There are lots of ways to travel cheaply in Europe. I know, I’ve been doing it for a few years. There’s nothing to stop you doing it too. Seriously! Travelling is not as expensive as most people think.
One of the best way of saving money while travelling is to do plenty of pre-trip research and planning. You need to try and avoid destinations that are likely to overstretch your budget. It’s not just about getting the best deal on accommodation. You need to be sure the cost of living isn’t going to be overly high.
For instance, if you live in Northern Europe and want to escape the worst of the winter cold for a while, Naples may seem attractive. However, Seville will be a lot cheaper and it’s likely to be warmer too. Food costs less in Seville. So does entertainment.
In Naples, you can pay up to €6 for a large glass of beer. Go to Seville and you can get the same size drink for less than half the price. In fact, if you know where to go, you can buy a large beer in Seville for just €1.50 and there are bars selling bottles of beer for €1.
Italy is lovely, but it’s always more expensive than Spain. However, Spain is not the cheapest country to visit in Europe. Moldova is cheaper to live in. So is Albania. Ukraine is cheaper still.
Whether you are doing a grand tour of Europe or only need to find a few cheap cities to visit, it helps if you do some preliminary research and then come up with a plan. It can save you from being hit with unexpected expenses further down the line.
How to Plan a Cheap European Trip
Travelling on a budget is probably easier today than it has ever been. There are lots of websites that make it easier for cash-strapped wanders to see a bit of the world. Some sites provide useful information about the cost of living, others can help you get the best price for accommodation.
Believe it or not, there are even sites that can help you put a roof over your head without paying any money at all.
Checking the Cost of Living
When I’m planning to move on from one country to the next, one of the first things I look at is the cost of living. There are a few sites that can help you with this. I usually use the cost of living checker at Expatistan.com. The other option is to use Numbeo.
Both sites can give you an idea of how much things will cost you when you arrive in the European countries you choose. I prefer Expatistan because I’m a creature of habit and was using it long before I knew Numbeo existed.
However, Numbeo does a lot more than give you an idea of how much it will cost to live in the countries you are considering visiting. It also provides information about other things including crime levels and quality of life. If you want to know how good healthcare is or how safe it is to walk in cities at night, Numbeo is the place to go.
Putting Things into Perspective
Both sites allow you to choose two different cities (anywhere in the world) and compare the cost of living. I usually do a comparison between my present location and the place I plan to visit.
If the destination I’m thinking of is going to be cheaper. That’s great. I know my money will go further.
If it’s more expensive, I want to get an idea how bad it’s going to be so, instead of my present location, I enter a city where I could afford to live but know it would be a bit of a struggle. For this type of comparison, It’s best if you choose a city you know well.
If you come from a small town or village, your home city probably won’t be listed on either site. In that case, the only thing you can do is choose a big city close to your home.
Some Example Comparisons
Earlier on in this article, I said the Spanish city of Seville is cheaper to live in than Naples, Italy. I also said there were cheaper countries than Spain.
Let’s take a look at some city comparisons from Expatistan.
Before I left the UK, I lived in Darlington for more than 20 years. Darlington is not in the Expatistan database, but Newcastle-upon Tyne is. It’s not that far away from Darlington and I know the cost of living is about the same.
After I relocated to the Netherlands, I lived in Veghel for more than two years. Veghel is not in the Expatistan database either, but Eindhoven is and the cost of living is the same.
Expatistan says the overall cost of living in Eindhoven is 6% more expensive than the cost of living in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The results page is more informative than the picture above makes it look. If you click on the little blue plus signs at the left of the results, the site provides a breakdown of the average day to day costs of living in the two cities.
For instance, clicking on “Food” provides a comparison of the costs of foods such as potatoes, apples, and eggs.
I can see that bread and wine is cheaper to buy in Eindhoven, but a lot of grocery items, including potatoes and milk, will probably cost me more.
Let’s look at another example. Expatistan also tells me spending time in Seville will work out around 10% cheaper than spending time in Naples.
Numbeo presents slightly different figures, but it confirms Seville is a cheaper European destination than Naples. I know both cities well and agree with this 100%.
But what if you are on a tight budget and I need to find an even cheaper place to go?
According to Expatistan, Tirana, Albania is 23% cheaper than Seville. However, if you go to Odessa, your expenses should be 14% less than they would be if you chose to go to Tirana.
I spent two months living in Odessa. So far it’s the cheapest place I’ve been in Europe.
Some European destinations can be surprisingly costly. A little research before your departure can save you a lot of expense later on. If you are serious about travelling cheaply in Europe, Expatistan and Numbeo are both good online tools you can use when planning your trip.
Finding the Cheapest Way to Get Around Europe
When it comes to travelling from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible, there are no hard and fast rules. The most cost-effective way to travel in one country may be a poor option in the next.
Sometimes the best thing to do is ask around and see what the locals say. For instance, when I was in Belgrade, Serbia and wanted to get to Szeged, Hungary, the cheapest and best way was to travel by minibus. I actually got the tip from a man working in the offices of a local bus company.
The minibus driver came and picked me up and then dropped me off outside the door of my new temporary address. It was a fantastic service and it only cost me €20. [Why Minibus it the Best Way to Travel from Belgrade to Szeged]
If you are travelling to Europe from North America, Asia, or one of the other continents, the cheapest and most efficient way to travel will probably be to fly. When travelling within Europe, flying may still be the cheapest option but many times it will not. Especially if you are travelling with checked luggage.
Once again, you can save yourself a lot of money if you spend a little time researching the options available.
How to Find Cheap Flights
There are lots of good online resources that can help you find cheap flights.
Here are a few sites most experienced travellers use:
Kayak is probably the most popular option. A lot of digital nomads and other seasoned travellers swear by the site, but I’ve never used it. I prefer to use Skyscanner or Kiwi.com. Of the two, Kiwi.com is my favourite. The site has a really cool feature I like.
When you go any of the sites the first thing you do is enter your departure point and destination. The next thing you are likely to do is to enter your proposed departure date. That’s when things get interesting with Kiwi.com.
When you select the date you want, Kiwi presents you with a calendar that shows the best prices for the present and coming month. You can also choose to select “anytime for your departure date. Either way is good. Skyscanner does something similar but, in my experience, there are never as many options available to see.
The thing is, the day you choose to fly may make a big difference to the price. For instance, I just went to Kiwi and looked for flights from Bordeaux, France to Stockholm, Sweden (not a cheap place to go).
If I wanted to fly on Thursday, November 21, it would cost me €161 for a one-way ticket. However, if I waited a couple of days and flew on the Saturday, I could fly there for just €41. If I wanted to fly a day earlier, I could do it for €49.
As you can see, if you have a little flexibility on your departure date, it can save you money. Of course, this doesn’t work if putting off your flight would mean paying out extra for accommodation. That would be a false saving.
This is something that’s worked well for me though. There have been a few times I’ve left my accommodation a day early just to bag a flight bargain.
You have to remember when it comes to flights, the cost you initially see may not the price you ultimately pay. It might be if you are only travelling with a carry-on but, if you have checked luggage, you will have to pay more.
When you travel overland, you don’t have to worry about extra fees like that unless you are travelling with several large pieces of luggage. The cost of travelling in Europe on a bus or a train can often be cheaper than going via plane. The best thing to do is check all your options before you decide.
Checking the Bus Options
I often travel Europe by bus. My favourite provider is Flixbus. Believe it or not, certain routes can cost as little as €5. The company says you find the best prices in the Flixbus app. That’s not always true. I usually check via the website as well and it occasionally shows slightly better prices.
When I’m in the UK, I often use Megabus. If you get lucky, you can sometimes travel with Megabus for less than £5 but bargains like that are hard to find. However, if you want to travel from London to Newcastle-upon-Tyne you can go with Megabus and play less than £20. The cheapest ticket available when I checked today was £13.
Megabus used to be active in Europe too, but Flixbus took over the company’s European operations back in 2016. [Flixbus Takes Over Megabus]
Although I often use Flixbus and Megabus, I usually check the other bus options as well. Even if the ticket is cheap, I may be able to get it cheaper still elsewhere. If you want to travel to Europe on the cheap, Eurolines is also worth a try. If you are travelling in the UK, try National Express.
How I “Use” BusBud
It’s also worth trying BusBud. I’ve found cheap European bus tickets that way in the past, but the company is a middle-man. It makes a commission on sales. Sometimes what I do is use BusBud to find a cheap ticket then look to see which bus company I’d be travelling with. Then, if the company has a website that offers online sales, I buy the ticket directly from the company instead. You can try this with other Middlemen companies too.
Checking if it’s Cheaper to Travel by Train
When I’m in Spain I always check the ticket prices on the Renfe website. Renfe is the main train company in Spain and it’s possible to buy tickets online. [Renfe Website – In English]
If I’m travelling through Portugal, I check the prices on Comboios de Portugal (main train company). Again, it’s possible to buy train tickets via the site.
You can buy Spanish train tickets via the Renfe app as well. Comboios de Portugal has an app that allows you to do this too.
I’m not so sure how it works with the train companies in other European countries. Let’s not forget I’m writing this article based on my personal experiences travelling and planning trips. I can only write about what I know.
When I’m elsewhere in Europe, I use the trainline website or app. It’s very useful and despite its name, Trainline often provides some good deals on European bus transportation too. Better still, if you book your train ticket in advance you may save money. Apparently, the average saving is 61%.
Alternative Ways to Travel Cheaply in Europe
Obviously, the cheapest way to travel in Europe or any other continent may be to stick out your thumb and try to hitch a lift.
It’s not for me and it may not be for you, but a Frenchman called Jeremy Marie spent five years hitchhiking through 71 countries. It allowed him to see the world without having any travel costs at all. [A Big Thumbs Up]
He’s not the only one who has successfully travelled this way, I’ve read about lots of other people doing the same.
The other option is to use BlaBla Car. It’s a popular carpooling service that began in France and has since spread to many other countries in Europe. It’s gradually becoming popular in other continents as well.
I don’t use BlaBla Car but I’ve met many travellers who do. Plenty of them have told me it can be a good way to get around on the cheap. [Learn More About BlaBla Car]
How Not to Blow All Your Money on Accommodation
If you want to travel cheaply in Europe you need to think like a world traveller instead of a holidaymaker. Holidaymakers stay in hotels and generally eat out. No matter where you travel to in Europe, keeping a roof over your head may be one of the largest expenses you’ve got.
Of course, if you like sleeping under canvas, rough camping may be an option but then you’ll have the difficulty of finding somewhere to charge your phone.
Get a Bed in a Hostel
Hostels can be a good option for budget accommodation. They’re generally cheaper than hotels. I’m guessing you already know what a hostel is. Most people do. However, I was flabbergasted when I was talking to a friend in the Netherlands and he told me he had no idea what a hostel is.
On the off-chance you do not know, hostels offer travellers dormitory beds. The dormitories generally contain several bunk beds and are often mixed-sex. You are paying for a bed in a hostel, not for a room.
Many hostels in Europe have a kitchen for guests to use. Hostel kitchens normally contain a fridge, a cooker, and everything else you need to prepare your meals just like you would at home. That means you don’t have to eat out. You can go on a hunt for cheap groceries and take care of yourself.
There are lots of websites that can help you find cheap hostel accommodation. I normally use Booking.com, but if you do an internet search for European hostels you’ll find plenty of alternatives.
Find a Place Through Airbnb
When I’m looking for a cheap place to stay, most of the time I use Airbnb. Many other nomads do the same.
Airbnb is a website you can use to find rooms to rent all over the world. If you want to, you can rent a whole house or apartment through Airbnb.
Here’s a tip though, if you want to get the lowest possible price it often makes sense to stay for a month. Some Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts when you stay a full month. The best I’ve had so far is 40%.
Don’t try and stay for a few days extra though. If you want to stay longer, book for two months or three months. If, for the sake of argument, you booked a room for five weeks. You’d get the discount for the first month and pay the full price the following week.
If you’ve never used Airbnb, I have a discount code you can use. It will save you £25 or the equivalent in the currency you use. Airbnb will give me a similar discount on my next booking. Here’s the link to join Airbnb using my discount code.
Everyone who uses Airbnb gets their own code to share. It’s Airbnb’s way of attracting more customers. It’s a refer a friend kind of deal. So, if you join Airbnb and have a lot of friends you can help save them money and reduce your personal travel expenses as well.
However, although that’s a nice idea, the best thing about Airbnb is the low-cost accommodation.
Get Free Accommodation (and Possibly Food)
Yes! It’s possible. There are ways you get a roof over your head and pay nothing at all.
The first way is to use a site called CouchSurfing.
Couchsurfing is a global community. It’s not just in Europe. You can find couchsurfing options all over the world.
Members of the site have the opportunity to find free accommodation via the Couchsurfing network. Couchsurfing hosts are often couchsurfers themselves.
Despite the name, you may not have to sleep on someone’s couch. Many couchsurfing hosts have one or more spare beds.
So why, would anyone want to invite strangers into their home? Because it allows them to meet new and interesting people. Also, if they’ve done a lot of couchsurfing themselves, it’s a way to give something back to the community.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a couchsurfer so I’ve never done this myself. I know people who travel this way though and also accommodate fellow couchsurfers in their home. One girl I know went to Amsterdam and stayed with a Couchsurfing host for a week. [https://www.couchsurfing.com/about/how-it-works/]
Workaway is a website that pairs people who need work done with people who have the necessary skills to do it. The host may need help with DIY, childcare, household chores, or any number of other things. Sometimes their only requirement may be a language exchange.
When you are accepted by a Workaway host, you normally work four or five hours per day, five days a week on the host’s project. Normally there is no money involved, but the Workaway host provides you with a place to live and sometimes feeds you as well.
I’ve lived with Workaway hosts on several occasions. The last time I found a place through Workaway, I stayed five weeks. My longest Workaway stay was in a hostel in Seville. I lived there free of charge for two months and I could have stayed indefinitely. The offer was there.
If you are presently dreaming of a life of travel but don’t have much money, you may be interested in visiting the Workaway website and learning how the system works: https://www.workaway.info
Unfortunately, if you want to become a Workawayer, there is an annual fee to pay. At the moment it costs €36. I see that as an investment. Many people pay more than that for a hotel room for the night. I know people that have remained on Workaway assignments for over a year.
Think of that: a year living in the foreign country of their choice for only €36. I see the Workaway subscription as an investment, not an expense.
House Sitting and Pet Sitting
Being a house or pet sitter is another good way to explore Europe on the cheap. There’s nothing complicated going on. All you are doing is looking after somebody’s home while they are away.
With house sitting, it may just be a case of watering the plants and keeping the house and garden up to scratch. Obviously, if you are pet sitting there will be some kind of animal care involved such as feeding and walking someone’s dog.
Several sites offer house and pet sitting opportunities:
Some assignments only last a few days, but others are ongoing and may continue for several months.
The bad news is none of the sites is free to use. There’s always a subscription to pay. Again, the best thing to do is think of it as an investment instead of an expense. If you want to travel as cheaply as possible in Europe, becoming a sitter is a very good way to go.
How to Save Money While You’re Travelling in Europe
There are lots of ways to save money while travelling, be it in Europe or elsewhere in the world.
Cut Out Unnecessary Expenses
This one is a no brainer. Eating out and doing too much partying is a good way to eat into your cash. Instead of eating out, buy the groceries and cook for yourself. As for going out partying, use your head. If you think you can afford it, fine but unless you know how to make money on the road, every euro you spend reduces the amount of time you can continue travelling.
When you do your grocery shop, save more money by picking the cheapest options. Do you really want to pay more for a big-name brand? Reducing the amount of meat you eat is also a good way to save money. Many vegetarian-friendly food options (not the pre-packed ones) can be much cheaper than meat.
I usually have a Meat-Free Monday. Sometimes I have lots of other meat-free days as well. I’m not sure I would ever want to become 100% vegetarian, but I do enjoy the meals I make without meat.
Another good way to save money is to prepare a packed lunch before you go exploring. It will be much cheaper than buying food while you are out. You can also save money by walking instead of using public transport. If I can walk somewhere in an hour or two, that’s what I generally do.
When I arrived in France a few weeks ago, I spent nearly six hours walking from the train station to my Airbnb, because it was 22 Km away in the next town. I could have used a taxi, but I didn’t want to waste money.
Avoid European ATM Fees
Many ATMs in Europe charge extra fees if the card you are using was issued by a bank in a different country. Not all banks have their ATMs set up in this way, but finding an ATM that doesn’t charge fees can sometimes be hard to do and the fees can vary a lot. For instance, many ATMs in Spain charge €2-€3, but if you use a Santander ATM in Spain you’ll be hit with a €5 charge.
Finding ATMs that don’t charge can be incredibly hard. It may also be very easy. It just depends on which country you’re in. Most of the ATMs I used in Hungary never added any extra fees at all. I was spoiled for choice. In Greece, I only managed to find one bank I could use. My advice is to try as many ATMs as possible and when you find one that doesn’t charge stick to it in future.
It’s also best to avoid those free-standing machines you see in some shops. They apply additional charges that go the person who owns the machine. Only try the machines that belong to banks.
Don’t Be Tricked by the Offer of Dynamic Currency Conversion
This is another way you can lose money when using foreign ATMs. When you try to take money out the machine will show you an option that displays the requested withdrawal amount in your home currency. Some shops and restaurants may offer this option too and it can be very enticing because it allows you to know how much money will be leaving your account.
The problem is, the currency conversion rate the machines use is higher than it should be. It’s cheaper to select the option to take the money in the currency of the country you are visiting and allow your own bank to do the conversion. [How Dynamic Currency Conversion Works]
Avoid the Foreign Transaction Fees Charged by Your Card Issuer
When you find an ATM that doesn’t charge you and avoid being ripped off by Dynamic Currency Conversion, that’s half the battle won. The problem is, your still going to be charged a foreign transaction fee by your bank back home. It will hit you with fees when you use your card to pay for products and services as well.
Bank fees soon add up. If you are travelling on a budget you need to fight back. There are lots of ways to do this. One of them is by using a TransferWise debit card.
TransferWise doesn’t charge any fees when you make foreign purchases. It also allows you to withdraw up to €200 from machines each month without paying a charge. If you go over, there is a small fee but it’s cents on the dollar compared to the fees normal banks charge. It’s possible to increase the limit by paying a monthly fee. I seldom withdraw more than €200 a month so, in my case, there is no point.
The other good thing about TransferWise is the exchange rate. It always uses the most up to date one. That’s not always the case with banks. Most banks also charge a stupidly high fee for exchanging currency.
For instance, if I want to send €100 from my bank in the Netherlands to one of my banks in England. I can send it as euros or pounds. If I send it as pounds, my Dutch bank charges me €7 for doing the conversion. If I send it as euros, my bank in England charges me instead and it charges a whole lot more.
I use my TransferWise Borderless account instead. If I send €100 to TransferWise, there is no charge from my Dutch bank. When I change the euros to pounds, TransferWise charges me, but I only pay €1.25. It’s a huge saving and it’s easy to transfer the money (in pounds) to my British bank.
You may not be aware of this, but many countries in Europe don’t use the Euro. Using my TransferWise Borderless account and debit card saves me a lot of money on international transactions. It also allows me to withdraw money in multiple currencies without paying through the nose. [Find Out More About TransferWise]
Buy a Local SIM and Avoid Roaming Charges
If you are using a SIM issued by a country that’s in the EU you will be able to use your mobile phone in many European countries without paying any roaming charges. However, there are plenty of countries where you won’t be able to do so. Albania, Moldova, and Serbia are a few examples, but there are many more.
If using your phone is going to entail roaming charges, the best thing to do is buy a local SIM. I’ve had to do this many times. The best deal I got was in Ukraine. I paid 115 UAH (€3.63) and got unlimited data for a month. The package included local call time as well.
Other Things to Consider Before You Travel
Depending on where you are visiting and where you come from, you may need visas for every European country you visit. If that’s so, the more countries you visit, the more you will pay. Of course, you may be able to get a visa when you arrive but doing so will probably cost you more. You can check your visa requirements HERE.
The other thing you need to think about is health insurance. Even if you are travelling on a tight budget, it’s unwise to cut corners. If you have an accident or become ill while you are in Europe, you could end up with a medical bill that may put you in debt for the rest of your life. Many travellers use World Nomads. I do too, but it doesn’t matter which company you choose. The only important thing is to cover your back.
That’s All Folks!
Whew! That was a long article. It took me some time to write it. If you’ve just read it, I hope it’s told you what you need to know. There are probably many other budget travel tips I’ve missed, but I can only write about the ones I know and use.
If you know something I don’t or have additional travel tips to share, please leave a comment in the comment box below. The information you provide may help a fellow traveller to get more bang for the buck.
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