Throughout the centuries, Europe has remained a favored destination by travelers from all over the world. While you may think that the idea of “traveling through Europe” is a relatively recent phenomenon, in reality, the appeal of a ‘European tour’ has existed since the first colonists arrived on the shores of the U.S. In fact, between the years of 1650 and 1850, a “grand tour” of Europe was considered a rite of passage for the wealthy upper classes in North America and Western Europe, and the draw of this continent has never diminished over the years. The medieval cities, lovely languages, delicious food, and historical landmarks all add to Europe’s undeniable charm.
Yet, for most people, the iconic idea of “backpacking across Europe” sounds like an amazing, but elusive, pipedream. However, Europe is no longer considered just a destination for the wealthy; in fact, hidden away in this continent is a myriad of hacks for the average budget traveler. Keep reading below for tips to travel through Europe on a budget. Your dream European vacation may be cheaper than you think!
1. Fly into the Cheapest City
Flying to Europe can be incredibly pricey, especially if you’re trying to fly into some of the more “sought-after” destinations. Yet, one of the best ways to save money on a European flight is to be flexible with your destination and to research flights in nearby cities. Chances are, once you’ve arrived in Europe, you can travel to your intended destination much cheaper via train or budget air travel. For example, if you are planning to travel to Italy, it may be cheaper to fly into Milan instead of Rome. By taking a cheaper flight to Milan, you can then travel to Rome via train and potentially save hundreds of dollars! So, don’t be “stuck” on one destination; instead, explore a variety of transportation options to find the best deal.
2. Travel in the Low Season
Summertime is Europe’s high season; so, everything from food to accommodations to activities and flights are at their peak prices between the months of June and August. Therefore, if you want to stay on a strict budget, you are much better off traveling to Europe in the shoulder seasons (May, September, and October), or, for even lower prices, in the wintertime (November through April). Traveling in the low season brings a whole lot of perks: smaller crowds (especially at museums and attractions), lower prices on activities and lodging, and fewer tourists, which also lessens the problem of overtourism in some large European cities. So, if you want to see Europe on a budget, grab a jacket and explore the continent in the off season!
3. Sleep Cheaply
Options for accommodations in Europe are practically endless, from castles and fancy hotels to small B&Bs and local apartments. Of course, if you want the cheapest lodging possible, find a convenient hostel (they aren’t all as dingy as you think!). If sharing a bunk room isn’t your style, many hostels allow you pay a little more for a private room. A quick search on HostelWorld will provide you with comprehensive information on a variety of hostels. Read the reviews carefully to find one the suits you—remember, you won’t be spending much time there; you just need a place to sleep between all of your exploring!
Or, if hostels aren’t really your cup of tea, you can search Airbnb for a private residence, or use Hotels.com or Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels. A third option is to search for a small, local Bed and Breakfast: quaint B&Bs with local hosts can provide some of the very best travel experiences!
TIP: If you can, find a place with breakfast included--that’s one less meal you have to worry about purchasing! Another option is to find a hotel or Airbnb residence that has a kitchen, so you can store snacks and cook a few of your own meals.
4. Find Cheap Transportation
One of the best ways to get around Europe is by train, so be sure to research train routes and purchase a rail pass before your trip—it’s best to book your tickets far in advance to get the lowest prices. Check out Eurail for all of the details on train routes and departure times and set up a transportation plan before your trip. Or, if the rail pass is too pricey, you can also find cheap bus fares that will take you all over the continent.
If you’re short on time, then search cheap budget airlines! There are several simple, no-frills airlines that provide cheap and quick transportation from one country to another (just make sure to check the luggage regulations very carefully, as many airlines are very strict on the amount of baggage you are allowed).
So, no matter your budget, there are several options for you to see Europe cheaply!
5. Save Money on Food
Let’s be honest, when we’re traveling, a great deal of our money goes toward buying delicious meals. Yet, eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a week or two will put a huge dent in that budget you created. So, what’s the solution? Eat smart. Be sure to find a hotel that provides free breakfast each day, or one that has a kitchen where you can stock breakfast supplies, so that you’re not eating out every morning. When you leave your lodging for the day, bring along some of your favorite snacks (or left overs from breakfast, like fruit or small pastries) and stock them in your bag so you can munch on something while you sightsee. Then, when you do decide to go out to eat, stay away from touristy places or restaurants very close to well-known tourist attractions, as these places tend to have higher prices. Instead, steer toward smaller local restaurants and markets. Of course, you will definitely want to splurge on a meal or two during your trip--so, to counterbalance that, try to cook a couple of meals on your own, then you’ll have some extra cash for that triple scoop of gelato!
TIP: If you do want to eat a more luxurious meal, try to eat out at lunch, as prices tend to be cheaper than during dinnertime.
6. Travel cheaply in the city
Transportation can be pricey in Europe, especially if you’re exploring one of the bigger cities. If you really want to experience the city that you’re visiting, avoid the pricey taxis and get a metro pass instead. For example, in London, you can get a cheap pass to use the “tube” for a few days and avoid the traffic and expensive cab rides.
Yet, if you really want to experience the city, use your own two feet! Walking and cycling are two of the best ways to explore your surroundings and to find some secret spots that you would not see otherwise. Not only are they cheap (or free), but they will also help improve your health while on vacation! (Or, they will at least help you work off the chocolate croissants in Paris!).
7. Budget Daily Activities
Create a budget in advance for daily activities. Fortunately, Europe offers a ton of free activities, from museums to historical landmarks and even some free tours. Yet, there are certain activities that you will want to partake in that cost money. So, the best thing to do is to decide beforehand which activities you’d like to purchase. Do you want to tour the gardens at Versailles? Or would you rather pay to participate in a nighttime walking tour of Rome or a cooking class in Tuscany? Choose which activities that you truly value and that you believe are worth paying extra money for, then search for other free attractions in the area. You can search Google to find free tours and events nearby, and check TripAdvisor for some recommendations of the best things to do in each city (and which activities are actually worth the money!). Doing plenty of research before your trip and reading reviews of a variety of activities will also help you avoid scams once you arrive or avoid paying for expensive tours that are not actually worth their value!
Every country in Europe has something special to offer. The entire continent is simply chock-full of beauty, art, culture, and rich history. So, if you’re dreaming of a European getaway but don’t have a lot of extra money to spend, use the tips mentioned above and get ready for your unforgettable European vacation that won’t break the bank!