Travelling Europe on a budget is actually quite an easy task, if you know how to do it. I’ve assembled 15 golden rules of European budget travel that will help you explore Europe in all it’s glory, without breaking the bank.
Europe is an amazing place to travel to, with rich and diverse cultures to dive right into. It’s also insanely beautiful – incredible old cities with architecture from another time, simply stunning natural landscapes and, of course, plenty of delicious food. Travelling through Europe on a budget should not (and does not) mean missing out on any of these things. Enjoy!
1. Spend More Time in Cheaper Countries & Cities
The countries that you visit will have a huge impact on how much you spend on your ‘Europe on a budget’ adventure. England, Italy, France and Germany are some of the most expensive places in Europe, particularly in the major cities. As a general rule, Eastern European countries are cheaper than the west and countries that don’t use the Euro (excluding the UK and Scandinavian countries) are generally more budget-friendly too.
Cheaper countries in Europe include:
In some of the more expensive countries, certain cities or regions are cheaper than others. One of the best examples is Berlin – it’s far cheaper than most other German cities, and is also one of the most vibrant!
By spending more time in cheaper countries or cities, you can extend your time in Europe too. While staying in Italy for a month might not be doable on your budget, perhaps picking a few highlights of Italy and then spending more time along the Adriatic Coast in places like Croatia will mean you can push your trip out to 6 weeks.
2. Try to Travel in Low or Shoulder Season
Avoiding high season in Europe will mean avoiding the price inflation, so it’ll bringing your costs down. While each country has slightly varying high seasons, generally speaking July/August and Christmas/New Year are the high seasons in Europe. Shoulder seasons are generally the month or two before and after the high season, while low seasons are all the other times. (Google the countries you’re looking at exploring to find more accurate times of year!)
Travelling in the low or shoulder seasons basically means everything is far cheaper, from food, to accommodation, to plane tickets. Major attractions will be far less crowded, and if you’re really lucky, you might even get the whole place to yourself! You’ll find, however, that some countries see huge differences in tourist numbers in different seasons while others (like Italy) are almost always buzzing.
The only problem you might find travelling in the off-season is that maintenance is more likely to be taking place at major attractions. (Although on my recent summer trip, there was plenty of maintenance occurring too!)
3. Utilise All Forms of Transportation
Europe has a really good transport system, so you can generally find quite a few options for the route you want to take. Sometimes flying with carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet is the cheapest way to travel in & between countries, while other times trains and buses are more appropriate. I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights available, and use Rail Europe to find train timetables. Rome2Rio is a great website for finding all the transport options available, including bus routes and driving yourself.
When travelling by train, remember that first class cabins often aren’t much more exciting than the second class cabins, so when travelling in Europe on a budget, the upgrade isn’t worth it 99% of the time.
4. Travel with Carry On Only
Keep your low cost plane ticket low cost by only bringing carry on. This is especially worthwhile if you’re taking lots of internal flights, as the cost of checked baggage will quickly add up. Airlines will generally allow 1 carry on size suitcase or duffel, as well as a small handbag or backpack. I found it surprisingly easy to pack a month’s worth of clothes in the smallest suitcase I could find – and that’s coming from someone who’s usually a master at overpacking!
While each airline has slightly different size and weight allowances, I’ve found that they’re pretty lenient. If you can fit it in an overhead bin, you’ll most likely be able to take it on board.
You can always try your luck at smuggling an oversize bag onto the plane, but just remember that the closer you get to the plane with your oversize bag, the more you’re gonna have to pay to have it stowed. If for whatever reason you can’t travel with just carry on, pay for the bag when you buy your ticket.
See also: How to Avoid Extra Fees on Ryanair (because they’ll try to peg you for literally everything!)
5. Walk as Much as Possible
As you travel around a city, you’ll find that walking and public transport are the most budget friendly options. Taxis are crazy expensive in most places, so only use them if you’re in a situation that could prove to be unsafe (like if you’ve been out drinking and need to get back to your accommodation).
Uber and other ride-sharing services are also great alternatives to taxis as they’re usually far cheaper – just make sure one of them is actually operating in the city before relying on it to get somewhere… Big mistake I made in the Uber-less Frankfurt!
6. Swap Hotels for Hostels
Hostels are brilliant for travelling Europe on a budget, as European hostels are generally of a high standard. Many people still harbour prejudice towards hostels, but I haven’t had a bad experience at any of the places I’ve stayed at. I found the hostels I stayed at through Hostelworld, which gives really clear overviews and genuine reviews of the hostels.
See also: Hostel Etiquette
One of my favourite things about staying in hostels is picking up little tips from other travellers. A guy who I was sharing a dorm with in Prague told me about the Clementinum, which ended up being one of my favourite spots in Prague! I’d never heard of it before, so I’d probably never have discovered it if he hadn’t told me.
Another great thing about hostels is that they’re aware that their guests are travelling on a budget. This means they’ll often include a free breakfast (which in my experience can be anything from some cereal and toast to freshly made crepes) as well as organising activities which are free or low cost, like walking tours or discounted pub crawls.
See also: Recommended Hostels in Europe 2016
AirBnB and Couchsurfing are also both well worth looking into. While I’ve never done either, I’ve heard great things about both. A guy that I work with travelled Europe on a budget with his wife and kids, and they stayed in AirBnBs for about 6 months of travel!
7. Never, Ever Buy Food at Tourist Hotspots
It’s a golden rule of travelling: walk a block or two away from the tourist site, and you’ll find food that is better and cheaper. The pizza place you find across the street from the Trevi Fountain will 9 times out of 10 be worse than the pizza place a 5 minute walk down the road.
Apps/websites like Yelp are great tools for finding places to eat; if you’re vegetarian or vegan use the HappyCow app to find ethical eats wherever you are.
8. Invest in a Proper Water Bottle
While buying a plastic bottle of water isn’t expensive in and of itself, buying a new water bottle every few days slowly adds up. Look after the planet and your wallet, and buy a metal water bottle.
See also: Eco-friendly Travel Tips & Tricks
9. Make the Most of Free Walking Tours
The vast majority of cities in Europe will have a free walking tour of some description. Use them to get a feel for the place when you first arrive, and to stretch out your legs after a cramped flight! The staff at wherever you’re staying should be able to point you in the right direction.
10. Look Out for Discounted Entry Fees
Many attractions will have discounted entry fees at certain times or for certain people. Always read up about the tickets on their websites to see if you qualify! Also look out for attractions that don’t have any entry fees at all, like the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin (which is incredible!)
Generally children (varying age cut offs – sometimes it’s 8, other time’s its 12, sometimes it’s even 18) will have discounted tickets. Students are often offered discounts too, even if you’re not studying in that country or in Europe at all, so bring along your student card!
Remember that you don’t have to see things you don’t want to see. I skipped a few “must sees” because they just didn’t appeal to me for whatever reason, so it didn’t seem worth the time or money.
11. Don’t Overindulge in Alcohol
Alcohol is an unnecessary cost, so it’s best to steer clear of excess drinking if you’re travelling Europe on a budget. That being said, don’t miss out on the treats of a country. If you’re in Germany or Belgium, it’s almost sin to not have a beer. Try Italian red wines, French champagnes and Portuguese liqueurs if they take your fancy. Just don’t go overboard, and your budget will/should be fine.
Cigarettes and drugs are absolute no’s for budget travel, perhaps with the exception of Amsterdam if the coffee shops interest you.
12. Download Offline Areas to Google Maps
One of the biggest travel lifesavers in general, but especially for budget travel, is downloading offline areas to the Google Maps app on your smartphone. This means you can get directions without needing to connect to wifi or waste precious data. The only downside is that it only gives routes that cars can take, but you can still see the streets and your position on the map so it’s not too much of a drama if you’re on foot.
You need to be connected to wifi to download the area, so I find it best to sort it all out before I leave home (also means that I won’t forget to add an area and then have no idea where I am!). Just zoom in on the screen so you have a broad overview of the city/region, tap to open the sidebar, tap offline areas and then the plus button. Make sure you have enough storage space to fit the download, and you’re good to go.
13. Don’t Skimp on Travel Insurance
If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Simple as that. I’d rather pay a couple hundred dollars for insurance and not need it, than skimp out and end up with a $5000 hospital bill that’s not covered.
Read through your policy so you know what will and won’t be covered. Remember that often insurance claims won’t be paid out if you’ve caused an accident while drunk (or under the influence of other drugs).
14. Keep Tabs on Yourself…
Buying a little budget book is a nice idea, as you can easily keep track of your spending. If, like me, you get lured in by the cute stationery shops and all their promises of organisation and maturity and buy something like a budget book but then never actually use it because you’re disorganised and forgetful, you can try to have an idea of how much is too much to spend on something.
15. …But Know When to Indulge
It’s okay to go a little (or, sometimes, a lot) over budget one day if you’ve been given an amazing opportunity. Go for it! Just chill out for the next few days to get back on budget, and it shouldn’t be a drama at all.
Europe is a wonder for food, and each country has it’s own special little treats. Indulge in these! When you’re in Portugal, buy 6 Portuguese tarts from Pastéis de Belém! When you’re in Italy, stuff as much gelato in your mouth as humanly possible! Indulge in what makes you the happiest! Travelling Europe on a budget shouldn’t mean missing out on the good stuff.
When you don’t blow your budget on the meh stuff, you are able to indulge in the genuine stuff… the things that make you fall in love with a place.
Europe has always been one of my favourite regions of the world to visit! While I’ve travelled it a little more luxuriously as a kid with my parents, my recent solo journey to Europe on a budget was just as incredible. Europe is an absolutely amazing part of the world, and I’m a firm believer that a smaller budget should not hold you back from having amazing travel experiences.
Do you have any other tips for travelling Europe on a budget? Let me know in the comments below! xx
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