I often get asked how I can afford to spend so much time travelling around Europe.
BUT: Europe is quite cheap, if you know how to do it, and if you don’t plan on spending all your time in hotels with turn-down service. There are a ton of budget options for travellers, but it’s not always easy to know where or how to look. I’ve spent enough time in Europe now to know how to get around cheaply.
This mostly applies to long-term travellers — those who come for several weeks or months.
If you’re on your first trip abroad, these tips will help.
Stick to the cheaper European countries
If you want to spend your time in places like London or Paris, you’re gonna be forced to dish out a lot of cash. I mean, if those are your dream spots, then go for it. I’m not a big fan of either city, but that’s just me.
But don’t think you won’t enjoy the lesser touristy places in Europe if you decide to pass up the most popular destinations. Even if you mix up your itinerary a little, you’ll be able to create a better balance between expensive and inexpensive.
I’m lucky that the more affordable European countries are my favourites. The crowds are always more subdued, the history is fascinating to me, and I love that kinda gritty, less prim-and-posh culture. I’d rather spend my time drinking good local beer at a ruined pub in Budapest than sipping fancy wine on a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower (although, god, that sounds amazing too).
Some worthy affordable countries:
- Czech Republic
- Romania and Moldova
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
I’m particularly in love with the Balkans. Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro were two of the most surprisingly awesome countries I’ve ever stumbled across.
BUT I also love Czech, Poland, and Hungary. If you want some idea of how cheap travelling Europe can be, I recently spent three full days in Poland and spent about 75 EUR…and I didn’t deny myself anything. All the pierogies, baby.
Comparing transportation routes + cost
While living in Berlin, I was introduced to GoEuro.com. It’s a website that lets you search transportation routes across Europe, and then compares prices/best routes via train, plane, car, or bus.
For example, I searched for a route from Berlin, Germany to Bergamo, Italy for September 18th. The best route was a non-stop Easyjet flight for $75, but it also showed me options for bus routes and trains. There are a lot of flight aggregators out there, but I like that GoEuro.com compares all the routes and shows the options for different bus lines and train companies.
If you have a German or Italy rail card, you’ll save money as well. The website lets you input your card info to save cash.
I’m more inclined to fly via those greater distances, like between Italy and northern Germany. But for quicker routes, like Berlin to Krakow, this system is crazy awesome. Searching between Berlin and Krakow for the same date, a seat on a Polski bus is $20, while it’s $30 on Flix Bus.
Also awesome: You can also search for bla bla car routes. Bla bla car lets you hop aboard a car with someone who’s driving in your direction. It’s like a cross between Uber and hitchhiking.
Booking budget accommodations
I’m a huge fan of Airbnb. Since I usually spend a few weeks at a time in a new destination, I like having a home base where I can cook meals and work in comfort. I’ve never had a lousy Airbnb experience, and I’ve stayed several times with people in their homes. (If you book through me, you can save some cash.)
I’ve also found that if you plan on staying for a couple of weeks, you can ask the hosts for a lower rate. It doesn’t always work, but if you’re travelling in low season, they might really want to fill those spaces.
If that doesn’t suit you, hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com lets you search hostels. I’m a fan of the St. Christopher’s Inn and Generator Hostels lines — they’re always excellent value for your money. Although the St. Christopher’s in Barcelona seemed to have trouble keeping toilet paper around.
And when you need a spot of luxury in a hotel setting, try Hotwire.com.
Use Foursquare to find cheap and delicious eats
Foursquare has made me an angry customer in recent years thanks to its weird new implementation of Swarm (don’t ask, long story — none of it makes any sense). Basically it’s a check-in app that lets you collect points per place you visit, and you can discover new things around you (kinda like Yelp).
Foursquare usually ends up finding me some pretty awesome places to eat. Although I usually prefer asking locals for their favourite eating places, sometimes it’s just not possible. The best thing about Foursquare is that its search functionality is SUPER intuitive. So if you search for something like “cheap burgers” or “wifi” it’ll come with a slew of results. You can also adjust the search preferences to suit your price range.
Technology is grand.
Finding things to do
If you’re a sceptical shopper like me, those city passes found in tourist shops seem like a scam, but they’re not. If you’re planning on a trip chocked full of sightseeing and tours, those passes will save you some money. Maybe not a LOT of money, but some. Yes.
I’m also a huge, huge fan of free walking tours. A quick Google search will let you find a free walking tour in pretty much any city in the world. But if a Sandeman’s tour is an option, go with that one. They’re my favourite. You’ll get an excellent overview of your destination, and the guide always have a ton of suggestions for your further explorations.
Also, sign up for Meetup.com. They’ll alert you to events in your destination, so that you can find some cool things to do with locals or other travellers.