How to Travel Cheaply in Europe

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Traveling can be costly, especially in countries where your money is just 1/60th of its value.

People from developed countries who go to Asia have it better. They can backpack for months for less because of the high value of their currency. Even students on gap year can do it; they use their savings, travel around for a year, and go back home to save up again.

That said, it can still be possible to travel cheaply in Europe, even for people like me from Asia who’s not rich. It just takes some planning and a strong will to push through with the trip no matter the obstacles along the way.

Here are some of my tips.

dolmades

Dolmades is a traditional Greek food; rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves.

 Cut down on eating in restaurants.

A regular meal will cost you 10 euros upward in Europe, and if you eat there twice a day, that’s a minimum of 20 euros daily that you’re spending only on food. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy eating local cuisine at nice places though. I have made it a point to eat at least once or twice in restaurants (or taverna here in Greece) every time I arrive in a new city.

For my first lunch in Athens, I ate dolmades with a bottle of Mythos in a very nice taverna, a very good meal which cost me 14 euros. That night, I ate moussaka with another bottle of beer for 11 euros. That was the extent of my splurging. In the next few days, I only ate sandwiches (ranging from 70 cents to 1.50 euros) and gyros (2.10 euros) and skipped on beer, bringing my own water instead.

budapest couch

My couch in Budapest, Hungary, cat (Dormi) included.

Make use of hospitality exchanges…

These are online organizations which give free accommodation to its members. I belong to two of the most well-established ones: Couchsurfing (CS) and Hospitality Club (HC).

While I became a member first of HC, I use CS most of the time. HC serves as my back-up though, when I can’t find a host through Couchsurfing (which is rarely).

…use hostels if you don’t like the idea of staying in strangers’ houses…

There are times when I would prefer to stay in a hostel rather than through Couchsurfing, e.g., when I’m only staying one night in the city. I look for cheap places to stay through sites like Hostelworld.

Private rooms can cost 30 euros per night upwards, so I always choose dorm beds. There are usually six beds in a room, mixed (both men and women), but it only costs 10 euros a day.

I’ve stayed in Kangaroo Stop in Dresden, Germany; the rooms were clean, there was free breakfast (from all the food left behind by other guests), and most important for me, a strong (and free) wifi connection.

The best hostel I’ve stayed in was in Santorini, though. Check out Caveland Hostel if you’re planning to go there!

…or you can make use of vacation rentals like Airbnb or Roomorama.

If you’re not comfortable with Couchsurfing and don’t like hostels, you can rent out locals’ room fora lot less than what you would pay if you were paying for a hotel room. It’s like Couchsurfing (staying with the real lived spaces of locals) but with a fee and the added feature of security.

My Hungarian host, Maria, rents her room through Airbnb in Budapest, so if you’re visiting there, try out her apartment. It’s at the center of the city and walking distance to the metro. You’ll even get to meet her adorable cat, Dormi!

Polish truck drivers

The Polish drivers who picked up Zuky in Denmark.

 You can hitchhike to save up on transportation expenses.

My host in Jakarta, Indonesia—and a good friend—successfully hitchhiked across Europe on her own last year, and she only had glowing things to say about her experience. I didn’t try this on my Euro trip though, as I did not find it appealing to stand out in the cold. A lot of people in Europe also advise against hitchhiking.

If you don’t like the unpredictability of hitchhiking, use carpooling instead.

Another strategy to travel cheaply in Europe is through carpooling. Like what its name suggests, carpooling simply means finding people going to the city where you’re going and hitching a ride with them. Instead of for free though, you contribute for gas.

I used carpooling in Germany and saved up a LOT. Instead of a 25-euro train ticket from Hamburg to Bremen, for example, I paid 5 euros for carpooling, and there were only two passengers in the car. And instead of forking out 90 euros from Nürnberg to Berlin, I only paid 25. Mitfahrgelegenheiten.de is the site in German, and it’s Carpooling.co.uk in English.

Travel by plane and book in advance.

You can get good and cheap flights easily when you book in advance and if you shop around for the best prices. I use Skyscanner.com to compare flights, and one of the best deals I’ve had was a 30-euro ticket from Italy all the way to Belgium.

The flight itself cost 10 euros, but RyanAir.com charges 15 euros more for a checked-in baggage. So if you want to save up more, make sure to bring only hand-carried luggage. Another budget airline in Europe is EasyJet.com.

Get cheap bus tickets via Eurolines.

Aside from cheap flights, you can take the bus too, when traveling from one country to another. Eurolines.com is really cheap, the seats are comfortable, and they have a toilet inside. Some trips even have free Wifi! Their fares start out at 9 euros (my ticket from Brussels to Amsterdam).

emma the tourist guide in budapest

Emma from the walking tour explaining about the love locks.

Find out if there are any free walking tours in the area.

I wish I had known about the free walking tours before. It was only in Budapest when I tried one, and I was very much satisfied with their services. The guides were witty and very knowledgeable, and they made history come alive. It’s not totally for free, of course. If you’re satisfied with their services, you’re supposed to give a tip. Really good ones earn a lot this way.

If you’re ever in Budapest, check out the Free Budapest Walking Tours. If you go to Rome though, you’ll find out that free walking tours are not allowed there! Our guide was arrested just when we were just starting our Vatican City tour.

Make sure to get a backpacker travel insurance.

There are too many things that can happen when you’re traveling, and a travel insurance can give you an assurance that at least you’ll be compensated for whatever inconvenience you may experience like a lost luggage or delayed flight. I used a local company for my Euro trip.

santorini, greece

The houses by the cliff side in Santorini, Greece.

If you plan on backpacking in Europe someday, build up your credit now.

You definitely need a credit card when you’re traveling. Sure, you can get around in cash, but you can travel cheaply in Europe if you have credit cards. The best deals can be had online, and that piece of plastic will certainly come in handy if you don’t want to run out of cash. I had credit cards for years already, but I didn’t bother to have my credit limit increased. Too bad; I could have saved up 300 euros on my ticket going to Europe from the Philippines if I did that months before my trip.

Have you been to Europe? Do share your money-saving tips here!


 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!


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Comments

  1. says

    Great and practical tips! I really admire how you’re getting through your solo backpacking adventure through Europe. Traveling as a family to Europe gets pricey too so we’ve learned to rent apartments. It cuts down on eating costs. We also love visiting the foreign grocery stores, street markets and the food halls underneath department stores. So much variety and a whole lot cheaper. Wishing you safe travels!

  2. says

    @ Grace: Yes, but I can already see that my most expensive trip is the one here in Santorini. Already spent 300 euros including the plane to Rome! I had actually debated whether to push through here, but I thought that I’ve been very frugal for the past month, so I deserve this break. hehe
    Aleah recently posted..How to Travel Cheaply in Europe

  3. says

    Other ways to save money:

    Dumpster diving. Food costs = 0.
    If you do plan to buy food then self-cater, even cheaper than buying sandwiches and gyros (which are still quite expensive).
    Free-camp. Accommodation costs = 0.
    Libraries usually have free internet.

    P.S. Those people who advise not to hitchhike are those who have never done it. In over 1000 hitches I’ve never had a bad experience and even had a few adventures.

  4. Helen says

    I always find it essential to be practical. I can see a lot of valuable tips here. Aside from saving money, I could use the experience especially that there is a lot here that I have yet to try such as joining hospitality exchanges.
    Helen recently posted..DTS Home

  5. says

    Amazing guides and tips. It’s like a reader would think that “oh next time I’ll travel to Europe I will do all of these”. In reality, he/she has yet to travel Europe. But because of your very informative and detailed post, they would get to spend less and avoid unnecessary expenses. Thank you for this. Bookmarked it already :)

    Directions on Web
    Lagalag recently posted..What & Where To Eat In Cebu City

  6. says

    I read your article Date a Girl who Travels, and I was..Holy cow! It hit me! haha! CS is soo great! I just tried CS when I went to Amsterdam for a training and I met wonderful hosts! Thanks for your trip. Will surely keep this in mind when I’ll be able to travel back in EU. :) Have safe travels Ms. Aleah! :D

  7. says

    I definitely agree with Couchsurfing, even though I have not couchsurfed on anyone’s couch yet. But, I’ve met several fun like-minded people through Couchsurfing while travelling.

    Just another few tips:
    - If you want to travel by train, book the tickets a few days in advance. You can often get cheaper deals that way.
    - If you are a student, you might find it cheaper to get a travel money card. I used a travel money card to avoid exchange rate volatility/commission charges. Depending on which country you are from, the travel money card could possibly be issued free as well. (Of course, always have a backup credit card with you.)

  8. says

    Excellent travel article you have here….your tips and advice are really practical and doable..really coming from someone who have done so many trips and travel abroad.

    I particularly liked your advice on getting an insurance…its the one thing that most of us forget or choose to ignore.
    Online Hotel Booking recently posted..Bohol Tour Packages

  9. says

    Reading this makes me want to go to Greece! Target ko din yan! I survived my Europe trip by eating sandwiches and splurging on the dinners once in a while – say once in every city lang. Looks like you are having a blast there! Enjoy! More posts and more pics! I love reading about Europe. :D
    Loraine recently posted..Mind Your Travel Manners

  10. says

    Wow. na-inspire naman ako magbackpack sa Europe sa mga tips mo. Kudos to you! To think na solo female backpacker ka, that takes a lot of guts! Maybe someday though. You are inspiring. :)

  11. ayn says

    if you wanna save up on your transportation expenses in Europe. WALK! walking is the best way to get around. it’s cheap and you get to see the sights a little longer. you can also stop wherever and whenever you want to. last year went to Europe with my parents. what i did was i booked them in one of those hop-on/hop-off buses since they’re both in their 70s and i wouldn’t want them to walk at my pace for miles and miles while i walked from one attraction to the next. we ended up saving a lot from that and i ended up having so much fun strolling briskly in the streets of europe while marveling on the different sights these countries have to offer. A good pair of chuck taylors would do the trick. Enjoy Europe and remember…Be a traveler, not a tourist. Dont stick to the itinerary. Get LOST once in awhile(or maybe often) especially in Venice. You just have to, it’ll be experience you won’t soon forget…

  12. says

    @ Doi: Thanks, Doi. These tips are from my own experience backpacking in Europe, so they should work :D I only spent a fraction compared to other people who traveled in Europe for a shorter period of time :) And yeah, I love my new header too! It’s by a Malaysian illustrator.
    Aleah recently posted..Luxury Accommodations in Singapore

  13. says

    Nice tips! You can also try reading the travel book Europe on a Shoestring by Lonely Planet for touring the cities for free. Also, Ryan Air is like the Cebupac of Europe with seat sales amounting to 20 euros. I’ve also found that buying from markets in europe are quite cheap (especially if youre splitting with a group, perhaps people you just met).
    mishc89 recently posted..Frugal Traveler: Research: The Traveler’s Best Friend

  14. Clarence says

    Ho-ho buses (hop-on hop-off buses) are usually the way to go to save money and move around tourist places in europe! It’s very worth it specially in Paris, France since there are heaps to see.

  15. says

    @ Beth: Thanks for dropping by. Feel free to share!
    @ Clarence: Will keep that in mind for next time. I didn’t take them because it was winter when I was there and riding the open buses didn’t seem to be a good idea :)
    Aleah recently posted..How to Find Cheap Flights

  16. says

    Thanks for the suggestions! It means a lot because going on a European tour means I have to save so I could take care of all the travel stuff that I need. Great help indeed.

  17. Kat says

    Hi Aleah. Been reading your posts on Europe. You have inspired me to stop dreaming and to start planning my own dream vacation. May I just ask what airline you booked going to Europe? How much was the cost? =

    • Kat says

      Thanks for the info, Aleah. I’m back reading your posts and I’m feeling the itch to travel even more. Keep blogging! =)

  18. says

    Hey! Your blog is awesome. I’m actually travelling to Europe this coming September. Though I opted to go on a travel package via Topdeck Tours. I’m not yet that adventurous to do backpacking alone. I do have a one week stay in London. Keep writing!

  19. says

    Great list! We randomly decided to do three months this fall in Europe and I can’t even begin to plan what we are doing or what our budget will be…but you confirmed that booking airfare in advance as beneficial has I had hoped and that buses may be a viable option also! We are hoping to house sit combined with some airbnb like you suggested, and hostels if we have to. Huge ”thank you” for the reminder about the free walking tours!
    Kathleen l Our Favorite Adventure recently posted..Travel Fitness: Ways to stay fit while traveling

  20. says

    Wow what wonderful information that you posted! I plan on putting these tips to good use on my next European vacation this year. Thanks for the great information!

  21. Desiree says

    Hi Ms. Aleah you got so many helpul tips. Thanks for sharing! Planning for a trip to Venice someday with my boyfriend and hopefully by next year I can visit India(Kochi) with him to meet his family din. :)

  22. says

    Very helpful tips and thank you. Indeed it says all and detailed. Insurance is a must really. Like you said you don’t know what’s going to happen. Also aside from insurance planning and booking way ahead of time is a practical thing to do. My friends and I enjoys traveling much. And since its one of our passion its also expensive. However we’ve done Couch Surfing the last time we travel, it was fun and no expense at all. We still got some extra money for the next destination.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Even though I didn’t have a fixed itinerary (when did I ever have one?), I never had a dull moment, as there was always a lot of things to see. There were hordes of tourists taking pictures of each other, street musicians playing their instrument of choice, and vendors selling all sorts of food stuff that I would have been glad to sample, if I were not so conscious of my budget. (Read: How to Travel Cheaply in Europe) [...]

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