Fancy drinking espresso in narrow alleyways in Milan, dipping into Mediterranean waters or waltzing along the Champs Élysée? This may all sound like a life reserved exclusively for the rich and famous, but believe it or not, traversing the continent of Europe can be done without a bursting bank account. I’ve now visited Europe five times and have picked up some serious money-saving hacks throughout my travels. Here are my top tips for having a delightful European escapade on a budget!
1. Secure cheap flights
First and foremost, make sure you secure the cheapest flights possible when travelling to Europe. Skyscanner is my favourite tool for finding and comparing flights across airlines, and by downloading the app, you can see when the cheapest flights will be across a month or even across the year. Another amazing site I recently discovered is Secret Flying. Here, you’ll find the most ridiculously cheap flight deals, and you can sign up to get email alerts when deals come up from your city.
2. Find affordable accommodation
Gone are the days when travelling on a budget equates to sleeping exclusively in hostel bunks. Airbnb has revolutionized the accommodation industry as people from all over the world rent out their free space to travellers. Here, you’ll find super unique properties that are significantly more affordable than your average hotel. If you have a few travel companions, you can rent an entire apartment/ property and split the cost of the place, or if you are travelling solo, you can find private rooms available to rent. It’s also always worth checking coupon sites to see if you can score yourself discounted accommodation.
3. Look for free entertainment
There is so much more to do in European cities than bouncing from one overpriced tourist attraction to the next. Instead, do a bit of research and find free events in the city you are in. Often, you’ll find all sorts of cool festivals, markets and live music going on. These are often the types of places that locals hang out, so you will be saving your pennies AND getting a more authentic look at local culture.
4. Pick your methods of transport wisely
Plane, train, bus or boat? With so many different ways of getting around Europe, it can be hard to know which mode of transport will be the most affordable. One of my favourite travel apps of all time is Rome2Rio, which will show you the cheapest way of getting from point A to point B utilizing different forms of transportation.
Trains are probably the most picturesque and enjoyable way of getting around Europe. If you are planning to travel a lot by train, the most cost-effective option would probably be purchasing Eurail pass. Eurail offers a variety of passes which include train travel for an elected duration of time in up to 28 countries. Having a rail pass allows you the flexibility to spontaneously hop between cities and not have to plan too far ahead!
The other option is flying between destinations. These days, with the rise of budget airlines in Europe, it’s not uncommon to be able to secure yourself a flight for as little as $20! Obviously flying requires planning ahead and booking in advance, however doing so will enable you to secure yourself some seriously good deals. If planning ahead isn’t your style, you should try out the ‘Explore Top Deals’ on the Skyscanner App– it will give you a list of the very cheapest flights from any given destination, which is perfect for last-minute bookings.
Another great transport option in Europe is through ridesharing. There is a great site called BlaBlaCar which connects people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats. Everyone in the car then splits the cost of the journey, which ends up substantially cheaper than hiring a car and driving yourself!
5. Avoid eating out all the time
Indulging in food is no doubt one of the greatest joys of travelling. Yet experiencing local cuisine shouldn’t equate to eating at overpriced, tourist-trapping restaurants. Instead of eating out, look for food stalls or head to a supermarket and buy supplies for a picnic! Guarantee yourself an authentic gastronomic experience shopping where the locals shop and eating what the locals eat. Once you’ve got supplies together, grab a bottle of wine and find the most magnificent viewpoint in the city to feast! Another big money-saver is not eating breakfast out. Find hostels that include breakfast or carry around a box of cereal so you don’t find yourself caught without food!
6. Be wise with how you carry your money
Possibly one of the most important things to consider when travelling to Europe is how to carry your money. Gone are the days of having to carry traveller’s cheques or wads of cash – now you have a few different options when it comes to spending money overseas.
One option is to use your regular debit card, which makes everything a lot simpler, as money is coming direct from your bank account and the exchange rate is calculated at the time of purchase. The biggest downside to this option can be the hefty ATM and international transaction fees that come with using a regular bankcard. These can really add up, especially if you are regularly taking out money overseas. Having said this, I’ve recently started using a Westpac Debit Card, which allows me to withdraw cash from over 50,000 ATMs worldwide through the Global ATM Alliance and pay no ATM withdrawal fees. Although a 3% transaction fee per transaction still applies, I still feel like I am saving a substantial amount of money by not paying fees for withdrawing money. I also no longer have the stress of having to take out large amounts of cash every time I go to an ATM!
Another option is a travel money card. These work by loading up multiple currencies at a set exchange rate onto the card. The benefits are that there are generally no (or very low) international transaction and ATM fees. I found the biggest downside is having to pre-load each individual currency on to the card. You can always add more money at a later date, but it generally takes a few days for the cash to come through. Just remember that when you upload money, you are locking in the exchange rate at that current point in time.
7. Walk or cycle places
One of the simplest ways to save money when you travel is to walk or cycle! The cost of public transport and taxis can quickly add up, and there really is no better way to see a city then by foot or bike. Most European cities are super bike friendly and will have plenty of rental shops around the place. Plus, this extra exercise will totally justify that daily gelato (or three).
8. Don’t buy tacky souvenirs
Collecting souvenirs may seem like a great idea at the time, but you’ll soon be paying extra baggage fees for a bag weighed down by snow globes and shot glasses. Instead of investing your money in tacky souvenirs, get your travel photos framed when you get home as the ultimate memento of your trip!
9. Turn off your data
This may be an obvious tip, but make sure you switch off your mobile data before heading overseas or you’ll find yourself with a VERY unpleasant phone bill at the end of your travels. Instead, get a local SIM card if you are going to be in one place for an extended period of times or just utilise free wifi everywhere you go.
10. Travel Off-Season
Possibly the easiest way to save money when travelling Europe is to go in the off-season. In the height of summer, accommodation gets super expensive and everywhere quickly books up. This means you need to plan a lot further in advance which leaves less room for spontaneity. Moreover, during these months, locals generally leave to go on their own summer vacations, leaving most places completely overcrowded with tourists. If you want a cheaper and more authentic European experience, plan to travel in any month other than June, July or August!
Hopefully these little tips help you save your precious holiday funds up for those life-changing experiences that will be worth every penny!