Do you want to snap the perfect selfie under the Eiffel Tower? Long to dip your feet in a fountain in Rome? Do you dream of downing steins of great beer at a proper German Oktoberfest? If a Euro trip is all you’ve ever wanted, then look no further. Traveling to Europe on the cheap can be done, it’s just a matter of being creative and looking in all the right places. Here’s our list of ways that can help you hop over the pond without breaking the bank.
Where Will I Go?
First things first: decide where you want to go. Europe is notorious for being a pricey vacation spot, but when it comes to destinations, not all European cities are created equal. Making the top of the list for cheapest cities are Sofia (Bulgaria), Krakow (Poland), and Bucharest (Romania). Other wallet-friendly destinations include Budapest and Belgrade. The most obvious thing you’ll take away from this list is that if you’re looking to travel without breaking the bank, you’re going to want to hit up Eastern Europe.
How Will I Get There?
Flying to Europe is kind of like looking into a crystal ball. Prices seem to change overnight, and gazing through the haze for too long can drive someone close to insanity. We’re here to help you sort through the craziness. First, the cheapest times to fly (at any time of the year) is during the week. So your best bet is to get going Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Seasonally, flights are split into the “low” season (winter) and the “high” season (summer). Beware – Christmas and the holidays can be very pricey!
TIP: Generally, you’ll find some pretty good deals after the holidays (that is the end of January) because most people have taken all their time off.
It’s also important to know that some airports can cost more than others, and with the rise of budget airlines and dirt-cheap train systems, it might be a good idea to fly into a cheaper city (like Frankfurt or Brussels) and then connect to your target destination.
But Isn’t Flying So Expensive?
Not really. There’s a variety of low-fare trans-Atlantic flights that exist for Americans itching to head over to the land of their ancestors. These budget airlines are all good options to try out, and of course using online travel sites to compare prices is pretty important. Generally, booking ahead will mean cheaper fares, but if you need to change anything about your trip you might get hit with steep fees.
But Where Will I Stay When I’m There?
Fortuitously, we live in an era of homestays, hostels, and couchsurfing. For the introverted types that need a little bit of a push to get out the door and start exploring, a hostel might be your best bet. Depending on the city, location, and number of people you’re sharing a room with, hostels can range from as little as $10/night to over $60/night. Usually, hostels offer visitors access to cool free events like walking tours, pub tours, and the opportunity to meet like-minded travelers. If you’re someone that prefers to have a little privacy, then checking out online vacation rental sites might be your best bet. You’ll probably be able to find something that suits your budget and is in a location that’s convenient.
How in the World Will I Feed Myself?
Of course, part of the entire trip definitely means enjoying and diving into the local specialties, but try to avoid eating and drinking out too frequently. Not only will this put a serious dent in your wallet, but crazy pub nights often lead to travelers spending too much and even doing things they might regret! Opt to hit the local grocery store and pick up some bread, eggs, cheese, fruit, and ready-to-eat meats. If your culinary skills are strong then pick out some veggies and fresh meats as well. You can even buy some ingredients and have your hostel mates or homestay host help you cook up a local delicacy, which might end up being more fun than spending time (and money) in a touristy restaurant.
What If I Want to Travel to Other Cities?
Europe is the king of public transit. Whether it’s rideshares, buses, or trains, getting around Europe can be done pretty cheaply. For those who are planning to do a huge cross-country trip that spans several countries, your best bet is probably going to be a train pass (Eurail Pass) that will let you ride unlimited for certain periods of time. For last-minute spontaneous trips, buses tend to be the cheapest.
TIP: Make sure you don’t miss your buses or trains because most of these trips are non-refundable and non-transferable, meaning if you miss your bus then you’re going to have to purchase a new ticket (and sometimes the next bus isn’t till the next day!).
Some budget airlines may even offer some great deals for hopping from city to city. When you’re deciding how you’re going to get to your next destination, your best bet will be to compare all of these factors and see which ones end up being the most worthwhile. If a flight ends up costing $20 more but saves you 5 hours of travel time, it might end up being worth it!
Find Free/Cheap Things to Do!
Europe is a treasure chest of fun and free activities! Some cities like Glasgow and Oslo offer all sorts of free federally-funded museums, tours, galleries, and monuments that anyone can visit. Depending on the weather, your best bet might be to bike around the city and just absorb the wonderful sights (Amsterdam and Porto are great places to do this). Some hyper-local sports teams will have free games that anyone can attend, which will be a great place to meet locals and hear about other fun stuff to do nearby.
Generally, churches and other religious buildings don’t charge for entrance, and Europe is filled to the brim with beautiful places of worship that anyone can visit. When starting off in any city, your best bet is likely heading to the local tourism office and asking the people inside what they recommend, if they have any guides for budget travelers, and some of their favorite things to do. These people love to help travelers (it’s their job after all!) and generally have great tips.
What About Buying Souvenirs?
This is the time to tap into your creativity bone and step away from the “I ‘heart’ XYZ” shirts. Often, feeling like you have to buy your friends and family little magnets, keychains, and t-shirts will lead travelers into small tourist traps ready to extort every last penny you have out of you.
TIP: Think of alternate ways to remember your trip — You can pick up pebbles, rocks, seashells, or feathers from every major location you’ve visited and put them in a jar with the place and date of your trip.
You can even keep all your receipts and make a scrapbook as you go, taping the receipts to a new page with a sentence or two about what you liked the most from that spot (or even disliked!). Years from now, these kinds of souvenirs are sure to jolt you back to that moment than a small magnet. As for your parents and nagging friends? Consider sending them a thoughtful postcard – it shows that you’re thinking about them and doubles as a souvenir (while only costing a couple of cents!).
Don’t Let Your Financial Budget Become Your Fun Budget
Traveling while being mindful of money does not mean being mindful of fun. For every expensive, luxurious attraction there is a cheaper just-as-good and sometimes even better alternative. Staying in hostels means you’re usually going to be surrounded by people who are traveling with the same budget as you and can recommend places to see and go that are affordable. Travel blogs are also worth checking out before you head out, and for a quick recommendation asking a hotel concierge can be super useful. That being said, if there’s something that can only be done in that one country and is something that you’ve been dying to do, it might be worth biting the bullet and paying a little more for something that is truly one-of-a-kind!
Do you have any budget travel tips? Let us know what they are in the comments below!