come with their flaws and frustrations, Vueling and Ryanair can be particularly annoying for non-EU passport holders. Depending on your destination, Vueling will not allow you to check in online ahead of time, meaning you need to leave plenty of extra time to get to the airport and queue.
Ryanair on the other hand requires all non-EU passport holders to get a visa check stamp before security, meaning you have to queue up with passengers dropping off their luggage and have your visa verified (this can take some serious time so plan accordingly). And you better remember to print your boarding pass for stamping before getting to the airport or else you have a nice £55 fine coming your way.
Chapter Five: Mo money, mo problems?
How to use money abroad is becoming a much simpler affair these days thanks to technology and challenger banks:
1. Money cards
We’re a big fan of using Monzo abroad (or an equivalent like Revolut). These new challenger banks fully embrace the smartphone capabilities and welcome you to the country, give you transparent pricing (hello wholesale exchange rate!) and provide a report at the end of your trip on total money spent - intelligently bucketing spend into different categories. There also enable the easy payment of friends for when you split expenses…
2. Speaking of splitting
If you’re travelling in a group (or even a couple), using Splitwise can take all the stress and anxiety out of managing joint expenses. The app is particularly clever when it comes to big group splitting, working out the expenses so each member of the group only has to pay/be paid by one other member. It’s a real gem and the free tier gives you everything you need really.
Chapter Six: Navigating like a boss
Once you arrive in a place, getting around (or out of) town can often be a bit daunting, especially for those of us...who are directionally challenged. Here are a couple of tips we found really helpful and a word of caution around car hire:
1. Getting around town
Google has to be one of the biggest simplifiers of travel in recent memory. Google Maps are a lifesaver for planning routes and choosing hotels, restaurants etc. We’d encourage you to download the city offline before going, this means if you don’t have data, you can still use it to navigate. Google Trips is another app worth downloading.
Depending on where you go, CityMapper is the ultimate option to master public transport in a city. But it’s only in a limited number of cities at the moment - so check availability ahead of time.
2. How to ensure a frustrating experience: hiring a car
Hiring a car in Europe is never easy, often confusing, and reliably expensive. Every time we’ve hired a car on the continent, it’s always been a painful experience. If you’re going to France, we’ve heard good things about BlaBlaCar - but this is for car-pooling. Sometimes you need a car, there’s no option but to just factor it into your journey time to collect and do all the paperwork - embrace the weirdly out-dated practices - some places you’ll need an International Driver’s Licence and some places require a credit card and often hold a pending amount of £1500 - which can be killer for those on a shoestring. So our advice: only hire if you must.