How to Travel Europe on a Budget

Ever wanted to travel to Europe on your own or with your friends, but don’t know how to plan it?  Traveling to Europe can be quite expensive, but if planned correctly, it can be easily done with a low budget.  Here are some overall quick tips that can get you started with your Eurotrip planning.

Know where and when you want to go

One of the beauties of traveling to Europe is the possibility of traveling to various countries effortlessly.  Before going deep into the planning process, you should decide which countries you want to visit and what you want to see at each one of them.  Maybe it’s just one city, or maybe you want to visit five countries, no matter how extensive, have an idea of your overall interest.

When you have an idea, visualize it and all its destinations in a map.  This will be very important to establish a route and an itinerary.

Take also into consideration the seasons of the year and “travel seasons”.  Certain activities are more enjoyable during the summer while others are better during winter.  Just like any seasonal destination, different seasons give a different feel of Europe.

Airplane

Find a Cheap Airfare

The key to finding a good and cheap airfare is to be flexible.  Sites like Kayak.com and SkyScanner.com have a “dates flexible” tool that allows you to see in which dates can you fly with the cheapest airfare.  Spend some time testing date combinations that match your desires and needs.

Try different arrival and departure points and try alternate airports.  If you’re doing an open-jaw trip – arriving through one airport (or country) and departing through another one, try your route front to back and back to front.  Changing the direction of travel can have an effect on your airfare.

Also, be aware of tourism high seasons, low seasons, and shoulder seasons.  They have a great impact in price, but they are also driven by how “desirable” is your destination during that specific time of year.  A quick Google search will show you the high and low seasons of your destination.

Here are some more tips on finding the cheapest airfare.

Trains

Know your Regional Transportation

Moving on your own between different European cities and countries can look scary at first, but in reality it is very easy.  There are two major options to choose from when deciding to move around Europe.  These are trains and budget airlines.

Europe has one of the best train systems in the entire world.  Passes like the Eurail Global Pass allow you to connect between 22 European countries at an affordable price.  Most Eurail passes work best when the countries you are visiting are adjoining (ie. Spain to France to Germany).  One thing to consider is that even though the train tickets are included in the passes, certain reservation fees are not (ie. sleeper train couchette reservation fee that goes from $5 to $30).  Note: Even though Great Britain is a popular destination in Europe, it is not included in the Eurail Passes.

There is also the choice of buying train tickets point-by-point at sites like RailEurope.com.  There are occasions when buying tickets separately is cheaper than buying a pass.  It all depends on how many trains you plan on taking, the routes, seating/sleeper class.

From my own experience, I was able to travel between 5 European countries with point-by-point tickets.  After comparing the cost of a 5 countries pass ($569) vs. going point-by-point ($270).  Have in mind this price was obtained by being flexible with the dates and departure times. Also, three of the trains were sleeper trains, which helped reduce my accommodation costs too.

Learn more about European train travel here and by checking seat61.

On the other hand, Europe is also full of budget airlines.  In many occasions they are cheaper and faster than trains.  You can travel between countries for fares starting at $10 and even less.  Sites like SkyScanner.com and Low Cost Carrier Guide will help you find budget airfares.  Then, compare and mix-n-match with trains to get the most effective transportation methods for your trip.

One thing to have in mind is that most budget airlines travel to secondary airports that are often far from the city center.  In these cases, also take into account the cost of getting to/from the airport and see if it’s viable.

Use Local Transportation

Most, if not all, European countries have an efficient public transportation system.  They are usually cheap and carry tourist passes for 24, 48, 72 hours, and more.  The best way to plan accordingly your public transportation expenses for each city is to visit wikipedia.org, wikitravel.org, or do a Google search with “[city] metro”, “[city] subway”, or “[city] public transportation”.

Through those searches you will find the respective websites for each public transportation authority.  This will allow you to see the available passes and their cost.  In addition it will help you know how well connected you are to different places of interest.

Hostel

Finding Budget Accommodations

There are many options to choose from when looking for budget accommodations, but the two most common among backpackers and budget travelers are hostels and couchsurfing.  Hostels, in addition to be cheap in comparison to hotels, are great places to meet other likeminded travelers.  A great social approach if you’re traveling solo.

Many hostels provide private rooms as well as mixed shared rooms (male and female) or gender based shared rooms.  Usually, shared rooms are cheaper than privates, and the more beds there are in a shared room, the cheaper it is.  Popular sites that facilitate hostel booking are HostelBookers.com and HostelWorld.com, among others.

Have in mind, that hostels charge per person, per night.  If you are traveling with friends, sometimes it’s cheaper to pay for a hotel room since the rate is based per room – split between everyone.

Couchsurfing is a different approach to budget traveling.  It allows you to stay for free at someone’s couch upon previous agreement.  Who in their right mind stays at some strangers couch?  Well, people who participate at Couchsurfing.org see this a community of likeminded travelers that are looking to experience different places with a more “local” perspective.  In many occasions, the host takes his/her time to show you around the city and hangs around with you.

Is it dangerous?  Not really.  Well, there can be “safety concerns”, of course, but common sense and previous communication will help you “screen” your prospective host.   So far, my experiences have been extremely good, and all my hosts have been superb.  There’s nothing like having a local approach to a place through the interaction with someone who lives there and welcomes you openly.

Here is more information on cheap and free accommodation.

Paris

Choose your Tours

You might already know what you want to see at your destination and know the tours you want to take, or maybe you don’t know what to do at certain places.  The best way to have an idea of things to do at each destination is to do a Google search of “things to do at [city]” and to check TripAdvisor.com.  Trip Advisor shows you the most popular things to do according to votes and recommendations by other travelers.

After narrowing down your interests, go into each tour website to have an idea of which days they run, prices, requirements, what’s included, etc.

Many cities have “sightseeing passes” and in some cases they are combined with the public transportation pass.  These will either give you a discount on many attractions or have them included in their entirety.

Food

Cheap Food is Still Yummy Food

I have found it safe to budget $25 per day for food.  Maybe $30 per day will be more comfortable, depending on your eating habits.  Take advantage of “lunch specials” and have your heaviest meal during at that time, when the meal is usually cheaper than at dinnertime.

If you are couchsurfing or if your hostel has a kitchen, buy some groceries and make your dinners and prepare you own snacks.  This will help you save a lot of money on food, since you wont have to dine out every night.

Some Little Details

Even though it’s not required, it is highly recommended to have travel insurance that will cover you in case anything happens during your trip.  Companies like World Nomads and Travel Guard give great quotes according to your length of travel, and destination, among other parameters.

Also, very important, before leaving your country of residence, call your bank and let them know you will be traveling and to where.  Doing this will reduce the chances of getting your bank account blocked due to “suspicious charges”.  You don’t want to find yourself without money while on the road and having to call your bank to prove your identity to fix this issue.

All these tips are just the tip-of-the-ice on travel planning, but they are enough to give you an idea on what to do to successfully plan you budget European trip.  Be creative, always be flexible, and have fun!

Images 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Comments

  1. says

    In the case of Turkey, cheap food is often the best food! :)
    Being Brits, we’ve had Europe on our door-step so it’s interesting to read about all the planning non-Europeans need to think about. When we lived in the UK we would go away to a European city just for long, cheap weekends and not think anything of it.
    Glad you mentioned Seat 61. We’ve used that site a lot in the past. VERY useful.
    Julia

    • says

      Most of the time I eat cheap food too, and so far, most of the time they have been really good.
      Seat 61 was a godsend for me when I was planning my trip to Europe and even to Thailand. I think that’s the must-go site when planning train travel.

    • says

      Definitely Todd. For me, Budapest is high on the list, and hopefully go down from there to a few other countries in the area. I’m sure it’s very cheap compared to Western Europe. :)

  2. says

    Trains are really my favorite way to get around, even long distances in Europe. Check out bahn.de which is the German train site. You can switch it to English and still get a lot of info for the rest of Europe, not just Germany.

    Seat61 does indeed rock, I used it to figure out how to get to Croatia and how to get back from Greece on the ground.

    • says

      Andrew, so glad you mentioned Bahn. I’ve used Bahn for some of my train tickets too. In many occasions they are even cheaper than Rail Europe and what’s even best is that you can print your tickets from a .pdf instead of waiting for them through snail mail.

      Seat 61 does rock! That guy does know his trains! :)

  3. says

    I am going to spend 2 months in Europe during my RTW trip & I don’t want it to break my bank. Thanks for this post, I really needed it. I will keep these tips in mind.

  4. says

    Great tips here! I have been so turned off to Europe for so long because I never thought I could afford it. I think, for me, I would just have to take it really slow. Living in a place and finding side jobs has always worked for me and that’s how I’ll do Europe as well. I think also there’s a good WWoofing community throughout some of the countries too. I know I had some friends wwoof through France, Spain and Italy. So, something else to keep in mind!

    • says

      Oh yes, WWoofing is a good option too. I’ve never done it personally, but would love to try it in the future. Europe is expensive, no doubt about it. But I think if we have our travel smarts on we can manage to do it under a pretty good budget. It’s just knowing where to look, and how to play with things by being flexible. :)

  5. says

    Great tips. Your one about eating a bigger lunch is especially true, lunch meals are much cheaper than dinner. And it’s amazing how much difference the time of year you fly makes. Flying between Calgary and Frankfurt, I’ve paid up to $800 more for my ticket depending on the time of year.

  6. says

    Great tips, Norbert! It’s true, Europe can be very expensive compared to most other parts of the world, but it can be done affordably. To me, the biggest thing to do is to balance your itinerary with expensive places (like the UK, France, and Italy) with less expensive places (like the Balkans or Turkey.) Plus, I know that I’ve had amazing trips off-peak season.

    After reading this post I really want to go back to Europe right now!

    • says

      So true Michael. Balancing expensive places with less expensive places in your itinerary is a good way to experience more of Europe (or any continent) while keeping costs down.

  7. says

    Don’t forget RyanAir and EasyJet. RyanAir has flights from as low as 9 euro, though they do charge for every little thing, so just pack light and you’ll be fine. Also, don’t expect the seats to recline, but for a one or two hour flight, and at 9 euro, you shouldn’t complain. =)

  8. Top Hotels in Las Vegas says

    Super informative post on traveling in Europe. That is one place I have always wanted to go and have never made it yet. I will definately use this article as a reference point when I do finally get to get out there.

  9. says

    Great tips! Take some time to do some research or talk to a rep at the information center of most main rail stations there are often great regional deals when travelling by train.

    I was able a few years back to take flights to 5 destinations for under 130€ in total by being flexible with dates and times. A note of caution there are hidden costs with busses or trains from the out of the way airports these budget airlines service.

    I hear people rave about couchsurfing, I´m booking a hotel, but getting a good deal. I´d rather sleep comfortably than save a few bucks.

    Some cities have audio ipod tours available free of charge, definitely take advantage of that.

  10. says

    I read two lines and found something of use to me, thank you! The flexible option at Skyscanner fits my vacation plans perfectly.

    Also, a lot of the bigger cities have the “hop on-hop off” buses and while it might be a pretty penny for a day pass the ones in f.ex. Paris and Dublin go to all the major attractions, (even the ones a bit out of the way for the metro systems etc) – I usually find them welkl worth the price :-)

    • says

      Thanks, Annie! You’re right about the hop on hop off. Some of them might actually be worth to get to sights that might be out of the way with regular public transportation. That’s a great tip!

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