How to Travel to Europe on a Budget
The mere words “Europe on a budget” seems laughable, considering you’ve heard your friends complain about how expensive it is after returning from their trips.
But that’s not going to be you. No — you’re smart and resourceful. Sure, between airplane tickets, travel between countries, hotels, food (oh my, the food!) and souvenirs, all those costs can have you wondering how traveling on the cheap is even possible.
Do not fear friends, because thanks to things like budget airlines, new transportation options and the rise of the sharing economy, you too can live large without forking over a ton of cash.
So keep reading for the inside scoop on how to travel Europe on a budget.
Consider The Time of Year
You guessed it — the summer months tend to be one of the most expensive times to travel to Europe. That’s because most tend to have summer holidays with the kids and the weather is more pleasant. If you have some wiggle room in your itinerary, consider cheaper times of the year like December to February since many people aren’t exactly excited about the cold.
That being said, certain destinations like ski resorts might be higher during the winter months so do your research. The key here is to be flexible about when to travel — during slower months you can score low rates for hotels, travel passes and more.
Don’t Stick Your Nose Up at Busses
Sure, the European rail system is one of the best and most cost effective ways to travel within Europe, but that isn’t always the case. In some cases, getting a Eurail pass is better if you can score a deal, but there are plenty of bus companies that can offer better discounts, especially if you’re traveling long distances or want to really travel on the cheap.
For example, you can score Megabus tickets for a little as one British pound on select routes. Other companies like Busabout offer a predetermined route where you can hop on and off whenever you please. These buses tend to offer comfy seats and free WIFI.
Research Budget Airlines
Flying longer distances in Europe can be friendly to your schedule and your wallet. There are plenty of budget airlines that often advertise cheap fares — places like Skyscanner and Google Flights can be your best friend.
Those wondering if there’s a catch to those one dollar fares, there is. Budget airlines tend to make up for their low fares through add on fees. Think simple things like a printed boarding pass, carry on baggage fees and drinks on board. You might want to check traditional airlines or better yet, do some travel hacking with rewards credit cards to see if it’s more cost effective to do so.
That being said, be open to traveling within Europe through a mix of different options. Maybe you want to fly from Paris to Berlin but then found a cheap bus ticket to Amsderdam — go for it! Remember to do your research, mind your schedule and be open to the possibilities.
Hold Off On That Car Rental
On that note, hold off on taxi rides as well, as these two options can get expensive. The good news is that much of Europe (at least most of the metropolitan areas anyway) is pretty walkable. Besides, isn’t one of the best ways to get to know the area?
If you must take some form of transportation from place to place, consider using public transport like buses and the subway. The good news is that most tourist routes will have signs in English. Otherwise, feel free to use apps like Google Translate or get really good at using hand gestures to ask for directions from locals.
Traveling with a lot of people or young kids? Utilize rideshare services like BlaBlaCar, which lets you share a ride with locals driving en route to your destination — it’s available in most major cities in Europe.
Go Where The Locals Go
It’s no secret that if you tend to traverse in major touristy spots, you’ll be paying inflated prices. Granted, sometimes it’s worth it in a foreign country where you want an English menu (like those with food allergies).
But, if you’re up for an adventure, head to where the locals go. Not only will you find prices that tend to be cheaper, you might also find more authentic dishes and maybe a better ambiance. Just be prepared to get your order mixed up.
Where to find these places? Ask your hotel, tour guide (if you hired one) or wander down streets until you’re well away from the crowds.
Another way to save money on food is to head to your local supermarket. Grab some food like cheese, fruit and bread and have yourself a fancy spread at the park or any public spot. Plus, it could be an adventure walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket learning about new ingredients and other food items.
Hostels Are a Nice Option
No longer will you find places with dingy lighting, seedy locations and dirty rooms (though there are certainly those out there still). Hostels have undergone a transformation of sorts in the last couple of years and are considered clean and better alternatives to expensive hotels. Infact, some are even starting to market themselves and luxury budget options.
Don’t worry if you’re traveling with a family — plenty offer big rooms and many of the same amenities as you’ll find in traditional hotels like free breakfast, a private bathroom, pool access or access to a central location.
The potential downside is that you might not get the privacy you want, particularly if you’re staying in a shared room. Common areas can get quite busy during the night or during meal times in the kitchen, so take that into consideration before booking a room.
Find Free Activities
You can find plenty of free things to do in your hometown, so why not when you’re traveling? Don’t feel like you have to go to every attraction at every destination — those costs can add up, fast. This is where planning ahead will come in handy. Ask your family what will interest you and make a loose itinerary.
Depending on the time of year, you can find some fun things to do like festivals, particularly during the holiday season. Or simply look up free things to do in the area you’re visiting and you can get some ideas for free or low-cost activities — public museums are free in London for example. Some places offer free walking tours so you can learn about the history of an area without paying a tour guide.
Even if there are attractions you want to visit that aren’t free, they can be so consider changing up your itinerary to save a bit of cash. For example, many attractions in Italy offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month.
Typically, cities that are more expensive in Europe are ones situation in the north or west. For example London, Paris and Scandinavia are known for being expensive. That means the more east you go, the cheaper it can be. Take Croatia, Portugal or Prague.
Also, the further south you go — think Czech Republic — the cheaper it can get. You can save big bucks on accommodation and food, some of the biggest budget busters of any European vacation. Besides, these places offer wonderful scenery, culture and history as much as any or the more popular destinations.
As long as you travel with an open mind and an eye on your wallet, you can’t go wrong with pretty much any time or any place to travel in Europe. Now the real question becomes where and when will you go? To get you started, check out our 10 top places to travel on a budget.