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Travel Europe Cheap?Does that even happen or is it just an urban millennial legend?
After having been to over 12 European countries and lived in a few, I can tell you IT IS possible to travel Europe cheap.
The part of the world where I come from (India), a trip to Europe is a dream for the vast majority. It was a dream for me too. To be able to travel Europe for cheap is an even bigger dream.
Back in 2013, when I was travelling to Europe for the first time, I wondered if I had enough money to survive for 4 months. I had heard many tales of broke students who travelled and slept in trains to save money for hostels or hotels. I did not wish to be this type of student. Mostly because I cannot bring myself to sleep in trains to begin with.
4 months later, I had finished my whole exchange stay + travel in Europe for about INR 3,00,000 or €3750. That’s about €937 per month and that’s also including everything except for my flights between India and Europe. Add that and the cost of my whole stay comes out at approx €4250.
And no, I did not sleep in trains to save money. I just used some other useful hacks that helped me save a ton of money on my four month long European adventure. (Related: 5 Must Have Items in Your Packing List for Europe)
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Here’s how I could travel Europe for cheap for four long months-
#1) I found and booked the cheapest flight possible from New Delhi to Warsaw.
In the grand scheme of things, this one expense is going to be critical in your overall budget for travel in Europe. If you nail this one single thing, rest assured you will have more money to spend on real travel experiences after you have already arrived in Europe.
I wrote a detailed guide on how to find cheap flight tickets anywhere. For the sake of this particular point, I will give you a few pointers on how to go about it:
- Book early and be flexible. Sounds easy right? Avoid flying out on expensive days such as weekends or public holidays in either country. Read here on where to find cheap airline tickets.
- Switch on price alerts and hunt for deals as often as you can on both domestic and international flight booking portals.
- Search for the cheapest city flying into Europe, and not necessarily your desired destination. The Schengen Visa allows you the liberty to do this. Pro Tip: Flights to London, Frankfurt & Paris are often the cheapest from all over the world as these are the largest, busiest hubs with the maximum competition between flight carriers.
- Take a flight with a long layover if that means saving a €100. My longest layover till date has been about 8 hours and while it was moderately painful, having a good book, comfortable clothes and a ‘I can survive this shit’ attitude significantly helped.
- If you plan to jump across a few countries, you may also want to look into low cost airlines such as Ryan Air, Wizz Air, Easy Jet, etc to save money on inter-city travel.
#2) I had a discounted Eurail pass.
If you’re under the age of 26, you have a HUGE advantage. You can travel Europe for cheap by experiencing train travel by using the Eurail pass mechanism. Even if you’re not under 26, I highly recommend using this option for inter-country travel. It’s comfortable, beautiful and extremely cost-effective.
How does this really work though?
Essentially, this is a pass which allows you to travel to and fro between all Schengen countries for a certain amount of time (as per your choice of booking). This is defined by number of countries and number of travel days. Each day that you board a train, counts as 1 travel day until 00:00.
For example, if you plan to take a 3 week trip and travel to 3 countries, your best bet would be to get a 10 day, 3 country pass. Assuming you will not travel everyday by train and actually spend time in different European cities too. If you plan to travel to 5 or 6 countries, a global pass is best suited for you.
With the advent of Ryan Air and other cheap airlines, it has become easier to fly, but I would tell a first timer to avoid this plan. Ryan Air airports are usually very hard to find, far from major cities and they have such stringent rules that new flyers will most likely end up getting fined for breaking a random rule.
Even after flying multiple times with discount airlines in Europe, it’s still my least preferred mode of travel. You can read more on how to backpack Europe cheap.
Pro Tip: Remember to book a train pass ONLY for the number of days you actually want to spend in transit. Do not take a 30 day pass for a 30 day trip. Unless you just want to waste your money.
#3) I had a solid hostel/hotel strategy.
Back in the days when I first backpacked Europe, I wasn’t aware of Airbnb and as I was travelling solo a lot, I preferred to stay in well-recommended hostel chains. Hostels are the best way to travel Europe for cheap, but depending on which country you are it can also be the other way around. For example, in Italy, hostels are either non-existent or even more expensive than small guest houses or hotels. Why? Because the concept just doesn’t exist as it does in western Europe.
Keeping that in mind your best bets to save on accommodation costs are:
- Find a hostel at Hostelworld or a hotel/guest house at Booking.com.
- If you’re traveling as a couple or with a group, finding an Airbnb may be a better strategy. (Use my referral here to get €25 sign-up credit)
- You should plan to book at least 3 weeks in advance because hostels and hotels in Europe get booked out FAST.
#4) I used buses where trains couldn’t go.
Sometimes, no matter how well you plan your trip, you will end up in a situation where you do not find the right train connection or one simply doesn’t exist that can help you get to your desired destination.
Fret not. Europe is VERY well connected with buses and you can often find one way tickets for as low as €5 if you plan ahead.
How do you go about booking them?
- The best bus service in Europe, is hands down Flixbus. I have heard of other services, but I myself only use and recommend Flixbus. They’re cheap, have the maximum connections and have tickets available last minute (albeit expensive) as well. They also offer 5 trip or summer deals, so be sure to check out the offers before buying individual tickets.
#5) I used car-sharing where buses wouldn’t go.
If all else fails, you can find a car-sharing option from one city to another. Sometimes, this will also be the cheapest option intra-city. You can find and book this platform using Bla Bla Car, a french start-up that has widely spread across Europe. Some tips to keep in mind are:
- Do not travel with zero reviews or poorly reviewed trip owners. Saving €5 is not as important as saving your life.
- Make sure you communicate the exact pick up point, time and reach there on time. People will not wait for you as they may have many pick-ups to make and are likely traveling for work anyway.
Also- Do NOT hitchhike, unless you are 100% okay with ending up dead in some remote corner of Europe. Even though Europe is way safer than most other continents in the world, if you’re traveling alone I would strongly suggest not to use this strategy to save money. You never know where you will end up and how. (Recently, a German girl, who was a pro hitch-hiker(if such a thing exists), ended up burnt and dead in Spain, a week after she took a ride from an unknown truck driver in South Germany, even after sending her location and license plate co-ordinates to her friends.)
Alternate Tip: If you have a valid drivers license and are travelling as a group, renting a car for the duration of your trip might be the cheapest option for you. I suck at driving, so naturally this is not my first option. Check Prices Here.
#6) I avoided eating at restaurants as much as I could.
You’re probably reading this guide because you want to save money on traveling in Europe right?
Service is EXPENSIVE in Europe. Anything that has to do with one human helping you out qualifies as service AKA expensive.
Whereas in India, eating out can be sometimes cheaper than cooking in, this is almost never true in Europe, with the exception of a handful of Eastern European countries. Groceries are relatively cheap in Europe and supermarkets are at every nook and corner.
Eating out at a fancy restaurant can cost you anywhere from €10-30 per person per meal. This cost adds up fast. On a 30 day trip, if you eat out twice a day, this will add up to roughly €900 at an average of €30 per day, which is putting it cheap.
Keep eating at restaurants while you travel Europe as a luxury item, and do it as less as you can. A good alternative is to pick up snacks or even bread at a bakery or small take-away stores that have decent sized meals for about €5. In Germany and Netherlands, Döner shops are very popular and easy to find. In Italy, many stores sell pizza’s by slice/size and you can select your own toppings for a set price. In Belgium, I could eat fries and waffles from the street all day. Bakery stores are pretty much everywhere!
Pro Tip- Items such as bread, cheese, cookies, fruits, sandwiches (which you can make easily), noodles, tea, juice and coffee can be picked up on the go and serve as excellent options for breakfast or snacks. Ready made sandwiches or wraps are as expensive as fresh snacks on the street, so avoid buying those in bulk and buy fresh ones instead.
#7) I travelled only with one backpack.
Even though the size of your luggage will not directly impact your expenses, it will make your life harder. When you have to walk 5 kilometers from the train station to your hostel dragging a 40 kilo fancy suitcase, it won’t be fun. You’ll probably give up and get a cab which would cost you a neat €30. That’s not how you travel Europe on a budget. Check out my summer Europe packing list guide.
Don’t make this rookie mistake. Plan to carry a sufficiently sized backpack which enables you to move around Europe for cheap and quick. It may also be helpful to have a small day backpack which you can carry around for your expensive belongings.
#8) I made sure I had the best insurance on the planet.
Shit Happens. I’ve travelled long enough to realize that no matter how well you plan your trip, sometimes things just go absolute bonkers.
I have had my wallet stolen, my phone stolen, had an accident in the middle of a deserted island and multiple delayed/cancelled flights, to know better than not to buy travel insurance.
You can’t avoid random stuff like this from happening, but you can avoid losing precious time and money on it.
The only insurance I recommend and use when I am traveling solo, is the World Nomads Travel Insurance.
They are flexible, online and easily accessible from anywhere in the world. A huge part of how to travel europe for cheap, is how to have your back covered. This insurance will do that for you. Get it before you step out of the house.
#9) I saved money by carrying an international debit card.
Cash withdrawal fees without special international or forex limits can be between €5-20 per withdrawal. I have had the significant displeasure of paying from my nose, while waiting for my International card to arrive.
You can carry a forex card or international credit cards from home, to save you this bother which comes pre-loaded with the amount you pay at the bank.
Alternatively, you can use a borderless account with Transferwise (based on eligibility). The latter is what I do, I simply load the currency I want in and withdraw in the currency of the country that I visit. Saves me so much time, effort and useless paperwork. (Read my complete review of Transferwise and How To Use It Here.)
You may also want to carry a back-up card in case for some reason the main one doesn’t work. Carrying a lot of cash is not advisable, much like anywhere in the world, but countries such as Germany are pretty cash intensive (surprise!), so having a chunk of change always helps.
Using these 9 easy steps, I managed to travel Europe for 4 months, for less than €1000 per month. If I can do it, so can you.
Some other Europe travel tips that also help you cut down your costs are:
- Figure out the cheapest way to travel Europe based on your itinerary destinations and book them at least two or three months in advance. This will help you get the best flight deals or cheap train tickets before they sell out.
- Avoid using public transport especially in small cities where you can pretty much walk everywhere you need to.
- Get on some free walking tours that only need you to tip at the end to save money on private tours.
- Consider traveling in the shoulder season , that is from March-May and September -November to save on peak season travel costs.
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