Practical Tips for Traveling to Europe on a Budget

suit case and 50 euro sits on top of a map of Europe

A European tour is part of the ultimate bucket list for a lot of people around the world. Given the wealth of art, architecture, historical landmarks, natural landscapes and diverse cuisine the continent offers, a traveler will never run out of things to discover. Europe’s compact geography also allows tourists to experience multiple countries, languages, and cultures easily. This certainly makes it a top place to enjoy the benefits of traveling.

Traveling to Europe doesn’t need to be expensive. A lot of people think that Europe is one of the most expensive destinations in the world. But while it’s true that some countries tend to have higher costs of living, different regions offer varied prices. This means that with enough planning, it’s still possible to enjoy an all-out European experience without breaking the bank. Here is a list of ways to cut down costs for traveling to Europe on a budget.

1. Create a Budget-Friendly Itinerary

Your European dream tour should start with a solid plan. First, figure out which specific countries, cities or towns you want to visit. Make a list, then check the costs of living for each destination. Eliminate those that might not fit your allocated budget for the trip. Countries in Western Europe, especially Scandinavia, generally have some of the highest prices in the world. Big cities such as London and Paris also tend to be expensive due to their popularity and the number of tourists that flock to them. You will most likely spend less in Eastern European destinations.

Once you have chosen specific places to visit, spend time on researching the best route for your itinerary. This will keep you from bouncing from place to place, which can help you save big on transportation expenses. You could also consider exploring a single region in depth if you think you’ll have more opportunities to travel to Europe again in the future.

2. Visit During the Shoulder Season

Prices in Europe can vary drastically depending on the time of your visit. If you can, schedule your trip during September to early November and from April to early June. Airfares during these months are often cheaper. Many hotels and accommodations also drop their prices. Aside from the savings, you’ll also be able to enjoy attractions with fewer crowds. Take note that this “off” season varies by destination, so do a quick research of the exact months depending on the places you’d want to see when you travel to Europe.

3. Opt for Less Expensive Transport Alternatives

A great way to save when traveling Europe on a budget is by combining cheaper options for transportation. First, you might consider flying into Europe via budget airlines. Make sure to book your flights in advance and utilize flight search websites so you can find the best deals. Next, instead of taking a cab from place to place, try public transportation instead. A lot of European countries have comprehensive networks of trains and local buses. You can also try ridesharing services like BlaBla Car, which connects drivers with empty seats to people traveling the same way.

However, one of the best ways to explore Europe is by walking. Most landmarks are within short distances from each other, and walking can make the experience more immersive. If you think you need to rely on a train or bus system, consider getting a single- or multi-day pass. Just make sure to carefully plan out all your stops and the number of trips you will take, then calculate the total cost. If you’re taking mostly short trips within a small area, it might be better not to get one at all. You can also check out Rail Europe for more information on how to travel across Europe by train.

4. Choose Affordable Lodging Options

Aside from airfare, accommodations usually take up a big chunk of a vacation allowance. If you’re traveling to Europe on a budget, it might be better to forget swanky hotels. You can try renting an Airbnb or staying in the private residences of folks who rent out their extra rooms. You can also try Couchsurfing, which provides listings of homes where people let travelers sleep in their couch for free or in exchange for very minimal household chores.

There is also a myriad of other lodging options in Europe such as hostels, inns, and cottages. If you’re a solo traveler, you’ll benefit from meeting like-minded people in hostels. Aside from the cost advantages, these alternatives can provide more authentic experiences than luxurious hotels. To get even lower rates, you could also consider staying outside the city center of the places you will visit when you travel to Europe.

5. Eat Smart and Save More

Splurging on food while you’re traveling to Europe can set you back a hefty amount. It’s best to set limits and follow simple strategies to save money. For authentic and affordable dining experiences, skip the touristy restaurants. Instead, look for places where plenty of locals eat. Indulge in street food and local delicacies. If you really want to dine out, choose lunchtime, as most places have cheaper menus during that time compared to dinner. If you’re staying at a home rental with a kitchen facility, you can also opt to cook for yourself. For additional savings, stock up on bottled water and snacks from grocery stores rather than tourist shops.

6. Take Advantage of Free Attractions and Activities

While there are indeed many expensive cultural attractions in Europe, a lot of sights usually have no admission charge. Try to research for alternative ways to enjoy the most popular destinations when traveling Europe on a budget. For example, the top of the Eiffel Tower is not the only place to get a spectacular view of Paris. You can also enjoy the breathtaking Parisian scenery at the base of Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmartre for free. In addition, there are a lot of European cities that offer free walking tours around important historical landmarks. There are usually guides that provide fascinating information about a certain location. Keep an eye out for free street performances in public venues as well.

Museums also offer discounts or even free admission on certain days or occasions. For instance, the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of each month between October and March,  as well as on Bastille Day. When it comes to taking advantage of free attractions and activities when traveling to Europe, the key is to check for information ahead of time, then create your itinerary accordingly.

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Ellen Madden studied Communications and Women & Gender Studies at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. She is navigating motherhood while working and celebrating life in Tampa, FL where she grew up. Ellen is a food lover and is learning the art of writing as she goes along.

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