I had no idea how to plan for expenses during my 3-month backpacking trip through Europe a few years ago. I had worked a seasonal job in Alaska and the better part of a year serving coffee in order to save for it and didn’t want it to go to waste. Here are a few things I found out along the way to save money while backpacking Europe!
Get a Eurail pass
I think I spent around $1000 for a 3-month Eurail pass and it quickly paid for itself! Transportation is expensive when you want to cover a lot of ground. I really liked being able to take trains everywhere and watch the different countries roll by. There are a ton of different options whether it’s a continuous pass or just certain days out of the month. Since I took a train nearly every day, it was so worth it! I believe Eurail passes also count for the S-Bahns in German cities as well. And trains in Ireland have wifi! 🙂 Click on the banner at the top of the page!
Note: the UK doesn’t accept the passes so that would be a separate expense.
Cook your own food
This one is tough! It can be so much more appealing to splurge every night on drinks and gourmet dinners; I mean, how can you pass up handmade pasta in Italy, schnitzel in Germany, escargot in France, etc?? The important thing is to cook for yourself the majority of the time and allow yourself a meal out every so often. There’s cheap street food and cafes no matter where you go – offering falafel wraps, gyros, bratwurst, souvlaki, pastries, stuffed croissants (okay, now I’m getting hungry…) – and it’s usually more economical to go for lunch versus dinner. You can still get a taste of the culture this way without sacrificing your wallet completely.
Some of the grocery stores I frequented were Lidl and Aldi, or Bonus in Iceland. They were definitely the cheapest options! I’d usually stick to staples like bread, cheese, and meat for sandwiches, sometimes rice or pasta. Hostels almost always had a fridge to keep perishables.
Stay in hostels
Stop watching the horror movies and book that hostel already! The first night I stayed in one, I was so paranoid of theft I gathered all of my valuables in my pillow case. I quickly learned that hostel life is a culture and by the end of the trip all of my stuff was laid out in the open without a thought. I know there are exceptions but I never had to worry about my stuff being rifled through or messed with. A lot of places had storage lockers included for passports and peace of mind. Obviously always use your best judgment and don’t be stupid.
Sites like HostelWorld and HostelBookers were so helpful in finding a place to stay including prices and reviews. It’s a lot cheaper than booking through the actual hostel websites. You can choose between a more relaxing or party atmosphere and get really cool recommendations of what to see or do.
Nowadays I would give AirBnb a shot, especially in Iceland.
Go easy on the booze
I didn’t even think to budget for alcohol on this trip, and unfortunately I spent a huge chunk of change on it (sorry, Mom). If you choose to partake, either buy it from a grocery store and drink in your hostel/hotel or before going out. Your wallet will thank you! Take advantage of happy hour or check to see if your hostel offers any specials. If you choose to not drink, you’ll save yourself a lot of money and probably regret too 🙂
But be careful…
Above all, stay safe! There are definite scams out there waiting to prey on someone looking to save a few bucks. Book tours through reputable sources, read reviews, and listen to your gut.
It’s tempting to try Couchsurfing because of the price tag, but I know from personal experience there are sketchy people out there who somehow get good reviews. There were two different occasions when I tried Couchsurfing and should’ve listened to my better judgment. It’s better to spend the night in a cheap hostel than stay on a creep’s couch for free – it’s not worth the sacrifice to your safety.
Note: I have also talked to a number of people who’ve had zero problems Couchsurfing and saved a ton of money in the process – like I said, just be careful and don’t be blinded to a bad situation for budget’s sake.
How did you save money backpacking Europe?
How was your hostel or Couchsurfing experience?
What meals are worth splurging on?