During this world tour, Peter and I spent three months traveling through 12 European countries, including 7 in Western Europe and 5 in Eastern Europe. We stuck to the major touristy destinations like Paris, London, and even Santorini. It sounds like an expensive trip, but we were able to do it with $60 or less per person in every destination. This budget covered accommodation, food, inner city transport, entertainment, and supplies. The only thing it doesn’t include is the domestic and national transportation (which I will include separately below). Here’s how we stuck to a frugal budget:
The best way to tell how expensive a destination will be is to look at the cost of accommodation. We’ve been most successful when the cost of our room took up 30% or less of our daily budget. If you really want to get a feel for how much your trip will cost, find a hostel, Airbnb, or hotel you would stay in and multiply the cost per night by 3 to get an idea of how much money you will need for everything else each day (assuming there are two of you. This would change if you’re traveling solo or with multiple people.) To stay under $60 per person, we stayed in hostels of 4-8 bed mixed dorms or got a room in someone’s house through Airbnb (whichever was cheaper). Airbnb was often cheaper than hostels in Western Europe.
In many cities, especially expensive ones like London and Paris, we stayed with friends. If you don’t know anyone where you’re going, you can use Couchsurfing, which is a website filled with millions of people around the world who are willing to host travelers for free. If you go this route though, make sure to host in your own home for a while to build up references. Another option is to participate in Couchsurfing meetups near your home or while you travel to meet people who will vouch for you on the website.
If you don’t want to stay in someone’s house, stick to eastern European countries. Sometimes Peter and I were even able to splurge and get our own apartment (in Santorini and Croatia) and stay within our budget. If you go in the shoulder or offseason like we did, you can get nicer accommodation for less. We traveled in Europe from October through December.
You don’t have to cook in or eat only street food to stick to a $60 a day budget in Europe. Peter and I often eat at a restaurant once a day. For our own health as well as our budget, our goal is to make our own food two meals a day. That doesn’t always happen though. We can often get away with making our own breakfast (oatmeal or yogurt with coffee), picking up a cheap lunch like a sandwich or salad from a budget place or the grocery store, and then eating a sit-down meal at a restaurant for dinner. As long as you avoid the restaurants that require you to dress up and instead look for the mom-and-pop type of establishments, you’ll be just fine.
Full disclosure, Peter and I hardly spend any money on alcohol. Peter doesn’t drink at all and so that discourages me from buying much either. If you plan to go out to the bars in every city you visit, your budget will look different from ours. That being said, we did visit friends in places like France, Germany, and England where I drank socially, and we still managed to keep it under $60 a day (without paying for accommodation), so it’s definitely possible. You just want to limit it to special occasions.
Peter and I are lucky in that we both think just wandering around a new city is the most fun entertainment. We don’t have room in our bags to buy anything, so this kind of activity is free for us! We can also usually find a tip-based walking tour in every city, where we choose what to pay the tour guide. (Most tour guides don’t expect more than $10 per person in our experience.) In every town we visit, we usually like to see one to two museums as well. More than that, and it starts eating into the budget too much. We avoid expensive activities like horse riding, rafting, skiing, etc. If you want to do things like that, figure out where you’ll be doing it and set extra money aside.
We avoid tour packages as much as possible because you pay for the convenience. It is always cheaper to take the local bus to the tourist destination and get an audio guide if you can. Occasionally we find a good deal though, so we aren’t against all group tours. Make sure to compare the cost of the tour to the difficulty and price of doing it on your own. If you can do it on your own and you aren’t gaining a lot of knowledge from an expert, do it independently.
Peter and I were told several times to get a railway pass for Europe, but this often isn’t the cheapest option. Our favorite websites for finding the cheapest transportation were goeuro.com (for comparing the cost and time of buses, trains, flights, and ferries), and skyscanner.com (for the cheapest flights). If you plan to fly budget airlines, the further out you book them the better. With regular airlines, we tried to get our tickets 5 weeks to 2 months in advance. We booked trains about 3-4 weeks out, and buses usually a day to a week before. Book your tickets in the middle of the week for the cheapest prices, especially flights. If you can be flexible with your dates and leave a day or two before or after when you originally planned, you can also save hundreds.
To go to Madrid, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, Paris, London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Kraków, Vienna, Zagreb, Athens, Santorini, and Istanbul, Peter and I spent $673.50 per person. We used a mix of buses, trains, and flights.
Once you’re on the road, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose track of how much you actually spend. To keep yourself accountable, I strongly recommend you get the app Trail Wallet. It only costs a few dollars and you can set up unlimited countries with different budgets. You can even put in the country’s exchange rate, and it will automatically convert everything for you so you know what you’re actually spending in your home currency. Trail Wallet is a huge part of how Peter and I have been able to stay on budget for most of our trip. We love it so much we are going to use it to stay on budget when we get home too!
Europe can be Affordable
It’s important to recognize that most of the places we visited did not cost us $60 per person per day. That was just the top of our budget. To see exactly how much each country and transport cost us, we spell it out in our European budget breakdown. The point is, a trip to Europe does not have to be unattainable. If you read our post on how we saved for this trip, you’ll realize you can save what you need in just a few months! You’ll be eating éclairs under the Eiffel Tower before you know it!