April 8, 2020

Discount Airlines: Cheap flights that make your life easier, or do they?

Ryanair flight

European airline companies such as Ryanair, Easy Jet and Wizz Air pride themselves on having the cheapest flights around. As a poor college student or frugal backpacker these are usually the first websites you visit when booking a trip. Unlike the mainstream providers back in the U.S, these discounted airlines advertise monthly specials for twenty pounds (around $40) or less. By forming partnerships with hotels, hostels, trains, and car hire companies, customers do not only get deals on flights, but they receive help with all of their travel needs. As tempting as these “special offers” sound, it is important not to fall into the typical travel trap.

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Anyone that has flown with Ryanair, Easy Jet, or Wizz air, knows that it is never a smooth ride, unless you come prepared, and even then sometimes you have a strong urge to yell at someone. The number one mistake newcomers make, when dealing with these airlines, is to bring a bag that fits regulations. I was just as guilty as the next person in thinking that an average sized carry-on was perfectly suitable to bring on one of these smaller planes, I was wrong. All three airlines state that each passenger is permitted only one piece of cabin baggage for free, including handbags, briefcases, laptops, cameras etc. So everything you have essentially has to fit into one bag. Ryanair and Wizz Air demand that the carry-on have the maximum dimensions of 55x40x20, and doesn’t exceed a weight of 10 kilograms. Which essentially means, if you pack like I do, you’re shit out of luck. Luckily, Easyjet allows a slightly bigger carry-on at 56x45x25 and no weight restrictions, making it my favorite out of the three.

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Obviously, for people that don’t mind spending the extra money, checking bags is the easier route. However, for me, checking bags seems like the absolute worst thing imaginable when traveling. It must have something to do with the fact that Continental airlines lost all five of my suitcases when I moved from the U.S to London two years ago. I loved having my entire life floating around two different airports on two different continents; yea, good times. Also, when you travel alone, and you plan on hopping around a lot, the best thing to have is clothes, not an irritated lady on a phone telling you they will come in a few days.

Ever since that particularly stressful move, I force myself to only travel with carry-on’s, which is especially difficult with these airlines. However, even with all of the ‘small print’ and added fees, these flights are worth it, so get used to packing light. For most of my trips, I would bring this little red square rolling carry-on that I knew met protocol, and then July of last year I went backpacking and was forced to bring something different. My sister and I backpacked for six weeks throughout Europe and most of our stories come from our airport experiences. Now instead of my perfectly sized red suitcase, I had a slightly wider and longer backpack that pretty much became the death of me. On several occasions I had meltdowns in the airport trying to reorganize my bag, so that it would fit within the bag regulations case. Yup, my underwear and bras laying out in airport security was definitely one of the highlights. I was constantly trying to flatten my bag and wear as many clothes as I could just to board the plane. Let’s just say at two flights a day, it was a stressful experience that could’ve been made easier with a smaller bag. So next time I insist on packing the high heels I never wore, or the 18 tank tops that were overkill, my sister has promised to remind me of this hell we endured together.

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The worst moment was when we were flying from Milan to Athens, and we were both already sweating to death underneath layers of clothes, and Jenelle realized Ryanair had a scale out. I thought I was going to cry right there. After I weighed my bag at 14 kilos and Jenelle’s was much the same, we spent an hour ripping everything we could out of our bags and putting it onto our bodies. After wearing almost everything I owned at once, and my bag still was 1 kilo over I threw it down and started to undress. Ryanair charged us 40 euro each to check our bags which total averaged 150 dollars.

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Often times, when you approach the gate, the stewardesses’ will size your bag, and if it doesn’t meet protocol, they will put it into the hold and charge you 60 euro. Other times, I’ve actually seen passengers meet protocol, but there isn’t enough room on the plane so they will take your bag, put it into the hold, and still charge you anyway. If you’re not careful, all of the added fees can actually make the flight cost more money than if you’d originally gone with a different airline.

Destination-wise, Wizz Air has the most flights to the Eastern countries, like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Wizz Air also flies to the mainstream parts of Europe, but it is most popular for covering so many eastern countries. Ryanair is known for flying basically everywhere; the only advice I want to pass onto my readers is that they usually fly into the second popular airport in each country, rather than the first, which can make it difficult transportation-wise. Sometimes, the second-rate airports don’t have train stations and only cabs or buses, so you just need to be prepared and research beforehand. As for Easyjet, it doesn’t fly to as many places as Ryanair, but when it does fly, it typically goes to the main airport.

No matter how much frustration I have flying with these airlines at times, they can save you a pretty penny, if you can abide by the rules. And although package deals seem great, someone other than you is walking away with a profit, so use these flights to your advantage and plan your own vacation. Get risky, fly to new places, and whatever you do pack smart.

Prague, Czech Republic – Trip Summary

Prague Winter Festival

Prague, Czech Republic

This town was made for walking

There’s something about Prague that keeps bringing me back. Although most people, if given the chance to travel to Europe, would choose Paris, London, or Rome, I find this city enthralling and it has been proven over the past decade that this thriving city has slowly become a major tourist destination. In my opinion, the fact that this beautifully rich and diverse city is often times overlooked makes it THE hidden gem of Europe.

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Prague Winter Festival

With the center of Prague dating back thousands of years, this city embodies aspects of the Medieval, Old World and 15-17th century, even today. The city center is adorned in ornate architecture and filled with cultural attractions, which is a strong contrast to the stark outskirts, found just a fifteen minute ride east by tram. The center of Prague is comprised of narrow cobblestoned streets, lavishly decorated bridges and the biggest Castle in all of Europe; whereas the outskirts of the city reflect the years after World War II, when Communism was the social order. As you head East the effects of Communism become apparent; the building are cold gray slabs, and the land is bare. For the longest time, the Iron Curtain prevented people from entering or leaving the country, but with the fall of the Berlin Wall came the destruction of the neighboring Communist regimes, and all the barriers they had built. In the last twenty years, Prague has rebuilt itself into a political, cultural, and economic powerhouse for central Europe.

I have visited Prague twice over the past couple of years. Once in late November, and once in Mid-January. My advice to fellow travelers and bloggers would be to go in the Fall, right around Thanksgiving. Although the city was freezing on both occasions, Thanksgiving weekend is when the locals start to set up the outdoor Christmas markets. Seeing this already stunning city lined with little wooden huts selling everything from mead (honey wine) to sausages to souvenirs’ is an absolute treat. Fifty-foot Christmas trees stand in the center of town as well as by the commercial district, and the entire city feels illuminated. Even with the bitter cold whipping at your body, people have a friendly, airy demeanor about them. The first time I went, I was with my father and as we entered Old Town square, we were surrounded by locals serving food, a band was singing German and Czech holiday songs, and a pig was roasting on an open fire. A few goats, lambs, and Ponies wandered around a larger wooden stable nearby for children to pet. Locals sang, ate, and danced in the street, making the atmosphere a memorable one.

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Astrological Clock

My favorite area of Prague is Old Town; one can walk for hours wandering in and out of souvenir shops, galleries, and restaurants. This is one of those places where you don’t care that you’ve wasted a half of a day buying goodies or taking pictures; with few ‘must see’ attractions, it allows the traveler to spend the time as they like, rather than rush to fit everything in. Old Town square is one of the most popular places to visit, with the Astronomical Clock standing in the center and colorful elaborate buildings surrounding the circle, it is unlike any other square I’ve visited, especially during market season. The peculiar looking clock has been ticking since 1490, and as crowds gather at the base of the tower to take pictures, many don’t realize you can climb to the top. For only a few Czech crowns, you can take a lift to the top of the clock tower and take in some amazing views.

Prague is known for having the largest castle in the world, and after walking the grounds I understand why it holds that reputation. The easiest way to get to the castle, believe it or not, is to walk, especially if you’re staying in old town. There are also trams and buses that make trips up the hill stopping near the grounds, for those visitors staying in the newer part of town. The castle houses the crown jewels, St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, blooming gardens, grand halls, and the Golden Lane. On the street leading up to the grand castle, are palaces that used to be owned by the Royals. For additional costs the Castle provides guided tours, and for those broke backpacking students like myself, there are maps with numbered buildings so that you can find your way. There are two types of tickets you can buy for the castle, one is a longer tour including entrance to the Royal Palace, the exhibition, St. George’s Basilica, the National Gallery, the Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, and the Prague Castle picture gallery for 350 Czech crowns ($19) a person. The other ticket is a shorter tour, allowing entrance to the Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, and the Daliborka Tower for 250 Czech crowns ($14) a person. There are also other tickets available to get into the Galleries. It is important to note that several areas of the Castle do not allow photography, and if they do, it has to be without flash; I learned that one the hard way.

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Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge, which links old town to the Castle grounds, is absolutely the most picturesque location in the city. It crosses over the Vltava River, and is lined on either side with 30 Baroque statues. With all of the religious statues covered in smog from WWII, the bridge takes on a gothic feel. Every time I revisit this bridge, another statue has been scrubbed clean, and it is amazing to see how the marble has discolored over time. During the night, the bridge is quiet and eerie. But during the day, it has a completely different feel; with painters, kiosks, vendors and tourists crowding the walkway, it is the bustling place to be.

A place like Wenceslas Square, is great for grabbing a cup of coffee and people watching, or doing a bit of light shopping. This area is the commercial district, and has some of the more expensive restaurants and stores. The Jewish quarter has the old Jewish Cemetery, a Synagogue, and is mainly known for their garnets. Garnets are sold all over the city, and it is possible to find deals on jewelry anywhere, but the Jewish quarter is undoubtedly known as having the best prices. Prague is also known for producing Bohemian crystal, and it can be found even in souvenir shops for a pretty penny. The outdoor markets and souvenir shops also thrive off of selling beer steins, fur hats, and art. If architecture is your thing, most definitely visit the Dancing House; it’s one of the coolest building’s I’ve ever seen. If art strikes your fancy, I recommend visiting The Museum of Decorative Arts, The National Gallery, or the Lennon Wall.

On my first trip, my father and I wandered up the Petrin Hill unknowingly, and fell onto The Petrinska Rozhledna, an observation tower resembling the Eiffel Tower. It is reachable by funicular and by foot, but we only found it because we became curious once we saw the tracks. The lift within the tower is only for disabled customers and it is about 300 stairs to the top, so I would definitely recommend you go at the beginning of the day when you still have some energy. Because the tower is perched on top of the hill, it actually is quite high, giving visitors the ultimate panoramic view of Prague.

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Czech Food

When I travel around to different countries, transportation is one of the main things I look at. From the airport there is no public transportation into the city, at least that’s what the woman behind the desk decided to tell us at midnight one Wednesday evening. This means that from the airport, you must take a cab into the city; it is about a twenty minute ride and costs around 40 U.S dollars. Once you are situated in the city, whether it is in Old Town or New Town there are several forms of transportation that make it useful to get around. There are trams and buses that run continuously throughout the city, and there is a subway that is fast, clean, and efficient. There are three railway lines, Red, Green and Yellow, and between the three of them you can get anywhere in town. I highly recommend buying a tourist pass if you are there for three days or more. In the train stations, they sell 24-hour passes for 110 Czech Crowns, and 3-day passes for 310 Czech Crowns. Day passes and long-term passes are also available within the station. The passes are good for all forms of transportation and are highly worth the money. DO NOT be fooled; locals walk on trains and trams without swiping tickets all the time, because during the communist rule transportation was free. However, on random days the police will check for tickets and if you do not have one, you will receive a hefty fine.

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Czech Pilsner Beer

The main kind of cuisine found in Prague is anything having to do with meat, sauce and dumplings. Although, they do dabble in cooking duck, fish, and chicken, they mainly specialize in dishes involving pork and beef. At traditional Czech restaurants it is normal to order pork knee or knuckles served to you on a wooden slab. They are famous for their onion and garlic soup as well as their beer. Any restaurant that is branded with the name Pilsner on it means it serves the traditional beers. Prague also offers a slew of other types of cuisine ranging from Italian food to French food, so you are not only limited to the traditional plates.

Prague’s beautiful architecture and quaint streets make it one of the more peaceful trips I’ve taken. With little stress to fit in a billion sites, this city allows you to pace yourself. It’s one of the few places where I felt like I had the time to wander and just enjoy my surroundings. I feel like this city has something to offer everyone, it has a booming nightlife for the younger generations, while still maintaining a quiet and clean environment for families and older individuals. If this city wasn’t on your list before, it should be now.

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Prague Cathedral