10 Tips for Traveling Around Europe on a Budget
Europe makes a regular appearance on budget backpacking lists, but it’s definitely not the cheapest. Not when you compare it to the rock-bottom prices of South East Asia, or the low costs of traveling in South America.
In fact, Europe can be pretty expensive, especially if you plan on hitting up the major hotspots like Italy, France, and the UK. These countries are some of the most expensive in the world for travellers, but luckily, Europe boasts an even spread of affordable and high-end luxury – you just need to know how to dig out the former.
Whether you plan on exploring the pricier options in Europe or not, these tips will help you preserve your pennies during the trip of a lifetime.
1. Travel Off-Season
Let’s begin by talking about when you should go to Europe. The hazy summer months sing with endless possibilities, but you’ll find yourself elbowing through thick crowds and paying extortionate prices for basic things. If you’re really looking to travel on a budget and don’t have a strict schedule to stick to, then visit Europe in the fall or winter.
This time of year is beautiful on the continent – everything is bathed in a low-light and the prices don’t even compare to the sky-high costs of traveling in summer. Plus, there’ll be way less tourists for you to contend with, which means fewer queues and more tranquil exploring.
2. Get Your Information
Every single city in Europe has a tourist information point, and you can save yourself tons of money if you head straight there as soon as you arrive. Not only will you be able to pick up a map and some top sightseeing tips, but you can also ask for discount passes and information about free events taking place during your stay.
3. Use Local Transport
The thought of using public transport in a place you don’t know that speaks a language you’re unfamiliar with is a daunting prospect. But if you push your fears aside, you’ll save yourself a heck of a lot.
Grabbing taxis from place to place will weigh heavily on your wallet in no time, so bite the bullet and join the local commuters on public transport – whether it’s old-fashioned trams or jam-packed buses. Many transport systems in Europe offer daily and weekly passes, too, which will curb some of your cash if you plan on using it a lot. Just remember to keep an eye on your belongings, as pick-pocketing is often rife in these situations.
4. Go Where the Locals Go
Europe is riddled with tourists (for good reason – it’s filled with incredible scenes, rich history, and fascinating culture) and the local infrastructures have learned how to deal with this. In a number of European hotspots you’ll find restaurants, bars, and cafes that cater solely to tourists. Not because they banish everyone else, but because locals balk at paying the prices they charge.
So how do you know whether you’re being overcharged or not? Follow the locals – eat where they eat, drink where they drink, and hang out where they hang out. If a restaurant is bursting at the seams with the local language, you know you’re in the right place.
5. Consider Taking a Night Train
One of the costliest parts of traveling around Europe is getting from one place to the next. Luckily, there are several great transport systems in place that let you get from A to B without any hassle. But, if you’re penny-pinching, many of these options can seem a little overpriced.
If you can’t find a price you’re happy with to travel from one country to the next on a regular service, consider taking a night train, which tend to be much cheaper. Sure, you won’t get to see as much of the scenery (it’ll be dark outside), and it might not be the comfiest night’s sleep you’ve ever had, but what’s better than falling asleep in one country and waking up in the next?
6. Alternatively, Take the Bus
If the night train isn’t for you, then check out the international bus services. They tend to be considerably slower than trains that follow the same route, but that means they are much, much more affordable (often by one-hundred euros or more).
You’ll also get a hearty glimpse into local life as you drive through old villages and ancient towns.
7. Ditch the Hotel
There are countless incredible hotels in Europe and, for want of ease, they are often the chosen accommodation for travelers. But if you’re on a budget you might want to look elsewhere. Hotels are notoriously expensive in Europe, particularly in the more popular destinations, so trade in your fancy room for a night in a quirky B&B. There’s also a never-ending supply of hostels dotted around, and you could even try out Couchsurfing or Housesitting.
Don’t let the price of hotels in Europe put you off, because there are so many more options – options that are not only cheaper, but also offer a more immersive traveling experience.
8. Eat Big at Lunchtime
Eating out will also cut into a huge chunk of your budget. There’s not really much you can do about eating – you have to do it. But there are several ways you can make sure you don’t blow all your cash trying the local cuisine.
Many restaurants in Europe offer a lunchtime menu that boasts the same dishes as the dinner menu but at a fraction of the cost. Dining big at lunchtime is often preferred in Europe – it’s cheaper and it’ll fill you up for an afternoon of exploring. For dinner, duck into a local market and pick up some cheap picnic food to eat outside (preferably somewhere with a great view).
9. Visit Museums on a Sunday
Europe harbors a wealth of culture tucked away in world-class museums. From the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to the Natural History Museum in London, you’re going to want to venture inside some of these incredible buildings. But, for the most part, they charge an entry fee for visitors which doesn’t always seem reasonable.
Luckily, to counteract the hefty expense, many museums offer free entry on a certain day of the week or at a certain time. For example, in Paris most of the major museums are free to enter on a Sunday – you just have to find out when and where you can get in free.
10. Drink at the Bar
If you’re heading out for drinks and, let’s be honest, you’ll probably be doing this a lot around Europe, there’s a cheeky tip that can save you a whole host of cash. In many countries, particularly those in southern Europe, drinks cost more if you have them at a table than if you have them at the bar. So, if you’re not fussed about finding an intimate spot to slurp down your beverage of choice, pull up a stool at the bar and save yourself some money.
Yes, Europe can be wildly expensive, but if you know how to look for a bargain you can actually explore the continent within a reasonable budget. What’s more, the cheaper way of traveling is often more immersive, opening up the local culture and lifestyle to you free of charge.
By Lizzie Davey
Lizzie is a freelancer travel writer who currently spends her time between sunny Barcelona and beach-side Brighton in the UK. When she's not weaving words, she likes to travel to new places and wander through great galleries. She's the founder of creative travel blog wanderful-world.com, and her personal website can be found at LizzieDavey.com.