It is no question that travelling is an expensive hobby. When you add up everything from meals to lodging, transportation, museum fees, souvenirs and visas, it is easy to become intimidated by a swelling budget. For many people, the fear is enough to keep them away from planning a trip.
Travel does not have to be out of your reach. The glory of travel is that there are so many ways experience the world and keep your trip under budget all while still having a great time. With preparation, patience and the right timing, travelling in Europe can be done without breaking the bank. Consider the different ways to save money on transportation, lodging, meals and location and which ones are best for you.
The biggest hurdle to overcome financially is undoubtedly transportation. Just getting to Europe, usually via a plane, will take out the biggest chunk of your budget. One round-trip ticket could be well over a thousand dollars. There are ways to reduce that to more than half the cost if you are frivolous. By utilizing interactive resources offered by sources like Google Flights and Momondo or subscription newsletters, many smaller airlines will offer cheaper tickets. Be weary, however, because these cheaper deals sometimes come at the expense of comfortability, customer service or are red eye flights and on uncommon travel days. Once in Europe, low-cost airlines like easyJet or Ryanair can send you across the continent for under a hundred dollars — even as low as $30.
Getting around once you land can be expensive as well. Car rentals offer you extended freedom but is a very expensive option, especially if you are travelling between several destinations. Taxis are available in just about every major city but use them sparingly or you will find your wallet thinning quickly. Many cities in Europe and their tourism board sell city passes to tourists for lengths of stay anywhere from a day to a week. The passes offer access to subways, city busses and other transit. In addition, most offer considerable discounts or complete admission to popular attractions.
For multi-destination trips, rail and air are often the most convenient and quickest routes. The Eurail Pass is one option and offers several different passes in different price ranges hinging on the amount of countries you plan to visit. Although Eurail is a great deal, the best option in Europe is to take busses. They are usually always cheaper and have a wider variety in departure/arrival times and destinations.
Hitchhiking is never a top recommendation but is always an option, especially if plans fell through quickly. In a similar vein, many travellers ask around popular destinations for anybody travelling to the next city on their itinerary and for a ride with them. So many variables go into this and is hardly a reliable method so it is best to look into busses, rail or air.
Truly the dark horse of planning any trip, you could feasibly travel Europe without paying a single dollar for a night’s rest — or you could end up spending thousands. Hotels and AirBnB offer arguably the best quality, privacy and the most amenities, however, they are hardly the only or the cheapest options.
The most common lodging choice for frugal adventurers is the almighty hostel. At a hostel, beds are rented in a large dormitory and although privacy is limited, the cost and social aspect have been a huge draw for decades. Most major cities and tourist destinations have a wide selection of hostels. A bed at a hostel can be as low as $10 a night in parts of eastern Europe or $20 to $40 in popular western cities.
Although not for everybody, camping can be a very affordable choice. Destination definitely matters, but if you are hoping to hit hiking trails or parks, camping either costs just dollars a night or totally free. Careful preparepartion and a little bit of research is necessary to assure you do not get into any trouble as some destinations may be off-limits. Ignorance or a language barrier is hardly an excuse.
Couchsurfing is another option for accommodation, having grown in popularity among travellers and digital nomads in Europe. Crash with a vetted local for free by using apps like Couchsurfing and Global Freeloaders. Not only is it an inexpensive option, but locals are bound to know the best places to eat and visit. It is also one of the best ways to soak in the culture.
For long term travel and true cultural immersion, the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, will set you up with a farming family in the European country you would like to visit. Instead of paying for room and board, travellers help out around the farm. In many cases, meals are included as well — organic and hand-grown. Although not a feasible option for many travellers, if you are determined to visit Europe, WWOOF is one of the cheapest ways to experience a new country.
No matter who you are or where you are going, you are going to need to eat. Everyone should always budget more than you expect on meals but there are several ways to cut back the costs.
Although the temptation is abundant, the number one way to save is to restrain from eating out too often. Hitting up the trendiest, best restaurants three times a day will quickly add up even in the most inexpensive of cities. If you are a drinker or partier then the bills will keep climbing. Eating local food is one of the most sincere ways to experience a new city or country but it does not have to be at a restaurant every day.
Street vendors and markets in major cities offer unique and local meals for cheap and make for great lunches or breakfasts on the go. If you are staying at a hostel or anywhere with a kitchen, you can make your own food a couple times a trip to drastically trim your budget. Fresh produce or meats cooked yourself will be a fraction of the cost of a restaurant — it just requires a bit more time. Do not cut out restaurants altogether unless you really want to, though, just plan your eat-out days wisely.
The location of your trip, especially in a place as culturally diverse as Europe, will have a huge effect on how much will be left in your bank account when you return (if any). Careful preparation and consideration to the natural, political and economic contexts of your destination is necessary.
As a general rule of thumb, travellers will find eastern Europe to be cheaper than the west. If you are planning a trip with a set budget, it may be worth exploring all options. You could potentially spend three weeks traveling through Ukraine, Poland and Romania for the same amount as a jam-packed week of exploration in Paris.