I’ve heard it time and time again. Travelers spending anywhere from $2,000 to upwards of $25,000 for a ten-day jaunt through Europe. The thought of traveling overseas automatically means spending thousands of dollars over the course of just a few days. Learning how to travel cheaply in Europe doesn’t mean missing out on experiences. In fact, many times the less you spend the more authentic a trip is.
If you’re anything like me, you want to stretch your dollar as far as possible without compromising experience. There is nothing that ruins a trip quite like coming home and avoiding your banking app and credit card bill.
Affordable European travel is actually quite basic and simple. This isn’t one of those blogs where I’m going to tell you sleeping in a bush saved me $100 in Spain (even though it did). Because let’s be honest, you were probably expecting something along those lines.
Carb-Load at European Bakeries
There are few things in this world that compare to the pure joy of eating freshly baked danishes and hazelnut croissants in Europe. If there is one thing America has done wrong in our history, it’s the complete lack of corner cafes and assimilating us into a culture where we consider Walmart’s “bakery” section a legit bakery.
No matter if you’re traveling through Scandinavia or the Mediterranean, there will always be a plethora of cafes eager to serve up tiny cups of espresso and baked goodness for only a handful of Euros. Not only does it fill you with food and give you a true European experience, you’ll also be jazzed on caffeine and ready to hit the day at 100 miles an hour. That espresso ain’t no Starbucks, I’ll tell you that.
I can (and did) live off European bakeries as my main source of food throughout Europe. Even grocery stores have entire walls filled with freshly baked goods. In Poland, you can indulge in $1 loaves of garlic bread.
Book in Advance
This goes against everything I normally stand for. Those who know me know that I’m the world’s worst planner. If I’m taking a trip somewhere there’s a 99% chance I’m getting on the plane with no plan, no accommodation booked, and no idea where I’ll end up. This is great for spontaneous adventures but completely awful for finding incredible accommodation at affordable prices.
If you want to stay in storybook AirBnb’s (think castles, caves, and hobbit homes), they are all available to rent around Europe. Book early enough, and you can snag views like this for less than $100/night.
Avoid Traveling June-August
European summer, AKA tourism from hell. In peak tourism times, not only is going anywhere in Europe total hell, it’s also extremely expensive. If looking for authentic old-city feels and accommodation that won’t leave you broke AF, it’s best to time your visit for spring or fall.
You’ll thank me later. Deciding to visit Europe anytime other than summer is the best travel advice I could possibly give. If you have no choice, aim for small towns and lesser-known cities like Bratislava, Sofia, or Trondheim. Not as well known as a place like Berlin, but 10x less crowded and also 10x more beautiful.
Consider Camper Rentals
Although the upfront cost can be a bit offsetting, a camper van might end up saving a lot of money in Europe and allow much-wanted freedom.
The most beautiful places in Europe are located in small towns and remote places. The options to get to those places are
- Joining (and paying for) a lot of tours
- Renting a car
I’m assuming many people aren’t comfortable with number 3, and the others can get expensive when paying for it on top of accommodation. Combining a car rental with accommodation is a great travel hack. Plus, it’s totally “in” according to Instagram.
Utilize The Word “Free”
Every major city in Europe has free walking tours. Go lay out a blanket in a park and have a picnic. Take a hike. So often we get sucked into paying for activities that don’t even provide an authentic experience. “The London Eye” is only ridden by tourists, yet is one of the most expensive attractions in the city. Trade it for getting lost down side streets and slipping into a local pub. Cheap beer vs a $60 glamourized ferris wheel. Your choice.
Never Eat in A Tourist Zone
Learning how to travel cheaply in Europe isn’t all that difficult. And it doesn’t have to take away from your experience. In highly visited areas, you will probably be paying double for the same meal being offered at a localized cafe down the street. Signs of overpriced and unauthentic restaurants include:
- Location in close proximity to tourist attractions
- Menu in English
- Only customers are tourists
Challenge yourself to find a restaurant where no one speaks English (or very little) and a menu in the native language. Not only will you be saving money, you can make it fun and order something without translating what it is. You’ll always be in for surprise what comes out!
Shalee Wanders is a female travel blog that focuses on encouraging young adults to explore the world and challenge themselves outside comfort zones. Born and raised in Michigan, she shares her tips of the Midwest, the United States, and beyond. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @shaleewanders.