Last Updated on 18/01/2021
Europe is a wonderful, diverse mix of countries. One of the best things about it is that it’s so accessible once you’re there. You could be eating pizza in Rome one day and exploring the Berlin party scene the next without it costing you an arm and a leg. With a bit of planning, you can visit Europe on a budget even if you’re the stingiest of travellers. So if you dream of doing your own European backpacking trip but you only have a small amount of cash to spare, here are 8 top tips for affordable Europe travel and some of the best inexpensive countries you can visit:
1. Cheap Europe Travel: Take the FlixBus
FlixBus is one of the cheapest ways to travel through Europe. Back when I was at university, I was desperate to go abroad for the summer, but in typical student fashion, I had more wanderlust than money (nothing has changed…). That’s when I discovered the beauty that is FlixBus. The coach service runs across Europe for a fraction of the price of air travel. In fact, you could get tickets for as low as €5! Although I can’t say I’ve ever been lucky enough to find one. It’s probably a myth.
I travelled by FlixBus (Megabus at the time) from London to Barcelona. It goes without saying that the journey took a while – 27 hours to be exact – so this method of transport is perhaps more suited to those who have more time than money. If you enjoy travelling then going by FixBus is a fun way to travel through Europe on a budget. The seats are decently comfortable, you have WiFi, power outlets and a toilet on board.
The FlixBus is also more eco-friendly than air travel and you can go one step further by ticking the ‘CO2 compensation box’ when you buy your tickets. Your CO2 is then calculated based on the duration and distance of your journey and the amount is invested in a certified environmental protection project.
2. Fly with a Budget Airline
I find Skyscanner is the easiest and most effective way of finding cheap flights. It often means that you end up on a budget airline which is admittedly more cramped than a luxury. Still, if you’re only in the air for a couple of hours you might as well save the pampering until you get to your destination.
Being strategic is the key to getting a cheap flight to Europe. As a rule, if you’re aiming for budget-friendly then you want to avoid the summer months (June – August). Everything, from the accommodation to the activities, skyrockets in price. Aim for low and shoulder seasons if you want to get a good price (September -May). True, the weather might not be quite as nice but you save money and beat the crowds.
To get the most out of your cheap flight, pack only a carry-on with you to avoid those sneaky checked luggage fees. Just be aware that if you want to visit Europe on a budget you should always pay attention to what you’re allowed to take on board free of charge. Some budget airlines – *ahem* Ryanair – tend to shrink their luggage size allowance which means you have to pay for anything larger than a postage stamp… In that case, it’s actually worth buying hand luggage add-ons in advance so you don’t have to pay a fine when you get to the airport.
3. Road Trip with a Rideshare
If you can drive, one fun way to travel is to hire a campervan and hit the road – but the cost of hiring vehicles can get expensive. A budget-friendly road trip alternative is to take part in a ridesharing scheme. Apps like BlaBlaCar have grown across Europe. Similar to the Uber taxi service, all you need to do is find a car going your way and it a ride by paying through the app. Drivers can join in as well as passengers so it’s handy if you’re doing a road trip and have a spare seat or two in your car.
Perfect for shorter journeys, ridesharing is a great way to meet new people and make friends with travellers and locals alike. It’s like hitchhiking but without the stress of worrying about personal safety as every member has to be validated. Female travellers can even opt for a women’s only rideshare for extra peace of mind. If you’re looking for ways to backpack through Europe on a budget then BlaBlaCar is a useful option.
4. Use the Local Railway System
Trains are one of the easiest and most relaxing ways to travel through Europe. There’s nothing quite like curling up into a seat with a good book and a picnic, watching the world speed past you. Trains are more comfortable than coaches and less stressful than flights. You can get almost anywhere in Europe by train, and if you’re on a cheap Europe trip then the best way to get a good price on your ticket is to book them well in advance.
Alternatively, if you’re backpacking through Europe, you can buy a Eurail pass which allows you to travel through and around up to 28 European countries. Cheaper still are the sleeper trains. You end up saving money on accommodation for the night and you have the whole day to explore your destination when you arrive. What could be better?
5. Mix and Match Your Transport
There’s ultimately no wrong or right way to save the pennies while travelling. It really comes down to researching where you want to go. I planned to go backpacking in the Greek Islands but I knew that my budget couldn’t realistically accommodate the likes of Santorini. I found an alternative island (Folegandros) in the same vicinity which happened to be a lot less touristy and as a result, more affordable to visit instead. So, going to cheaper places in Europe and picking the road less travelled pays off.
Think about what you want to get out of your trip. If you’re going for a short weekend away then a 24-hour FlixBus might not be the most efficient way to spend your money. Consider mixing and matching your transport itinerary to suit your time and money. It might take a little while to map out but it’ll be worth it if you’re travelling through Europe on a budget.
Europe on a Budget: Bonus Tips
6. Cook Your Own Food
Eating out can take up a huge amount of your budget when you travel which is fine if you’re on a foodie trip. If you want to keep costs down on your Europe trip then book accommodation that comes equipped with a kitchen so that you can make your own meals. It doesn’t have to be fancy, most backpacker hostels have a kitchen. If you can’t be bothered to cook every day then make enough so have leftovers to take with you the next day. Invest in some Tupperware or a stainless steel lunchbox to store your leftovers in. You’re not only saving money but the environment too.
7. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
The water in Europe is generally safe to drink so instead of buying plastic water bottles every time you’re out, bring your own reusable one and refill it. More and more countries are starting to put in public drinking fountains to help their environmental impact. If you can’t find one then you can always ask a restaurant or cafe to fill your bottle up for you. Opting for a reusable water bottle when you travel might not save you the big bucks but if you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel through Europe then every penny counts.
8. Budget Via a Banking App
Sticking to a budget can be hard when you’re travelling through Europe. You can easily lose track of how much you’re spending and you don’t want to spend your whole trip worrying about your finances. Banking apps are here to help. I personally love Monzo and use it frequently when I travel. Great for long and short trips, all you need to do is set up a specific amount to enter your Monzo account each week and then you can monitor what you spend it on in real-time. It’s also free to use abroad and when you take cash out in the European Economic Area (EEA). In non-EEA destinations, you can take out £200 free of charge every 30 days and after that, you get charged 3%.
Cheapest Countries in Europe
Bulgaria is one of the cheapest places to visit in Europe. A Balkan nation in Southeast Europe, you can always find affordable accommodation, food and entertainment. The capital, Sofia makes an ideal budget city break but if you’re looking for a beach holiday then Sunny Beach is for you. Named the best value destination in Europe for the sixth consecutive year in 2019, Sunny Beach is a budget backpacker’s paradise.
Hungary is a very affordable option if you’re looking for a cheap European destination. Accommodation, transport and food are all reasonably priced and there are plenty of free activities to take advantage of. Head to Budapest for a budget-friendly city break. Arguably one of the most underrated cities in Europe, Budapest should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The Czech Republic is well-known for being an inexpensive country and it’s one of the most popular countries in Europe. The capital, Prague, sees about 8 million visitors annually. If you want to make your trip even more budget-friendly, eat and drink locally. Beer is cheaper here than almost anywhere else in the world and if you take care to avoid the major tourist hotspots then you will wine and dine like royalty for a fraction of the price.
Romania is a reasonably cheap European destination if you’re looking for a budget-friendly holiday. A good way to see the country is a more natural getaway than a city break. Staying in villages and on farms is cheaper than being in the city and you have Romania’s finest vineyards, castles and fortresses to explore and the advantage of getting to know some of the locals.
Although it may not be one of the cheapest destinations on the list, your money can still go a long way in Serbia. There are a lot of free things to do in the capital city, Belgrade and hostels are your best bet for cheap accommodation. Serbia was involved in the Yugoslav Wars between 1991 and 1999 which is something to be mindful of if you choose to travel there. Serbia is more or less back on its feet but Belgrade still has physical and psychological scars from the bombs that fell during the war.
Poland is a good budget destination in Europe. Often overlooked, the country has it all from history to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Poland has a variety of holiday options to suit any budget. For city breaks head to Warsaw and Krakow and for an albeit slightly chilly beach holiday, spend some time on the Baltic Coast. Camping is also a good option if you want to keep things cheap.
Malta is one of the cheapest countries in the Eurozone. Your easiest option is to fly but if you want to be a bit greener or if you’re in the mood for an adventure then you can get the ferry from Sicily. There are a few hostels and Airbnbs dotted around the island but prices tend to double in the summer. If you want to experience the island life then Malta is one of the best countries in Europe to visit on a budget.
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