Often, you don’t hear “budget travel” and “Europe” in the same sentence–and admittedly, for good reason. Europe has a reputation as one of the most expensive places in the world to visit. The flights alone to actually get to the continent can be quite a hurdle, and then you have to add in actual visiting and staying and eating and touring parts? Ouch!
I don’t blame you for being scared of the cost! But, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to travel on a budget in Europe–and you don’t need to backpack to do it!
1. Pick your destination wisely–not just where, but when! Europe does still have a few places that are more affordable–Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, to name a few! However, don’t just choose the cheap destination if you have no interest in these places. If you’ve always dreamed of wandering the Swiss Alps or dreaming amongst the wineries in Tuscany, those places are still doable–especially if you go in the off-season, or to lesser-traveled regions outside of the well-known tourist areas.
^^Romania, beautiful…and inexpensive!
2. Now decide how to get there and how to get around! My favorite sites for flights are Skyscanner and Kayak, as well as Airfare Watchdog. Within Europe, use Rome2Rio or GoEuro to find the cheapest option between points A and B, either by bus, train, or car. GoEuro is easier to book from itself, but Rome2Rio has options for this as well.
3. Prioritize. Now that you’ve chosen (which to me is the hardest part!) and bought your tickets/scoped them out, think about what’s most important to you at the destination, as that will be what you spend your money on. Unless you aren’t traveling on a budget (and if you aren’t, lucky you), you will not be able to go full-out in every area of travel, especially in Europe! So, do you want luxurious accommodation, or all the food? Do you want to see every little thing possible, or are you happy just soaking in the vibe of the place? Do you want to stay in one city, or see the entire country?
^^two weeks in one small corner of Croatia still didn’t feel like enough time!
4. Accommodation research. As much as I want to say that it the destination is all that matters, I am picky about my accommodation. Now that I’m in in my late twenties, and married, I generally don’t want to stay in hostels or shared rooms, even though these are often the cheapest options. What’s more, when I look back on my travels, often my favorite places were amazing in part because of where I stayed while there. It’s half the fun, after all! I spend hours researching where to stay in each destination–looking at location, amenities, and reviews. As I’m sure you know, Airbnb is a great way to get places with kitchens (which will save you money eating out, see next point). I’m also a fan of Booking.com, as you get rewards the more you book.
^^an adorable apartment in Vienna (and my adorable husband)
5. Eating out. Eating out is often inevitable when traveling, and it can be some of the most fun and memorable parts of your trip. I often choose one large meal a day, and eat smaller/cheaper meals through the rest of the day, or stop frequently for small snacks. In Italy, for example, I know there will have to be gelato stops–so I eat smaller and cheaper meals to save money.
^^moussaka on Santorini–one of my most favorite meals ever and a must to try–and shared with my husband!
6. Eating in. If you find a place with a kitchen, this will help a lot with your food expenses. If not, it’s still easy to make a picnic! If the weather is not on your side, share food or get an appetizer as your main dish. Grab snacks at the grocery store so you can easily skip a huge meal, and eat on the go if necessary.
7. Walk! The best way to see a city, in my opinion, is to walk its streets. Sometimes the help of public transportation is necessary–and, in places like Prague, a fun way to sightsee–but it can save you money to hoof it a few extra blocks. Bonus, you get in some free sightseeing, you get some exercise, and you get a feel for the city that isn’t always possible otherwise.
^^Prague from a tram
8. Be picky with activities–and search for package deals or free/discount days. Many cities in Europe nowadays have a city pass to get you deals on their major sites. Paris has it’s famous Museum Pass, for example. That being said, before buying, make sure it will actually save you money and that you actually want to do all of those things. Several times I’ve bought a pass and ended up wasting time with activities I wasn’t that interested in just because I needed to make it worth my money. Or, I bought a pass and realized I didn’t have enough time to make it worth my while! And, finally, most memorably, we bought Museum Passes in Paris but didn’t account for the fact that our pass was good over a holiday–so we lost a full day! In addition to city passes, many places in Europe have deals on the first Saturday of the month, or on Tuesdays, where museums or churches are free or reduced in price. Or, if you’re going off-season, these things may be cheaper AND less crowded–just make sure to check opening and closing times!
^^Selfies to pass the time in the endless Paris lines
9. Be choosy with your souvenirs. It can be really tempting to go crazy shopping in a new country full of beautiful local handicrafts, delicious food and drinks, more exclusive shops, etc. Of course, since I live in a tiny flat and am acutely aware of the size of my suitcase, this isn’t as much of a problem for me–but I still have to rein myself in. I usually let myself pick one thing from each destination–something easily packed–along with a few postcards. I try to get a postcard from every spot! Of course, if this is your one big trip to Europe, go crazy and buy all those things I wish I could–a cuckoo clock in the Alps, pottery in Romania, local alcohol from every destination, giant paintings of Santorini…and the list goes on.
10. Use these travel hacks from Personal Capital, for your travels in Europe, and future travels in the rest of the world: