EUROPE ON A BUDGET: 23 practical tips for Backpackers

Is Europe expensive to visit? YES. At the very least, the greater part of it is, especially by Southeast Asian standards. but it doesn’t mean that there are no ways to reduce travel costs.

When most people think of Europe travel, they picture full-service flights, pricey hotels, restaurant stops for every meal, and pre-arranged packaged tours. For the longest time, I used to think that way, too. but the truth is, the travel landscape has changed so much over the past few decades that generally expensive destinations like Europe can be enjoyed even by budget travelers.

Backpacking has been around for ages, but thanks to social media, more and more are becoming familiar with it. A shoe-string traveler can easily book a hostel dorm bed, prepare their own meals, join a free walking tour, and still have a full experience.

As of this writing, we have visited 28 countries in Europe. and whenever we’re backpacking across the subcontinent, we always get countless questions from our pals and followers about how we manage maximizing our stay while keeping our expenses low. We’ll try to answer all these questions. It’s going to be a pretty lengthy post, so without further ado, here we go.

WHAT’S covered IN THIS GUIDE?

BEFORE YOUR TRIP1. What countries in Europe are optimal for budget travelers?
2. When is the best time to travel to Europe?
3. how to apply for a visa?
4. Where to book low-cost flights to Europe?

WHERE TO STAY5. What are budget-friendly lodging options in Europe?
6. Which is the best: hotel, hostel or apartment (AirBnB)?
7. Where do you book low-cost hotels, hostels or apartments in Europe?
8. how do you choose where to stay in Europe?

FOOD EXPENSES9. how much is your food budget?
10. how do you keep food expenses low?

GETTING AROUND11. how to travel from one European city to another on a budget?
12. how to find low-cost flights around Europe?
13. are there activities you can enjoy for FREE?
14. Are free walking tours in Europe really free?

ALL about THE MONEY15. how do you get Euro?
17. Is it safe to exchange money in Europe?
16. Is it safe to withdraw cash from ATMs in Europe?
17. Is it better to pay cash or with a credit card?
18. Is tipping mandatory in Europe?

OTHER practical TIPS19. Internet connection in Europe
20. how much clothes do you pack when traveling to Europe?
21. beware of pickpockets!
22. beware of scams!
23. Timing is everything.

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BEFORE YOUR TRIP

1. What countries in Europe are optimal for budget travelers?

Not all countries in Europe are equal. It is incredibly diverse in terms of culture, socio-politics, and most especially, cost of living. Tourists moving from one country to another can feel it right away. Some are more expensive than others.

Nordic countries like Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark are generally considered expensive. Switzerland, too. many in the central and eastern regions, including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechia, and Poland, are very affordable. Western and southern states like France and Italy are in the middle of the price spectrum.

To give you a better grasp of it, let’s use something that many consider a reputable tool in comparing costs — McDonald’s big Mac. The world’s most expensive big Mac can be found in Switzerland, where it costs roughly US$6.70. compare that to the Ukraine, where you need to shell out only US$1.70 for the same burger. That’s almost 4x cheaper.

If you’re on a tight budget, limit your stay or try to avoid expensive countries and fill your itinerary with cheaper destinations. What I usually do when planning a long multi-country trip is to mix them all up. When I plot my route and I want to check out an expensive country, I try to balance things out by adding more pocket-friendly destinations.

2. When is the best time to travel to Europe?

So far, we have experienced traveling around Europe in summer, winter, and autumn.

Autumn. For us, the most optimal time to travel is the shoulder months of September-November. The prices are not that high and it’s not as crowded, but the weather is still relatively pleasant.

Summer. The summer months of June-August are considered high season (peak season) in most parts of Europe. because of the sunshiny skies, it is the most touristy time of the year. Hence, prices go up!

Winter. winter is when prices significantly drop. but it can get biting cold in the northern and mountainous parts of the continent. It is also important to note that tours and public transportation options are also limited in less populated areas like Iceland and the Greek Isles.

But the weather isn’t the only thing you need to take into account. Is there any event you would like to experience but can only be enjoyed at certain times of the year? If you would like to experience Oktoberfest, go to Munich in mid-September (but expect the hotel and tour rates to skyrocket)! If you want to see the northern Lights in the Nordic countries, check out between mid-September to mid-March.

3. how to apply for a visa?

The most popular countries in Europe are part of the Schengen agreement, which means you will need a Schengen Visa to get in.

The Schengen Visa is a travel document that allows the holder to enter any of the 26 states that are part of the Schengen agreement. think of it as an almost all-access pass to many countries in Europe. once you’re within the zone, there are no hard borders between countries (except in few spots), eliminating the hassle of having to apply for a visa for each individual country. These are the countries who are part of the Schengen Zone:

Austria
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

But hold your horses. You can’t apply just anywhere. You need to figure out which embassy to lodge your application, and it will depend on the purpose of your trip or your overall European itinerary. The rule is, you should apply at the embassy of the country where you will stay the longest.

But not all embassies are the same. The Spanish and Italian embassies are widely regarded as the strictest of them all, while the Dutch and Austrian Embassies the most considerate and forgiving.

We have experienced applying for a Schengen visa at the following embassies:

via French Embassy

via German Embassy

via Greek Embassy

via Italian Embassy

If you’re visiting countries outside Schengen zone, make sure you have the corresponding visa. countries that require a separate visa include (but are not limited to) the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Some non-Schengen countries will accept your Schengen visa as long as it is still valid and allows you multiple entry. These include Croatia, Montenegro, Andorra, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania. always check with the embassy of that country to be safe.

4. Where to book low-cost flights to Europe?

Direct flights are usually expensive. most airlines make a stop elsewhere. Qatar Airways usually have a stop in Doha, Emirates in Dubai, Turkish Airlines in Istanbul.

Some of the cheapest flights to Europe you will find are offered by Scoot, a Singapore-based budget airline. They have direct flights from Singapore to Athens and Berlin.

If you’re coming from the Philippines or other parts of Southeast Asia, you can book with value Alliance, an alliance of low-cost carriers in the region including Cebu Pacific Air, Jeju Air, Nok Air, NokScoot, and Scoot!

✅ search FOR low-cost FLIGHTS TO ATHENS HERE!

This section is brought to you by value Alliance, but even if it weren’t, they still offer the cheapest flights to Europe, so consider taking a look.

WHERE TO STAY

5. What are budget-friendly lodging options in Europe?

When it comes to where to stay, most tourists think of full-service hotels. but there are a lot of other types of accommodations available. There are no-frills hotels, hostels, dorms, and AirBnB options!

We paid only 37 euro per night for this room. and it can accommodate up to 4 pax.
At this point, you should already know if you’re traveling alone or part of a group. This will affect your expenses and accommodation choices significantly.

If you’re traveling alone and you’re concerned about the budget, consider booking dorm beds. It’s waaay cheaper than booking a private room. (Even single rooms can be pricey.) It’s also a terrific way to meet other travelers and make new friends. We used to book dorm beds a lot but we now snore scandalously (LOL) so we stay in a private room.

If you’re a pair, you may consider booking two dorm beds or a private room, depends on the situation. If you’re a duo wanting to meet people, the dorm is still a good choice. If you’re a couple on a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, my god, please get a private room (haha!). Note, though, that in many hostels, the bedrooms may be private but the toilet and bath are sometimes shared. check the arrangement before booking.

If you’re a group of three, know that Triple rooms are not uncommon in Europe. You may also check their policy on extra person on Double/Twin rooms. It’s a terrific way to save!

The cost of a room or a bed also varies greatly from city to city. For example, in Prague, we stayed in a centrally-located hotel for only €37 per night. That’s only around €18 per person. but in Reykjavik, even dorm beds are much more expensive.

6. Which is the best: hotel, hostel or apartment (AirBnB)?

What’s best for you depends on your travel style and preferences.

I personally prefer hostels because we enjoy the community spirit and meeting other travelers. but at the end of the day, our primary considerations are the price, cleanliness and location more than the type of accommodation. If we find a well-reviewed, budget-friendly, and centrally located property, we will book it regardless of whether it’s a hostel, hotel or apartment.

To demonstrate it, on our recent Euro trip, we stayed at a budget hotel in Nice, a hostel in Milan, an apartment in Bologna. On our previous trip, we stayed at a budget hotel in Paris, a hostel in Brussels, and an AirBnB in Iceland. the best for us is what’s in a terrific location and what amenities they have that fills our specific needs at the time, which I will discuss in the next section.

7. Where do you book low-cost hotels, hostels or apartments in Europe?

We book accommodations on Agoda or Booking.com.

Our reasons:

They offer all types of accommodations. They have hotels, hostels, inns, dorms and apartments. It’s just easier to search and compare.

They offer discounts and freebies. Sometimes, Booking.com also gifts loyal customers free airport transfers. We have been awarded free taxi from the airport four times. I don’t know what their criteria are, but hey, we’re just happy about it. Hahaha.

If you have yet to secure a visa, Booking.com offers free CANCELLATION with many properties.

We’re also part of their affiliate network! By booking with them through the following links, you’ll help keep this website free for all.

Book with Agoda

Book with Booking.com

8. how do you choose where to stay in Europe?

Aside from the price, our primary consideration is the location. We also take into consideration the amenities.

Great location. You’ll learn that most low-cost properties are situated outside the city center and they’re very tempting. but for us, if we can find a place that is in the old town or city center, we would pick that even if it’s a little bit pricier. staying in the center means you have easy access to the main attractions and transportation. If we know we’re going to take the train or bus a lot, we ensure our hostel is near a station. If you stay far from the center, you also have to consider the money and time it takes to get to the places you want to visit. These fares may be little but they can add up, and you might still end up paying more than if you stayed in the center.

Kitchen amenities. If you’re traveling long term, eating out at restaurants for every single meal will cost you loads of money. You’ll save a lot by preparing your own meal or joining forces with other travelers every now and then. We like eating out at local restaurants but not for every meal. We balance it out by hitting the kitchen sometimes. other hostels also share other ingredients left by previous guests and offer them for free.

Microwave and refrigerator. If you can’t find a place with an open kitchen, choose a room with a microwave and ref. This will allow you to buy low-cost cooked meals, store the some of them for later, and reheat them in your room.

Laundry amenities. If we’re traveling for weeks or months, we also make sure we stay at a hostel or apartment with a washing machine every other stop. This way, we don’t need to hit the laundromat or pay for laundry services. This also allows us to travel light.

FOOD EXPENSES

9. how much is your food budget?

We keep daily FOOD expenses below €20 per person.

We’re the type of travelers who enjoy eating out at restaurants to try local cuisine. You’ll be surprised to learn that there are a lot of low-cost restos in Europe, even in expensive cities. You just need to make an effort to find them.

This delicious cacio e pepe in Rome costs only 10 euro.
Stay away from restaurants in touristy areas. They are overpriced and cater mostly to tourists. eat where locals eat. sometimes all you need is walk for 2 minutes onto inner alleys and you’ll find a good resto that’s more pocket-friendly.

But we don’t eat out at restaurants for every single meal. We give ourselves a 20-euro budget per day and we’re very flexible with it. It’s all about balance. For example, if I spend €13 at a restaurant for lunch, I’m left with only €7.

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