How to Explore Europe on a Budget
By guest blogger Emilie Martz
It’s time to finally check that European adventure off your bucket list!
I know the cost of flights and hotels can seem prohibitive, but there are a lot of ways to cut costs. As long as you’re flexible and take the time to do some research, there’s no reason you can’t make your travel dreams a reality.
First of all, avoid traveling to Europe during the peak season (late June-August). Prices are much higher, and the major cities and tourist attractions are crowded. The weather in the spring and fall is still pleasant, and you can potentially save a lot of money if you’re willing to travel in January or February.
Your flight is likely to be the most costly purchase of your trip, so putting in the extra effort to scour the internet for the best fares is definitely worth it. The more flexible you can be with your travel plans, the better. Being able to fly on a Monday or Tuesday vs. the weekend and being okay with indirect flights are huge money savers. You might also consider what cities you fly in and out of. My husband and I once saved over two-hundred dollars by taking a drive and flying to Europe out of Seattle instead of Portland. Try booking your ticket well in advance, and sign up for a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights or for low fare alerts from Airfarewatchdog.com to stay on top of any deals or dips in prices.
These days there are a lot of ways save money on housing while traveling in Europe. Hostels are still a great way to go, because there’s such a variety to choose from. You can pay a little extra for a private room or go full-on dorm style for maximum penny-pinching. I’ve stayed in an assortment during my own travels, from a giant tent-style hostel in Munich, to an old Swiss Cottage hostel in London. If you’re really adventurous or looking to make friends while traveling, try couchsurfing.com. It’s totally free, and a lot of people I know only have positive things to say about their experiences traveling this way.
Moving easily from city to city and country to country in Europe is one of its major draws as a destination, but if you’re not careful, it can be really expensive. This is definitely an area where your level of required comfort will determine how much money you can save. Trains are often times the most well-known method of travel in Europe, and people will often recommend getting a Eurorail pass to save money, but if you’re really serious about traveling in the most economical way, I would avoid this. The average cost for one adult traveling between three bordering countries is 350 euros. By contrast, taking an overnight bus using Eurolines or Flixbus can cost as little as 20 dollars. An overnight trip also means you don’t have to spend any money on housing for that night. You may not be comfortable or get much sleep, but in my experience, it’s totally worth it.
Finding cheap airfare between countries is also a great option, but keep in mind that they have very strict restrictions on luggage with lots of hidden fees. I once traveled from London to Rome for around 60 dollars, but I could only pack a bag the size of a large purse. If you travel extremely lightly or you have a home base where you can leave larger baggage, traveling this way can be easy and inexpensive.
Food is the last, and in my opinion, the most important expense when traveling in Europe. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to eat like a queen, because the quality of food is top-notch at every level. I generally plan to eat out for one meal each day, and the rest of the time, I hit the grocery stores. There’s almost no lunch I enjoy more than a fresh baguette and some French Brie, and some of my most cherished memories in Europe involve finding a nice bench to sit on while enjoying a packed lunch and watching the world pass by. Most hostels also include kitchens stocked with cooking supplies, so take advantage of the communal space.
Lastly, consider planning some stops in cities outside of the heavily touristed ones. Your money will stretch a lot further in a city like Prague or Porto, and you will not be disappointed. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the unique beauty of Budapest or the relaxing vibe and modern architecture of Valencia. If you’re willing to look a little off the beaten path and get outside your comfort zone a bit, you can have an amazing time in Europe without breaking the bank.
Emilie is a writer and actress based in Los Angeles. Movie buff, human karaoke, and feminist (not necessarily in that order). She recently quit her waitressing job to finally use that English degree for something. You can follow her on twitter @martz_emilie and instagram @emilieelizabethmartz.