In the world of aspiring budget travelers, people wince when they hear 'What about Europe?' and it's hard to blame people right? When you think Europe, you think Rome, Paris, London, and an empty wallet. And although this can very much be the case, it also doesn't have to be.
There are dozens of ways that you can minimize expenses and make money while traveling, here's the specific guide on that - but this article's all about showing you the Europe specific strategies and tools for traveling on a budget.
1 | Get Your Transport Expenses Down
Europe is unbelievably easy to get around. Great roads, rail, and flight routes. So make sure you know all the options before you commit to a method of travel.
By far the cheapest method of traveling by land. If you get your ticket ~1 week before you leave, you can get 5-8 hour journeys for as low as 5-10 euros. That is crazy good.
Another tip, book an overnight bus to save on accommodation for the night - this is my predominant method of cross country travel.
The most convenient way of traveling a lot of the time is by rail, even more so than a flight. You jump on city center, no traffic, you get off city center - instead of dealing with airports and checking in.
The rail passes give you a certain amount of travel days within a time period. For example 10 travel days, within 2 months. That particular deal is $350 USD. So the question becomes, is $35 a trip worth the convenience of rail? With Flixbus, your average can be much much lower, although, for long trips, they could be higher.
You can do some research on this to determine which one is better for you. I personally travel for much longer periods, and don't like the time constraints on the rail passes, that and I tend to save more money going by bus predominantly.
Great website/app to compare prices of flights - especially useful in Europe because flights can be even cheaper than trains, and sometimes cheaper than buses.
Hot Tip: There are some really bad airports in Europe that budget airlines will use, and sometimes getting in and out can become more expensive than the fight and its just not worth your time. Definitely look up which airport you're flying into.
Car pooling app for longer distances. You type in where you are and where you want to go, and find listings from people who happen to be going there (with the price they're asking).
Finding a good match saves you a ton of time, money, and gives you the upgraded experience of fewer people - people that you can sometimes befriend.
2 | Pick The Best Destinations
Paris, Venice and such are quite cool, for sure. But honestly, Eastern Europe is much more fun, quite a bit more to do and is multiples cheaper.
And that's not to say that there aren't cheaper alternatives in France and Italy, just try opting for smaller and less traveled towns. I spent so much less, and had way more fun in places like Naples as opposed to Florence, as an example.
Though standing by the Eastern Europe statement, here are a few great locations that are very much polished for tourism in eastern Europe.
- Budapest, Hungary - One of my favorite places in Europe, a hot spot for backpackers and expats, lots to do, amazing party scene, very interesting cuisine. There's a full list of things to do here. Highly recommend saving it.
- Prague, Czechia - Beautiful architecture, similar to Budapest in that there's a lot to do, so much culture and also a vibrant nightlife.
Other destinations worth visiting nearby: Brno
- Krakow, Poland - Historic sites everywhere, 1 hour away from Auschwitz which draws massive groups of people every year, the food culture is phenomenal.
Other destinations worth visiting nearby: Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw
- Vilnius, Lithuania - Medieval old town that looks beautiful, plenty of churches and cathedrals in and surrounding the town.
- Bucharest, Romania - Very cool nightlife, palaces, churches and communist era buildings around.
- Zagreb, Croatia - The cheaper and less touristic place in Croatia even though it has the highest population, usually used as a stop over before people head to the National parks, cruises, Split/Dubrovnik - but has plenty to offer.
3 | Get The Right Travel Gear
For me this means, the right travel backpack, clothes, shoes, travel card etc.
If you can, go carry-on only while traveling (it's 100% possible). You'll save a ton of money on budget airline flights by not adding extra luggage. Except for the sleez-balls that are Ryan Air - for them, the dimensions are much smaller and your bag needs to fit under the seat.
The best travel backpack for this (in my opinion): Osprey Farpoint 40
Tying into the bag recommendation, it's 40 L and fits a lot, but depending on timing, you may need to get some warmer clothes in there. So especially if you're traveling off/low season (cheaper but colder), make sure you pack thin but warm layers to keep warm and remain carry-on only.
For the winter, include things like;
- Merino wool garments - Thin, warm, soft and comfortable.
- Thermal base layers - Super thin, warm, wearable under anything.
- Thick jacket - You can strap this to the bag so it doesn't take up space.
Here's an Amazon link for a merino base layer - https://amzn.to/2sBxixO, have a good look around though, there's probably cheaper ones.
Also something to consider - get a single pair of all black runners so you can use them for almost anything. Dress them up, down, run in them, workout, light hikes. During winter, it may be an issue, but all other times, it saves incredible space.
The name of the game with accessories for me is comfort. If I can get comfort on the go it'll allow me to take things like overnight buses, and traditionally tough routes on planes, without sacrificing sleep. So 2 things are important here.
A good travel neck pillow - Amazon link here https://amzn.to/2RveMRT
High quality earplugs - Amazon link here https://amzn.to/2E0SeAz
If this allows you to take those cheap routes, it's all worth it.
The Travel Card
Get a travel debit card/credit card that takes no ATM fees and has a good rate on currency conversions. Some credit cards also give you free travel insurance when you're with them.
You can save a lot of money by the end of your trip if you do a little research beforehand in this domain. A good place to start, is to see what your own bank is offering.
4 | Go During The Right Time
The right time for you could either be high season or low season. Low season is not everyone's cup of tea, but some people prefer it over high because of fewer tourists being in each area - others despise the cold.
If you're going off season, everything ranging from tours to accommodation are cheaper - off season is over late Autumn and Winter. But a great medium for the benefits of both is to go late summer early Autumn - the end of the high season and start of the low.
If you go during peak season, you can still do it on the cheap by watching out for a few things.
- Make sure you're not in an area when there there's a music/cultural festival on, because you may realize that one day the price of the hostel you're staying at is 15 Euros and then suddenly when you try to extend, everything is booked out and the ones that are left are 50 euro+
- If you're visiting beaches/islands, opt for the ones that are less known and potentially out of the way a little - Ibiza will run your budget dry.
- Consider camping when you can, some of the best experiences I've had have been camping through the Baltic's - countries like Poland have free pitching - You can get a cheap tent (~22 €) from Decathlon in most European countries.
5 | Consider Free Accommodation Options
There are many ways to score free accommodation and this is especially handy in places like Europe where its a big expense.
There's tons of platforms ranging from ex-travelers offering there homes, to house sitting for people around the globe, to house swapping for holiday purposes. Here's some resources to check out, full explanations here.
Following these tips saved me thousands of dollars over several months in Europe. I hope you found some value in them too!