It isn’t always easy to travel Europe on the cheap as necessities such as lodging, food and transportation are pretty expensive. Add in the fact that the US dollar’s exchange rate isn’t favorable, and travel costs can easily soar. But don’t cancel your grand European travel plans just yet. With a healthy dose of reality and a bit of advance planning, budget trips to Europe are still possible.
Read on for five top ways to travel Europe on the cheap:
1. Dine a la picnic style.
Make no qualms about it; restaurants in Europe are expensive, particularly in cities and other touristy areas. Chefs are topnotch, restaurant rents are expensive, and high-quality fresh ingredients are the norm, all of which contribute to high prices.
Though for those willing to forgo the ambiance of a restaurant, there is another viable, more affordable option—shopping at a local market. Buy cured meats and cheeses along with fresh olives in countries like France and Italy, or pickled herring and freshly baked bread in Scandinavia. It’s a chance to be adventurous too, so try a few items from the freshly prepared food section. Who knows you may fall in love with such delicacies as sour cabbage rolls in Finland, spicy pepper spread (ajvar) in Macedonia, or even pickled salmon in Norway.
Once you have your tasty treats in hand, pop a squat in a scenic plaza or park and dine a la picnic style. If you have access to a kitchen and are willing to take the time to cook, more power to you!
2. Walk, bike or take public transport.
There’s rarely any reason to take expensive taxis in Europe. Though rental bikes and public transport charges vary across the continent, costs are by and large much cheaper than taking taxis. Walking is a great option in smaller cities such as Copenhagen where the terrain is flat and neighborhoods are easy to navigate. Rent bikes in bike-friendly areas such as Amsterdam, and ride the subway in large, confounding cities such as Paris. Buses tend to be a bit slower in traffic-ridden metropolises, but are perfect for getting to and from the airport.
3. Stay in hostels or small bed and breakfasts.
Hop on Expedia and check out hotel prices in London, Paris or Rome during the summer months and your heart may just skip a beat. Hotel prices in Europe are prohibitively expensive! Though if you’re willing to forgo living space and a few creature comforts (who needs bathrobes and slippers, anyways?), deals do exist. Supplement guidebooks with sites such as TripAdvisor.com to find affordable, suitable hostels and small bed and breakfasts. In addition to being cheaper, hostels and bed and breakfasts are often great places to meet fellow travelers too.
4. Free museum days.
I love free museum days—both in the US and abroad. Generally, museums offer free admission only one day per month, but sometimes more. Before departing, check out museum schedules online to see if you’ll be visiting on the lucky day.
5. Travel in the shoulder season.
After spending an entire year travelling around the world, I learned many lessons—one of which is the importance of travelling during the shoulder season. In the shoulder season (generally, the spring or fall in Europe), the weather is still sunny, but tourists are at a minimum and prices are relatively low. Visit Europe during the summer months, and expect exactly the opposite!
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When we went to Oslo, we knew we were going to be in one of the most expensive cities in Europe and we needed a strategy to enjoy the city without tormenting the bank balance. The answer for us was your number one suggestion – dining picnic style.
Each morning, we packed a sandwich and a few raw veggies. To keep our lunch-time treasure fresh, we used a water bottle. Each evening we would half-fill it with water and put it in the freezer. When we were ready to leave, we added cold water to fill the bottle. This gave us refrigeration for our lunches and cold water to consume as we walked the town.
We were lucky to be able to stay in a granny suite at my cousin’s house, but most Airbnb options would also give you the use of some fridge space and allow you to freeze a water bottle to keep your picnic cool and fresh.
As a European, I would also add – Interrail – the European rail system is great and the Interrail ticket allows you to pay a flat price for UNLIMITED train travel – so you can cruise all over Europe for a flat price. It is very safe and in many long distance trains there are sleeping train cars. You can choose to only pay for a country, a few countries or all of Europe. Best, Oscar