Many people have asked how we managed to travel so cheaply to the 7 destinations we have just visited and the short answer is lots of research and planning! Initially, we had our dates set off when we wanted to go and then did copious research online to determine how easy it was to travel from country to country…of course what we did would not be everybody’s cup of tea but for us we wanted to make the most of our two-week break!
We started off our planning in January; at that time of year there were several New Year Flight sales on including Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz Air. These three airlines are our most popular airlines we travel with as although they are budget they are generally reliable and you can get good rates. Our initial point of starting, however, was where we would be prepared to fly from and return to and how we would get to the airport. Ideally, Gatwick or Heathrow would have been our preferred airports but the flights here are very much in demand and a lot more expensive. From reviewing the fare finder on Ryanair.com there were a few options from Luton and Stansted but Stockholm stood out for us at £9.99 each from Stansted. I looked on Skyscanner.net to see what options there were onwards from Skavsta airport in Stockholm and saw Bucharest for £15 then Timisoara in Romania for £8 (tip – Skyscanner allows you to search ‘everywhere’ from a specific location allowing you to see the cheapest choices available).
We chose Timisoara because although we had never heard of it, it was very near the border of Serbia; We read some reviews online and managed to determine a company called GeaTours offered a door to door service from locations in Timisoara to Belgrade addresses for 10 euros in a minibus. From some tentative online enquiries they confirmed that they could accommodate us on that date for the 3-hour trip and therefore from online reviews we felt confident enough to carry on and book this flight. (Please note there is another company called GeaTravel started up by an old driver who was sacked from GeaTours which has very bad reviews – if you go this route ensure its GeaTours, not GeaTravel). Geatours agreed to contact us between 6pm-8pm the night before travel to confirm pick up time and it was payment on the day.
From Belgrade there were no reasonable onward flight options but there was a bus option again to get to Pristina in Kosovo through Adio Tours. I did contact them via Facebook prior to travelling but they stated that we would need to phone them or book at the bus station prior to travelling. The cost of this bus option was 15 euros each with a travel time of 5 – 6 hours. Whilst that seems long we considered transfers to the airport, waiting around for the flight and then getting through security the other side we felt this would be an ok option. From reviewing the Balkan Visitor website we were able to see there were a few time options in a day and therefore decided this would be quite easy to book at the bus station the day before travel to ensure we got a seat.
From Pristina again there were no clear flight options but Skopje in Macedonia was only 2-3 hour bus ride away and Balkan Visitor showed departures nearly every 30 minutes from 5.30am until 6pm. We decided we would book this on the day at a cost of 5 euros plus 50 cents which is charged for a station fee.
We had to consider how we would get back to our original departure airport of Stansted and unfortunately you could only fly back to Luton from Skopje; however, Sofia in Bulgaria did offer EasyJet flights back to Stansted on the date we wanted for £37 each. We therefore looked at transport options to Sofia and noted that Alba Tours offered 3 departures a day for 15 euros each with a travel time of approx 5 hours. We also decided we would book this upon arrival to ensure we got seats.
Total for travel between countries: £110 each
Accommodation and Transfers
All accommodation was booked through Booking.com except for Stockholm which was booked through Expedia with cashback through our Barclays bank account. Due to the fact we wanted some flexibility in our dates in case of the unexpected we booked mostly payment on arrival on Booking.com. With regard to Stockholm, we booked a hotel package with car hire through Expedia for £180 for the Connect Hotel and a very nice Kia Niro hire car through Budget. Stockholm was not cheap for hotels and we realised the airport we were flying into was not near the city. The cost of transfers outweighed the cost of the hire car and therefore the package did work out well for us.
In Bucharest, we wanted to venture out to Bran Castle and the Bear Sanctuary and therefore we hired a VW Polo for 3 days through Wizz Air for £44. The cost of visiting Bran Castle and the Bear Sanctuary was approximately 60-80 euros each through a tour; it therefore made sense to hire a car to cut down not only transfers and tour costs but also to give us flexibility in getting out and about without having a set schedule. For our other locations, taxis were relatively cheap at between 2-5 euros to reach our accommodation from the bus stations/airports. We reserved central accommodation for all cities for ease of transport costs.
We booked two weeks airport parking at Stansted Long Stay Car Park for £60, whilst that sounds expensive it worked out less than £4.30 a day. Given the fact we couldn’t find any options to travel to and from Stansted for under £60 each by either coach or train this was the best option we came up with. We booked this through Holiday Extras and after some googling managed to get us a 15% discount code.
Finally – we decided to travel on hand luggage for 2 weeks! We ensured that there was a washing machine at at least two of our accommodation options and planned to take enough small toiletries so we didn’t have to worry about buying more. By travelling just on hand luggage we saved a fortune on additional baggage fees for the 4 flights which are between £25-40 each per flight.
The next few posts will let you know if everything went to plan……..