Most good things come at a price, and Europe is no exception. This continent packs a punch and there is so many beautiful places to visit, so you need to make sure you spend your dollars wisely so the money goes a long way. I was lucky enough to travel Europe extensively during my year off and did so on a pretty extreme budget. The destinations varied from cripplingly expensive to pleasantly cheap. In all this time, I think I picked up a thing or two about exploring Europe on minimal cash.
In under $50AUD per day, I felt able to see heaps of what Europe had to offer and even came home with money to spare! It is hard to summarise all the advice, so I have chosen 11 of the most pertinent money-saving tips.
1. Book in advance
Spontaneous travel is great (seriously), but in Europe you will save a lot more money if you book things in advance. Booking accommodation and transport a couple of weeks/months in advance often saves you up to 50%. This is particularly true in Western Europe. However, in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the Balkan nations, I found that spontaneity could still produce good prices (which is good news for you last-minute-booking-adrenaline-junkies out there).
2. Use AirBNBs, couch surfing and home stays
Don’t always feel like you have to stay in hotels and hostels because there are plenty of amazing websites which allow you to explore other forms of accommodation. Europe is a great way to start getting to know these options because it’s relatively safe. My picks would be AirBNB and Couchsurfing. Not only do you get to stay somewhere for free or way cheaper, you’ll get to know friendly locals who will show you a thing or two about their city.
3. Avoid tours
Many young people think that the only way to see Europe is by going on a group tour, but in reality organising a trip yourself is not too difficult in Europe. Fair enough booking a tour is easy and will give your Mum and Dad the peace of mind but it’ll blow a ginormous hole in your wallet. I am not against tours because they definitely do have their merits, but for true budget travel, this is not the way to go. If you do decide that going on a tour is for you, always check the inclusions and exclusions and make sure you get a much value as possible. Even though the tour companies like to say tours are a cheap way to explore Europe, when you crunch the numbers, things don’t seem to add up. If you’re worried for your wallet, opt for DIY travel.
4. Cook your own meals (at least) once a day
Food in Europe is to die for! Some of my best memories travelling are the meals we have shared between friends, locals and fellow travellers. As painful as it is, if you’re seriously trying to save money, cutting back on purchasing food and drink is one of the easiest places to start. During my Europe adventures, I tried to restrict myself to purchasing one meal a day (normally lunch when I was out and about) and then cooking my own meal for dinner. This actually saved a heap of money, much more than I thought it would.
5. Research all possible transport options between destinations
It might be tempting to just hop on a plane or a train but is it the cheapest option? Doing some ridiculous journey to save a few bucks will earn you your backpacker stripes. Buses in Europe are really cheap, so even though they aren’t as comfortable as planes or trains they are worth it. The benefit of using trains and buses over planes is that they take you from A to B without the need for security checks, paying for bags, checking in, etc. etc. and the stations are usually quite central. Rome2Rio is a great site to compare the prices of all the options (this website seriously rocks).
6. Figure out where is touristy and where isn’t, and avoid the touristy areas
With good reason, the touristy areas hike up the prices. Rent is more expensive and tourists are willing to pay more for products, so it is fair game for the business owners. For people wanting to travel Europe on a tight budget, it’s best to avoid eating and purchasing things near tourist hot spots. It’s generally easy to determine which areas are going to be more expensive, so try and get off the grand boulevards in Paris or out of the old town in Prague when you can. Pushing yourself outside of the touristed areas also helps you to uncover the more authentic side to destinations which is a huge bonus!
7. Keep a budget to keep tabs on yourself
This sounds really easy in theory, but in reality it can be hard to keep track of a budget. Writing down your expenses is a massively effective way of helping you to realise where you are wasting money. Write down everything you spend money and you will feel yourself becoming more cautious almost instantly.
8. Research free attractions and free/discounted days
A lot of attractions in Europe are free which is awesome for your wallet! Many attractions are not free in general but may have free days i.e. most attractions in Paris are free on the first Sunday of the month, or the Louvre being free on some Friday’s for people under 25. It definitely pays to do your research and can save a lot of money.
9. Avoid festival times
Unless you’re actually going to the festival, make sure you are not visiting during these times. Accommodation and transport prices will hike majorly, not to mention you’ll have to share the destination with a huge number of people you wouldn’t normally have to share with. I found this to be particularly true in cities like Split in Croatia during the Ultra Music Festival where there isn’t a huge amount of accommodation to start with.
10. Spend more time in the cheaper regions
There are expensive cities and less expensive cities in Europe, the same can be said for regional areas. Although the expensive places are totally worth visiting (I mean they’re popular for a reason), if you are super strapped for cash then spending time in cheaper but equally awesome places can save you some cash. An example of this is spending more time in Budapest rather than Paris will still be a ripper time but will cost substantially less.
11. Shop, eat, and drink local
Local cafés, restaurants and bars will be cheaper than their international chain counterparts. Searching out your Starbucks coffee from home is going to cost a lot more than one from a small café down a little street. (Also what are you doing drinking Starbucks in Europe?? The coffee is so good there). As mentioned before, when you shop, eat and drink local you will engage more with the more ‘real’ side of destinations.
12. Travel with other people to split costs
Travelling as a couple or with friends means costs are split. I travel a lot with my partner, so booked a double rooms which could split between us making it half price. You can cook bigger meals which ends up being cheaper overall. Groups of friends can book entire hostel dorms which makes it cheaper as well as comfortable because you’re with your mates rather than strangers.
13. Travel slow
Seriously, if you have the time you should try slow travel. Transport between destinations can be the biggest expense, so engaging in slow travel is an awesome way to see Europe on a budget. Not to mention, it’s amazing to begin to feel like a local in a foreign place. Staying a while will help you get a real sense of a destination, know the cheap spots and make lifelong connections.
14. Walk or take public transport
Taxis might be tempting but they cost so much more than walking or public transport. I normally walk everywhere because you see so much more of a city. However, in cities like London where attractions are very spread out, buying an Oyster week pass to use the public transport may be necessary. A mixture of walking and public transport works well and can be a cost effective way to see a place. Plus, exercise can’t be a bad thing (especially when you’re burning off 4€ pizzas in Italy).
Do you have any budget tips for Europe? Or want some advice? Leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you
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