10 Tips for Backpacking Europe on a Budget

The first tip for backpacking Europe on a budget is to go to South East Asia instead. Ha! Well, I’m half kidding. Ideally it’s a good idea to plan trips to locations where the exchange rate is in your favor, but you might wind up on a flight to London and just have to figure it out. This happened to me last year when I flew to the UK for a two week trip with very little money. What did I do? Had a great time and trusted that it would all work out.

1. Bring snacks. 

My trip was 16 days in total, so I packed 16 Lara Bars giving me 2 weeks worth of breakfasts. 

Pair that with an organic apple or banana from a local grocery store and I’ve spent next to nothing for one meal of the day. I also know plane food to be underwhelming and limited in GF/Vegan options, so I usually pack extra goodies for the flight over too (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, fresh fruit, chocolate, bliss balls, etc.).

2. Carry a water bottle

It's worth the weight in your bag because saves on plastic and dollars.

3. Couch Surf

After 15 nights in Europe, I hadn’t spent a single Euro on accommodations. 

Announce your travel plans on Facebook and that you’re looking for a place to crash. Even if you don’t have (or don’t think you have) any friends in that city, you might be surprised what connections come from asking. If nothing pops up, the next best option for free accommodation is couchsurfing.com. Set up your free profile making sure to take your time and be thoughtful. Most importantly, choose your couches wisely and trust your intuition. I’ve surfed couches with all types of folks, but I always search for women first. I’ve had wonderful and memorable experiences allowing me to connect with local cultures in a unique way. *Tip* It’s nice to give a little something to your host when couch-surfing, though never expected. I’ll make an extra large dinner to share with the house or treat my host to coffee the next morning.

4. Cook your own meals

If you have access to a kitchen, use it!

I like walking to the closest grocery store because it helps me get a feel for the neighborhood, which will come in handy when trying to navigate in the coming days. I also check the discount bins for organic produce and other essentials. It’s also nice to have some fruit and nuts on hand for long train rides, unexpected late nights, etc.

5. Use public transit

Even after lots of practice, I still dislike navigating a new city via public transportation. Taking an Uber can often be faster and cheaper if split between a group of 3 or more travelers, but this isn’t true if you’re traveling alone. In that case, public transport saves the most money for sure. 

Google your route beforehand so you know what’s coming in regards to distance and time. It’s good to read a bit on how to use the bus/metro/taxis before arriving at the airport, but showing up and asking around will work too. Apps like Google Maps and Maps.me allow you to download city areas into “offline mode”. Do be sure to download the maps while you still have Wifi, but these apps can certainly help when you don’t have data. Another trick for getting around without data is searching your route via Google Maps while at a cafe and then simply take screenshots or being careful not to refresh the page. 

6. Shop second hand

If you realize you’ve left an important item out of your backpack, try to live without it. If that’s not an option, always check thrift stores before buying new. Except underwear...though I recommend living without them in general.

7. Multi-city tickets & layover deals

Multi-city plane tickets allow you to choose two locations to visit with varying amounts of time between flights. It’s not always a better deal, but it can be. Worth checking. Another trick is to book a ticket to a large (more affordable) city that has a layover in your actual destination of choice. As long as you haven’t checked any bags, just get off the flight at the layover location and skip the second part of the flight. This can be a good way to save money on a ticket, but again, only if you’re not checking your luggage. Even with a cheap flight, there is probably a cheaper bus or train if time is less of an issue. 

And f*** EasyJet.

8. Student ID

If you’re a student (or were a student) and still have your College ID laying around, be sure to bring it along even if it’s expired. I’ve gotten discounted movie tickets and lowered admission fees at lots of places just because I asked. By the way, all national museums in the UK are free, as is the daily newspaper. 

9. Search for free events

If I find myself in a new city with no plans, I’ll see whats going on around town. You can visit coffee shops and look at the community boards, pick up a local magazine, or start a conversation with someone and ask! Online is great too- check FB events or Google “Amsterdam Free Events Today Thursday January 4th”. 

10. Maximize your cafe or museum visit

Is it cold and rainy? Want a coffee? Also need to use Wifi to schedule your next Couch-Surf or buy a bus ticket? Before I go to a cafe for an (often) overpriced coffee, I plan out how long I can stay there and how much work I can get done. I bring chargers and sometimes a sneaky snack to minimize money spent. If you order a tea, most places will refill your mug with hot water again which doubles your warm beverage for no extra cost. I will splurge on a snack if they have GF vegan food because it’ll be yummy and I like to support those menu choices. Libraries and big book stores can also be nice places to charge your phone and relax for a bit, sometimes for free!

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