Sam gives her spending tips based on her time in France, and gives some perspective of the best ways to see Europe on a budget.
Please bear in mind that costs change from year to year, so whilst our contributors can give you an idea of their experience, they cannot predict how things will change for your trip abroad.
By Samantha Braund, Business Management and Marketing
International Year at EM Strasbourg, France
Like any student who has studied abroad, I’ll defend my placement as the best of them all with everything I have, so when I tell you that going to Europe is the best experience for adventure and finances? You can take it as you will, but I’ll show you what I mean.
Quick disclaimer: when I went abroad, Brexit negotiations were constantly being pushed back, so I am unfortunately lacking the same experience with VISAs and may have some newly outdated knowledge. I’m sorry for that, but maybe you could get back to us with your experiences in a blog post next year?
When I was looking at European accommodation options, it was a huge change from country to country. In Madrid, I would have had to go apartment hunting, which could be at a huge cost, but in France I was extremely lucky to be a Keele student. EM Strasbourg has their own selection process for students for accommodation which is more competitive than most concert or festival ticket sales than I’ve ever experienced, so be quick! I was lucky enough to get accommodation for 189 euros a month (yes, the equivalent of £40.65 a week), but this also meant I shared a bathroom with around 15-20 people and I had a single bed. But I also had a huge fridge/freezer in my room and I could be in class in two minutes flat- with a stop at the boulangerie for a quick croissant! Equally, I had friends paying 600 euros a month. They had nicer private accommodation but limited scope for meeting people and were not as close to facilities as I was. Get your non-negotiables straight before you apply for accommodation and be aware that if you are going apartment hunting privately you will have to have a good grasp of the native language, enough money to pay city prices and quick access to the place you are studying, the good places fill up quickly!
The other down side was definitely the kitchen. We had 2 hotplates and a microwave in an extremely small kitchen. However, France covers accommodation and catering for students through a system called CROUS, which is government owned accommodation (like mine, hence why it was so cheap) as well as other amenities such as dining halls. I miss the dining hall so much, you could get a good quality three course meal for 2.50 euros, and I’ve recently heard from friends still abroad that they might have even lowered the price?! The food was always good and the portions were huge, so if you are seriously budgeting, this is an amazing option.
Of course, going out and socialising over a meal or drinks might be something you spend quite a bit more on. Use websites like trip advisor to suggest the cheapest and best places. Additionally, think about what cuisine and drinks your area is known for and target places serving this, you’ll likely be able to find some cheaper options.
In Strasbourg the Flammekueche (so good, like a pizza but with a creamy sauce, onions and bacon) is famous, and being on the German boarder had the perk of good bottles of wine for three euros as well as cheaper pints of beer! Saving on accommodation and the majority of my meals made going out a lot cheaper, especially if you’re going to a city.
It is possible to walk everywhere in some places, but this isn’t advisable everywhere you go. A transport card in Strasbourg cost me 27 euros a month after an initial fee of 32 euros for the first month, which meant I could ride all trams and buses, and even get the train to the airport.
It’s entirely possible that other cities in Europe also have similar systems, or bikes could also be another popular mode of transport (it’s not just in Amsterdam from what I’ve seen!). Research this before you go, but it might also be a good idea to not settle on what you will be doing until you get to your host country and have a better idea about how much and how far you need to travel.
For further travels, such as weekend trips or visits home, you have a few options. My parents decided to drive me when moving in and moving home; it was a 12 hour drive, but this saved me a bit of money on bedding, kitchen utensils and other things for my room and studying because I just brought everything from home!
Bus: This is just another way to drive, yes, but it is great for weekend trips! Apps like Flixbus, Omio and BlaBlaBus give you the option to get to so many places around Europe cheaply- I did an overnight bus trip to Prague for 26 euros for both ways! Choose times where you can sleep on the bus and you won’t even notice the time passing. This is also the way I got to airports for flights home- Strasbourg airport never had UK flights but Frankfurt did!
Train: The Eurostar is expensive, but Europe on the whole is well connected by train networks. This is sometimes a more expensive mode of transport, but it can be just as fast as a plane when you factor in getting there 2-3 hours before your flight and travel to and from the airport, where a train can get you to the centre of the city directly. I also found that my trainline app worked for quite a few routes in Europe, so look out for discounts on Unidays (this also applies to Omio and Flixbus- a lifesaver!)
Plane: Again, Omio was my go to for finding out the cheapest options for travel. Travel light enough and you could get a trip home for very little money! It also isn’t just Ryanair who is good for budget flights, ask any of the friends you make whilst abroad and I can tell you that they will have a different preference of airline based on going cheaply.
Before you buy the textbooks, please check that Keele Library doesn’t have online copies!! You may also have lecturers who have a blanket ban on technology, so don’t go to a class without a pen and a notepad. For me, the best place to top up was a cheap stationary shop called HEMA, otherwise unless you went to a huge supermarket, you weren’t likely to find stationary.
This is entirely up to you and how you socialise. You may find that some museums and art galleries are free- Strasbourg had open access to these places for the first Sunday of every month. Just like at Keele, you may have to pay a small fee to the athletic union to join sports activities, but often there will be some kind of group that puts on events for international students to join in for free or a very small price. Look out for activities that are put on by the students at your host university- one of my favourite events hosted monthly was a beer pong tournament at an old brewery in town, totally organised by students. Equally, making your own fun for free is a lovely way to spend you days. Picnics in scenic places, a walk around a new area or window shopping in town is free, and its time you spend with friends that you will remember most!
The random and specific
I am not good with naming things, but this is important. France has a system called CAF, where students living in France can get a monthly allowance each month- I kid you not, I was amazed that the government extended this level of care to home and international students, but they did and I was so pleased! This process involves a few different things, such as a French bank account. A French bank account often required a French translated copy of your birth certificate, which cost me around £60- this also can’t just be something you do yourself, you need signed proof that the translators are certified. Secondly, you had to have proof of residence from your landlord, and thirdly, you had to have a French phone number. This was the hardest thing for me, and I advise you now that if you know that you need this in the future, sort it before you go away! Get a brick phone for very cheaply (some are £15) and order a pay as you go sim card for you host country phone number, otherwise you will have to take out a contract with a company whilst abroad which is very costly.
Take note of these random and specific costs in your research before you go. They may seem minor and insignificant, like something that can wait until the week before you go, but you don’t want to spend your first two weeks abroad running around to do the bits that can be done early. You might find that whilst class loads are light and you’re organised ahead of schedule- why not take a weekend trip or two?! It pays off to be organised in these situations.
I can’t even begin to tell you how insanely jealous I am that you are all doing the research and preparing for the next big adventure of your lives- I honestly think the excitement in the lead up to going, wondering what your time will be like and who you will meet is one of the best bits. Money and budget is something that students always have drilled into them as a hugely important part of the lifestyle, and whilst that doesn’t change this year, your perspective might. I made budgeting one of my goals, and I found that for me, I put more effort into spending in the places where I thought I’d make the most memories.
I certainly prioritised experiences over comfort at times- I did more than one 12 hour bus ride, which can be a torturous experience- but I think that is what worked best for me. I’ll repeat again, as I’ve said a million and one times throughout this post, research for yourself, find what works for you, and prioritise based on your deal breakers. Then get started on excel- its really the best tracker!