How to actually travel on the cheap – Europe

So by now most of you will have already read a tonne of travel hacks on how to bag cheap flights, and compare deals online.

So now comes the next step, extending your stay and maximising your money.

In this post I want to share with you how to make the most of backpacking on the cheap, particularly across one of the worlds more expensive continents.

Europe as a whole (especially Western) can be a pretty expensive and exhaustive place to be mindful of the cash but with a few of my tried and tested steps, I have put together some actual tips to stretch your cash a little further.

Five weeks in and enjoying a free walking tour of Vienna, Austria.

1. Be Realistic

Depending on which countries you visit will largely play a role in your budget. The trick is to always overestimate.

2. Hostel life

If Air-b&b isn’t your thing and you worry about last minute cancellations and flaky hosts, hostels will become your best friends.

Europe is rammed with thousands of Hostels to choose from, from art hostels, party hostels and so on.

My advice when booking a hostel is to go firstly by rating and then price, although many budget hostels have great ratings.

The ratings really depend on how picky you are but if you plan to spend 80% out exploring, then a locker, clean bed and shower will do just about everyone fine. I usually draw the line at a 7.9 out of 10 score when booking.

Many hostels will also be conveniently located nearby major trains and bus stations, so if you do want to save on added transport fees do your research and check out the distances from city centres and main attractions, your hostel may only be a 500 meter walk away and won’t require spending a fortune in transport costs. Sweet!

City Passes

City Passes are a great way to take the hassle out of buying multiple tickets as well as fumbling around with change. They also include fairly generous discounts and free passes to many attractions, eateries and of course transportation.

They free up a little more of your budget which certainly helps to stretch it further.

However be sure to plan out what you wish to see and where to travel to really maximise the benefits of the city pass, some sights and attractions may be free already.

Definitely do some research beforehand to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.

Here are some examples of city passes:

Oslo Pass – The Oslo pass can be bought in either 24, 48 and 72 hour passes. This gives you free entry to 30 museums such as the Viking ship museum, Nordic Folklore museum as well as free travel on all public transport (like the mini ferry to Bygdøy) discounts on sightseeing, restaurants, shops and other entertainment.

Berlin Welcome Card – Similar to the Oslo Pass, transportation is covered within zones A,B,C dependant upon the type of pass. Whilst in Berlin I opted for the cheapest option and purchased the Zones A/B 48 hour pass as everything I wanted to see was right within these zones.

Tip* Zones A and B passes include airport transport to and from Airport Tegel (TXL)

Zones A, B and C passes include airport transport to and from Airport Schönefeld (SFX) and Airport Tegel (TXL)

It’s always worth checking out of your destination of choice offers some variant of the city pass and if not, it never hurts to look into weekly bus/train passes.

Accommodation

Although there are some dedicated Hostel booking sites out there like Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, I do encourage you to check out other popular booking sites such as Booking.com, Trivago and my personal favourite Agoda.

Booking.com

It’s free to sign up, easy to use and just after 2 bookings you are automatically added to their Genius membership. Being a Genius Member includes extra perks such as special deals, free city maps and discounts on attractions.

When you become a Genius Member you can refer and earn back up to £15 on your next booking. So why not use it to your advantage.

Chances are you will meet other travellers who also use Booking.com so it’s definitely worth suggesting that you exchange booking links.

For each booking and completed stay through your link you will redeem £15 deposited straight back into your bank account.

The traveller who books through your link will also receive the same and redeem £15 back into their accounts too.

….and vice versa if you book through their links. (£15 each)

I hope that makes sense.

I booked a €5 hostel stay during a stop over between Ljubljana and Prague through a link one of my traveller friends sent me, we both received £15 back after I completed my stay. I was £10 up and with that it covered my 2 nights at Wild Elephants hostel in Bratislava. Mini win!

Although it doesn’t sound much, every penny counts for the budget minded and it will certainly add up when trying to extend your stay.

In total I have accumulated £60 in Booking.com redemptions which from looking at the prices of hostels around Krakow, Poland, would easily cover a weeks worth of budget hostel accommodation.

Agoda

An alternative to Booking.com and also my secret weapon. Agoda will often hold daily flash sales and accommodation discounts of up to 80% off. In few cases I have even found the same hostels on Agoda to be anything between €5 and €20 cheaper than Booking.com or Hostelworld.

Below is just a small example but it’s a no brainer really.

Paris – 1st to 2nd December – Booking.com

Paris – 1st to 2nd December – Agoda

Tip* If possible try to book a hostel which includes free breakfast. If not add this option to your filters and compare any additional cost as sometimes just adding the breakfast option can ramp up the prices. Some hostels even charge up to €7 a day for breakfast.

Would it be cheaper to go grocery shopping and buy your own milk/bread/cereal instead?

3. Transport

Go Euro

My one stop for all train, coach and flight comparisons.

All you do is input your current destination, where you would like to go on X date and it will do all the leg work for you. Giving you an extensive list of options, times and prices. Another added perk is that it tells you the duration of travel so you can plan accordingly. (I always aim for a 1/2pm arrival so when i reach my hostel i’m not hanging around for check-in, even though most hostels let you store your bags beforehand)

You may find a coach which is €1 more but gets you there 2.5 hours earlier, the time and choice is yours.

Flixbus

Flixbus offers super affordable coach travel through an extensive network across Europe. They’re clean, comfortable and equipped with free WiFi, charging outlets and onboard WC. This is the cheapest way to get around Europe and least stressful as the hassle is all done for you… just don’t forget your ticket and passport!

Regiojet

Another budget coach provider, again similar to Flixbus but with added freebies such as WiFi, bottled water and magazines on board. Take advantage of the breaks inbetween and stretch your legs!

Night Coaches

Both Regiojet and Flixbus amongst other train providers offer night travel, so if you want to save even further on hostels, just grab your neck pillow and sleep throughout the journey, by the time you arrive it will be time for some breakfast. 😊

(Plus you will learn to fall asleep just about anywhere, including the coach)

Tip* Be sure to browse the flyers scattered around hostels and train/bus stations. I found these 10% off Flixbus coupons at my hostel in Zagreb so I grabbed a few. All you do is input the discount code before paying on the Flixbus app and you’ve saved yourself a few €.

A small saving… but pays for a couple of beers in Bratislava. 😉

I usually save these for longer more costly coach rides to really maximise the discount.

4. Extending your stay

Whilst bagging a great deal online is the way to go, what most hostels don’t tell you is that if you check the prices on their websites and happen to find a cheaper deal elsewhere, the hostel/reception will match that price.

Better still if you get to know the staff and make a great impression, they may even throw you in a freebie breakfast. 😉

Tip* Its always a good idea to ask at reception first, I’ve often found that by asking for an extension staff do really help to get you the best deal.

5. Food and drink

When researching your hostel of choice do try to find out if they have an equipped kitchen, the usual like electric oven, microwave, toaster and kettle etc.

If you really want to stretch the cash go grocery shopping and cook your own meals. I know this sounds like a hassle but it is a fantastic way to meet and chat to other travellers.

Long day out? Pack up a picnic and a flask with tea/coffee.

Now I’m not saying not to ever eat out or try local dishes, I fully encourage it. I’m just reminding you not to get carried away with eating out as it really does add up.

I was surprised to find out how cheap Sushi is in Berlin so I treated myself on night, this platter including miso soup and a ginger ale cost me €8.99

Another piece of advice is to try branch away from the tourist traps and popular eateries scattered around famous attractions, these places definitely ramp up the price and sometimes it’s not always the best quality.

Have you ever walked down a popular plaza or square and been collared by promoters trying to get you to visit their restaurant? Annoying right?

Instead try to branch out a little further and move a few streets back, try to scope out where the locals go. The food, atmosphere and overall quality I can assure will be much better. (and sometimes cheaper)

Tip* Remember many cafes will add an extra ‘tourist tax’ to your meal aswel as expect tips, just a thought.

In some cases you can even replicate a local dish buy buying and cooking the dish yourself, for a fraction of the price. That’s if you haven’t already gotten tired of eating pasta that is.

This applies to alcohol too! You’d be surprised just how cheap alcohol is in Czech Republic and Slovakia!

Low cost/Discount supermarkets

For the most part they sell exactly the same products as most premium stores, it’s essentially the ‘name’ you’re paying for.

In the UK a 4 pack of Heinz baked beans can cost up to £3 but you can get 3 for a £1 at Poundland. The same can apply in mainland Europe.

Here are a list if a few discount supermarkets;

Aldi/Hofer – Can be found scattered throughout Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria

Lidl – The UK and Mainland Europe

Rema 1000 – These can be spotted around Norway and Denmark.

Tutti 99c Store – Italy, they also stock a pretty decent selection of toiletries so stock up on toothpaste, sanitary pads/tampons too.

Of course these are just few.

6. Freebies

Always take advantage of the free events taking place in your area. Travelling at Christmas? Visit the free Christmas markets around the city.

Sign up for a free walking tour, your guides will be full of local knowledge on where the best free (or cheap) spots are to eat, best times to visit X location and other local recommendations.

Here during a Sunday? Did you know that in some cities such as Zagreb and Munich there is free entry to selected museums and sights on the first Sunday of every month?

You’re welcome. 😀

6. Be flexible

Keep your options open, is it cheaper to travel the next day? Is the hostel or hotel putting on a promotional offer on accommodation? Is there a free event coming up?

Tip* Try booking a Tuesday flight rather than a Friday flight, it’s generally cheaper to fly during the week rather on weekends.

7. Cash handling

When exchanging money, avoid the airport as you’re likely to get a bad deal. Afterall you are the target customer with no other option for exchanging.

Always check the exchange rates!!!

If you decide to withdraw from a bank or ATM be sure to take out larger amounts as they charge for transactions fees, sometimes up to €3.95 per withdrawal at an ATM!

Tip* For the same reason as above, try to use your bank card as little as possible as this applies too.

Aim for smaller notes and spend your coins first… otherwise your left with a bunch of loose which you can’t exchange back.

Do a currency swap with hostel friends, it’s also a great opportunity to find out where people have been, where they are going and any solid tips. Just grab a calculator!

Tip* Do your research before you leave and order your currency in advance, you can do this online or through your local post office, travel agent or bank. Don’t get stuck at the airport without the correct currency, you will regret exchanging at the airport.

12. Travel in the low season

Travelling out of season (or booking for the low season) is the best bet. When I travel I usually set out in early October, after the school holidays have ended but also before the Christmas season begins. Prices throughout the summer and any special holiday will always be rammed up.

Another advantage is that it is less touristy, museum entrance fees a drop and there are less queues. Win!

Tip* If possible book flights in advance and be mindful of weekends during the winter season, beds will sell out fast and prices will skyrocket! I experienced this problem in Prague where people were visiting for a party weekend and I struggled to find a hostel within my price range.

Branch out

Branch out a little further, the further you go into the Eastern Europe, the less crowded, cheaper and more underrated yet beautiful discoveries you will find. Paris at Christmas will forever be a popular choice but I definitely recommend checking out the markets across Bratislava for a fraction of the price but just as much fun.

Lastly – have fun, be safe and be mindful of your belongings.

If you enjoyed this post please like, share and let me know in the comments.

If there anything I missed let me know!

Happy travels xo

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