Europe is one of the most amazing places to travel. The variety of languages, cultures, history and food all squeezed into one, easy to navigate landmass make it the perfect place to backpack around or live for a while and explore through weekend getaways. The only drawback is the cost.
Europe is by no means a budget backpackers paradise but there are many ways to cut costs and still enjoy everything this amazing continent has to offer. The major and unavoidable costs on any trip are transport, food and accommodation.'Heading East' and 'travelling in off-peak seasons' will certainly cut the costs of any trip but not everyone is that flexible. So here's a breakdown of some ways to travel Europe on a budget. From saving a few euros here and there to doing it on an extreme budget.
Before you set out you can be saving money. Skyscanner is my go-to for flights as is has a variety of easy to use functions which let you look at nearby airports, prices over different days and flights to wherever is cheapest. Make sure to use it in an incognito window so it doesn't see your search history and bump up the prices (it's a real thing!)
In Europe, hitchhiking is the ultimate free way to get around. In most countries it is accepted and relatively easy to get a ride. Make sure you're at a point that is easy to pull over and carry some cardboard to make signs for your direction or next destination. Make sure to look clean and friendly and you'll have no problems travelling between cities for free. The amount of traffic in Europe means there are almost always people going your way. We even hitchhiked out of London city centre. You can read about our adventure here.
If this sounds a bit adventurous or you're on a tight time frame try ride sharing. Blablacar is a ridesharing website that covers most of Europe. From there you can search people driving to your destination and sometimes even book straight away. There is a cost listed which is usually very reasonable and often cheaper than trains or buses.
Rome2rio is another great website for searching cheap travel methods. Simply type in your location and destination and it will tell you all the ways of getting there with a rough price.
Look up hostels on a search site like hostelworld but then go to the actual hostel website to book as they often bump up prices to cover hostelworld fees.
If you're travelling in summer, take a tent. Free camping is legal in the Baltics, Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe. There are a vast network of affordable campsites across the rest of Europe. Also check out permanent campsites like the one I stayed at on the outskirts of Rome. Way cheaper than staying in the centre, had a bar and swimming pool and was an easy train ride into town.
Airbnb is a great option for couples or groups of friends and allows you to search on a map and limit searches by price and type of room. Everything from people's couches to entire apartments. Be careful to read reviews and check the price once the fees (cleaning and service fees) have been added. Click here for €20 off your first booking!
One better is the amazing couchsurfing network. You create a profile, add some photos and then you can start requesting to stay at people's houses. Anything from a mat on the floor to your own room, these friendly people will host you for a night or a week depending on their availability. It works on a karma basis so if you stay with people, try to host some travellers when you're back home. There are people who are also free to show you around their city or meet up for a drink. Great for solo travellers or people wanting to meet locals.
We have had nothing but positive experiences both as surfers and hosts. In general try to give 5-10days notice, if you're staying a few days offer to cook or bring a bottle of wine and be open-minded and considerate. You'll meet some great people!
On the road for a while? Why not invest in a van and pay no accommodation costs for your entire trip? We are currently living in ours and travelling through the Balkans. Check it out here.
A habit Max and I get into while we're travelling is to only eat 2 meals a day. We often have some fruit or muesli bars as a quick morning snack but we don't eat a proper meal until 11-12ish which then keeps us going until dinner. Many hostels in Europe offer free breakfast so take advantage! Fill up and, if your feeling extra thrifty, make some sandwiches and take some fruit for a packed lunch.
Hostels and Airbnbs also often have a kitchen available for use. If you're staying in one place for a few days consider heading to a supermarket and cooking some simple pasta or rice dishes to save some money. Team up with some other travellers to buy in bulk. Friends of mine did this in Mexico and averaged about 20c per person for a decent meal.
If the weather is decent then make use of the abundant bakeries in Europe for a cheap picnic lunch in the park or square.
Take a free walking tour. Just about every city offers these now and they can be very good value. Your tour guide, usually a student, takes you on a tour of up to 3 hours around the city giving you interesting information and answering questions as you go. At the end you tip what you want, usually it's worth a few euro but if you're on a real budget you can slip away without paying. Some cities have more than just the classic attractions tour too. We went on a great 'alternative Warsaw' tour and have heard of food and street art tours in other cities.
Check for free days at attractions. Many museums and sites have one day per month that they are free e.g first Sunday of the month. This can save a lot of money if you plan it right but also be aware that these days can be crazily busy.
Get a student ID. If you're a student, go to STA travel and get an international student ID which will give you discounts at a huge range of tourist attractions. If you're not a student but are under 25 ask for their youth card which often gets you the same discounts, either because you're young or because they mistake it for a student card. They also have teacher cards available.
Europe on a budget is easy to do and you can still have the experience of a life time. Got any other tips or experiences? Let us know in the comments below.
Need a good backpack for your trip? Check out the best backpack for long or short term travel that will get on all those budget flights as hand luggage! Another saving :)