After more than 10+ years of travelling cheap around Europe, I want to share my tips with all of you who want to travel cheap to Europe as well. Here’s how to plan your Europe trip on a budget in 2020.
So… how can you travel cheap to Europe?
A few years ago, I saw a lot of Europe on a really tight budget and wrote a blog post on how I found the best and cheapest travel options in Europe and travel in Europe for a month.
Remember to check TripAdvisor whenever you want to eat at a restaurant, fancy hotel or anything else. Also, TripAdvisor is your go-to resource regarding what to do and what to visit in a city/place/country.
If you are looking to plan your trip to Europe then you have to look at all the expensive aspects of a trip and hack them. So, if you want to travel cheap to Europe, then we have to talk about the basic costs and how to budget your Europe trip.
Because there are so many aspects of cheap Europe travel (transport, accommodation, food), there will not be a straight off solution, but more of the guideline on how to travel cheap to and in Europe and it will be up to you (and how high can you go with your budget) to find what works best for your.
From my experience, after travelling around Europe on a budget for the past 10+ years, I can tell you that you can travel cheap in Europe. But it matters a lot where, when, for how long and how willing you are to get out of your comfort zone.
I don’t want to get your hopes high (to too low), because we all have different standards, but if you are coming from the US, chances are that you will consider Europe to be fairly cheap, with some obvious exceptions, such as Switzerland, the UK, and the Nordic countries.
There are a few others, but you get the idea.
I will try to break down your plan to travel cheap TO Europe and then to travel cheap IN Europe.
One of the most important steps is to get to Europe. And this will be one of the main expenses if you want to travel to Europe.
How to travel cheap TO Europe?
If would help to have an idea of the countries and cities you would like to visit and to try to look for flights to Europe directly to one of those countries.
Until some years ago, only big airlines carriers had long-haul flights to Europe. But now we see more and more low-cost airlines offering transcontinental flights to Europe, such as Norwegian Airlines and Level (Iberia’s budget long-haul carrier). Keep an eye on these airlines.
On my last flight to the US, I used Kiwi and it found a unique combo of low-cost flights with different airlines. I paid $350 for a round trip from Bucharest to JFK. In December! December is one of the most expensive months to travel anywhere, because… Christmas.
So cheap travel to Europe (check out these cheap countries in Europe) is possible if you keep your eyes and options open. Such cheap tickets often come with baggage restrictions and include low-cost airlines, which means you have to travel light (only carry on < 10kg) and no meals.
Some of the main airports for transcontinental flights are Dublin, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. There are more, but I consider these to be some of the biggest.
Some cities have more than 1 airport. Pay attention to that if you will plan to have a connection in Europe. Consider the cost of the transfer, which is not cheap. For example, it’s really cheap to fly to Brussels Charleroi Airport (the airport where low costs airlines fly), but it costs around 15 Euros to get the bus to get you to the city and takes at least 1h.
How to travel cheap IN Europe?
After arriving in Europe, you can basically go anywhere, as nothing is too far away, and all the places are very well connected, by planes, trains and busses.
What’s the cheapest way to travel in Europe?
Travelling in Europe by bus
Europe has a very well connected transportation infrastructure and buses will allow you to get almost anywhere.
What buses to use?
I tried and recommend the FlixBus the most, but there are many companies offering great deals all across Europe.
Check out Omio to find bus connections.
Although some companies are not listed, you will find there most of them. If you’re looking for a connection which doesn’t exist there, simply Google the name of the origin to the name of the destination “by bus” (eg. Paris to Amsterdam by bus) and you will probably land on bus company’s homepage.
Be aware of hop on hop off buses. There are some companies offering international routes of these buses. In my opinion, it’s too expensive and you can do the same for less, but it’s all about the experience with them. I guess. Depends on what you want to experience, in the end.
Travelling in Europe by train
Travelling by train is one of the best travel experience you can have in Europe. The landscape can change dramatically in just a couple of hours and let you enjoy your time, admire and be comfortable.
But train travel in Europe is also one of the most expensive transportation in Europe. Don’t get me wrong! It’s totally doable, it’s amazing and to get to some places, it might be the only option if you don’t have a car. But it can get really pricey, especially if you don’t book your trip in advance.
I recommend checking the prices of train tickets, especially if you want to plan your trip in advance (a few weeks to a month in advance, or even sooner), because you can get lucky or just find it affordable for your budget.
I look for the national railway company in the country I’m travelling. So you need to Google “Train in Austria” or the name of the country you are travelling from. The page you’re looking for should be in the first 3 results. in the case of Austria is www.oebb.at ÖBB.
Travelling in Europe by plane
Travelling by plane is the most convenient when you travel from one country to another, especially for longer distances (more than 1 country away).
Europe is rather small and most flights are around 2-3 hours. Europe has many low-cost airlines, and if you book your tickets 1 or 2 months in advance, you can easily find round trip tickets under 50 Euros for at least a few destinations.
Low-cost airlines in Europe:
There are others, as most countries have their own low-cost airline company in Europe.
I mostly use Kiwi.com to book my plane tickets. I really like them because they create connections between different airlines and offer assistance in case one of your flights is delayed/cancelled or you miss your connection because of one of those companies. Life-saving!
Colibra is the app that will claim compensation for any airline delays for you, without any hassle. All you need to do is to scan your boarding pass. Read my blog about Colibra and how to claim flight delays with the app.
Travelling in Europe by car
As in any part of the world, travelling by car offers the greatest flexibility when you want to see as much as possible and experience as much as possible.
Travelling by car in Europe will let you explore and reach places you haven’t even thought of. If you are looking for inspiration, check out my Baltic road trip from August 2019. That road trip blew my mind away and I can’t recommend it enough.
But! Travelling by car in Europe can cost you a lot. To make it worth it, I would say you have to have a travel companion, to split costs.
What costs to expect when travelling in Europe by car?
- Gas costs. The more North you go, the more expensive the gas is.
- Road tolls. Each country in Europe has its own rules regarding road tolls. Some require to buy a vignette (online or from the first gas station you see after customs) or have one some highways you have to pay for. The most expensive are the western countries (France and Italy are famous for their road tolls).
- Parking. Almost all European cities have paid parking in the city. You will also need to find accommodation with free parking.
- Rental costs. If you are not from Europe, chances are that you will rent a car. The good news is that you can rent a car in any country of the European Union and drive around because there are no borders between the countries. But it’s always recommended to check with the company where you can drive. While the rental costs are not high, you have to consider the 500+ Euros deposit you will have to pay for the car. Usually, you get that money back in less than 2 weeks.
Check out all rental companies on RentalCars and pick the best option for you.
I would recommend renting a car in Central and Eastern Europe, where connections aren’t as great and there are more remote places you should not miss.
Here are just a few examples of my road trips in Eastern Europe:
- Discovering the castles around Lviv, Ukraine: 1 -day road trip around Lviv
- 3-day Romania heritage road trip itinerary
- Romania 4-day road trip: Brancusi, Hunedoara Castle and beautiful landscapes
- 5-Day Romania Road Trip Itinerary
- A road trip to the centre of Bulgaria
- 3-Week Baltic Trip Itinerary
Cheap accommodation in Europe
The second biggest cost when travelling is accommodation.
Fortunately, most European cities have a large array of hostels, hotels, apartments to rent and other kinds of shared accommodation.
The cheapest accommodation that I know of and tried myself is Couchsurfing (a free accommodation offered by someone who has a spare bedroom or just a sofa in their home. Check out my Couchsurfing is more than free accommodation post to understand how it should work.)
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to ask friends if they have any friends living in Europe and if they are willing to host you. This is what I’ve done in my 1-month Europe trip and this modelled my itinerary.
Hostels should be your number one option if none of the above is available. Some hostels in Europe are really nice and they look just like hotels, but are cheaper and usually very well located. (You can have a private room with a private bathroom in a hostel!)
If you are travelling in a couple or a group, it will be worth at least to check Booking.com for accommodation in Europe.
Airbnb is also worth checking out, as there are some places you will never find on other platforms. I think Airbnb is better for longer stays or for larger groups, as you can rent an entire house.
Europe trip essentials for a cheap European trip
Wondering what to pack for your Europe trip?
After deciding on the time when you will visit Europe, you can start thinking about what to pack and other Europe trip essentials for a cheap European trip.
Europe trip essentials for summer trips
Summer is the most popular time to visit Europe. This is when most places are packed with tourists, accommodations charge the most and it’s preferred to book planes and trains at least 1 month in advance.
But if you are a summer person, like me, then you have to come to Europe in summer. It’s easier to pack for summer and your Europe trip packing list will be shorter.
You mostly need t-shirts, shorts, one pair of long pants, sunglasses, a sweater for colder nights out and your personal stuff.
It’s important to have your Europe trip itinerary before packing your Europe trip backpack.
Some countries have rainy days all year long (Irland, the UK), while others are always sunny and the beach days seem like never-ending (Greece, Spain, Italy and everything around the Mediterranean Sea). You never know where you’re going, so bring a swimsuit, too.
Of course, you can buy essentials when you get here, so don’t despair. It’s always better to under pack than to overpack. Especially with the ever-changing cabin regulations (which are different for each airline).
Europe trip essentials for winter trips
Winter can be harsh in Europe. If you plan to stay more than a few days, you will probably need checked luggage to carry all the winter essentials with you.
Think of sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, warm socks, winter pants, jeans.
Again, it depends a lot of your itinerary and the planned activities.
Obviously, it’s different if you want to visit Vienna for the weekend (where you’ll probably spend more of your time visiting museums and cafes) than going skiing. Again, try not to overpack. I’m sure you will manage with one less sweater.
What’s the best time to travel cheap in Europe?
Not in the high-season. Think of late spring or early autumn. That’s when you have the best weather for visiting and the prices aren’t as high as in August. And the crowds are smaller.
If you are in Europe in July or August, I recommend visiting the Nordic countries, Sankt Petersburg, and the Baltic countries. The weather is perfect there and the temperatures don’t go over 30 °C. While the rest of Europe is literally melting.
I hope to have helped you designed your next European trip and that my tips help you to travel cheap in Europe.
Feel free to send me your questions about how to travel cheap in Europe.