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Thrifty Travel Through Europe

May 16, 1999|LUCY IZON | Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com

For Europe-bound independent travelers who have plenty of time but limited money, guidebook publisher Lonely Planet has introduced an extensive new source of helpful information--the 1,224-page "Europe on a Shoestring." And for travelers who don't want to tour completely on their own, the European backpacker bus service, Busabout, is expanding its tour routes so that travelers can stop in any of 60 cities.

A well-researched guidebook should save you its cost many times over. "Europe on a Shoestring" features detailed budget travel information on 40 European countries, contributed by 35 travel writers.

Along with background information on regions and sites, it includes suggestions on where to stay on a budget, details on how to get around using inexpensive local services (for example, in London you can stretch your budget by buying an economical Travelcard for unlimited use of the Underground and buses after 9:30 a.m.), advice on local cons and scams, addresses for cyber-cafes (so you can keep in touch with home) and information that will help you save on your sightseeing (i.e. the Louvre Museum in Paris offers everyone a reduced rate of about $4.60 on Sundays). With 144 maps (some city, some regional), not only can the book help you pick accommodations close to the sites you want to visit, but you'll find that for some cities there are even suggested routes for your own walking tours.

"Europe on a Shoestring" includes a special section for first-time visitors, concentrating on basic trip preparation, from figuring out where to go and when to estimating a budget, deciding what to pack and knowing how to play it safe.

Lonely Planet advises that the cheapest per-day budget for a bare-bones trip with few luxuries is $30 to $35 plus air fare and rail pass. A more realistic per-day budget is $40. Eastern Europe, Turkey and Morocco could save you $5 to $10 per day; Scandinavian countries could cost $15 a day more.

For itinerary strategies, the book advises: "Pick a few major cities that you absolutely, positively must visit--for example London, Paris, Munich, Venice, Florence and Madrid. Budget at least 2 1/2 days in each city, and add a day each for traveling between them. So far that's 20 days. Now spend a few hours researching day trips . . . if you budget for one day trip per city, you're at 26 days. Now add three days for impromptu side trips and/or sleeping in and relaxing, and three days for travel-related delays for a total of 32 days."

"Europe on a Shoestring," $24.95 by Lonely Planet, is now in bookstores. Lonely Planet also has free upgrades for its guidebooks on its Internet site at: http://www.lonelyplanet.com.au/upgrades.

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Totally independent travel isn't for everyone. If you want some assistance without giving up control completely, there are alternative services such as the Busabout hop-on-hop-off bus. You won't get the interaction with the local community, but you should meet lots of other youthful independent travelers from around the world.

The way it works is that you purchase a pass for a specific amount of time, which is valid for unlimited travel along five loops that link 60 European cities. You make your way from Oslo in the north to the south of Spain and as far east as Vienna. Service along each loop is every two or three days. With an add-on, you can link to London or continue to Morocco; Majorca, Spain; Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Budapest, Hungary; and Warsaw.

Passes start at 15 days. Discounted rates are available to those who have a recognized university, student, youth or teacher identity card. This season, a 15-day pass is $395, or $285 for a cardholder; 21-day passes are $495, or $380; one month is $635, or $465; and two months is $875, or $690.

It's also possible to pay ahead for accommodations--the bus will drop you at the door. Hostel vouchers are sold in groups of 10 for $140. Expect multi-bed lodgings at tent villages, campsites and in bungalows. This year, for the first time, hotel accommodations are also available for $48 per person sharing a triple room, $55 in a double or twin room and $79 in a single room in any of 700 Minotels Superior Tourist Class hotels.

Busabout's summer schedule operates until Oct. 31. You can start your travel in any of the 60 cities in the system. Passes can be purchased from Council Travel, 10904 Lindbrook Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90024; telephone (800) 2COUNCIL, Internet http://www.counciltravel.com. For Busabout information on the Internet visit http://www.busabout.com.

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