Cheap Travel in Europe: 13 Tips for Your Next Trip
It’s no secret that traveling Europe for any length of time is costly exercise. Shelling out for accommodation, food, transport, and attractions can be fairly terrifying, especially if your home currency is flailing against the Euro. But with a bit of planning, and some discipline, you can explore the continent without any financial regrets. Learn about cheap travel in Europe with our 13 money-saving tips.
Cheap travel in Europe
1. Stay in hostels
Swanky hotels in the heart of the action are out if you’re looking to save money. Fortunately, hostels in Europe can be fantastic – they’re usually central, clean, social, and offer a selection of low-cost accommodation including private rooms. Websites like Hostelworld allow you to filter results by your own priorities such as location, price and atmosphere – just be sure to read between the lines on those descriptions and reviews.
2. Consider shared Airbnb
Airbnb is a great option if you’re looking to stay in accommodation somewhere between a hostel, hotel, and an apartment. If you’re happy to share an apartment with the host or other travelers, select the “Private room” option; if you’re okay with sharing a room, select the “Shared room” option. Choosing a private room is usually a good bet – it’s cheaper than a hotel and allows you to meet a local who lives in the city.
3. Use hotel aggregators
Everyone loves a good hotel stay every now and again, so don’t forget to check booking aggregators like Booking.com. Great deals at awesome hotels pop up regularly, as do good budget hotel and hostel options.
4. Surf some couches
If times are really tough, or you just want to check out of the tourist rat race, consider spending some time on a local’s couch. While stays are usually limited to a few nights, Couchsurfing has hundreds of options and an amazing community of people to stay with, and it won’t cost you a cent.
4. Pick your season
Travel in Europe is highly seasonal. As a general rule, accommodation and flights are more expensive during the summer months (mid-June through August).
Cheap travel in Europe is easier if you go in the shoulder season (April through mid-June, and September through October), or off-season (November through March). The days are shorter and weather unpredictable, but there are also fewer crowds and better deals. If your schedule is flexible then traveling outside of the peak season is a no-brainer.
5. Eat local
Eating out has the potential to be one of your biggest expenses. Self-catering accommodation can save you a fortune, and most hostels and Airbnb rentals have kitchens you can use.
Shop for regional produce – it’s always cheaper than imports. Look for the country’s flags on products in the supermarkets, or visit local markets for good deals. When the urge to eat out hits, avoid the tourist traps – speak to your hostel receptionists or hosts about their favorite wallet-friendly restaurants.
6. Limit drinking in bars and clubs
Alcohol in bars and clubs is expensive. You’re more likely to get good deals and a better selection at a supermarket or liquor store. Have a drink or two in your accommodation or somewhere scenic before heading out to the bar.
7. Avoid reservation fees
Eurail makes it easy to find routes that don’t require mandatory reservation fees. If you’re using the Eurail timetable, click “Show more options” and then “Avoid trains that require reservations”. There’s an option to do the same on the free Eurail app.
8. Use travel days for long or expensive journeys
If you’re using a Eurail Pass with limited travel days, make sure you use these on longer journeys or those that are going to cost you more. Don’t cash in a travel day for a short day trip to a nearby town – rather pay cash and save it for that mammoth cross-country trip the next day. Consider options such as buses for the shorter journeys.
9. Take free walking tours
Free walking tours abound in Europe. These guided walks are a great way to acquaint yourself with a new city and to meet other like-minded travelers. There’s no obligation to pay, though tips are always appreciated.
10. Free museum days
Most museums in Europe have at least one day or evening a month – or even a week – when entrance is free. Check the website fine print to see if this applies to your chosen destination. You may have to brave larger crowds and you’ll have a shorter time to explore, but the savings are significant.
11. Hop on a shared bicycle
Many European cities are great explored by bike, but daily rentals can be costly. Rather find out if the city has a subsidized bike share scheme – this can cost as little as one Euro a day, can get you to all the major attractions, and allows you to leave the bike when you get tired.
11. Get a student card
Europe loves students. Most attractions offer discounts and even free entry for card-carrying youths. Many countries also accept student cards from ISIC, which are key to cheap travel in Europe.
12. Don’t roam!
Whatever you do, don’t set your cell phone to roaming. International call and data charges are astronomical. Purchase a local sim card in your destination country, or stick to free Wifi when you find it. Most cafés, restaurants and public spaces in Europe now have Wifi hotspots. Skype and WhatsApp remain the gold standards of cheap international communication when on Wifi.
13. Head east
It’s well-known that Europe gets more cost-effective the further east you head. Consider countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and almost all in the Balkans if you want your money to go further.
Traveling on a budget is tricky – get too obsessed about money and you’ll ruin your trip. The key is keeping a cool head, saving where you can, and allowing yourself the freedom to splurge every now and again. And with a rail pass in hand, you can rest easy that you’ve covered the bulk of your travel costs before you’ve left.
Want to know more about cheap travel in Europe?
How to see Venice on a backpacker’s budget
10 budget travel tips for your next train adventure
1st class vs. 2nd class Eurail Passes: The essential guide