European Budget Travel for Beginners (Like Me)

Ryanair. Interesting way to travel. Not my favorite way by any means but here we are. Where I want to go (Spain, where I always want to go)  is two hours from Charleroi airport (south of Brussels) by air, but that’s the easy part; you can’t get to Charleroi from my house, nor even from my little town! The train station is about 7 minutes from my house, and Charleroi airport is about 30 minutes away, so you would think, or at least I did, that you just catch a train from one to the other. Huh uh. You have to go clear to Brussels Midi, the main train station in this tiny little country, practically passing right by Charleroi, then catch a bus back to the Charleroi airport! It’s about a two hour proposition, for Pete’s sake. Lucky for me, a coworker overheard me complaining, er, talking about it, took pity on me and drove me to the airport. God bless her!

Ryanair is a low-cost airline, and a good option, for some trips. I think for this one, I might’ve paid essentially the same had I taken a regular airline. After paying for a checked bag by accident, then not being able to undo it, (€25, a discount of 50% because I did it online) then paying to reserve a seat (€10), then paying various unexpected fees to the tune of another €20, the cost was very near that of a less, shall we say, budget-conscious airline fare. Live and learn, as they say.

Boarding at Charleroi was an experience in itself. Because reserved seats are an option, everyone gets up to stand in line for boarding. As you can imagine, that is a lengthy proposition, so I just kept my seat and waited for the line to wind down. I had a reserved seat, remember. After probably fifteen minutes, near the end of the line was a couple boarding with two children. They were hung up with packing up some stuff they had gotten out for whatever reason, and a gap of four or five meters developed in the line in front of them. I happened to be sitting right beside that gap. I watched this little family struggling with all the stuff involved in traveling with small children: stroller, toys, bottles, diapers, blankets, shoes, etc, etc, etc. I watched this. For at least a minute and a half. I looked from them to the people taking the tickets, then back to them. I folded my I-Pad up and put it into my bag. I looked up to see the couple still shoving things into a bag as the gap in the line in front of them grew wider and wider. Have you guessed yet what I did?

You know, I really wish I didn’t. But. But yes, I did. I stood up and stepped into the end of that long gap in the line, which by now was almost to the gate entrance. The line there split in two, so the family wasn’t, I don’t think, delayed by my intrusion, or if they were, it was by fewer than five seconds, I would guess. Nevertheless, if that young mother had had a gun, I think I might not be writing this at the moment. I smiled weakly and tried not to notice. She didn’t say anything, or if she did, thankfully I didn’t hear it. We moved through the line and they were a few places behind me as we headed out the door and over the tarmac toward the plane.

The plane was boarding from the back, and my reserved seat was all the way at the front, so I was patiently working my way up the length of the aircraft. I had nearly reached my seat when I noticed that they had boarded the last few passengers from the front and there were now people working their way from the front to the back of the plane. I sighed. “Great. Just dandy. Ah, well, I suppose that’s what I get for cutting in line,” I thought. I was two rows from my seat and now people were passing me going the other way. Suddenly I was face to face with the angry and harried young mother, who was not about to let me by. I said, smiling brightly and pointing, “My seat is right there..” and she replied with words that thankfully, I couldn’t hear over the din, but the expression on her face communicated quite clearly. I squeezed myself sideways as small as I could, and she shoved herself and her children by me. Her seemingly oblivious husband followed. I politely asked the next person to let me get to the seat behind the bulkhead, and she smiled sweetly and waited as I moved toward my seat. She obviously didn’t know I was a queue-cutter.

The flight itself was pleasantly uneventful. I arrived in Andalucía no worse for wear and enjoyed a delightful vacation from the grey Belgian skies. I learned a few lessons on the trip, however, lessons about how to book a flight to get you from point A to point B in Europe, and it’s my pleasure to pass those along to you.

First, don’t assume that the budget airline is the cheapest. Sometimes the mainstream airlines run specials that are surprising. Brussels Airlines recently had a €99 fare for many locations in Europe. Check skyscanner.com, Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizzair, but also check the websites of the bigger airlines that are near where you live. Realize that a minor difference in fares might actually be no difference at all when you add in fees the budget airlines might charge.

Second, pay a few euros more for a later flight, both going and coming back. I had to leave my vacation a day early so that I could get to a hotel near the airport or I would not have made it on time. As it was, my flight was so early I had to take a taxi; buses and trains did not run early enough.

Next, be careful as you make you make your online reservation. I totally didn’t mean to buy a checked bag. I was lucky that it was discounted fifty percent; it cost me €25 instead of €50. I didn’t need the checked bag at all, though. Bye-bye €50!

Also, be sure you pack that carry-on carefully. Some of the budget airlines allow you only one bag to carry on, meaning if you have a purse or a laptop bag, they have to fit INTO the carry-on while not exceeding the permitted weight. At least one airline allows only ten kilos for your carry-on. My purse with my I-Pad, camera, and makeup weighs practically that much!

Finally, buy the reserved seat. The lines to board are long, and if you have your reserved seat, there is no need to stand there, shifting your weight from one foot to the other for fifteen to twenty minutes or even more. You simply sit for a bit, read your kindle or I-Pad, and finally board, after the queue has diminished. I do recommend you try to avoid watching the line go by, especially if it contains an overwhelmed young mother, her toddlers and their strollers and other paraphernalia.

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About Sunny

I'm an American with a Spanish heart, and one foot in France. But both feet are in Belgium, along with the rest of me.
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4 Responses to European Budget Travel for Beginners (Like Me)

  1. Good advice – sometimes it is worth spending a few euros! A reserved seat on a discount airline is cheap luxury. Important thing to do though is to know when to stop adding in those few extra euros before your ticket ends up costing more than a full service airline.

  2. I’ve never flown on the real budget airlines, eg Ryanair and SleazyJet and can’t say I want to. I understand jumping the queue was par for the course with them though.

    I read the British Airways site recently where they were comparing themselves with budget airlines and pointing out the extras charged by the cheap airlines for items that were included within the BA price. I thought it was pretty interesting.

    I don’t think I’ve ever flown where there has been a scramble for seats. Much prefer allocated seating and then I can wait leisurely for everyone else to board.

    Hope you had a good break here in Andalucía and look forward to hearing more about it.

    • Sunny says:

      Yeah, it was challenging but I can see how it can be worth it. But you must buy your seat…the good thing is for that 10 euro you can get a bulkhead seat a lot of times, I think!

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