Are you dreaming of traveling to Europe but don’t want to break the bank? If you’re keen on doing the research and due diligence, Europe doesn’t have to cost a fortune. To save you some time I will share with you the best tips on how to travel to Europe for cheap.
Make Budgeting Your First Priority
What’s your budget? I suggest establishing this first before making any bookings. Keep in mind that this may be dependent on the type of traveler you are and your personal spending habits. I like to have a good expense tracking system with me at all times to keep note of what is coming in and out, so preferably something on the cloud, like an app or an excel sheet. This will include all the destinations I will be visiting, and categories for accommodation, food and entertainment.
The most economical and culturally enriching option for accommodation is a homestay. What is a homestay? It is a holiday at a local family’s house in the destination that the traveler is visiting. The traveler stays with a real family and gets the opportunity to experience life as a local. You have the comfort of a real home where you can get familiar with the local lifestyle, make genuine connections and learn the language. Homestays provide a much cheaper alternative than hotels. Many times homemade meals will be provided with your stay and amenities are included.
Staying at a hostel is a great money-saving option and an opportunity to meet different people from all walks of life. You live in a communal area with shared amenities and facilities. There are various room categories like single, double, and multi-shared rooms. Many hostels have communal kitchens so you can cook your own meals without having to eat out all the time. If you want to know how to travel Europe for cheap ask any backpacker or student and they will suggest staying at a hostel. Rates can start anywhere from €10 – €40 a day in western Europe.
Take the Bus
What is the cheapest way to travel to Europe? The ultimate budget-saving hack is the bus. While slower and more time-consuming, taking the bus can save you hundreds of euros. I can personally attest to this as a student going to school in Paris and having to live on a shoestring budget. When I wanted to visit my boyfriend in the Netherlands, I’d spend €20 – €40 euros round trip on a cheap bus service that would take me from Paris to Utrecht.
They even have amenities like wifi and outlets which can be surprising when you’re paying dirt cheap prices. Services like FlixBus are super wallet-friendly and a great recommendation on how to travel Europe for cheap. As I’m scrolling through the website now, there are bus deals as low as €5 euros! Flixbus also has destinations in over 35+ countries in over 2,500 destinations.
If you want to visit the United Kingdom (England, Scotland & Wales), then Megabus is the go-to affordable bus service. You may recognize the name as it’s quite popular in the United States too. I’ve used it various times to travel from London to Bath, Brighton, and Milton Keynes. The prices for Megabus are already so cheap but if you really want to score an even better bargain, book several months in advance. They are known to have £1 pound seats if you book far enough ahead of time.
The only downside to taking the bus are the long rides (depending on the distance) and being cooped up especially if it’s an overnight bus. However, with rates as low as €10 euros, you can stay on budget or even below it!
Make Sure to Travel Light
Packing smart and light is the best way to go. The greatest lesson I’ve learned while traveling through Europe is that bringing a carry-on is the most efficient. There are many budget airlines that have nice offers and deals if you only bring your hand luggage with you. Personally, I’ve saved €100 – €200 euros doing this and also don’t have to worry about carrying heavy luggage around.
Use Budget-Friendly Airlines
Flights are typically one of the big-ticket items when traveling. But luckily, Europe has budget airlines with low airfares. Airlines like Vueling, RyanAir, Easyjet, Wizz Air, and Transavia offer low-cost flights all over Europe and worldwide. The general rule of thumb with budget airlines is the limitation with amenities and luggage. You will only be allowed one piece of baggage and if it’s even slightly over the weight they will charge you. My personal favorite airline is Norwegian. I flew with this airline numerous times from Los Angeles to Europe for under €400 euros, and will always recommend it because of the great service and comfortability.
If You’re Up for it Go Biking
If you’re feeling adventurous or are an avid outdoor enthusiast, you may want to consider biking. It’s a wonderful way to see the landscape, go off the beaten track – and maybe arrive at your destination faster. All you need is some good attire, a comfortable backpack, and a sleeping bag. Bring a tent with you so you can camp wherever to travel Europe on a shoestring budget. Biking is a great option and can make for a memorable experience.
Book Train Tickets in Advance
If the bus isn’t for you or you’ve got some wiggle room in your budget, there are ways in which you can get a better deal on train tickets. It may sound simple but booking tickets in advance can save you some money. For example, when my boyfriend would visit me in Paris he would take the high-speed train called the Thalys. It connects France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands and is super comfortable and reliable. However, using the Thalys can be quite costly but if you book months in advance the price difference is astounding! €60 euros compared to €300 euros round trip is shocking.
What is the Cheapest Way to Travel in Europe by Train?
Familiarizing yourself with the rail specific to each country is one one the easiest ways to get cheap train tickets. For instance, for the Netherlands, Belgium and France SNCB International is a good option. You can book any of your journeys through various trains in and outside of Europe. I’ve used it many times and can say that it’s a great money-saving option. If you’re still in the planning process of your trip I’d check this site regularly for any cheap European travel deals.
Travel During Non Peak Hours
Another great money-saving tip is to pick train times when the schedule is not busy during off-peak hours. Because fewer people are traveling during this time, train tickets will be cheaper. Generally, non-rush hour times are the most suitable because of the smaller crowds and costs. Honestly, I wish I knew this tip 10 years ago when I tried by trial and error on how to travel Europe for Cheap.
Bring your Student Id
Did you know that you can get discounts on a number of attractions, monuments, and historic sites with your student ID? Even better if you have an EU student ID, which may provide free entry to attractions. Since I was a student studying in Paris, I was granted many perks in France in the EU. For instance, I received free entry, cheap tickets to the Acropolis, and discounts on bus tickets to other countries – and these were already dirt cheap! The perks are not just limited to museums but also cinemas, travel experiences, and food.
Go to the Museum on Free Entry Days
Speaking of museums, have you heard of Free Entry day? It’s when museums are open to the public free of charge. On my very first trip to Europe, I went to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay for free!
Go on a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore a new destination and get a feel for your surroundings is by taking a walking tour. Typically these are free, non-expensive or you are welcome to give tips at the end of the tour. City walking tours are my personal favorite. You meet with a tour guide and they show you all around the hotspots, providing history and interesting facts. Walking tours can range anywhere from two to four hours but typically if you join a group, you can leave when you like.
Cook Your Own Food and Shop From the Market
Just like accommodation and flights, food can also be a high cost if you are eating out multiple times a day. This is why having a kitchen at your disposal (whether at your hostel, rental, etc) where you can cook food for yourself, is a major way to cut down on costs. Head to the market and pick up fresh ingredients – most markets will only sell what is in season. The best tip is to arrive at the market around closing time because non purchased food will be sold for a cheaper price to avoid discarding it.
Always Pack Snacks
This is an absolute must regardless if you’re on a budget because sometimes the unexpected happens when you travel. Your flight may get delayed, the shops at your destination may be closed down or your bus might break down for a few hours. I was on a layover flight from Iceland to Los Angeles and couldn’t fathom spending €30 euros for a small sandwich, chocolate bar, and water. Whatever the case is, you should be readily equipped with snacks that are high in protein and not too high in sugar and fat. Protein and granola bars, nuts, seeds, trail mix, and oatmeal. My go-to’s are Luna and KIND bars because they are delicious, energizing, and keep the hunger bug away. If you’re able to bring fresh foods go for yogurt, homemade sandwiches, eggs, fresh fruits and veggies.
How to Travel Europe For Cheap: Travel During Off Season
What time of year you plan to visit can be detrimental to how much money you will need to spend. This is why the off-season is the best time to travel to Europe on a budget. The off-season has fewer crowds and tourists, hotels are cheaper and flights more budget-friendly.