Europe is a popular destination for students, and adults alike. There’s no shortage of activities, sights nor interesting places to see for every age and personal interest! Even better than that, is the fact that this is the one continent that you can easily do by car or train with so many countries and different cultures clustered together around a small area/land.
Not only does Europe cater to different types of personalities and age, but it caters to different budgets too! You can do Europe quite easily on a shoestring budget given the ease of travelling and crossing the borders over land rather than sea, which will save a significant air fare cost. In addition, there are plenty of countries that are part of the European Union but still use their own currency (which means your dollar will go further!)
With so many different countries on a lot of people’s bucket list, I’ve compiled a list 20 ways that you can travel Europe cheaply! It’s not going to be a $1 hostel in the Southeast Asia style, but it should help you cut down a couple of Euro’s here and there, and who knows, at the end of it, you might have saved so much money that you can extend your trip!
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20 Ways to Travel Europe for Cheap
If booking with a budget airline, use your credit card
This sounds like the opposite of saving money but is a fantastic tip should your airline become unable to deliver the contracted service.
A lot of budget airlines will charge you fees when booking with a credit card. But that small fee is worth it if the unexpected happens. Given the rise of insolvent airlines, and airlines verging on bankruptcy, booking and paying with a credit card gives you the protection and possibility of a refund should the airline goes under before your trip! If you pay with a Debit (or Visa Debit), the money is already deducted from your account and the bank has no obligation to refund your money.
Pro Tip: Know your rights! If your airline goes under before your trip, chances are others have experienced it too! Read up on articles like this one from CNN on what to do if your airline goes bust!
Avoid restaurants near or around any tourist attraction
These are most likely to be tourist traps: poorer quality, and more expensive than any local establishment. The easiest giveaway? If the menu is mostly in English. For some unique experiences, follow accounts like Insider Food or Napoli Food Porn for insta-worthy snaps of your culinary tour!
Pro Tip: TripAdvisor, Instagram can be a really good place to start your research – certain areas will be a lot more popular than others. I usually start with TripAdvisor and do individual research of different restaurants as I go. Travel bloggers are some of my favourite people to ask about their favourite restaurants at specific destinations.
I can’t believe I’m saying this because I only have 3 weeks of paid vacation days annually. However, where you can, travelling slowly will save you money allowing you to have more time enjoying the sights! I’ve always found (from the breakdown of my travel budget) one of my major expenses tends to be transportation and the cost of getting around despite taking the public transit.
Pro Tip: Where possible, base yourself a little further out of the downtown area or in smaller cities so you can enjoy a less touristic/busy holiday and save some money and not feel too guilty about indulging in so much food!
Travel during the shoulder season and ask for low-season pricing
I always travel during shoulder or low season. That means I’m home during the summer, Christmas, spring break because I know tickets / accommodations / everything else are cheaper and there will be fewer tourists/people in your photos!
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure where there’s a low-season price, be sure to ask! I’ve been successful a few times by double-checking with the hostel/AirBnB’s I’m staying at, whether there’s low-season pricing available. The worst thing that can happen is they say no to low-season pricing but at least you know!
Use cash to keep your expenses as low as possible
That way you can budget by day and you’ll be less likely to go over-budget or come home to a massive credit card bill!
Research if there’s anything you can pre-book online
A lot of the times pre-booking saves you money. Anything from €2-5 or all the way to 30% off the ticket price like I did in Portugal!
Youth or Student discount is worth asking for
If you are under the age of 30, you probably are eligible for student pricing for a lot of things like transportation, entry fees, etc. I saved over 50% when I was travelling in Lagos because the lady who sold me the bus ticket kindly asked my age to see if I would be eligible for student pricing. I found out in Portugal youth/student pricing is available for those under 29! Instead of paying €36 for the trip, I paid €15 instead
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask about youth pricing – especially in up-and-coming, destinations and do bring your student ID along where possible! Cities like Paris, London, Rome that see tons of tourists everyday will likely be a lot more strict with their policies so don’t expect too much.
Free walking tours are everywhere in Europe
I love free walking tours as a way to get to know a city and meet new people. Free walking tours are so common beyond Europe as well – I’ve taken them from Cape Town, Jerusalem, among the many cities globally that has a similar tourist attraction. The tour will give you an excellent opportunity to get to know the city, and learn things from the locals too.
Pro Tip: Ask your tour guide for the must-do/go and what to skip! They are a treasure trove of information and they’ll likely direct you to local favourites where cost-wise is likely to be less expensive!
Try Different Accommodations Beyond Hotels
Europe, more than anything is closely linked to hostels catering to backpackers and budget-travellers. However if you like your privacy and have the flexibility in your budget, consider reaching out to friends or family or try out AirBnB. For those that are brave enough, try Couchsurfing and stay at a host’s couch for free! Be sure to do a very thorough research on each host to prevent any unsavoury experiences!
Exchange your Unique Skills for Free Stays
Do you have a special skill that might benefit that hostel? Are you a yoga instructor, photographer, or are generally good with people? If you’re travelling long-term, consider exchanging work for free stays at hostels. This is a common arrangement whereby you would work the receptionist desk, manage their website/social media, run a yoga class, etc in exchange for free stays.
Take advantage of free wi-fi everywhere in Europe
I’ve never really had to worry about not being able to stay connected in Europe – wifi is everywhere! Alternatively, purchasing a SIM card for your phone is a great way of staying connected if you want the flexibility.
Pro Tip: Consider purchasing a wifi hotspot for your travel like the one from SkyRoam – this nifty device allows you to connect to wifi hotspot anywhere in the world for as little as $8/day! There is a pay-as-you-go for 24-hour global WiFi option or one where you rent a hotspot with unlimited global WiFi just for a trip. You can rent or purchase it from various resellers worldwide!
First-class or second-class trains?
The level of comfort in a second class train doesn’t vary too much from first (aside from some free snacks, and slightly more comfortable seats). If you are only travelling short distances, it might be worth go to second class rather than first.
Train or budget carrier?
Remember that budget carrier will charge extra for bags and other items that you might consider free in non-budget carriers. Ensure that you go through the fine prints thoroughly to ensure that you do not incur any “surprise” charges, especially if a train can be cheaper than the flight.
If possible, book directly with the provider
I avoid booking anything on Expedia, Priceline, etc. Aside from paying the premium of for a middle-man or agency fees, they are often not liable for any changes in itinerary which means you could end up losing money!
Pro Tip: If you feel comfortable to do so, book directly at the hostels. Oftentimes, they have a coupon code that can save you 10-15% of the total price. Most accommodations in Europe have their own website that can take direct reservations. The only cities where I’ve had to book via a third-party (like Booking.com or HostelWorld) were Amman and Wadi Musa in Jordan.
Travel off the beaten path!
London, Paris are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe but are some of the costliest too! Try going to up-and-coming destinations like Portugal, Hungary or Croatia where your dollars will go a bit longer! Instead of Paris, go to Bordeaux. Instead of Rome, check out Florence!
Do that VAT Refund before you leave
If you really want to do some big-name shopping, consider which country will get you the biggest VAT refund! Each country has its own VAT refund rate, which you can learn more from on the Global Blue website. I always try to match where I’m going to the locations that have the best VAT refund rate (PS. France is one of the best for designer bag shopping!)
Replenishing basic necessities at a lower cost country
If you need to replenish basic necessities like toothpaste or sunscreen, consider waiting until you get to a cheaper destination (i.e. Hungary, Czech Republic) unless you don’t mind paying €10 for a toothpaste!
Pro Tip: You can wait until you are at your final European destination to process your VAT refund.
Fly into cheaper/smaller airports
A lot of the times, a big part of your flight ticket price goes towards the airport fee which is usually lower in smaller cities/airports. By flying into Luton instead of Heathrow or to Budapest instead of Paris, you’ll likely end up saving quite a bit of money.
Don’t be picky with your destination
Just because you are flying into City X doesn’t mean you don’t get to go to Octoberfest or enjoy the charms of Luzerne. Challenge yourself to see more of Europe beyond what’s on Lonely Planet or Instagram!
Get the RailPass
If you’re doing a big Europe land tour, try getting a rail-pass which will cost you much less than purchasing separate tickets for your various journeys.