There is a common misconception that you have to be rich to travel. I’ve been from Iceland to Italy, Slovenia to Norway, and I would never consider myself a wealthy person. My life is rich from experiences, but I don’t have a wand that makes money magically appear in my wallet. I’ve travelled all across Europe on a budget even though funds are tight, I still manage to have amazing experiences.
A year ago I kissed my beautiful flat in Kansas City and my cushy corporate job goodbye in pursuit of backpacking through Europe full time. I saved up as much money as possible, while I was preparing for my adventure. I sold everything I owned for extra cash, became an Uber driver in my spare time and I even built a few websites to generate an income.
Regardless of how much money I saved, my budget was going to be tight and I wanted to make the most of it. Here are some tips and lessons learned to help save you money.
Set a Budget for Yourself
Before leaving for my first stop in Dublin, I read Nomadic Matt’s book How to Travel the World on $50 a day. I followed this book religiously. My lodging, transportation, food, museum tickets, everything for the day had to amount to $50 USD. This doesn’t seem like much to live on, especially when you include lodging in the mix, but it’s possible! I even spent less than I thought I would.
A few tips to make it work:
1. Look into housesitting. I got to stay in the most expensive places for free in exchange for taking care of someone’s pet.
2. Walk as much as possible. Your feet are your two biggest assets, use them and get to know the city!
3. Go on a Free Walking Tour. Most major European cities have free walking tours. You get to see the city and learn about the culture from a local. Don’t forget to tip your guide at the end!
4. Look for overnight buses or trains. Then you can sleep while you’re en route to your destination and not have to pay for accommodation. If you’re tall like me, be prepared to be uncomfortable!
5. If you’ve got the time when traveling between two cities, take a bus with Wi-Fi.You can save some green and catch up with your friends back home.
6. Consider staying in a city longer. Most Airbnb’s will give you a weekly or monthly discount.
7. Eat out for breakfast, brunch, or lunch instead of dinner. Dinner prices are the most expensive, but eating at restaurants earlier still gives you the cultural experience.
8. Look for hostels with free breakfast, or at least free tea and coffee.
9. Buy instant coffee packets, so you can save money on your daily coffee. If a cup of coffee costs around €4, every day for a month equals €120!
10. Look for free museum days (Beware: get there early, the lines will be long).
Consider Your Destinations
Europe ranges from the most expensive cities (like Oslo, London, and Reykjavik) to the cheaper destinations (like Budapest, Ljubljana, and Krakow) where your money can be stretched further. Since I knew my savings account was going to dwindle, I started my travels in the more expensive cities like London, Copenhagen, Oslo, and even Iceland!
Iceland was probably my most expensive country, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. I swam in the Blue Lagoon, hiked to a hot spring, went whale watching, and saw some of the Icelandic waterfalls. I knew that all of these experiences had a price tag, but sometimes you have to throw your budget to the wind. If I had stuck to my budget I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy swimming in the relaxing blue waters of the Blue Lagoon with a beer in my hand!
Once I got to Eastern Europe and Italy, I was in budget heaven. I remember how shocked I was when I set foot in Prague and discovered that I could buy a beer for less than a bottle of water!
Eastern Europe is a gold mine of destinations where you’ll find great budget accommodations and cheap local food!
One of my favorite Eastern European cities was Budapest. The cheap cost of living attracts every type of soul. You can be sitting at a bar and on one hand talking to a creative sculpture, the other a business owner trying to launch a new startup.
I have to laugh at my inability to get around effectively and efficiently before I was introduced to GoEuro, a travel platform that allows you to book the cheapest, most convenient mode of transportation in one search. When I was in Krakow, I missed my bus to Prague, by just a mere 5 minutes. I had to stand in a line for 15 minutes to figure out when the next bus to Prague was. When I got to the front of the line, I discovered this particular line I was waiting in was only if you knew which ticket you needed to buy. Another 15 minutes later, while I was standing in the “info” line, I got to the desk and the representative didn’t speak English. My shoulders slumped and I fought back angry tears.
I felt completely dejected and stressed out from the ordeal, but it wasn’t over. I then had to go to three different bus companies within the coach station to determine which had a route to Prague. In the end I finally had a ticket, but it had taken me over 2 hours to get it. If I had known about GoEuro at the time, I could have saved myself so much stress and hassle!
Plan Your Transportation, but be Flexible
I’m a solo-backpacker and enjoy making my own schedule. I didn’t have a set plan for when I needed to be in a city, or how long I wanted to stay, this allowed me to find the cheapest transportation possible. I remember talking to a fellow traveler who suggested I venture to Budapest. I had no idea how to get there from Milan, but GoEuro made it incredibly simple.
Instead of going to 15 different travel sites, I only had to go to one. I could compare the fastest and cheapest route to get me to Budapest, while also looking at the cheapest day to travel. GoEuro compares every mode of transportation (planes, trains, and automobiles!), so you can get the best deal and save money!
Backpacking through Europe Europe can be easy if you do it right. Follow a few of my tips and you’ll soon find your own money saving tricks!
Colleen is a digital nomad who said goodbye to her corporate job in pursuit of traveling the world. She works wherever she has Wi-Fi and is determined to collect experiences instead of things. You can follow her adventures at Travel Meets Happy, or like her Facebook page to stay up on her latest travels.
Feature image: Image by Keith Parker, C.C 2.0