Europe is stunningly beautiful but most good things come at a price, and Europe is no exception! So how can you travel in Europe on a budget? We’ve been lucky to travel to Europe four times so we have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way and we’ll share them with you.
In 2014, we took the year off from studying and decided to do the Gap Year thing. Our first stop was Europe. The trip totalled a year, with 7 months of it spent backpacking through Europe. Over this time we visited an array of different countries from pristine to rough around the edges, and cripplingly pricey to pleasantly cheap. And if we do say so ourselves, we sort of nailed the Europe on a budget thing.
In under $50AUD a day we felt like we were able to see heaps of what Europe had to offer and did not break the bank. These are the biggest tips we can give for a exploring Europe on a budget.
1. Book in advance
Booking train tickets in advance will save a lot of money in Europe
Spontaneous travel is great (seriously), but in Europe you will save a lot more money if you book things in advance. Booking accommodation and transport a couple of weeks/months in advance often saved us up to 50%. This is particularly true in Western Europe, whereas in Eastern and Central Europe, and the Balkan nations we found that spontaneity could still produce good prices.
2. Utilise AirBNBs, couch surfing and home stays
Patrick in one of the cute AirBNBs we stayed at in Périgéux in Southern France
Don’t always feel like you have to stay in hotels and hostels, there are plenty of amazing websites which allow you to explore other forms of accommodation. Europe is a great way to start getting to know these options because it’s relatively safe. Our picks would be AirBNB and Couchsurfing. Not only do you get to stay somewhere for free/way cheaper, you’ll get to know friendly locals who will show you a thing or two.
3. Avoid tours (although they have their merits, it is definitely more expensive)
Many young people (especially fresh out of school) think that the only way to see Europe is by going on a big, organised group tour. Fair enough it’s easy and will give your Mum and Dad the peace of mind but it’ll blow a ginormous hole in your wallet and you rarely uncover an authentic experience. If this is the kind of thing you want to do, probably stop looking at Europe on a budget blogs because it just won’t be cheap.
4. Cook your own meals (at least) once a day
One of our favourite meals was this picnic with friends we made in Prague
Food in Europe is to die for! Some of or best memories from Europe are the meals we have shared between ourselves, locals and fellow travellers. But if you’re seriously trying to save money, cutting back on purchasing food and drink is the easiest place to start. We restricted ourselves to usually purchasing one meal a day (normally lunch when we were out and about) and then cooking our own meal for dinner. This saved a heap of money.
5. Research all possible transport options between destinations
We caught an overnight ferry to Split, Croatia because it was cheaper but it turned out to be an awesome journey
It might be tempting to just hop on a plane or a train but is it the cheapest option? You’re not a true backpacker until you have done some ridiculous journey to save a few bucks. Buses in Europe are really cheap, so even though they aren’t as comfortable as planes/trains they can be worth it. The benefit of using trains and buses is that they take you from A to B without the need for security checks, paying for bags, checking in, etc. etc. and the stations are usually quite central. Rome2Rio is a great site for this.
6. Figure out where is touristy and where isn’t, and avoid the touristy areas
The old town in Prague is a tourist hotspot, and you will pay accordingly
With good reason, the touristy areas hike up the prices. Rent is more expensive and tourists are willing to pay more for products, so fair game to the business owners. But for people wanting to travel Europe on a budget, it’s good to avoid eating and purchasing things near tourist hot spots. It’s generally easy to determine which areas are going to be more expensive, i.e. get off the grand boulevards in Paris or out of the old town in Prague.
7. Keep a budget to keep tabs on yourself
This sounds easy but it is so effective in helping you realise where you are wasting money. Write down everything you spend money and you will feel yourself becoming more cautious almost instantly.
8. Research free attractions and free/discounted days
A bit of research allowed us to get into the Louvre for free by only showing our passport
A lot of attractions in Europe are free which is awesome for your wallet! But if attractions are not free, often they will have free days i.e. most attractions in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month, or the Louvre being free on some Friday’s for people under 25. It definitely pays to do your research.
9. Avoid festival times
Unless you’re actually going to the festival, make sure you’re not visiting during these times. Accommodation and transport prices will hike majorly, not to mention you’ll have to share the destination with a huge bunch of people you wouldn’t normally have to share with. We found this to be particularly true in cities like Split in Croatia during the Ultra Music Festival where there isn’t a huge amount of accommodation to start with.
10. Spend more time in the cheaper regions
Budapest is a value-for-money European destination
There are expensive cities and less expensive cities in Europe, the same can be said for regional areas. Although the expensive places are totally worth visiting, if you are super strapped for cash then spending time in cheaper (but equally awesome) places could save you some cash. An example of this is spending more time in Budapest than Paris will still a ripper time but will cost substantially less.
11. Go local, avoid places like Starbucks because they will always be way more expensive
Exploring in Berlin made us find the best little café where we had to try and communicated in our very limited German
Local cafés, restaurants and bars will be way cheaper than their international chain counterparts. Searching out your Starbucks coffee from home is going to cost a lot more than one from a small café down a cute little street. (Also what are you doing coming to other countries and spending time in Starbucks??).
12. Travel with other people to split costs
Travelling as a couple helped us to split a lot costs and made Europe a lot cheaper
For us, travelling as a couple meant costs were split between two people. If we booked a double room we could split it between us making it half price, and you can cook bigger meals which ends up being cheaper. This is true for friends as well because groups can book entire hostel dorms which makes it cheaper and still comfortable because you’re with your mates.
13. Travel slow
Spending enough time in a place allows you to actually relax and enjoy yourself
Seriously, if you have the time you should try slow travel. Transport between destinations can be the biggest expense, so engaging in slow travel is an awesome way to see Europe on a budget. Not to mention it’s an amazing feeling to begin to feel like a local in a foreign place. Staying a while will help you get a real sense of a place, know the cheap spots and make lifelong friends.
14. Walk or take public transport
Being able to walk around Madrid helped us to stumble upon many hidden gems
Taxis might be tempting but they cost so much more than walking or public transport. We normally walked everywhere because you see so much more of a city. However, in cities like London where attractions are very spread out, we bought an Oyster week pass to use the public transport and then spent the other week walking around the area. This can work well and be a cost effective way to see a place (and exercise can’t be a bad thing).