Almost a year and a half ago, I bought myself a one way ticket to Madrid from the Philippines. As I was boarding the plane, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I did it. The whole shebang! Worked my ass off, saved, and finally, quit my job. I was finally off to do that great big adventure that I have always dreamed about. Everything was going according to plan, except as soon as I got there, I realized how expensive Europe truly was compared to Asia (what do you mean a bottled water costs P150?). Given that I was planning on traveling for a year, I needed a game plan. With a little scrimping, originality, not to mention starvation (I’m kidding!), here are ways on how I survived Europe on a backpacker’s budget.
Related: How to Plan your Dream Euro Trip
Find Hostels That Come with Free Breakfasts
Although this doesn’t seem like a big deal, hostels with free breakfasts can save you a whole lot of money. First off, it leaves you with only two meals to spend on, which is already a big save. In Paris, everything was so expensive that I literally couldn’t afford anything without feeling remotely guilty that I was blowing my budget. I stayed in a hostel that had a free buffet breakfast comprised of bread, jam, cereal, cheese and some ham. It wasn’t much but it definitely kept me full. I would eat loads during breakfast and even made some cheeky sandwiches which I stuffed in my bag for lunch. Yes, I was eating ham and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch, but I wasn’t complaining. I sat myself down by the Parc du Champ de Mars, savoring every bit of those sandwiches as I gazed upon the Eiffel Tower. Winning!
For Reference, here are a few places to stay in Europe that I recommend:
- Where to Stay in London
- Where to Stay in Rome
- Where to Stay in Madrid
- Where to Stay in Paris
- Where to Stay in Interlaken
Make Use of Free Walking Tours
A lot of places in Europe offer free walking tours which will give you a great overview of the city you are about to explore. Why pay for a tour when you can do it for free? SANDEMAN’s NEW Europe tours are highly recommended as I found them to be very knowledgeable with super fun guides. Keep in mind that there are loads of other tour companies out there so asking around in your hostel for good tour guide recommendations isn’t a bad idea either.
Although these walking tours are free, tips (in any amount) in the end of your tour is expected. I normally did walking tours on my very first day in a place to help me get my bearings on where to go and what to do. Plus, there is nothing better than enjoying a nice cold beer after a day of walking and sightseeing (I tried not to scrimp on beer!).
Insider Tip: Ask your guides for suggestions on where to go and what to do. Getting a local’s perspective is always the way to go!
Try Out Couch Surfing
One of your major costs while in Europe will be your accommodation. I remember being in Cinque Terre, Italy trying to book a hostel in Florence. I almost choked on my cappuccino when I saw that a dorm in a hostel cost about €25-30. This alone would eat a large chunk of my daily budget. I highly recommend Couchsurfing as not only will it save you money, it’s also a great way to discover the way locals live. I was very lucky to have awesome hosts in Granada, Spain, Versailles, France and in Rome, Italy. In fact, I’ve had some of the best times traveling while I was CouchSurfing. In Versaille, after a day of touring and exploring, we would come back to my hosts flat and would cook, eat, and drink lots of wine along with his neighbors and friends. My host in Rome was absolutely amazing treating me like an old friend rather than just someone sleeping in his house. I found that staying with local hosts was the perfect way to truly get to know a city. If the Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, you can opt to stay in an Airbnb instead. That way, you still get your privacy while also getting to experience the more local side of a city. (If you’re not yet on Airbnb, here is free $27 in travel credit so you can try it out!)
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Hit the Grocery and Go for a Picnic
Often times, eating in restaurants can cost you an arm and a leg. Try visiting local grocery stores and indulge in their drool worthy selection of cheese, cold cuts, bread, and wine. Buy supplies and go for a picnic. I can proudly say that I spent most of my time picnicking around Europe. In Spain, you could even get a bottle of wine for €1!!
Europe is home to many beautiful parks where you can sit and enjoy a leisurely lunch while enjoying the beautiful view. Most hostels allow you to use their kitchen as well so make use of it! I was lucky that I traveled Spain with a chef (best travel buddy ever!). Not only did we have gourmet picnics around Europe, we also had pretty kick ass hostel dinners.
Editor’s Note: Check out our Packing List Guide for Europe to make sure you don’t forget anything!
Plan Ahead and Save Money
Contrary to the I’m-backpacking-and-I-can-do-whatever-I-want mindset that some travelers have, if you want to save money, planning is essential. Check around for alternate routes, sometimes, booking a flight is cheaper than traveling by land. I was trying to figure out an exit route from Italy to Prague and both trains and buses were ridiculously expensive. I decided to take my chance and managed to find a flight for €30! Not only did save about €50, I also on time, giving me more days to spend exploring.
Do your research; look for deals, and possible discounts. RyanAir and EasyJet are just a few of the budget airlines that give good deals. Find out the museum schedules as most of them have days where you can go in for free. Bring a student ID, and ask for student discounts. I actually carried my University ID (even if it was from 10 years ago!!) all over Europe. I used this to get me student discounts in museums, tours, transportation, and other activities.
The last point is pretty straight forward. Be resourceful and find ways to save. Carry around a water bottle and refill this in fountains or in restaurants rather than buying bottled water. Bring your own laundry soap and wash your own clothes rather than going to a Laundromat.
There are so many ways to save money while still enjoying things around you. Make friends in hostels and split the cost of renting stuff. I rented a car while on Ischia Island in Italy with 5 people I met in the hostel for €25. For almost nothing, we had a car to ourselves as we explored the island and drove around hidden beaches. Yes, it was a crappy car and we even got a flat on our way back- but that’s not the point. In fact, it even added to the adventure and novelty of it all.
Although I sound like a complete cheapskate, I never let money (or the lack of) stop me from fully enjoying. In every country that I went to, I would make sure to have at least once nice meal where I got to try their traditional cuisine. I also spent money on the things that I really wanted to do. In fact, I pretty much blew my budget when I got to Italy because I couldn’t pass up the chance to eat pizza, pasta, and gelato every day. Yes, food is clearly my downfall. Bottom line is, I got to see awesome places and experience lots of amazing things that I never thought I would be able to do, despite being on a tight budget. Traveling through Europe on a budget is possible. You just have to be willing to be flexible, practical, and resourceful.
Looking for awesome trips around Europe? Check out a few of our 48-hour city break articles for some inspiration.
- City Break Guide: The Best of London in 48 Hours
- City Break Guide: The Best of Copenhagen in 48 Hours
- Rome City Break Guide: The Best of Rome in 48 Hours
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