Budget Travel Europe: Traveling Back in Time Costs Less Than You Think
See All the Sights, on Any Budget
Thousands of years of history, stunningly beautiful architecture, diverse and delicious cuisine, world-class theater and art, and gorgeous countryside… European destinations have so much to offer.
From the art galleries of Paris to the ancient ruins of Rome to the pubs of London and the beaches of Spain, there’s so much to enjoy and so many different cultures to experience.
The only downside? It’s expensive as hell!
While Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia make for cheap European holidays, it’s still a pricey place to explore. And while there are travel rewards credit cards that will enable you to collect points and cut down on costs, there are plenty of additional ways you can lower your budget.
Enjoy everything the continent has to offer with these budget travel Europe tips.
Take the Night Train
There are two main perks to taking an overnight train rather than traveling during the day. First of all, it means you won’t have to pay for a night of accommodation that evening since you will be sleeping on the train. Secondly, you won’t waste one of your travel days sitting in transit.
Night trains in Europe are pretty comfortable and they usually have fold-down beds in their compact cabins where you can get a relatively good sleep. Another tip for train travel in Europe: if you plan to use trains to travel to a bunch of countries during your trip, it’s worth looking into the different options for Eurail passes to see if there is one that fits your itinerary and saves you money.
Do the Free Tour
Almost every European city I have visited has had some type of free walking tour. There is no cost to take part in the tour but the guides rely on tips so it is expected that you will give them at least five to 10 Euro at the end of the tour if you enjoyed yourself.
So, they aren’t technically free, but they end up being a lot cheaper than any other type of package tour. Plus if you know how to get the most out of a travel tour, you’ll still get a valuable experience out of a cheap attraction.
Sandemans New Europe is a company that does excellent tours in several European cities. I’ve done their tours in Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Berlin, Munich and Dublin. However, this format of tour is popular and there are many different companies that offer them. For example, taking a tour of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is a great way to save money when traveling Spain.
A walking tour is a great way to get your bearings when you first arrive somewhere and see the most important historic and cultural landmarks of a city. I recommend doing one on your first day somewhere, then you can take note of attractions or neighborhoods that you want to go back and explore in more depth during the following days.
You can also look into self-guided tours, which will save you money while still allowing you to learn about your surroundings. Free apps, podcasts and guides are all great ways to get to know an area all on your own.
Stay in a Hostel
One of the best cheap ways to travel Europe is to stay in a hostel. A bed in a dorm will almost always be much cheaper than a hotel room.
Plus, contrary to what you may have heard, there are a lot of hostel benefits besides a cheap bed. They are usually a great place to find out about cheap things to see and do and they are a great environment in which to socialize and make friends with other travelers.
Another reason why hostels will save you money is because they often provide kitchen facilities. This means you don’t have to spend money eating in a restaurant every night; you can cut down your costs by cooking yourself a simple, cheap meal every now and then.
Check out this article for tips on making affordable meals in a hostel kitchen.
If hostels aren’t your thing, finding cheaper accommodations is often as simple as traveling in the off-season. This is a great tip if you are looking to do luxury travel on a budget — save money where you can and use the money you save on some more high-end experiences.
Picnics Are Always a Good Idea
Eating out in restaurants is very expensive in Europe, but a fun way to cut down your food costs is to have an outdoor picnic instead. The great thing about many European cities is they often have picturesque public squares or lovely green spaces perfect for sitting back and snacking in the sunshine.
Head to the local supermarket or outdoor market and stock up on affordable cheeses, breads, olives, pastries and other snacks and then savor them while sprawled out on the grass. In some countries you can even drink alcohol in public places, so you can add a bottle of wine to your picnic.
One of my favorite memories of Paris is picnicking on cheese, baguettes and macarons on the Pont Des Arts while watching the sun set and listening to buskers play guitar.
Bring Your Student Card
Many tourist attractions in Europe offer student discounts, so it is worth bringing along your student ID to save some money. Even if your ID is recently expired, it doesn’t hurt to bring it along and give it a try anyway.
I used my student ID many times in France and Germany and even though I had already graduated and it was expired, most people didn’t look closely enough to notice.
Look for Free Museum Days
There are many fantastic art galleries and museums in Europe that are always free to visit, including Amsterdam Stadsarchief, the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon, the Museo del Pradoin Madrid and the Reykjavik Museum of Photography.
Sometimes museums that cost money will be free on certain days of the week or month. For example, the Louvre is free on Friday evenings if you are under 26 and is free for everyone, all day, on the first Sunday of every month.