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Ermahgerd! My Eurail.com adventure begins!

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I announced it a couple months ago, and now it’s happening! My cross-European extravaganza with Eurail.com begins imminently!

As you will remember, I was chosen by the good people at Eurail.com to blog and tweet my way across Europe using the rail network. I have to visit 12 cities in 30 days, and I have to do it all on 15€ a day. Totally do-able! I love a good challenge, I live to travel, I’ve bought and used Eurail passes before, and I’m rather frugal in my everyday life anyway, so this challenge is a match made in… I was going to say “heaven,” but really, it’s a match made in Utrecht.

Eurail head office represent!

Anyhoo, coming fresh off the heels of my amazing Thailand-Cambodia-SituAsian, this trip will continue the adventurous spirit and sense of wonder fostered in Asia.

The plan of attack
Now 15€ a day, while do-able, is still quite the challenge. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you know that it isn’t cheap! So obviously I need to approach this with a strategy in mind. Here’s how I’m going to live on 15€ a day without skimping on awesome fun or adventure!

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#1 Couchsurfing. Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of hostels and will always sing their praises, but this is one time when even hostels won’t serve my purposes. Luckily there’s an awesome network in place for backpackers on a budget called Couchsurfing. People all over the world connect and offe their couches to travellers. It’s a great way to meet locals and to save your hard earned pennies. I’ve had a Couchsurfing profile for quite some time because I tried it out in New York City and in Vancouver, and had nothing but amazing experiences. So now that I’m going to really Couchsurfing hardcore, I’m really glad I have learned the ropes (somewhat).

#2 Making all my own food. No restaurants or take-outs for this gal! This is a trick I picked up from staying in hostels that offer guest kitchens. If you go to the local grocery store and make your own food, you not only save so much money, but you won’t gain weight because you know exactly what’s going into your meals …. Not that I’m obsessed with my weight or anything. Oh don’t give me that look.

#3 Starting off in Eastern Europe. As someone who has extensively travelled throughout the continent, I have learned just how much cheaper Eastern Europe is compared to the West. Most of the Eastern countries have recently emerged from communism, or from wars, or from severe visa restrictions that kept Westerners out. As such, because they are so new to tourism and their economies are not on parr with the west, the cost of living there is much more affordable. One of the rules regarding this challenge stipulates that if I don’t use the full 15€ one day, the extra cash can rollover to following days. So I’m banking on the fact that I’ll save more money in the east which will come in handy as I head westward and the prices suddenly rise. Who knows, if I save enough, I may even be able to afford a hostel if one of the couches I’ve requested falls through!

#4 Avoiding train reservations. I plan on going into further detail on this point in a later post, but here are the basic details. Most high speed and overnight trains in Europe require a reservation on top of your rail pass. Now Eurail.com has provided me with my Global pass but if I were to take a train that required a reservation that would cost an additional 20€ extra! Which exceeds my budget! However, with some careful planning, some flexibility, and a positive attitude, you can avoid reservations by taking the slower local trains and avoiding all overnight travel. You get to enjoy the scenery, visit towns not normally on your route, and save! For more on train reservations, read this handy guide.

#5 DBahn iPhone app. The German national railway, otherwise known as DBahn, has been publishing up to date train schedules for years, and now they have a handy iPhone app (which also works on my iPad, you can download it here). This service will inform of me of which trains require reservations, when trains arrive and depart, if the schedule has changed, and will basically be my lifeline as I move about Europe. I used to buy the seasonal train schedules DBahn would publish, so I can swear by their accuracy and would encourage you to download it as well if you’re galavant ing across the continent!

#6 Free and cheap activities. You can’t go to Europe and stay indoors! You have to get out and see the city! But many times, doing activities in a city requires a lot of coinage. It doesn’t have to though! There’s lots of things you can do that cost mere pennies, and sometimes nothing at all! I plan on writing an entire blog post about that during my travels, so expect some awesome travel tips this month!

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The Route

I have been planning and mapping out where I’d like to go, and finalized my itinerary.

As many of you know, I lived in Europe for years, am an EU citizen, and have travelled extensively across the continent. So when deciding where I wanted to go on this trip, I decided to go places in Europe somewhat off the beaten path, places I’ve never been before, places that most Eurail pass holders may or may not gloss over and miss the first time they galavant across the continent.

My chosen cities are as follows.

Split, Croatia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Padova, Italy
Innsbruck, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Nuremberg, Germany
Strasbourg, France
Frankfurt, Germany
Cologne, Germany
Bruges, Belgium
Utrecht, Netherlands

As you can see, these are mostly small villages, only Ljubljana is a capital city. These are all countries I’ve been to countless times, but cities I have dreamed of visiting yet never had the chance! You’ll also notice that I’m travelling from East to West, and finish off my travels in Utrecht so I can pay a visit to Eurail.com’s head office for a hello and a high five.

The Mini Challenge
Eurail.com set me a mini challenge within this challenge to ride through Italy during this adventure. As anyone who has ever been to Europe will know, Italy is not only one of the most expensive countries, it also requires a reservation on almost all of their trains. Because I have to live on 15€ a day, and most reservations cost 20€, reservations are out of the question. So I decided to travel to Padua because it is really close to the Slovenian border (where I’ll enter the country) and the Austrian border (where I’ll exit), so I should be able to take noting but local trains and avoid the reservations! Also, Padua is one of the settings in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and apparently even has a tourist spot called Juliet’s balcony that I can check out. For free, of course!

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My Expectations

Lets not mince words or split hairs here, this will definitely be a challenge! Lots could go wrong, and even if it doesn’t, staying under budget could be a strain or a stress! I fully expect at least one Couchsurfing host to withdraw their invitation at the last second, or for me to miss a crucial train connection, or for me to run over budget! It’s all going to happen at least once! But I also expect to meet some amazing people, make new friends, see and explore these areas that I’ve only read about in books! Even when the fit hits the Shan (see what I did there?), you have to remain positive, just remember where you are, get in the spirit of things, and relax. It will all work out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end. For more on my travel philosophy, check out my post on long term travel for the solo woman.

I fly to Croatia to begin my journey on Monday! Wish me luck, munchkins!

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