I was pretty proud of my budgeting tactics during my five-week stint in Europe. As we all know, I was supposed to be in India for five weeks and Europe for only ten days, but things changed and I found myself having to reassess my funds and spending habits.
Europe is no India; it’s definitely expensive. BUT! it wasn’t as bad as I initially anticipated.
I had always wanted to travel to Europe but kept thinking I couldn’t afford it, like it was just completely out-of-reach, unreasonably crazy over there. I was wrong. Europe is do-able on a budget, sure, but you need to be a bit careful.
It’s worth noting that I spent most of my five weeks in Germany. Most of the advice I have to share regarding my experience in Europe is relevant to those traveling in or through Germany. I also went to Paris, Amsterdam, and London.
No, of course I didn’t see the whole continent (or even anything close to that) but I got to go everywhere I wanted to go and, more importantly, eat everything I wanted to eat.
I spent, on average, 38 euro a day. Not the thriftiest, but also not the most expensive. I just converted it to Thai baht to help put things in perspective: in Thailand I spent about 1000 baht a day. I spent about 1500 baht a day in Europe. Eh, not bad, right?
Without further ado…
How I traveled Europe for cheap:
1. I didn’t try to see everything. I didn’t even try to see things, just people.
I mentioned this concept before, but basically after coping with a bit of traveler’s fatigue and disillusionment, I decided to make my Europe stint about visiting friends instead of about visiting monuments or cafes. I didn’t invest in a guidebook or even read any travel literature online; I just decided to visit people I knew and let them show me their cities from their perspectives.
When I was on my own in London (the only place I went to “on my own”), I did the free walking tour to see the usual sites, and, on a separate occasion, explored the Camden area by foot. Walking is a great way to save money, get exercise, and see a new city – but you knew that :)
2. I spent time doing a work exchange and living for free
There are two main websites I know of for work exchanges. (A work exchange is when you help out at a farm, home, business, etc in exchange for free accommodation and/or free food.) I chose to sign up for HelpX instead of Workaway because it has a feature wherein you can tell how recently a potential host has logged in or updated his or her profile. There’s also WOOFing which is a similar concept but only includes placements on organic farms. Through HelpX I was able to secure a work exchange in a hostel in Füssen. It was admittedly a lot of hard work, but such a nice way to break up what-can-sometimes-feel-like the aimlessness of long-term travel.
3. I didn’t pay for accommodation. Ever.
(JUST KIDDING I DID PAY FOR A HOSTEL WHEN I STAYED IN LONDON FOR THREE NIGHTS)
Between working at the hostel in Fussen, staying with friends, and couchsurfing, I never found myself needing to pay for a place to rest my head. If you don’t know anyone in Europe, couch surf and then you will! I loved my experiences couchsurfing; they restored my faith in the kindness of strangers. People are really really nice and generous if you just give them a chance to be!
4. I shopped at Primark, H&M, and the grocery store
If, like me, you’ve just come from India and you have nothing appropriate to wear in the chilly drizzle of the Bavarian Alps, I highly recommend Primark. I got a pair of jeans for 5€, a pair of black sneakers for 3€, a shirt for 1€ etc. H&M is another good option if there’s no Primark around but it’s not as cheap. And, obviously, don’t eat all your meals out! Grocery stores are such a good way to stretch out your food money. I found Netto in Germany to be a really cheap one.
5. I used the following strategies to get from one place to another:
One of the largest expenses when traveling in Europe is transportation. Even though everything is relatively close, a two hour train ride can cost upwards of 20€. If you have the luxury of booking things ahead of time, you can shop around for cheap flights. They do exist but it’s best if your itinerary is fairly flexible and you’re buying your tickets 2 or 3 months in advance. Otherwise, if you’re like me and everything is happening last-minute, I recommend looking at ridesharing, trains, and buses.
Skyscanner is pretty extensive. I’ve used it for all of my international flights so far, but it doesn’t seem to have the European budget airlines on there.
Whichbudget.com seems to have a lot of flight deals 2 or 3 months ahead of time. I’ve never used the site though.
Mitfahrgelegenheit.de is a pretty popular ridesharing website in Germany. I’ve used their UK version, and it appears as though they have it in other countries as well. Either way, you’ll need a phone number to create a log-in and contact drivers, and you’ll probably need an online translator to figure out what they’re saying if you’re on the German site, but I just had my German friends help me and it was totally worth it.
BlaBlaCar has just the silliest name, but is a slicker site to navigate, posts tend to be in English, and it seems to cover more European ground. You still need a phone number. I used this site to get from Paris to Amsterdam and it worked out great!
You can always post on a city’s page on couchsurfing and see if anyone is driving the route you’re trying to take.
Generally speaking, trains in Europe are effing expensive. I suggest shopping ahead here for sure.
The main website for the German rail is DB.de. They have specials on there if you look at db europa spezial but, again, you have to be looking a few months ahead of time. For last minute train deals, there’s a website called ltur.com. They have train tickets for 26€ that you can book up to a week in advance of your travel day. Just navigate to “bahn” on the top of the page. Voyages-sncf.com is another place to look for last-minute train deals.
If you’re traveling around within Germany, there are some group specials you can take advantage of. If you’re traveling in Bavaria, there’s the Bavaria ticket which can be used for up to 5 people at once. It was about 40€ for five people when I went from Füssen to Munich, so we each only paid 8€. There are also day passes for groups that cover all forms of public transportation within a certain city radius within a certain time frame (ie 24 hours). Just check the automat (machine) at the train station or ask at an info point if you need help.
And then of course there’s the fact that no one ever asks to see your ticket when you’re using German public transportation. So you could just not buy one. I only recommend this strategy for local train rides.
Last but not least, buses can serve as a last resort. I ended up riding more buses than I intended (or wanted) to.
Well, that’s all I got for now. Just remember: there’s usually a cheaper way if you just ask!!