As the rain thrums a tune on the windows of my house in Portland, I am reminded of Switzerland and the nights I spent huddled in my tent on the outskirts of its cities and towns. Nestled between Germany,France,Italy and Austria, the small country of Switzerland boasts the most expensive cost of living of all European nations. As a budget traveller, it can be difficult to traverse Switzerland’s mountainous landscape without racking up a heavy debt. During my two week stay, I managed to work out some money-saving techniques to keep my hard earned cash from being washed away with the summer rain. I’ve listed these below, in no particular order.
This is one of the best ways to stay cheap, and (if you get a good host) to learn some of the local savoir-faire. For those who might not know, couchsurfing.org is a website dedicated to promoting the sharing of cultures through the sharing of couches/beds. After signing up, you can search potential hosts by region, city or country. With thousands and thousands of members, couch-surfers can be found in practically any part of the world. However, it is always best to send messages at least two weeks in advance so that you can have a confirmed bed before you leave home. Often, it can take 20 messages before receiving a positive response. In Zurich we were hosted by a school teacher who lived just outside the city in a large, mostly empty house. All three people in my group were given their own room. In Lausanne, we lucked out with a last-minute host who lived in a small apartment in the centre of town. In both cases, we saved at least 10-20 francs (12-24$) per person per night, which can be a significant amount over the course of a month or two. We also gained first-hand knowledge about the attractions in these cities, which is extremely helpful if you’re time-bound as well. It should be understood, however, that couch-surfing does come with risks. The website tries to mitigate dangers by allowing couch-surfers to rate their hosts and by allowing hosts to have their location verified, but no couch sharing system between strangers can ever be 100 per cent safe. Solo women travellers should be especially careful. I have heard stories of hosts who wander around the house nude, or hosts who “forget” to tell the surfers that they will have to share a narrow bed, but I have never heard of anything more serious than creepy men.
For times when you just can’t find someone willing to host you, camping is the way to go. Carrying around a tent may be heavy, but it can save you quite a bit of cash if you do your research (though not nearly as much as staying free). For our party of three, we spent about 10-15 francs (12-18US$) per person per night. Though by no means cheap, the cheapest hostels in Switzerland cost about 30 francs (35US$) per person per night – extremely pricey! The important thing to remember is that Switzerland is cold, even during the middle of the summer. I learned that the hard way. I only brought a thin cotton sheet to cover me during the nights. I was expecting temperatures to go no lower than 20°C. Most nights it dropped down to 10°C. The first night we camped I slept only one hour before the cold woke me up. The next night we borrowed blankets from the campground and slept through the night without a problem. The most important thing about camping is to come prepared!
Buy meals from the supermarket, not restaurants
First of all, expect to eat no more than two meals a day. That being said, restaurants inSwitzerlandare extremely expensive. The cheapest meal you’ll find is going to cost at least 15 francs (18US$). Most will cost closer to 20 francs (24US$). Added up, this can put a heavy dent in your wallet. I bought several of my meals in supermarkets, and pared my meal costs down to about 7 or 8 francs (8-9US$). Though you won’t be eating gourmet, five star dinners, supermarkets do provide good local variety. InSwitzerland, each city has its own special cheeses which are made in the area, and Swiss chocolate was also available for cheap (Toblerone is made inBern,Switzerland).
If I ever do find myself feeling hungry outside meal times, I buy a litre of milk from the supermarket. It’s a good way to get protein and calcium on the go. Plus, it comes cheap: anywhere from 1-2 francs. Other than protein, it doesn’t provide too much nutrition, but it does keep you full.
Do free stuff/cheap stuff
You don’t always have to do the most expensive things to have the best experience. In Bern,Switzerland’s capitol, a quickly flowing river twists through the centre of town. During the midday heat, local children and adults like to jump off bridges into the fast moving waters of the river Aare. After walking by the bridge a few times, I decided to try it myself. I stripped off my shirt and jumped in. The initial shock of splashing into the 10 degree water took my breath away. After a few seconds, my body adjusted, and I was able to enjoy a 60 second ride that took me at least a quarter kilometre (the river moves faster than the joggers running on the sidewalk beside it).
Probably the most photo-friendly spot I found during the trip was also free. By walking up a large hill on the outskirts of Bern instead of taking the tram, I saved at least 12 francs (14US$). At the top I was treated to the towering mountain landscape of the Swiss Alps.
Written and Photographed by Neal.S.Walker
& Alyssa Ransbury