When I decided to embark on an eight-month trip through Europe, I got the same question from a lot of people before I left home: How can you afford it? Isn’t Europe really expensive?
It sure can be, considering the strength of most European currencies. But it definitely doesn’t have to be, and I would be sad to hear that any of you lovely ladies exempted yourselves from some of the amazing things to be seen and done (and eaten) in Europe due to the cost.
We talked about some basics recently about how to save money while on to go in Europe, but here are some of the biggest tips I give other travelers hoping to cut costs while gallivanting through the lands of the Euro.
Tried and true, just for you, Go! Girls!
Consider Work Exchanges
For two months out of my trip I saved loads of money on food & lodging because I participated in different types of work exchanges. What this means is that you work in exchange for room and board, or sometimes just room, depending on what you’re doing.
In Italy, I became a WWOOFer and had an incredible time helping out on a family’s organic farm. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunites on Organic Farms) is an international organization, so the options for WWOOFing–duration of stay, responsibilities, etc–vary from country to country. Some are quite structured, while others are more laid-back. I ended up working probably about 4 hours a day, five or six days a week, and had the rest of the time to myself. One of the biggest bonuses for WWOOFing is that all meals are provided. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Another organization I used was HelpX. This is a more general type of work-exchange, and opportunities range from working in hostels (which is what I did) to more farm work, to housesitting or babysitting or helping renovate a family’s country home. While I worked at a hostel in Kilkenny, I got free board, and earned a small stipend that went toward food.
I ended up meeting interesting locals and travelers alike while saving cash, as well as accrued some useful hands-on skills. These types of exchanges also required me to stay in one place for at least a week (often more), so I ended up getting to know a place well.
One thing to consider is that for work exchanges, you still have responsibilities and a schedule to stick to, even if you do have a lot of input for it. Be sure to take that into account, along with your personal travel preferences, while planning your trip!
Ultimately, eating out costs more than a night’s stay in a hostel in many European countries. Eating at a sit-down restaurant two or three times a day gets really expensive, really quickly. However, if you live off Ramen in hostel kitchens for your whole trip, not only will you totally undernourish yourself, you’ll also miss out on one of the best parts about travel: EATING!
Grocery shop: I found it was important to strike a good balance. If you’re staying in a hostel for longer than a night, it’s easy to grab a couple things at the grocery store that you can easily (and cheaply) whip up for yourself. I ate a lot of instant rice and cheese while I was traveling, and you’ll frequently find hostels coordinating big dinners on the cheap if you don’t want to cook but can’t afford to go out.
Sharing is caring: If you want to go out to eat and sample some of the country’s delicacies, do! If you’re with friends, you can taste more dishes simply by sharing: split an appetizer or entree, as well as the bill and you’ll likely end up with more in your pocket than you would otherwise.
If you want to stay on-budget long-term, though, avoid eating daily sit-down restaurant meals.
To market, to market: Another cheap–and healthful–way to eat well in Europe is to take advantage of the zillions of farmers’ markets that take place throughout the continent. Not only will you get a local experience, you’ll also have access to farm fresh, often organic fruit & veg, as well as incredible baked goods and cheeses.
One of my favorite lunches in Italy consisted of a chunk of cheese, some salami and a locally-baked slab of bread. No fuss, low cost!
Look for Ticket Discounts
If you want to do a lot of sightseeing at museums or hot tourist spots that require entrance fees and the like, that all can add up. Here are a few options to research before arriving at your destination.
Student Discounts: If you have a college ID, ALWAYS ask if there is a student discount.
Some places will be sticklers and require you to have an ISIC (International Student ID Card), but out of everywhere I’ve traveled in Europe (and trust me, I’m a museum fiend), only one required an ISIC for international university students; otherwise, my regular university-issued ID worked just fine. FYI: if your college ID doesn’t have an expiration date (like mine), they might refuse the discount, but it’s pretty rare.
City Passes: Many big cities (and some smaller ones, too!) have passes or cards through their tourism board or chamber of commerce that provide packaged entries into the most popular sites. For example, the I Amsterdam City Cards give discounts for museums, cultural attractions, public transportation and more.
Pro-tip: These are often more valuable to people over 25 or who don’t have student IDs.
Combo Tickets: Similar to city passes but usually on a smaller scope, a lot of related museums will give you discounted entry if you visit the sites within a specified time period (i.e. the Paseo del Arte card is an excellent savings for anyone wanting to visit all three of the top art museums in Madrid–it saves you almost 10 euro on entrance into the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, & the Reina Sofia).
Free Museum Days: A lot of museums, particularly nationally-run ones, have certain days or times when entry is free. Do your homework before heading out for your day of sightseeing, either online or with locals–who knows? You might just be in Rome on the last Sunday of the month and get to see the Vatican Museums for free!
Remember that ultimately you are the one who gets to decide where your money is going on your trip. I knew that I’d rather eat well at a restaurant than spend a lot on private hotel rooms, but that’s personal preference. Decide what works best for YOU.
Have you traveled long-term in expensive locales? What are your money-saving tips? Leave questions or comments for us below!