Surely the best way to review this book would be to take a year off from everything else and travel through each country in Europe, using the book as my sole guide. Unfortunately such a trip is not in the cards. I’ll do the best I can with what I have — which is exactly the point of this book: getting the best experience possible even out of a minimally funded bank account.
This is the esteemed Rough Guides first in a new series of travel guides with an eye to the dwindling value of the dollar and a new emphasis on squeezing the best value possible from every last dirham. That’s not to say that the writers ignore the value inherent in “paying $10 more not to share a bathroom”. There are times when even the most frugal traveler is willing to splurge. This guide will help you pinch your pennies along the journey so you can splash out when it counts.
The guidebook casts its net wide, from Portugal all the way to Russia, but leaves out a few random stops along the way, Malta, Albania and the Ukraine included. Malta is perhaps not a true budget destination since it’s a bit tricky to reach without planning another inter-continental flight, but leaving out several eastern European destinations seems odd. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of material to work with here to plan the trip of a lifetime, and without blowing the budget for the next decade, either.
Thirty-two carefully selected destination countries are listed in alphabetical rather than regional order, so this might not be a volume carefully torn into relevant sections for ease of carriage when only visiting a selection of Europe’s delights. Country chapters start out with a convenient daily budget estimate (both basic and “with the occasional treat” approximations are given), basic background information, and major transportation routes detailed on relevant maps; a handy two-page spread at the front of the book shows the high speed train routes available across the continent as well.
A quick basic country-specific history lesson follows for contextual value and then brief paragraphs regarding accommodation, food and culture to give even the most clueless traveler some information to build upon when entering a foreign country for the first time. A bare-bones glossary translates a handful of the most useful words and phrases, plus their pronunciation, just about the right number to be learned on the overnight bus or train from one city to the next across any given border. And just like the pared down food, accommodation and sight-seeing suggestions, these few phrases are enough to get you though.
After basic country information a few key cities in each locale are examined in further detail. The capital city is generally first, followed by selected cities grouped by region where possible. Hostels and inexpensive lodging details are provided, along with eateries often geared toward students, and cultural highlights as well, naturally.
With the incredible scope of this guidebook, it’s difficult to know what one may be missing: When glancing through the two pages describing Den Haag in the Netherlands I noted that although the Mauritshuis gallery of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame is listed, the M.C. Escher museum did not warrant a mention. The lesson learned here is that if you’re going to spend more than a couple of days in one city, you will certainly want to do additional research or purchase a more specialized travel guide. If, however, the intention is to breeze through myriad destinations and perhaps decide on the fly which are worth investing a little more time and a bit more of your hard earned cash in, it’s always possible to pick up some free maps and guides at the local tourist bureau — and Rough Guides will certainly tell you exactly where to find such a place.
Student discounts are often mentioned as well as inexpensive alternatives to well-traveled routes and these alone will save many travelers enough cash to make carrying the rather hefty tome around worthwhile. Room rates are not given alongside the suggested accommodation names as is commonly found in similar travel guides, which means that if you travel with this book the year after its publication you won’t be disappointed by outdated information.
Many out of the way gems are noted, in terms of affordable accommodation as well as cultural nooks and crannies, plus tips on relevant gay scenes and general nightlife. From reindeer kebabs in Helsinki’s Kauppahalli market hall, to the crumbling ruins of Diocletian’s Palace in Split on the Dalmatian Coast, and a thousand places in between, Rough Guides will introduce the money-conscious wanderer to all that Europe has to offer, without breaking the bank.
And for those who want to wander further afield than Europe, there is a planned expansion of the new budget Rough Guides series, including volumes on Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia.
Go forth and travel — frugally.