We all know the saying “When you are young, you have time but no money, when you are older, you have money but no time”. It is a vicious circle that sets boundaries for young people and stops them from making new memories and experiencing new cultures themselves. Some youngsters might just accept that sad truth and go on with their lives, but I decided to help you break this circle. Today we will take a look at some ways to experience a new culture and increase your tolerance and open-mindedness without having to be rich or spend all of your savings.
The German sociologist Ulrich Beck once said “Europe is the embodiment of […] diversity”. And he was right. There are very few other places in the world that are so rich in history, that had so many different emperors, leaders, dictators and revolutionists. Europe was at the centre of two world wars, has brought out some of the brightest minds that have ever existed: Einstein, Gauss, Goethe, Marx, the list is long. From small brick houses to tall skyscrapers Europe offers an incredible variety of architecture, ancient churches and luxurious castles. Whether in a cozy café or a modern restaurant, everybody will find a country that has their favourite national cuisine because the food is so different depending on what region you are in. For people who enjoy cultural events, Europe is a heaven of theatre, concerts, dance and let us not forget about the nearly endless number of museums and exhibitions. From contemporary art to historical statues everything can be found in this heart of cultural life. As Europe has had stable political, trade and social relations it is also considered to be one of the safest places to travel to. So pack your bags, buy yourself some more mobile data and start your very own small adventure!
Travelling for free
Free food and accommodation
You have motivation but no place to stay? The internet can fix that. The website “workaway.info” gives hosts from all over Europe the opportunity to find a suitable traveller who can take care of specific tasks for them for a couple of hours a day. In exchange for gardening, cleaning, teaching, cooking and other things they grant you free accommodation, free food and sometimes even some pocket money. It is a website that is secure and often used by work-and-travellers because it is considered to be quite flexible and easy to use.
If you are looking for a place to stay but you don’t have the time or opportunity to work, then “global free loaders”, “couchsurfing” or “servas” is what you are looking for. On these websites locals offer to share their apartments or houses in order to enjoy the cultural enrichment. If you like the location and profile of somebody and they are offering a room, then you can simply contact them over the website. You should try to choose the person you stay with carefully, since these people are strangers after all.
If you are a woman and you don’t feel comfortable with staying at men’s apartments by yourself, then the “host a sister” community is there to help you. This (much smaller) Facebook group was made specifically for women who are seeking or offering a place to stay. Join the group, write what you are looking for and connect with women all over Europe who would be willing to host you for free. There is also the “host a brother” Facebook group, which is the equivalent for men, but it is sadly not as widespread as the female version. All of the options above give you the opportunity to form great friendships and get to know your surroundings through the perspective of a local.
If you would like to stay completely by yourself, then house sitting might be a good option. On websites like “trusted house sitters”, “mind my house” or “house caters” people from many different countries are looking for travellers who could look after and take care of their apartment or house. This type of accommodation comes with certain responsibilities, such as cleaning or feeding the pets, but it is still a rather easy way to find a place to stay that might also include a fully stocked kitchen.
Last and definitely the most expensive are the typical European traveller hostels (www.hostelworld.com). If you do have a small budget for your adventures, then you might also take staying at a hostel into consideration. Most hostels, especially in the bigger cities, offer dorms where you can share a room with multiple other people. This can be difficult to get used to, especially if you have never shared a room before. But most of the time it is also a good reason to spend the whole day outside and discover as much of your surroundings as possible, while additionally sharing this experience with roommates from all over Europe.
In order to decide on which alternative is best for you, you need to reflect your own priorities and wishes and plan your budget carefully, but even with a small amount of money there are still a lot of ways to find accommodation.
Now that you have a place to stay, the only problem is how to get from one destination to the next, but even that matter can be settled with some research and a little bit of creativity. It is a known fact that many people buy Interrail tickets that enable them to travel throughout Europe without having to pay any extra fees. The price of these tickets vary from 180 to 700 Euros, depending on how long and how often you want to travel. However, if you don’t have the financial resources to make such a big payment, there is also an option which is not as well-known. Every year, the EU gives young Europeans around the age of 18 the opportunity to win one out of 70.000 tickets without having to pay anything for it. Travelling by train is not only comfortable, but also environment friendly and offers a good sphere to meet fellow travellers. This “ticket lottery” is called “Discover EU” and also has a Facebook group where people from all European countries can exchange experiences and advice.
In case you don’t have access to an Interrail ticket, you will have to go back to the old-fashioned method: hitchhiking. European countries have the lowest rate of road accidents and the lowest crime rate against pedestrians in the world, add the many highways and country roads and you will have a hitchhiking paradise. There are some things you should consider though: Avoid hitchhiking in the dark, try to stop cars with families and couples rather than people who are driving by themselves, and consider looking for a travel buddy. Hitchhiking with two people is always a lot safer than hitchhiking alone. In any case you should always have your phone location shared with somebody who checks it regularly and try to keep a tool for self-defence on you. These are only preventive measures though, usually the drivers are nice and happy to learn more about your culture.
Collecting coupons and vouchers from all kinds of different stores and activities is tiring and annoying, so the EU decided to make saving money easier for youngsters. The European Youth Card unites all discounts in one card, whether you are looking for planes, trains, restaurants or accommodation. For only 19 Euros in total you can make use of daily discounts and shopping opportunities all over Europe for a whole year. The EYCA App helps you keep track of all the discounts available and also has a digital version of your card, so losing it is not an option. Another option would be the IYTC card (for people under 30) or if you are a full-time student, you can also claim the ISIC card. These options are available for only 15 Euros a year and grant you access to many discounts and student rates worldwide. For such a small amount of money, the purchase of any of the cards above is completely worth the investment.
When entering the world of volunteering, you need to be prepared and willing to take on a whole different set of responsibilities and experiences. Of course travelling while volunteering in a different country is nice, but it is only a small part of what makes a volunteer service such a great tool for personal growth and the development of empathy and cultural understanding. It is the thought that the outcome of your work might not only benefit you, but also the people who surround you or somebody who you might not even know. You are willing to stretch your habits in order to adapt to a new mentality and lifestyle, which causes you to experience the local life from a completely different angle. If enough time and effort is being put in, you might be able to go from observing to being part of the new culture. This experience will also enable you to meet people who are like-minded and have similar interests as you, so prepare to find some friends for a lifetime.
Even though there are a lot of volunteer services that require you to pay a fee, there are also some more affordable options.The most commonly used websites to find one of these volunteering opportunities are “Eurodesk Opportunity Finder”, “Youth 4 Europe” or the “European Youth Portal”. Here you can find programmes that are financially supported by the EU, which usually means that your hosting organisation provides accommodation, food and monthly pocket money for you. Through programs like the European Solidarity Corps or Erasmus+ you can support NGOs who work with refugees, children, disabled people, elderly people, women, animals and other minorities. You can filter the options by country, type of work or duration of your stay, in order to find a suitable volunteer service for yourself. If you would like to start your own project, then the solidarity projects or the youth exchanges of the European Solidarity Corps are a perfect fit for you.
Since the global volunteering community is very well-connected, you can also scroll through the “European Solidarity Corps Opportunities” Facebook group or the “Erasmus Plus Projects” Facebook group. Here, organisations and associations uptake their projects and are looking for volunteers, both short-term and long-term, on a daily basis. If you keep an eye on all these sources, you will definitely find a good match and have the opportunity to work, help, enjoy and relax, all at the same time.
Travelling the world and living in different countries teaches you everything that books won’t teach you. In order to tackle all of your problems you have to be flexible, adaptable, but also be persistent and determined. These are not qualities that just magically appear when crossing the border of your own country, they are habits you develop when being forced to go out of your comfort zone. So the ideal traveler is not somebody you are, it’s somebody you slowly become. The places that you see and the new opinions you will get to hear will help you gain a more complex and diverse perspective on the world and its happenings, a quality that will be of very good use when trying to evaluate recent events. The golden rule for engaging in new experiences while travelling is the YES-rule. Whatever the offer is, try to always say yes and tag along, even if you might be demotivated or shy at first. It makes a good and open-minded impression and will help you stumble into adventures and meet fellow globetrotters. As long as you are interested in learning, seeing and doing new things, everything else will fall into place.
Of course there is no reason to idealise this continent, Europe has many flaws, a lot of social injustice and both inner and outer conflicts. But it is also a pulsating place of innovation, aesthetic and people with open arms. It will help you grow personally on one hand and interculturally and intellectually on the other hand. So enjoy the people, enjoy the food, enjoy the views and make some new memories!