How to travel Europe on a budget: Nine essential tips

It’s true: Europe is not the cheapest destination in the world. You’re not going to spend time in London and save money. You’re not going to walk away from Amsterdam with a whole lot of extra cash in your pocket.

That said, it is possible to travel Europe on a strict budget and still get so much out of this diverse, historic and exciting continent. With a few tips and tricks, and a cutting corner wherever possible, you can experience Europe without breaking the bank.

Manage your money

The good news for traveling through Europe is that you will mostly be using the one currency – euros – so you can get out a large wad of cash and use it wherever you go (avoiding excess bank fees). The thing is, however, that much like Australia, many countries in Europe work on a mostly cash-free basis now, with tap-and-go card payments very much the norm.

To utilize these methods of payment without being hit with a heap of fees, ensure you have a debit or credit card that doesn’t attract foreign transaction or conversion fees (there are multiple in Australia).

Book flights well in advance

One of the biggest expenses Australian travelers will be hit with for a European holiday is the airfare. Prices are skyrocketing at the moment, and the best way to get around that is to book well in advance. We’re talking at least six months, and do your research with aggregator websites to find the cheapest routes and the best times to travel.

You can book some attractions in advance too – say, entry to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, ​​or the Coliseum in Rome – and save a few euros.

Do a tour

Contiki tours now offer a slower pace and more free time to explore on your own.

Contiki tours now offer a slower pace and more free time to explore on your own.

This may seem counter-intuitive; however, doing a budget tour in Europe can actually save you plenty of money, particularly if you want to move around a lot, and see numerous destinations and attractions in a short space of time. A tour can also make budgeting a lot easier.

Camp (or stay in a hostel)

Back in the day – we’re talking the 1980s and 90s – everyone used to camp in Europe. It was the accepted way to travel on a budget. That’s not so much the case anymore, but the campsites remain, and they represent a very cheap option for accommodation. Even if you aren’t actually pitching a tent, cabin accommodation at campsites in the likes of Rome, Florence, Nice, Munich and more is very affordable, if a little out of the way.

If you don’t fancy camping, there are always hostels, which these days tend to be clean and modern, offering a great social atmosphere, plus facilities to cook your own food.

Head east

Empty Ksamil Beach - Butrint National Park, Sarande, Southern Albania, Europe credit: istock one time use for Traveler only

Ksamil Beach in southern Albania. Photo: iStock

Remember: Europe isn’t just France, Italy and Spain. Europe is also Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary and more. And these eastern states tend to be far cheaper – while still offering all of the cultural and scenic wonders you could hope for – than their western counterparts.

If you want to travel Europe, but don’t spend the money you would associate with a European odyssey, head east.

Visit secondary destinations

The Calanques National Park near Marseille in France

The Calanques National Park near Marseille in France. Photo: iStock

Perhaps you’re really set on the idea of ​​visiting the big-hitters, France and Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and so on. It’s still possible to save money in these places. The key is to avoid the big, tourist-heavy cities – Paris, Venice, Florence, Munich, Amsterdam – and instead visit nearby centers that offer similar experiences for a fraction of the price.

These “secondary destinations” include the likes of Lyon, Marseilles, Bologna, Verona, Cologne, Utrecht and many more.

Go to secondary festivals

Yes, Oktoberfest is an amazing festival, but it’s also very popular and very expensive to attend. Instead, try a different German beer festival: say, the Cannstatter Wasen, a huge celebration in Stuttgart, or Freimarkt, a great event in Bremen.

There are similar alternatives to La Tomatina and the San Fermin festival in Spain – this is a country with an almost endless number of cultural celebrations – as well as music festivals to rival Glastonbury and Exit Festivals.

Off-peak travel

Try to avoid summer in Europe if you can – that’s when prices are highest for everything. Winter can be a great time in southern Europe, although it is seriously prohibitively cold and dark in the north, while the shoulder seasons, autumn and spring, are pretty much perfect wherever you go. Prices are lower and crowds are smaller. perfection.

Shop in markets (or supermarkets)

Shot of a woman buying fruit and vegetables at a market in a foreign city credit: istock one time use for Traveler only

Photo: iStock

There’s a conundrum for budget travelers in Europe: obviously you want to eat local food, because that’s such a huge part of the experience, but at the same time you can’t afford to be dining out three times a day.

The answer is to do your food shopping at local markets, and cook at your hostel or other accommodation. That way you’re sampling local produce, supporting the local economy, while also avoiding expensive restaurant meals.

If you’re hoping to drink on the cheap, buy local beer and wine from a supermarket – in Europe they’re extremely affordable.