Updated on January 31st, 2020
Are you dreaming of taking the ultimate European vacation? Europe is that continent that every traveller will see themselves on at least once, and for good reason. It is full of culture, diversity and history, beautiful natural areas, seaside villages and medieval towns. Oh and don’t forget the food. Yum! Although does the fear of the price tag scare you away from booking that trip? Well, I’m here to tell you it is more than possible to travel Europe cheap!
I spent the last year in Europe adventuring and exploring 16 different countries and spent less than $12,000 USD! This included everything, from flights, travel insurance, food, activities, local transport and all spending money. I didn’t slum it in dodgy hostels or eat only noodles for a year. I travelled comfortably and actually ate really well. Want to know how I did it? That’s great because I want to share with you my tips on how to travel Europe on a budget.
If you follow these tried and tested and unbelievably easy to follow tips, you’ll even be able to leave Switzerland with a much larger bank account than you thought possible.
Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information on my disclaimer click here.
1. Be flexible to get cheap transport in Europe
Regardless of whether you are booking flights, buses or trains, be as flexible as you can with your travel dates. Different days and times will attract higher rates. So make sure you compare prices on different days of the week as well as how far ahead you need to book.
There tends to be a sweet spot when booking things online – too far ahead and they are expensive, to close and the prices go back up. Try and find that middle-ground for getting the cheapest travel deals in Europe. Better yet, can you travel in the offpeak or shoulder season? Europes peak travel times are the summer months and especially August. Travel in the Spring, Autumn or even Winter to have heavily discounted rates on transport, accommodation and tours.
How to get the best prices for transport in Europe
Budget Airlines Europe
There are some great budget airlines to help you can travel Europe on the cheap. Many long-distance trips in Europe will be cheaper if you fly with a budget airline rather than taking buses and trains. Plus, you will also save a lot of your precious travel time. To get the cheapest flights you will want to book as early as possible. The cheap seats usually get snapped up quickly.
Make sure you shop around and look at the main airport hubs for the cheapest tickets. I like to use Skyscanner and Google Flights to search and compare flights. Next, I will go directly to the cheapest airlines website and compare their prices. You can also use the explore feature and see if there is a cheaper flight path near where you want to go. Or alternatively, search the best low-cost budget airlines in Europe:
Bus travel in Europe
Overall, you will find the cheapest way to travel around Europe will be by bus. There are comfortable budget-friendly bus companies that run frequently throughout the continent. The cheapest companies are FlixBus, RegioJet and MegaBus. Megabus operates throughout the UK and some Western Europe while FlixBus and RegioJet cover the majority of the European countries. Use bus comparison site Get By Bus and Omio (formerly GoEuro).
Bus prices vary significantly at different times of the day. You will usually find the cheapest buses early in the morning or during the overnight trips. Make sure to book your bus more than 24 hours in advance as this is when prices increase.
Train travel in Europe
I love travelling by train. You get the freedom to walk around, a food cart and a much more enjoyable trip than on a bus. Although the downside to travelling in Europe by train is that it will usually be more expensive. During our EuroTrip we took a few trains but mostly avoided them due to price. I would especially steer clear of the EuroRail.
2. Take advantage of free things to do in Europe
Free walking tours
I love me some free stuff! What I bet you don’t know is how much free stuff is out there! The best way to travel cheaply is to not spend any money at all. Almost all of the European cities offer one if not multiple free walking tours. Free walking tours are a great introduction to a new city as they will give you a brief history lesson, show you the main sites and tend to give coupons or city discount cards to the participants. Although not entirely free, if you liked the tour, remember to leave a tip as this is how the guides make a living.
Free movies, festivals & other activities
Another cheap travel tip is to attend free movies, festivals and concerts. During the summer months, the parks come to life in Western Europe and on a weekly basis, many cities show a movie in the park as the sun sets. The famous Edinborough Fringe Festival offers free shows throughout August. Check out the free Fringe website for more details.
Many museums in Europe have free entry days. This tends to be the first Sunday of the month in most cities but check online to be sure.
Free audio tours
If you are someone who likes tours, there are so many apps you can download that offer free audio tours. I have used the izi.travel app which is free to download and has tours all across Europe. We did 2 of their driving tours through Durmitor National Park and Korita in Montenegro and loved them! There are other apps that cost a few dollars to download but are still significantly cheaper than hiring a guide.
The best way to find free activities where you are heading is to pop ‘free things in …’ into a google search. To be more specific add your travel months.
3. Save money in Europe with zero bank fees
You’re already losing money due to the exchange rate. Let’s not lose anymore unnecessarily to the evil bank giants. If your bank charges foreign transaction fees than it is time to say goodbye. To be honest, if your bank is charging you any fees, why are you still with them? There are so many banks that offer fee-free accounts these days that the few hours it takes to change banks is well worth the hassle. I was previously with Commonwealth who would charge me $17 to withdraw cash at an ATM in America. $17!!
Bank accounts for Australians
As an Australian, I have the Citibank Plus Everyday Account. This is completely fee-free, whether I withdraw money overseas or use my card to pay for transactions. I don’t get charged if I don’t deposit a certain amount into my account each month and I can receive and send money to any account worldwide without additional charges. They also have a competitive exchange rate that only slightly varies to the actual exchange market.
If you are looking for more info on travel-related cards Thrifty Nomad has a great article for Australian and UK travellers. Or check out Stoked for Travel’s ING review for Aussies. The Blonde Abroad lists her favourite travel credit cards for Americans.
Travel money cards
If you are going on a short trip overseas you can order a travel money card to use. Although check the fine print on these cards. Some are only fee-free if using for transactions but charge a fee for ATM withdrawals. Others have a terrible exchange rate.
4. Use Airbnb
A cheap trip to Europe doesn’t mean you need to stay in 30-bed dorms. When we compared the prices of hostels to Airbnb’s, a lot of the time the Airbnb was cheaper. We stayed in some incredible entire apartments during our trip where we couldn’t even get a private room in a hostel for the same price.
There are so many benefits to using Airbnb although I know not everyone is a fan (I’m here to convince you it’s the cheapest way to travel Europe). During our trip to Europe, we used Airbnb for 95% of our stays when we weren’t doing a work exchange program. Not only does Airbnb offer a homey style of accommodation, but you will also save money overall from the fact that you have a kitchen. The two biggest travel expenses are accommodation and food.
How to stay in Europe cheap by using Airbnb
I would carry around a pack of oats and make my own breakfast each morning with locally bought fruit and water. We could sit at home in the evening and have a few drinks on our balcony, enjoy a movie sitting on a couch and if we wanted could make our own packed lunches for the day or come back and cook something. Not feeling confined to a hotel room saved us a lot of money and we didn’t feel like we had to go out every night.
Another tip with Airbnb is to use the map feature and search outside of the downtown areas but still close enough to walk or within a short distance of public transport. Be careful when filtering by price as this only shows the nightly cost and doesn’t factor in service charges. So sometimes a place that is $40/night has a $20 service and cleaning charge. A place that is $50/night might only have a $10 service and cleaning fee. So if you limit your search to a maximum of $40 you won’t see the place that is actually cheaper in the end.
5. Travel Europe for free with a Worldpackers membership
If you have the time and plan on spending an extended period of time in Europe (or anywhere for that matter) why not consider a work exchange program. Work exchange programs like Worldpackers are becoming an increasingly popular way to travel and there is a good reason for that. They are actually good!
Over the past 12 months, we did 9 different work exchange programs. They ranged in duration from 1 week up to 3 months, so you really can do them regardless of how long you plan on travelling in Europe. What that means for you is you will get free accommodation and food in exchange for a few hours of work each day.
Worldpackers are quickly coming up as a top work exchange program and the reason for that is they verify all of their hosts. The bad Workaway program we had probably wouldn’t have happened had we done that through Worldpackers. Worldpackers also offers insurance, so that if something doesn’t work out with your host, they will pay for 3 nights in a hostel nearby so you can get out of there!!
Make sure you read my review of Worldpackers here and all the reasons you should sign up. With my discount, an annual membership is only $29 for solo travellers and $39 for couples/friends. Imagine how much money you can save for just $29 a year!
6. Avoid getting scammed by taxi’s
Gahhhh, taxis are the bane of my existence. I seriously dread having to take a taxi. If I can help it I will avoid taxis at all costs, but obviously when you are travelling in Europe that isn’t always possible. Taxi’s in Europe (Eastern Europe specifically) are more than happy to prey on the innocent tourist. So lets prep you on how to save money and not get ripped off by a taxi.
Firstly, avoid, avoid, avoid. Use Uber when possible or find similar apps depending on where you travel. Other similar reputable companies include Bolt, Mytaxi and Kapten. You can search ahead of time to find what app to download. What I love about these apps is that they have a fixed rate that you know ahead of time and you don’t need to pull out any cash at the end of the trip.
If you can’t avoid using a taxi the best weapon against being scammed is awareness. Find out more about common taxi scams. Know that this might happen to you and find out rough estimates of what a taxi should cost for the distance you travel. You can do this in a couple of ways. Either by asking a local or the reception if you are staying at a hotel or hostel. The other way is to research fares online. Once you know what the fare estimate is stick to your guns and if you see the meter rising quicker than it should, or the end of the fare is extremely expensive, threaten to call the police. The driver should back down – but they won’t without a fight. It’s ignorance with them and unfortunately a lot of the time they have your luggage.
Another common scam is to swap the notes you pay with for smaller denominations. Pay attention to the money you hand over. If you give $100, for example, they will do a quick sleight of hand and show you a $10 and demand more. If you aren’t;t paying attention this is very easy to fall prey to.
7. How to eat cheap in Europe
Have a picnic
This is one of the best money-saving tips I have to travel to Europe affordably. As it is best used in the expensive travel destinations. And come on, who doesn’t love a picnic? When we were in Switzerland, we would get fresh bread rolls, cheeses, fruits and Ben wold have some cold cuts. I always travel with a sarong as it’s one of the most versatile things I carry on me. Then all you need to do is find a nice location and put out your spread.
Great spots are in front of famous landmarks, nice shady parks, beaches or by any sort of water feature. Our Switzerland picnic backdrops tended to be waterfalls, rivers and lakes. You can make these as simple or as full-on as you like. Check the alcohol laws where you are and maybe you can include a bottle of wine or some beers.
If you’re a big eater and thinking this isn’t filling enough, prep some food at your Airbnb and buy some collapsible Tupperware to travel with. You’ll be surprised how much this will save you and you’ll get much better photos than if you ate in a restaurant.
Use Nomadic Matt’s six-block rule
Nomadic Matt has been travelling on a budget for a long time and has found that within 6 blocks of any tourist attraction is where you will find overpriced food and restaurants. After sightseeing, walk for at least 6 blocks away from the sites until you start looking for a place to eat. Not only is the food double the price but he says half as good. Which I’m sure we can all agree on. How many times have you eaten nearby something famous because it looks busy only to be disappointed with the service and the quality? These restaurants know that they are going to get traffic regardless of what is served to their customers.
Another food tip is to talk to the locals. I love speaking with people who live in the place I am visiting and ask for their favourite cafes and restaurants. Not only will you save money and get a cheaper meal you will also get a more authentic experience. Go one step further and eat the local dishes.
One of my favourite things about travel is the food. Whenever I am offered something even if it sounds like something I won’t like I always accept. Even the pig’s intestines I was offered the other day, even though I prefer to eat a plant-based diet. You never know, maybe you’ll find a new favourite food.
8. Take a reusable water bottle
The cheapest way to travel Europe is to never buy water. Most of Europe has safe, clean drinking water. You’ll see people filling up their bottles from the street all over Italy even in places that seem particularly dirty. I tried it, and it tasted fine to me. However, if you are worried about the water buy a Lifestraw water bottle. These bottles have inbuilt filtrations systems and filter out 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites.
Also to be safe check the countries water safety before filling up any unfiltered bottles. I always travel with a reusable bottle not just to save money but because I hate buying plastic bottles. When you drink 2L of water a day, more if you are walking around sightseeing, that’s a lot of money. Even if water only costs €1 per bottle that’s €3/day. Over a month that’s almost €100 on something you didn’t need to buy.
Another thing to note is when in restaurants if staff offer you water it is not free. Table water will cost around €5-6 at a restaurant. So always say no and take your own!
9. Make hiking in Europe your go-to activity
While this may come at no surprise to most of you, but Europe has some of the best hikes in the world. The greatest part about hiking in Europe is that so long as you have a few basic essentials – it’s a free activity! All you need are a pair of decent shoes, a backpack and a water bottle.
All over Europe, you will find some picturesque hikes to suit all abilities and durations. I would have loved to do some of the multi-day hikes during my European summers, but I didn’t have the gear. So I stuck to the day hikes and was still blown away with the remoteness and beauty of what is the most inhabited continent on Earth. A few hikes I would recommend to you are the Black Lake Hike in Bohinj, Slovenia, Valbona to Theth trail in Albania and any of the trails around Durmitor National Park in Montenegro and Cappadocia, Turkey.
Something to love about hiking is that you get to explore a part of the country that very few people will ever see. Try sticking to trails that don’t have nearby access roads so you know you will be one of the only people out there. Even near big cities, there are always hiking options around.
10. Travel Europe on a lower budget by visiting lesser-known destinations
Ok, so I know I said picnics were my favourite budget travel tip, but I also love this one. Europe is such a busy place and the world is only getting more populated. Combine that with the ease of international travel and oh man we have an overcrowding situation. There are places around the world that are putting limits on the number of visitors they have each year just for this reason.
So rather than fight with the crowds for the famous Insta shot, why not find your own undiscovered one? The lesser-known spots are just as great, they just haven’t been gone viral on the screen just yet.
Eastern Europe has some incredible hidden gems and as a whole Eastern Europe is cheap to travel. Visiting these destinations will open your eyes so much more, you’ll be surprised at the kindness of strangers and have recommendations for friends and family of places they didn’t even know existed.
Many highlights from my year in Europe are places I had never heard of the year before. Places like Lake Ohrid, Durmitor National Park, Lake Bohinj, Sibiu, Cheneil and small villages in Switzerland. They were also some of the cheapest places we visited in Europe.
Questions on travelling Europe on the cheap?
I hope you enjoyed my tips on how to travel to Europe cheap and that it gave you some ideas on how you can save money when travelling in Europe. If you have any questions send them through below.
Use this if you need help to choose your next travel destination.