If you think that broke people can’t travel, you’re wrong. They shouldn’t go to Doha or Copenhagen, but there are places no less interesting and far more affordable – places like Poland. You can spend all your life savings here, but alternatively, knowing a few things tourists usually don’t know, you can have a wonderful time for just a few złoty.
Travelling around Poland
Poland is not a huge country, so moving around is relatively easy. However, there are easy ways and smart ways which give a well-informed traveller many chances to save money. The cheapest way to move between cities is to buy an early ticket for the private bus lines: Polski Bus, Simple Express and Lux Express. They offer low-fare domestic trips and are usually the best way to get to one of the neighbouring countries as well. By taking advantage of the cut-throat competition between these companies, and by booking early, you’ll be able to get bargains like Warsaw – Kraków for 3€, or Warsaw – Prague (Czech Republic) for 18€.
If you didn’t have time to book early, you can always try checking PKS (the Motor Transport Company) – the successor to the inter-city bus monopoly of Communist times. It’s usually quite cheap (differs depending on the region, as it was privatised and decentralised) but may be also quite surprising... You might prefer to see some of their coaches in a museum rather than on the road.
If you believe that ‘time is money’ and you have a chance to plan your stay in Poland both precisely and early, domestic flights may come in handy. LOT, the Polish national airline, as well as the Irish Ryanair, can transport you between the bigger cities in an hour for small change. How does 10€ for a 45-minute flight from Warsaw to Gdansk sound to you instead of a 417km / 260-mile drive? Multiple new airports have recently opened in smaller cities such as Lublin and Rzeszów, and a new one right in the centre of the Masurian lake district is scheduled to open at the end of 2015 so you can fly to any region you want.
Finally, Poles have fallen in love in carpooling, so it’s really easy to find a way to get to the most distant and forgotten places by joining somebody else. The best-known web portal for searching for your ride is blablacar. Rarely do the drivers charge more than 10-12€, even for a journey across Poland.
Eating and Accommodation
Good news! Even though prices in restaurants and cafés are just a little lower than the rest of Europe there are ways to fill your stomach for almost nothing. For breakfast, try looking for marketplaces or local stores. Dairy products, bread and cold cuts are often sold at prices unseen elsewhere. 8-10€ will be enough to prepare a delightful breakfast for four people. Fresh, local Polish products are famous for being tasty and organic, and are one of the things not to be missed in Poland, so it’s really worth the extra effort to get them.
For lunch (in the unlikely event you've finished all your breakfast supplies) or dinner, you need to learn two words in Polish: bar mleczny (Polish for “milk bars”, but they serve much more than dairy products). These strange restaurants inherited from Communist times offer common Polish dishes at low prices and decent quality. It’s not a gourmet’s choice, but it’s usually fresh and gives you an overview of what most Poles eat on an ordinary day. Remember, getting directions to the nearest bar mleczny is your ticket to an economical and tasty meal.
There is no golden rule for cheap accommodation, but you’ll probably be very pleased with the prices of hostels and Airbnb offers, as well as private rooms for rent, which are very popular in rural tourist destinations.
The best thing about visiting Poland is that despite the necessary costs of daily requirements, you can do a myriad of fascinating things and get to know the country quite well without taking your wallet or purse out of your pocket.
For example, you can use public bikes to get around the biggest cities instead of buying tickets for public transport. Hire fees are very low, and the initial payment of 2.5€ may be enough for several days – especially considering that in many cities (including Warsaw and Krakow) your first 20 minutes of riding is free, so if you hop from destination to destination it could end up not costing you a single Polish grosz (1/100th of a zloty). There is a chain of public bikes operating in Warsaw, Kraków, Tricity, Katowice, Opole, Wrocław, Białystok, Lublin and Poznań. Registration takes about a minute and might be useful for the future as the same chain is available in many other European cities. If you happen to visit a smaller city, finding an individual bike rental company shouldn’t be a problem.
If you are into museums and galleries be advised that almost every one of them has a day with free admission for their permanent exhibitions. In the past 10 years, building of new, innovative and interactive museums has been booming, so it might be the perfect way to spark your wandering around the Polish cities. The days of free admission differ from museum to museum, so you have to check each respective museum’s website each time you plan to visit one. It may be a bit time consuming, but on the other hand you can plan to visit a new place each day of your stay. The stunning Warsaw Rising Museum (Warsaw), the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow or POLIN (Museum of the History of Polish Jews) are not to be missed!
Finally, if you happen to visit Poland during spring or summer, you can be sure to stumble upon hundreds of free summer festivals, outdoor cinemas and theatres, parties and concerts, in every corner of the country.