Europe can be an expensive destination for the budget traveler accustomed to the cheap luxuries available in other parts of the world. On our last big Europe trip we visited seven countries: Greece, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, and Austria. In this article, we will explain how we made it possible to travel Europe on a budget for less than $50 a day. This post is intended as a broad overview resource for someone starting to research Europe for their next travel destination.
Where and when to go
It might sound obvious but destination selection ultimately has the biggest influence on trip expenses. One of the great things about travelling Europe is that there are so many countries within a relatively small area; some more affordable than others. Our number one tip for making Europe more affordable on a budget is to divide time between affordable and more expensive destinations. Europe has such great transport connections that moving between countries can take as little as a few hours or be a mere bus or train ride away.
The other major influence on affordability is when to go. Europe can be hectic in the summer months. Peak tourist season means high prices. Timing your trip for the shoulder seasons: Spring (April and May) and Autumn (September and October) for warmer weather, is a great way to avoid the biggest crowds and get best value for money. Be warned however that any time outside the winter months, Europe has a thriving tourist industry and most major attractions particularly in Italy and Santorini are always busy. To avoid crowds wake up early to see the sights.
How to do it
To make the most of your time and money we recommend spending rest and relaxation days in the more affordable countries. In more expensive places make sure to rise early and fill your days with as many activities and sightseeing as possible . Good options for affordable countries that we visited include: Greece, Hungary and Croatia; the further East you travel the more affordable the destination.
There are numerous accommodation options available to the budget traveler. Below is a list of the general types of accommodation available. As a rule set, aside one third of your daily budget for accommodation. In our case $16 (USD) on average was sufficient to find a comfortable room. Remember this is on average, plan to spend more in some places and in others plan to save some.
Airbnb is one of the best methods for finding cheap good quality accommodation when planning to travel Europe. A major advantage of Airbnb for the budget traveler is that the accommodation is more likely to have kitchen facilities. A great way to save on food costs (see Food section to follow). We recommend having a phone or internet access to contact your host on arrival, as coordination can otherwise be difficult. Many of the Airbnbs we stayed in were self-contained apartments in the heart of the tourist districts. Often, they won’t have a reception area where you can just walk in and chat to the front desk staff to check in and get the keys to your room. Having internet on your mobile phone while traveling is crucial to be able to contact your host and find out the best way you can pick up the keys to your Airbnb.
Guesthouses and Budget Hotels are also an excellent budget option. Many cheap, good quality options can be found on Booking.com. We found some excellent hotel accommodation in the Greek islands during the shoulder season (Late March / Early April) for as little as $12 pp per night. And, because it was shoulder season we were fortunate to receive free upgrades as well.
Hostels are of varying quality in Europe but are still a great way to save a few dollars particularly when travelling solo or on a stopover. Hostels are a great way to meet fellow travelers and pool resources together to book a tour, transport and the like and get cheaper rates or get discounts from group bookings.
Couchsurfing is a travel community site that provides free accommodation for those looking to be hosted and provides an insight into local life. Warm Showers is a similar free hospitality site geared towards cycle tourists.
Tip: Selecting accommodation quality based on length of stay is a great way to reduce costs. Booking a nice room for a one night stopover is often unnecessary. A cheap hostel is fine for transit days or one night stays, especially for days where you arrive late and depart early the next day.
One of the great pleasures of travel is food, particularly when you are in Europe. But food expenses can easily blow the daily budget. Food can easily cost more than 50% of any daily budget. Many of the locations in Europe you will be visiting are tourist orientated where food quality can be poor and prices jacked up to tourist rates.
With a small amount of organisation the night before or in the morning, it’s possible to find delicious local food options for your breakfast or lunch.
Europe is full of fantastic bakeries and markets selling fresh hot breads, pastries, cheeses, cured meats, jams, fresh fruits and more.
We found many great bakeries selling spinach and cheese filled pastries, sweet croissants and wonderfully hot, freshly baked bread perfect with local jams! These beautifully baked and cheap pastries are perfect for a light, easy breakfast on-the-go as you start exploring the lovely European city you are in.
In countries where street food is available or small restaurants are better value, make the most of these opportunities to eat out and get a taste of local culture (literally). For example, Greece has fantastic Giros stalls everywhere! Giros are cheap (priced between 2-3 Euros), delicious (far better than at home in Australia) and satisfying with large servings.
Eating out is always a nice experience especially when travelling. But being selective about how much and how often you eat out can be of a huge benefit to your daily budget and will still allow you to indulge once in a while.
Tip: Have one indulgent dinner out in each country you visit
We tried this with the idea of picking a restaurant that we felt best represented the food culture of that country. This allowed us to try the best of the local cuisine and to treat ourselves to a nice night out after all the budgeting.
For best results ask accommodation staff or locals for restaurant recommendations.
There are several great budget airlines in Europe: Ryanair, Easyjet and Veuling all offering flights sometimes cheaper than train or bus tickets. Booking flights in advance is a great way to save time and money. Flights on these budget carriers can sometimes sell for as little as $15! In fact we found flights from Athens to Mykonos (Greek islands) with Ryanair for $12 pp one way!!!
Tip: Book cheap internal flights well in advance for great deals!
Bus and Train
Europe has an extensive integrated network of buses in all the countries we visited. Bus tickets can easily be purchased online. Buses provide the cheapest and most convenient method of transport throughout Europe. Trains tend to be more expensive than buses but more comfortable and cheaper than flights to destinations that budget airlines do not service. Train tickets are also available online. An excellent resource for train routes and timetable information can be found here.
Airport Transfers and Metro
Transfers can get expensive particularly to / from airports where distances are substantial. Transfers to and from airports can add significantly to the cost of flying. It is important to consider this when booking flights. Most of the major airports have bus or train links.
Tip: It’s always a good idea as soon as you get to a destination to have a quick chat with your accommodation staff about best options for getting around the local area.
Most major cities have Metro day passes and if you plan to sightsee these are typically the best option.
Bicycle hire is a great way to get around European cities as well. Germany and Austria had several variations of pick up-drop off bicycle parking docks around the cities. Bicycles can be typically hired using your credit and or with a mobile phone app.
Be selective about the attractions you visit. for Pinpoint your must-see sights and others that you’re particularly interested in. Skip the rest. Many free attractions can provide as much interest or simply enjoy the city parks, restaurants, squares and soak in daily life. Chat to the locals and get a feel for what life is like in the cities you visit. These simple experiences often provide far more rewarding travel anyway.
By employing these strategies we managed to travel Europe for 30 days for less than $50 a day. The following is a breakdown of the average (USD) per person daily expenses possible: Accommodation $16, Food $15, Transport $14 (Includes all internal flights, buses, trains and transfers), Attractions $4. In a post to follow we will be providing a practical guide to tracking and managing travel funds whilst on the road which we hope will provide further details.
If you have any questions or would like some further advice about travelling Europe on a budget, you can contact us here or leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!