How to Travel Europe on a Budget: 7 Essential Tips for Backpackers

Wondering how to travel Europe on a budget? Here are 7 tips to help you country hop your way across the Old Continent!

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Generally speaking, traveling through Europe is not the cheapest option when you compare it to Southeast Asia or Latin America. However, there are various ways that you can save hundreds of dollars traveling through Europe without skimping on the quality of your travels.

Effective Budget Travel Tips for Exploring Europe

Here are our suggestions for experiencing a less expensive, budget-friendly time while traveling, living and teaching English in Europe.

What is the Cheapest Way to Travel around Europe?

The cheapest way to travel around Europe is to consider budget-friendly transportation options like trains, buses, and budget airlines. Travel during off-peak seasons, share accommodations, and consider carpooling for cost-effective exploration.

1. Explore Eastern Europe

France, Spain, Italy, & Germany are all amazing destinations with a lot to offer a visitor to Europe. However, Western Europe is notoriously costlier especially in major cities such as London, Paris, or Munich than many countries in Eastern Europe

Opt for destinations like Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Hungary instead where costs are notably lower compared to Western European cities. These countries, especially those not on the Euro, offer a more affordable travel experience. Where a backpacker can spend only about $25 USD per day in Bulgaria including accommodations, transportation, meals, entertainment and attractions, it is approximately estimated that it will cost $55 per day in Madrid and $60 per day in Berlin.

Hot Tip for English teachers: Consider lesser-known cities like Warsaw, Krakow, or Budapest for a fulfilling European experience. These places offer lower competition in job markets and cost-effectiveness.

Read more: Can Americans Teach English in Europe?

2. Save on Drink & Food

Do as the locals do. This tip comes in handy with pretty much anything related to travel. However, it is also good advice when trying to have a good time on a budget. 

  • Find pubs & with happy hours filled with locals - not tourists & other foreigners! In many Spanish bars & taverns, free tapas are often served with drinks (this is often the case in wine bars and other taverns in Europe).
  • Join a botellon in Madrid and drink with the Madrilenos in the park or in a plaza.
  • Order the “Wine of the House” in Italy. It’s always cheap and delicious.
  • Shop in local markets & avoid restaurants that cater primarily to foreign tourists. Grab a bottle of wine and some world-class cheese and have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower or any major park or monument & you will save a bunch compared to eating at any restaurant with comparable views.

3. Be Savvy about Budget Travel Options

Travel through Europe is quite easy but can add up, especially if you aren’t aware of discounts and money-saving travel hacks. 

  • Take the train. It’s usually pretty comfortable and can be affordable. If you buy second-class tickets, they tend to be about 50% cheaper. Depending on what you are looking to do, it might be cheaper to buy a pass OR individual train tickets right at the train station. Check out RailEurope, Seat61, RailPass or even the country’s direct train website such as French Railways.
  • Buses aren’t as quick as the train but they can be very affordable if you have the time. Megabus, National Express, Eurolines, and more are all great options to move across Europe on a budget depending on which countries you are traveling through. For instance, BusAbout is a company that allows you to plan your route and hop on and hop off at 46 different destinations. Even renting a car in certain countries is a very fun and realistic option!
  • If flying is your preferred method of travel, check out budget carriers such as Ryan Air and EasyJet. Tickets can be found for as low as 20 Euros ($23 USD) but be aware of the baggage and cancellation fees.

4. Check Out Free Walking Tours

Lasting anywhere between 2 and 4 hours, free walking tours are the way to travel Europe on a budget!  Typically it requires signing up online in advance, tipping the guide at the end, and that’s it!  A very popular free walking tour company throughout Europe is Sandemans New Europe which has tours in 18 different cities.  Many other companies are following suite and copying this idea all over the world so depending on which city you are in, make sure to research and see if one is available.

Another great, free, way to tour European cities is to download Rick Steves’ Audio Tours.  The audio tours direct you which way to go and explain all of the fascinating sights along the way.  There are tours available in 9 countries with new ones coming in 2017!

5. Avoid Restaurants in Touristy Areas

Steer clear of restaurants near the Colosseum in Rome, the Astronomical Clock in Prague, and Palacio Real in Madrid. Always look for restaurants filled with locals. 

If someone is outside, shoving a menu in your face, soliciting you to come into their restaurant, chances are it is going to be overpriced and not authentic. If there are pictures on the menu and “We speak English” signs or multilingual menus, it is likely that the quality of the food will not be as good and you will be charged tourist prices.

budget travel tips in Europe

6. Travel During Off-Seasons

If you travel from October to April, it may not be as warm and you probably won’t get to spend much time on the beaches. However, you are more likely to save money on flights, and accommodations. There will also be shorter lines and more availability. When it does come to the weather, in Southern Europe in particular, it will still be quite pleasant, even during the winter months.

7. Research Budget Lodging Options

Nowadays, there are various options for saving on accommodations in Europe. 

When traveling solo, hostels are always a great option as they can be very affordable, especially when booking a bed in a multi-person dorm room. Hostels are also great resources for meeting other travelers and are usually located closer to a city center.

Couchsurfing is also an excellent option for travelers who are on a tight budget, are adventurous, may not need a lot of space and are up for meeting new people.

However, if hostels and Couchsurfing aren’t really for you, there are other budget options where you can have your own space in someone’s home. Airbnb is definitely worth a look while traveling through Europe. Sometimes renting a room or an entire home through Airbnb can be cheaper than staying in a hostel, especially if you are traveling with someone else.  Housesitting can also be an interesting way to stay somewhere for free in tandem helping someone while they are out of town.

Top tips for traveling in Europe

Follow these tips to explore Europe without breaking the bank, making your travel experience budget-friendly and rewarding.

Read further: Top tips for teaching English in Europe



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