Budget Travel in Europe: A Student’s Guide | Top Universities

Budget Travel in Europe: A Student’s Guide

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Felix von Wendorff

Updated Mar 06, 2016



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Many people dream of being able to travel in Europe, but believe the trip is going to be too expensive. While much of Europe is expensive when compared to virtually any other place, there is no reason why it should be prohibitively so. Five weeks ago, I set out from Frankfurt with the goal of doing the ultimate grand European tour, while spending under €1,700. It certainly helps that I’m already living in Europe for my studies (flights from the US to Europe can be almost €1,000), but anyone can do this sort of trip if they want to. The trick to budget travel in Europe is to cut back on the two biggest costs of any traveler: accommodation and transport. It is easy to save on both if you are willing to sacrifice a little comfort for much, much cheaper prices.

Finding cheap accommodation in Europe

The easiest way to save on accommodation is to never stay in a hotel. There are lots of cheap, safe and more fun places to stay than a boring ol’ hotel. The traditional alternative to a hotel is the youth hostel. Nowadays, these are really nice places with lots of great people from all over the world. For a bed, it usually costs €20-29 a night depending on the European city you are visiting. For that, you get cheap accommodation which is usually very centrally located and has long reception hours.

Another cheap accommodation option is to rent an apartment or room privately. This is probably the cheapest way of staying somewhere if you’re travelling as a group, and can work out much cheaper than a youth hostel. But it can come with some restrictions: if you are renting a section of a private house, then the reception is obviously not open 24 hours.

There are lots of websites that connect people who have an apartment or spare room with potential renters, but my favorite is Airbnb.com. Be careful though, as they do charge a 10%+ commission. This is the best option if you are with a larger group of people or have young kids with you. If you are traveling alone or maybe with just one other person, there are lots of other budget offers on Airbnb; usually your own room (with a shared shower) costs less than €20.  Even cheaper than that, you will find couches and shared rooms.

Renting from a local is not only good for your wallet; it also means you have someone to ask what to see, and someone cool to talk to. There is often an understanding that one of you cooks a meal from his/her own culture on alternating nights. This is not mandatory, but is always fun and interesting.

Finally, for the more adventurous, there is “couch surfing”. Couch surfing is when people let you sleep on their couch or in a spare room for free. Usually, the idea is that you will invite them for a beer or something similar. Word of warning: it is very difficult to find a couch surfing place. This is especially true if you are a guy. But if you can get it, it is amazing!

Finding cheap transportation in Europe

Ok, so we covered cheap accommodation, let’s talk about cheap transportation. First things first: if you want to stick to your budget travel plan, you can forget the plane or train (especially in Europe). You need to understand, the faster you travel, the more expensive it gets. So naturally, we turn to the slowest and best form of public transportation: the stage coach bus. In my experience this is on average three times cheaper than travel in Europe by train and ten times cheaper than by plane.

Sure it takes longer, but what the hell, €19 for a bus ride from Frankfurt to Paris? Considering the alternative, that is unbeatable. Then there are ride share websites, where someone is driving somewhere and you can buy the free seats in the car. This is really cheap transportation and again a great way to meet locals. The best website I have found for this in Europe in blablacar.com, which offers rides all over the place for really cheap. But the cheapest transportation option of all is of course hitchhiking. It is also the most time-consuming and tedious. But hey, it beats having to pay for your trip.

A side note about buses: there is the option of buying an all-you-can-ride pass for a month. I had one from Eurolines for €250 (off-season price) and traveled nearly 6,500km around Europe, most of the time with power for my laptop so that I could watch movies and do some work. Fantastic deal! This is an especially cost-effective way to travel in Europe if you are a very fast traveler (like me); if this is the case then you can see a huge swathe of the region in very little time.

So there you have it. My tips for the simplest and easiest options for budget travel in Europe. With cheap accommodation and cheap transportation sorted, the cost of travel in Europe can be brought down to a level that just about everyone can afford. Have fun and be safe!