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.
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.
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 Agoda.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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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!