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To Minimize Costs in Europe, Plan to the Max

May 23, 1999|LUCY IZON | Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www

Touring Europe on a budget is a challenge, but a little pre-trip planning can really pay off.

Before you leave home, invest in a guidebook suitable for your style of adventure and take advantage of free information available from national tourist boards. Good guidebooks for student travelers include "Let's Go: Europe" from St. Martin's Press, "Europe on a Shoestring" from Lonely Planet and "Europe by Train" by Katie Wood, published by Ebury Press.

In "Europe by Train," for instance, you'll not only learn about using the rail system, you'll find budget-stretching tips for many destinations. You'll learn, for example, that in Monaco travelers under 26 can find budget accommodations at the Princess Stephanie Youth Centre at 24 Ave. Prince Pierre, telephone 011-377-93-50-7505, and that in Copenhagen any traveler can take advantage of the 2,500 free bikes that can be borrowed from any of 125 depots around the city.

Your guidebook or travel agent should be able to help you contact tourist information offices. Some, such as Britain's, publish excellent free information specifically for young visitors. UK '99 is an 80-page glossy magazine packed with information for young visitors. For a free copy, contact the British Tourist Authority at 551 Fifth Ave., Suite 701, New York, NY 10176; tel. (800) GO2-BRIT, Internet

Other hints:

* Before you leave home, consider signing up for one of the free easy-to-use e-mail services such as Hotmail (Internet With this type of service you can easily read your mail, or even look at photos sent to you, from any computer hooked up to the Internet. The service is free because they make their money from advertising banners.

* Take advantage of student and youth (under 26) discounts. International student and youth identity cards are available through campus travel agencies such as STA Travel or Council Travel, tel. (800) 2COUNCIL, Internet

* Make sure your ATM card is compatible with European systems. Four-digit PIN numbers are more acceptable than five. Ask what the fee is for a withdrawal.

* Invest in a money pouch so you can keep tickets, money and documents safely under your clothing. Make sure the holder is water-resistant; in a humid climate or downpour you don't want ink to run. Some styles can be worn around the waist or hung from your neck, under your shirt.

* Pack a padlock; many hostels have lockers available, and you just need to provide a lock. On trains you'll be able to lock your bag to a rack. Include a water bottle and utensils so you can create your own inexpensive picnics. Slip in an English-language novel for long journeys--they're very expensive abroad.

* Try packing your clothing and gear in several clear plastic bags; this will make it easier to see and get at what you need, and you'll be more protected in wet weather. Include some resealable plastic bags for food, damp clothes, etc.

* If you'll be staying in hostels, you will need a sheet sleeping bag. They are sold at youth hostels, or you can make one by folding a sheet in half and sewing it along the bottom and up most of the way along the open side.

* Consider pre-booking accommodations for your first night abroad. Hostelling International has a reservation service known as IBN. For a $5 fee you can book a bed in advance in 35 countries. For information, call (202) 783-6161, Internet

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