The Promise of “Cheap” Travel


This might come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m becoming a skeptic of cheap travel. 

This is taboo to say, I think. Especially for a student.

But hear me out.

Excited to fly to Stockholm. Photo courtesy of my friend Sophia.

Excited to fly to Stockholm. Photo courtesy of my friend Sophia.

I love to travel, and I cannot afford to go all the places I want to go… at least not full price. But the more I travel, and the more I research opportunities to travel, the more I’m realizing how inconvenient it is. I mean, sure, Ryanair and Easyjet are wonderful things, but when it comes down to it: how much are you gaining from the few extra euros?

Everyone and their mother has heard of Ryanair (or Easyjet or Jetblue… insert other budget airline here). It’s a great option, and I will almost certainly be using it at one point while I’m abroad. That hasn’t happened yet, though.

As it turns out, for the places I want to go are not easily accessible by Ryanair. (Or other “budget” airlines!) For example, to get from my university town of Joensuu, Finland to Aix-en-Provence, France (where I’ll be this summer), I would have to take a bus or train from Joensuu to Lappeenranta, then a flight to “Milan”, “Dusseldorf”, or “Barcelona”. None of those airports are actually in the cities associated with them. Mostly, to get from those places to the nearby (bigger) airports, I’d have to take a bus, train, or taxi. And then another flight, bus, or train to Marseille. And then someone would have to come pick me up, or I’d have to take a bus to Aix.


Sometimes surprisingly cheap: train travel!

And of course, I’d have to pay luggage fees.

That’s just not a reasonable option. While I love train rides and flights, there is nothing glorious about spending so long in transit or hauling luggage around. If I were traveling with a carry-on only (which WILL be the case one day…), I would still worry. Even on bigger airlines, sometimes you end up on planes that are so small that you can’t possibly fit your standard (maximum sized) carry-on luggage into the overhead compartments. The stress of traveling in such a haphazard way when you have a very specific destination to get to and don’t want to waste your time or money city- and country-hopping your way through foreign airports to get there just isn’t worth it. At least for me.

That is not to say that there’s anything wrong with budget travel.

I think the danger of it comes in when travelers unsuspectingly lock themselves into the “budget” option without considering the more standard alternatives… the ones that aren’t “budget”. Sure, a flight from Paris to Marseille COULD be $300, but if you know where to look, a flight on a major airline between the same airports might also be $70. If you’re checking bags, or want to go to specific (more central) locations, rather than the out-of-the-way options provided by airlines like Ryanair, then you should be INCREDIBLY thorough in your research.

Consider transportation to the airport, fees, transportation between airports/your final destination at EVERY leg of the trip. IMG_2778

It takes time and patience to figure it out. Also math. All to answer the question: how can you puzzle together the ABSOLUTELY cheapest option?

There reaches a point where it is no longer fun to play with the endless options. When you realize that maybe the “cheap” options that everyone tells you about aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Or maybe you just find out that an extra 3 euros gets you a better departure time, or an extra 20 gets you a snack and a free checked bag. Or, against all expectations, the budget option is actually MORE EXPENSIVE than the more traditional route. I can’t say which is better– the adventure and stress of piecemeal travel might be your style, and I certainly want to try it out in some capacity!

In the meantime, though, for your convenience…

Here are my suggestions for places to find cheap flights without the hassle. Add your favorites in the comments– I’d love to know how everyone gets around 🙂

Have you travelled on “budget” airlines? I’d love to hear your experiences!

(originally posted on my blog on Students Gone Global)


6 thoughts on “The Promise of “Cheap” Travel

  1. I think you are describing “value” which means far more than money. Time has value, and if I have to spend a lot of it to save money, have I really come out ahead? Enjoyment has value, and if I sacrifice it by stress caused by a horrid departure time or cramped seats, have I really come out ahead? Health has value and if I end up sleep depraved and sick because I saved money on a red-eye flight have I really come out ahead? So yes, I’ll spend $50 more for the plane ticket at the 9 am departure instead of the 6:30 am departure. I’ll pay $200 more for the non-stop to Europe Vs playing bouncy plane and go through 3 different legs (always wondering if I’m going to make the next flight and risking denied boarding).
    I think that’s why I like Hipmunk, which rates flights by agony factor (how early you have to get up, how much you have to pay, how many times stops, etc.). Hopper is also a great site for predictive pricine.

    • You’re right– value is a big deal. The cheapest option might not have the best value 🙂 I haven’t heard of those before, thanks for sharing!

  2. A girl after my own heart! I’m always scouring websites to find the best flight & accommodation deals! Since Im’m no longer a student, I get to travel much more often which is great! I usually start with skyscanner, and I agree that ‘budget’ airlines don’t always have the best value. I recently travelled 21 hours to get fro, Scotland to Greece – which in hindsight was craziness…but when you want to travel off-season, you have to compromise on some things. I have no qualms about travelling ‘budget’ if it’s the best option though, I actually just referenced this in my latest post. In cities like London & Paris, it is worth getting the cheap flight then taking public transport into the city since it only adds 1 hour to the journey time.
    So do you opt for trains more often?

    • Skyscanner is the best! That sounds like quite an adventure– I’ll have to check out your blog, I hope you wrote about it! 🙂 In Finland, I’ve taken trains more than I’ve flown. As a student here, there’s a significant discount which makes it cheaper than flying between cities in Finland, or at least between my city and other places. I took trains semi-frequently when I studied in France– again, student rate!– but I think that was more related to convenience than price. Thanks for commenting!

  3. So…I read your blog yesterday then spent the better part of the next couple of hours just exploring the possibilities of Google Flights. I totally blame you for a wasted afternoon. 😀 I’m kidding, this was a great post, and I totally agree about the “budget” airlines not always offering the best deal in terms of value. And I like taking trains because you can get to the station just minutes before your train leaves, totally less of a hassle compared to going through an airport.

    • I’m sorry(ish) that you have found the rabbit hole of Google flights… travel possibilities are so enticing! 🙂 Not having to go through security is a huge perk of trains, one of the many reasons to love ’em. Thank you for commenting!

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