Tips for Traveling Europe On a Budget
January 25, 2020
You've journaled price estimates, added every quarter to your travel fund, and mapped out exactly where you want to go. You have dreams of a classic European backpacking adventure, but how do you ensure you can afford it? Sticking to a budget is tough. Yet, traveling affordably in Europe is completely doable.
Coming from the extreme aspect of backpacking, we learned a lot during our 90-day stint galavanting between countries. Truth be told, we came home spending less in three months abroad than we would have in rent and living expenses back home.
Here's exactly how we made it completely doable to travel Europe on a budget:
#1: Buy a backpack
Whether you are technically 'backpacking Europe' or just hopping between cities, using a backpack as your suitcase will be the biggest benefit to your travels. Why? Because it's easy to transport and surprisingly enough (even in today's modern world) a majority of Europe's train stations don't have escalators. This means wherever you go, you'll be dragging your belongings up and down multiple flights of stairs.
A backpack also keeps what you bring and what you buy to a minimal amount. Are the heels worth it? Can you really afford to buy a four-foot replica statue of the Eiffel Tower to fit in your bag?
#2: Decide your mode of transport
There are three major ways to travel around Europe.
- Renting a car
- Purchasing a Eurail Pass
- Flying from point to point
Each mode has it's benefits and weaknesses. Renting a car is usually the most expensive option, yet allows the most freedom for the places you wish to visit. A Eurail pass is a happy medium, where you have hundreds of destinations to choose from, however, accessibility is still limited. Flying from point-to-point is beneficial if you book in advance and choose to stop at a few locations.
Before you book your mode of transportation, price out all three options. From there, you will have a clear vision of potential costs and how to factor that into your overall budget.
#3: Track all your purchases
It sounds tedious, but if you are traveling long-term tracking purchases will help you define your limit and establish boundaries. We found the easiest way to do this was to journal our total day spend every night before bed. This included everything from $.50 coffees to $10 replacement tee-shirts and $40 Airbnb's.
#4: Don't over-plan
A completely spontaneous trip can cause stress (trust me), but over-planning can entirely ruin what you had envisioned. The truth is, you can never know what you want to see until you are already there. You may think you'd love Rome, but end up leaving two days early. You'll learn about amazing places to see once you are here, and make sure you don't miss out on the opportunities because your itinerary doesn't fit.
#5: Pack a tent
If you plan to travel during the summer months, cheap accommodation will be booked early and be full by the time you decide to visit. That doesn't mean you won't be able to find hostels for under $10 or night or an Airbnb for under $25, but there will be nights where there will be a firm choice to make:
Do I spend 50 extra dollars on a shitty hotel, or do I pitch my tent in the woods?
Many European countries have flexible wild camping laws that allow backpackers to pitch a tent on public land, for free, as long as you abide by guidelines and rules. Here's a full list of wild camping laws by country in Europe.
#6: Don't be basic
London --> Amsterdam --> Paris --> Rome
The above itinerary appears to be the most basic Euro-trip I could think of. If you solely visited cities like these the below will happen:
- You're photos will be filled with crowds and tourists. And if you search the hashtag #paris, there will be thousands of posts that look almost identical to yours
- You will lose culture. Touristic cities tend to be very lively and extremely devolped. Challenge yourself to visit the places where no one will understand you and you'll feel completely vulnerable in their environment.
- It won't be the trip of your dreams. The truth is, you'll probably come home the exact person you were before you left. There may be crazy wild times and tours of museums, but seeing the world isn't always considered living in it.
- You'll regret not challenging your comfort zone. Step out of it! We were never meant to be comfortable, especially in a foreign environment.
Now don't get me wrong, seeing major cities is amazing. I am STOKED to be in Amsterdam in the next couple weeks, and I cannot wait to get back to Venice. But leave room for the little towns and the local favorites.
#7: Stay with locals
Whether it be through Couchsurfing or Airbnb, make sure you spend time with locals. Staying with people is not only a blast (with authentic meals sometimes included), but it really opens you up to where you are visiting.
Locals know the secret spots, what's overrated, and their favorite places in Europe. Listen and learn from them, because they live here--and they usually know what they're talking about!
If you decide to try and couchsurf during the summer months, put out requests at least a few days prior to arrival. Last minute requests usually are denied because the host has already booked other visitors or is unable to accommodate your request.
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure and outdoor tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.
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TRAVELING EUROPE ON A BUDGET