HOW TO: Travel Europe Cheap

Airport Moment

There are a few tricks to traveling. I think one of the most important tricks is using your money wisely and traveling smart.

Last summer I spent two and a half months traveling through Europe, slowly bleeding money and counting pennies because of it! I think I learnt a lot; so today, I’m going to give you five easy tips to remember when on your dream Europe adventure.

1) Travel by bus or train (or book your planes veryyyyyy early)

Flight prices will rise and rise and rise in Europe, so if you want to travel with an adequate bag and not stress, use the trains and buses. Europe has one of the best on-ground transport systems on any continent. Personally I used trains and buses interchangeably.

Europe has this thing called Eurolines which I LOVED. You can take 2 suitcases under the bus, plus carry on. You have great views of the countryside and get to see random little villages. Plus, they’re generally cheaper if you are looking for last minute tickets.

Of course, I have to mention EuRail. Europe has a great system of trains that can take you basically anywhere you want to go. I didn’t do this but you can get tickets that will allow you to travel 5 to 8 days out of a 2 month period. These will generally cost around $450 but are quite cost effective and convenient if it fits your holiday plans.

2) Check multiple sources (for tickets)

One memorable moment was when I figured out going from the German to the Italian website for a bus company would save me 15 euros. If you’re backpacking that’s like a whole extra night somewhere. Don’t take the first price you find, compare websites for the cheapest trip, or look for the same route and time at multiple places.

Also, as I explained in my last blog, use sites such as STA and Monomondo to find cheap flights. They will compare all the airlines for you!

But, just make sure it looks legit, you don’t want to be stranded at a random bus stop in the middle of nowhere!

3) Always use relevant discounts!

I am a student and a youth (under 26), so a lot of places and transport will have slightly cheaper tickets. Using relevant concessions can save a lot! i.e. the time I got a first class train to Venice for the cost of slightly cheaper than a normal adult in 2nd class. It was worth it.

So moving on from the transport tips,

4) Stay at Hostels (or Courchsurf!)

I recommend staying in hostels when possible. They are less expensive, friendly, and often provide great cheap or free breakfast. You can find hostels at sites such as HostelWorld or Hostel Bookers. What is great about these sites is that you can look at reviews and they have percentage ratings. Personally I won’t stay in a hostel under 80%.

But, there are some people who shouldn’t stay in hostels. When in Paris last July, I found my hostel and checked in. I stepped into my room and was greeted by 5 panicked Australian girls frantically packing their bags and talking to their parents on long distance phone calls. I recommend staying in hostels but please know what you’re paying for. These girls were expecting luxury and what they got was bunkbeds, a pub at the bottom and a slightly crazy hotel feel. To me it was actually one of the nicer hostels I had stayed in, to them it was horrible and not their ‘dream’ Parisian experience.

Also, Couchsurfing is a great experience if you are up for it! Basically, people offer up their couch, floor space or sometimes, a bed, where you can sleep and wake up to the local experience. You make an account just like your facebook (but less personal!) and send messages to people you want to stay with. They decide based on your profile and previous reviews. It is a great experience if you want to know the ins and outs of a city and don’t mind sleeping on someones floor. I couchsurfed in Montreal, Canada and had some amazing chats with my host in their tiny but amazing apartment.

Ok, so after all of that I give you

5) Don’t eat where the tourists eat.

Seriously guys, C’monnnnn. Don’t do it. You know you are going to pay double or triple the cost and in places such as Italy they will charge you a huge cost simply for sitting in the restaurant, and yes that is on top of the 20 Euro pasta. Go find some random cafe with lots of yelling and laughing Italians. Drink, be merry and spend way less than the tourists being tricked into poor quality and poor service in the main square.

Even better, grab breakfast, lunch and/or dinner from the supermarket! A lot cheaper and you can control how much and how healthy you want to eat.

Alright, so that is my five tips to traveling Europe cheap! There are, of course, a lot more but these are the common sense ones that are not so obvious to newbies. Let me know your tricks to traveling cheap in the comments below.

Xo Casey

TOP 10: Items To Take Backpacking Europe

10. A good bag

Buy a bag you are happy with. Something you can carry up the stairs of a three story hostel in London or walk across cobblestone in Italy. I met many girls on my trip with massive bags who complained about how difficult it was to carry them in subways and up stairs; and these were backpacks! Look at the reviews, try find recommendations from people who have done the trip you’re doing. I bought a backpack after I noticed one of the reviews talking about how well it lasted on their 3 month trip to Europe; perfect!

backpack

9. A reusable shopping bag

The amount of times I ended up carrying breakable, hole filled plastic bags from random grocery stores is astounding. I would always go and buy some bread and basics before any trips on a train or bus and then carry them simply because it meant super easy access on a possibly crowded train/bus. Having a small carry bag/ reusable shopping bag is also great for going between climates and needing to take off jumpers or put them on. You can also use this on the way home as a second carry-on for the plane if you have bought a bit too much!

Reusable shopping bags are great for easy access to snacks and jackets on trains and buses
Reusable shopping bags are great for easy access to snacks and jackets on trains and buses

8. A quick dry towel – a big one!

It’s always exciting when your hostel rents out towels cheap but occasionally they just won’t have them, or they will be an exorbitant price. Solution: bring your own! But bringing a big fluffy towel is not good when you only have limited space. The quick dry towel works great and folds into a tiny packet – like this one! Buy one that is large, especially if you are female/ have long hair.

$19.99 from Kathmandu AU
$19.99 from Kathmandu AU

7. A Powerboard

Buy one before you leave home. There are many hostels across Europe that have one socket for a room of 8 to 20 people. If you have a small powerboard you will be the King/Queen of the room, and I am dead serious about that. It’s also very useful when stopping in cafes so you can quickly charge, your phone/ table/ electronic devices all at once. Just don’t forget the adapter! P.S. Europe, Switzerland and England each have different plugs

8710 - Power Board 4

6. A comfortable neck pillow

I constantly asked myself whether I should get a neck pillow, but by the time I realised I should, I just didn’t have the money to get a good one. Having one is the difference between sleeping and not sleeping on that 20 hour bus to Amsterdam. If you’re smart you can grab one with a clip that is easily attached to your backpack until you need to use it.

neckpillow

5. Washing Powder

This is a bit of a hit or miss. Something that is essential in some places and unnecessary in others. In an Italian hostel I was told they would have no washing powder that day and to please come back tomorrow. In London it was included in the price of using the machine. It is a good idea to put a bit in a little Ziploc bag and then chuck it in with your toiletries. This can be great when you realise you have no undies and need to wash them ASAP. Sinks are your friends.

Keeping a little bit can save you from having to wear dirty undies or clothing.
Keeping a little bit can save you from having to wear dirty undies or clothing.

4. Flip flops/ thongs

I’m Australian so I’m going to call them thongs and everyone can just deal. These are ESSENTIAL. Each hostel shower has had thousands upon thousands of people in there, you have no clue what could be in those drains. You do not want to spent precious money on going to a doctor for a fungal infection (ick).

DON'T forget these!
DON’T forget these!

3. A good camera lens!

I’m a (amateur) photographer so having good camera equipment with me is a must. I bought along two lenses that were great at close range and with people but not fabulous for the intricate details of European architecture. It is a good idea to have a capable lens with a wide focal length range, for example 50-200mm. Going with cheaper, less well-known brands (Pentax, Tamron, etc.) is a great way to save money; just make sure to look at reviews on the internet!

An example of a lens I might use
An example of a lens I might use

2. Emergency Money

Keep some money separate, either in a compartment in your valuables and/or online in an account you can easily access. There may be a time that you desperately need cash because something has gone horribly wrong. An overbooked hostel, a lost visa, a missed plane; all can be solved if you just keep enough emergency cash to deal with them.

A small stash of money can save you in an emergency situation. Make sure to keep it safe and secure though!
A small stash of money can save you in an emergency situation. Make sure to keep it safe and secure though!

1. A Lock!!!

I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who have had stuff stolen in hostel dorms. Well, in three months backpacking Europe I didn’t have a single thing stolen. I bought a trusty lock when I started in Chicago and it lasted me until I unlocked my locker on my final day in London. It is not about locking your whole bag away in the lockers; what is important is putting every item of value that you own into that locker in your room. If the hostel doesn’t supply one ask if they have secure places at reception to leave a laptop or passport when you go out.

A good lock can be the difference between a good and bad trip
A good lock can be the difference between a good and bad trip