When you somehow find yourself paying €40 for a dorm bed on a Saturday night in Amsterdam and forking out more than double that for a few hours on the train, you may begin to wonder how your quickly diminishing travel fund is possibly going to last you months of travel across the continent.
We sure did!
But with a few savvy tricks, travelling through Europe on a budget and still enjoying the best it has to offer is actually entirely possible.
These are our 10 favourite little tricks to help you survive a trip through Europe on a tight budget.
From a free tapa with every drink to enjoying the best historic monuments, Europe has plenty to enjoy without even having to reach for your wallet.
Many museums in major cities have designated ‘free’ days or hours where you can browse completely free of charge. Ask at your hostel for relevant times.
Choose hostels that include breakfast and all day tea and coffee. Sometimes you can stock up on bread or cheese to have a snack to nibble on during the day and there’s nothing better than a free cuppa after a full day of exploring.
Places like Granada in Spain – which has a huge student population – often serve a free tapa with every drink leaving more money for an extra glass of sangria or two.
While the Eurail Pass is a popular choice for many travellers, it isn’t cheap and doesn’t always offer the best value.
Generally, train travel in Western Europe is actually the most expensive option. If you book in advance you can sometimes get excellent deals, but buying tickets last minute will often cost you a lot more than you may have planned to pay.
Flixbus has a growing network of long-distance bus routes throughout Europe and tickets are very reasonably priced even when bought last minute. At the time of writing this post, there was a €99 offer for 5 cities in 3 months. Compare rates for long-distance buses here.
Another option that many rule out is flying. While it is the worst choice for the environment, low-cost carriers such as Ryanair offer flights for as low as €5. If you have a flexible route, use the ‘Fare Finder‘ tool, set your budget and see where your money will take you.
If you do choose to fly though, take a small pack that can be taken as carry on to avoid the baggage fees.
Cross the divide between west and east and prices drop dramatically, the crowds of tourists dissipate, the locals become infinitely more welcoming, the natural beauty is no less splendid, historic tales are just as gripping and villages are oozing with charm.
If you plan to spend several months in Europe, a trip to the eastern countries will definitely give your wallet some reprieve and show you another side to this amazing part of the world.
For anyone with limited time in the Schengen Zone, Eastern Europe is also one of the best places to hang out while your visa resets.
There is no better way to immerse yourself in a new European culture than by walking its streets. Follow your nose to the nearest bakery or street food stand, take a detour through alleyways brushed in street art and get lost in corridors not yet marked on your map.
With a different cuisine for every country and sometimes a signature dish for every region, a trip to Europe just wouldn’t be complete without eating your way through every tapa, croissant and pizza you can find.
But, that doesn’t mean you need to do it for every meal.
Cut down costs on eating out by cooking at least one meal per day, or find a park, take a picnic and enjoy being amongst the locals. Nothing says ‘French’ better than a bottle of red, a crusty baguette and a wheel of brie beside the Tour Eiffel.
For the times you do eat out you want to be sure you’re getting the best value for money, which in our minds means big portions of delicious, wholesome and locally prepared food.
Never eat in restaurants or cafes near major attractions as prices are often way above average, and ask at your hostel or guesthouse for where and what they would recommend eating. We have found some excellent hole-in-the-wall establishments based on insider tips from our hosts.
Markets are also a great place to sample local dishes and buy fresh produce straight from the source.
Just arrived in a new city and want to learn more about its history, get a fresh perspective on the lifestyle and discover a few hidden local spots that aren’t in your guidebook? A walking tour can give you all three as well as providing an interesting introduction to the city.
All major European cities run free walking tours, although they do operate on the expectation of tips. Look for the fliers in your hostel.
Ok, so if you’re flying solo hostels might still be your cheapest bet, but if you’re craving a little privacy and a night away from the dorms, you can find some cosy private rooms on Airbnb for just a few Euros extra than what you would pay for a dorm.
For couples or groups wanting a little extra comfort, private rooms or apartments on Airbnb or locally-run guesthouses are almost always better value.
New to Airbnb? Sign up here to get up to $30 off your first booking!
For the more adventurous, Couchsurfing is also a great way to travel cheaply and see a place from a local’s perspective.
In the height of summer, many places in Europe can reach scorching temperatures and you’ll need to stay hydrated. Carry water with you and refill it at bubblers instead of buying new bottles everyday which will cost you and is just a huge waste of plastic.
Many countries have publicly available fountains with water straight from the spring.
On that note, many toilets in Europe are annoyingly also not free, so if you’re drinking a lot be sure to use the free facilities at restaurants or museums.
Travelling out of season doesn’t mean you have to come in the dead of winter when many places outside the major cities close up shop and the mountainous regions are inaccessible to all but the snow bunnies among us.
Travelling just a few weeks either side of the peak summer months can see prices for both transport and accommodation drastically reduced.
Spring and autumn are a particularly beautiful time to be parading through the flower fields and forests of Europe. Plus, there are far less crowds.