Traveling on a budget doesn’t have to be horrible and it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on anything you want to do. It’s just important to be mindful of the things you’re spending money on that you might not necessarily have to if you do some planning early on. Here are a few tips for traveling Europe on a budget that I picked up while traveling…on a budget!
1. Look into different modes of transportation
Busses and ride shares are going to be your cheapest options. I used Rome2Rio to compare costs of planes, trains, ride shares, etc.
Budget airlines are great to go long distances but be aware of the charges for checking bags. Budget airlines are budget because they don’t offer you anything for free: not drinks, bags, snacks, nothing.
Everyone dreams about taking the Eurail through Europe. Using Eurail to get around Europe can be feasible depending on what you want to do, where you want to go, how much time you have, and how much money you want to spend. Do your research about Eurail to see whether it’s feasible for what YOU’RE planning. A lot of the time, it’s better to just buy individual tickets and not commit to one mode of transportation. For long trips, you might end up saving maybe $100 if you correctly take advantage of everything. Shorter trips typically do not end up being worth the cost for Eurail, so keep that in mind!
Read more about transportation here.
2. Take advantage of hostel breakfasts, dinners, & free tours.
You don’t have to necessarily CHOOSE a hostel because they offer free breakfast. But, if you happen to be staying there and they do offer free breakfast, take advantage of it! That’s a free meal, even if it is just bread, cereal, and coffee. It’s better than nothing and it’s FREE!If a hostel offers dinner, it’s usually at a really fair price and a good deal. It’s also a really great way to meet people!
The free walking tours are always worth it; they allow you to see the city in a few hours and you can learn things you wouldn’t have otherwise!
Read more about choosing the right hostel in Europe here.
3. Compare hostels to AirBnbs
If you’re traveling alone, you’re probably better off in a hostel with a single bunk. If you’re traveling with a friend or a few, look into sharing the cost of an AirBnb in comparison to getting bunks in a hostel. You might be surprised as to what you can get!
4. Buy a Local SIM Card
International data plans can be EXPENSIVE. With Verizon, it’s $10 PER DAY! You can just buy a SIM card (if you have an unlocked phone, which most are, nowadays) and they run pretty cheap. Read more about SIM cards here.
5. Weigh the cost of inner-city transportation to staying in the city center
Hostels and hotels are cheaper if you’re not staying in the city center; however, you have to consider how much you’re saving versus how much you’re going to be spending to go back and forth between your hostel and the city center. If a hostel in the city center is $30 and the one outside of the city center is $25, but you have to pay $2 for a metro ride each way, it doesn’t really end up being worth the cost to get back and forth. I personally liked being able to walk back to my hostel after exploring for a few hours, so I always chose to stay in the city center.
6. Ask for tap water (if applicable)
A lot of places will not give you tap water unless you ask for it; they would rather charge you for bottled water. In most cities throughout Europe, drinking the water is completely fine. You can ask for tap and most places will give it to you. When in doubt, bring a water bottle and keep it in your purse instead of spending $3 on a restaurant’s water.
Greece is not a country you would want to do this in; I’m not sure about the mainland, but I know it’s definitely not safe to drink the water on any of the islands.
7. Go to local markets & take advantage of hostel kitchens
The best way to eat delicious, local food, at fair prices is by going to local markets. Some cities have them every day, like Naschmarkt in Vienna, Austria, and some cities have them on certain days. You can ask your hostel guide or simply just google it in whatever city you’re going to!
When you don’t want to go out to eat, go out and buy some groceries if your hostel has a kitchen! Even if you’re just storing some stuff there for snacks later on, it’s a lot cheaper buying yogurt from a grocery store than a parfait from a café.
Pro tip: Put all of your items in a shopping bag and fasten it somehow; tape, tie, whatever. People aren’t going to be inclined to have to open your stuff to steal your food.
8. Use a carry on sized bag only
Most airlines are going to charge you to check a bag. It can range from $20-$50. Europe has so many budget airlines, but it isn’t really worth the budget if you have to check a bag for an extra $50. Don’t get me wrong, budget airlines are AWESOME… when you have a carry on sized bag.
Sometimes, checking a bag with RyanAir is more expensive than the flight itself and it’s something to consider when planning out your trip. I paid $0 in baggage fees while I traveled because of my backpack. I still have trouble understanding how I managed to fit 3 months of my life into a 46L backpack, but that’s a different story.
But seriously. Pack light and use a carry on.
9. Don’t use a preorganized tour like Contiki, EF College Break, etc., if you’re trying to budget
Organized tours end up being a LOT more expensive than if you were to book and plan on your own, and they don’t even include airfare. Yes, they have deals sometimes. But it’s still going to cost you a lot more money. Don’t get me wrong, you can do what you want; I understand the appeal because it’s really nice to be transported around without having to think about anything.
I did a Contiki tour and it cost me a lot more than I could have imagined: $2,500 (at least) for 2 weeks EXCLUDING AIRFARE. So really, if I calculate in my flight to Europe, it’s $3,500 for TWO. WEEKS. Do you know how far $3.5k goes in Europe? Very, very far. The ticket price was about $1,700, but after you factor in all of the excursions, meals, and internet you have to pay for on your own, you end up paying a whole lot more.
Let me break this down:
- ticket price of tour that includes accommodation, transportation, breakfast, & 3 dinners $1,700
- food, water, taxis back to hotels, etc $300
- excursions are an extra $500
The average hostel in Europe is around $25 (that’s a really rough estimate; it totally depends on where you are). I budgeted about $25 per day for FOOD only on my travels (I like to eat, ok). Let’s say we go from place to place every 3 days. Contiki’s transportation is by bus. I’m going to go ahead and say that the average bus ticket is about $25, even though for most places that’s pretty high.
- transportation by bus every 3 days over 14 days $117
- accommodation for 14 days in a hostel $350
- food because I eat a lot $350
$817 is a lot smaller of a number than $2,000. You can do twice as much on an independent budget than you would otherwise.
Read about my thoughts on Contiki here.
10. Go during off season
In the summer, everything is more expensive and more crowded. I know going during off season is easier said than done because of work, school, and life… but even if you go in April/early May or early September, the prices WILL be different and it won’t be miserably hot. It’s also a lot more enjoyable because there are fewer people!