11 rules for seeing Europe on a budget

When tourists visit Australia, they always mention the price. “Australia is so expensive,” they complain. But going to Europe, for us, can be just as bad.

With the exchange rate and tourist traps, sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re getting a good deal. Here are 11 tips for travelling on a budget in Europe…

1. Take a water bottle

It goes without saying, but buying bottled water can really add to your holiday costs. Save money and refill at your hotel taps. The majority of countries in Europe have potable water, so check for certain that it is drinkable, fill it from a tap and freeze it overnight so it’s ready for a big day exploring.

Same goes for eating in restaurants. I take my water bottle with me to restaurants, as a lot of places in Europe will refuse to serve tap water, instead asking you to fork out for bottled. You might get some weird looks, but you save money that you can spend on something else. Another glass of wine, anyone?

2. Avoid the main strips

If you don’t want to pay more for food, try exploring the backstreets to find somewhere to eat. It’s often cheaper and better food than in the main tourist areas. You will find that the staff pay more attention to you and service is generally better as you’re not just on a never-ending conveyor belt of customers.

Leading on from this, eat where the locals eat. Ask your Airbnb host, hotel reception or friend from that city where the coolest places are to eat for a reasonable price. Generally, they’ll know somewhere that you might not have found without a recommendation.

3. Check TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor can be a make-or-break for me when deciding whether or not to visit that expensive tourist attraction or stay at that hotel. Read the reviews and make a decision. Is it an expensive restaurant with bad service? Is the attraction worth it or overpriced? You might have really wanted to see the Statue of David in Florence, but if you’re on a tight budget maybe you don’t want to pay the 12 euros, you can just look at the smaller replica outside and save that money for gelato.

Is the attraction worth it? The Acropolis in Athens is. 

4. Book in advance if you can

Trains are often cheaper (particularly in the UK) when you book in advance. If you try to book the week you want to take the train, they will jump in price by two or three times.

Accommodation, particularly in European summer, will often sell out early so it’s best to get in early. Then you’ll also know how much wiggle-room you have when it comes to your budget.

5. Avoid travelling on weekends (including Fridays and Mondays)

Midweek is usually the cheapest time to fly. This is due to the majority of people (except in holiday season) being stuck at work.

Late night flights and ones with one or more connections are also the cheapest option if you don’t mind arriving late at night at your destination and the longer travel times.

Budget airlines in Europe are also very good and you can find steals when it comes to flights, so keep checking back. However, beware — the cheap ones at reasonable times can sell out.

6. Stay in cheaper cities on weekends

Like above, if you don’t mind missing out on a little atmosphere in the evenings, try to avoid huge tourist hot spots on weekends when accommodation prices jump.

Instead of Rome or Venice, stay in Bologna or Pisa for the weekend before continuing your trip. It’s not so bad to be visiting a busy city midweek though. Not only will accommodation be cheaper, but there will also be fewer people and queues. Win-win.

It might also be worth looking at accommodation a little further out of the city if they’re cheaper. But make sure you check how much public transport will cost to get you in to the city each day, as sometimes it might not be worth it.

7. Take the bus

The website www.rome2rio.com can help with making decisions about how to get from one place to another as it gives you a cost analysis of each method of transport. The bus usually takes longer, however I always weigh up whether it’s worth it and what I would do with that extra few hours if I didn’t take the bus. Make sure you check if there’s a student discount too.

8. Don’t eat the bread at restaurants

This is huge. Bread will get delivered to your table in restaurants across Europe. This bread is (generally) not free. If you ask if it’s free, you will sometimes get told something like, “It’s to go with the [insert meal here],” or, “It’s included.”. This does not mean free, and if you don’t want to pay for it, ask them to take it away.

Bread can cost as little as one euro per person, but it rises from there. If you’re on a budget and don’t need bread, this is definitely a cost you can avoid. Spain, Portugal, Italy and France are notorious for this trick.

9. Wash your clothes in the sink

Obviously, there reaches a point where this won’t suffice anymore, but washing your clothes in the sink can save a lot of time and money. You won’t have to go searching for a laundromat or pay your hotel to do your washing. Instead you can do smaller loads on the go.

10. Free walking tours are your best friend

There is no better way to see Europe than from a local’s perspective. Most cities run free walking tours which are the best way to immerse yourself somewhere that you haven’t visited before.

Tips are advised, but five euros is generally accepted as the amount to give and in my opinion that’s a bargain. You’ll have an interesting and enjoyable couple of hours and maybe meet some new people to explore with.

I packed just this for two months of travel.

11. Take a bag that’s carry-on sized

European airlines may be cheap, but there’s a reason for that. You literally have to pay for every single extra, including baggage.

If you can take a small suitcase or a backpack that’s around 40 litres that will fit into the luggage specifications of European airlines, you will save so much money. Sure, you might have to cut that extra sundress, but if you’re taking a lot of internal flights the cost of checked baggage can add up really quickly.

Basically, try to buy the smallest bag you can fit your stuff into. Pack and repack. Remove unnecessary items (I’m still improving that bit). At the end of the day, you have to carry it so you want to pack as light as possible.


I wrote this article for Escape.com.au and you can view the original here!

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