How To

How to Travel Europe on a Budget

Ready to snap selfies in front of Stonehenge, sip cappuccinos near the Colosseum or fall in love at the Louvre? Backpacking through Europe is an adventure that appears on many Americans’ bucket lists, but the assumed price tag prevents most from making their dream a reality. Fortunately, the internet, smartphones and the share economy make it easier than ever to travel through Europe affordably.

If you yearn to stretch out along the Seine or pound a pint in Ireland, here’s how to travel Europe cheaply so you’ll have more loot leftover for binging on bratwursts and baguettes.

Planning Your Passage

The destinations you visit dictate how far your money goes. The UK and Scandinavia are a bit spendier than mainland Europe, while you’ll get more bang for your buck in Portugal, Germany and the farther east you travel. Your plane ticket will likely be your single largest expense, so here are some tips to help you save a bundle when booking.

  • Don’t be a typical tourist. By traveling in the winter or fall, you could save up to 40% compared to the summer months.
  • Fly with the little guys. Look for the best deals from budget airlines including WOW Air, Icelandair and Norwegian.

Staying Connected

Documenting your trip on Instagram can be insanely expensive thanks to ridiculous roaming rates. Be tech-savvy and avoid shocking bills while still getting the most out of your device.

  • Keep it SIMple. Before starting your journey, contact your service provider to find out how you can unlock your smartphone for use overseas. Once across the ocean, pick up a European SIM card and plan, which go for $10 to $50 per month.
  • Chat, don’t text. Instead of sending messages or photos via text, use WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger, but only when on Wi-Fi.
  • Rome, not roam. Avoid roaming charges by keeping your phone in airplane mode whenever you’re not on Wi-Fi. And if you absolutely must make phone calls, the Ajura app can save you up to 90% on roaming rates.

Roaming rates can make calling and texting home insanely expensive. Be tech-savvy about your smartphone to avoid shocking bills while getting the most from your device.

Catching a Lift

Putting some thought into how you’ll get around can go a long way when planning how to backpack Europe cheaply. Keep these suggestions in mind when plotting out how you’ll arrive at the various stops on your itinerary.

  • Invest in a Eurail pass. If you have an ambitious agenda, a Eurail Pass can save you a bundle by helping you visit up to 28 countries for a fixed cost.
  • Spare single fares. Depending on the length of your trip and where you’re staying, opt for weeklong or monthlong transportation passes instead of daily ones. By picking up a multiday or multiweek ticket, you’ll see more and spend less.
  • Bring as little as possible. Many European airlines offer low fares, but make up for it by charging outrageous amounts for carry-ons and luggage. Play it safe by packing less.

Scoring Some Zzzs

A big part of learning how to travel on a budget is keeping your lodging and dining expenses under control. In general, if you’re looking to save money, hotels aren’t your best options.

  • Hunt for hostels. What kind of backpacker would you be without staying in a hostel? A night in one of these shared spaces could cost less than $15, and you’re guaranteed to meet colorful characters.
  • Make yourself at home. Traveling with a group? Next to staying at a hostel, Airbnb is likely your best bet for staying under budget.
  • Crash on a futon for free. Without a doubt, couchsurfing is the cheapest way to spend your nights in Europe. But being smart about who you stay with is key. Visit couchsurfing.com to find safe, trustworthy residents who are happy to put you up.

Chowing Down

When it comes to getting your grub on, avoid restaurants in favor of more affordable options, and you’ll get an authentic experience at a fraction of the cost.

  • Eat like a local. Many European countries are celebrated for their street food and food trucks, both of which are cheaper options than dining at restaurants.
  • Be your own chef. Just like back at home, making your own meals is the cheapest way to eat in Europe, too. Grab ingredients from small grocery stores and popular open-air markets, and try your hand at mastering some local dishes.

Seeing the Sights

Enjoying Europe’s signature landmarks could likely be the best part of your trip, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive.

  • Do your homework. Heading to Rome, Paris or one of Europe’s other major metropolises? Do yourself a favor and find out if your destination has passes that grant you access to multiple hot spots for one price. Based on where you’re headed, some packages even include transportation.
  • Play up your education. Don’t forget to bring a student ID with you before crossing the Atlantic. Having one can slash your admission costs to many museums and landmarks, so you can stock up on souvenirs.

Spending Smartly

For first-time travelers, wrapping your head around Europe’s exchange rates and various currencies can pose a challenge. Keep these rules of thumb in mind, and less of your money should go to waste.

  • Avoid ATMs. It’s a good idea to have both cash and credit cards at your disposal while traveling abroad, but ATM fees can bite you in the bum if you’re not careful.
  • Convert your Euros. Stretch your finances for all they’re worth by exchanging your euros to the local currency when visiting smaller countries. Rather than changing your money at airports, swap it out at a local post office where you’ll find more reasonable rates. Just be sure to convert any remaining cash back into euros before heading to your next stop.

Now that you know how to have the European vacation of your dreams—without coming home broke—let Mint help you build a budget. Bon voyage!