Europe is an exciting melting pot of culture, architecture, cuisine, fashion, and history. Whatever your style, at any given time you can enjoy famous cities, quaint towns, picturesque rivers and canals, countryside vineyards, and a variety of festivals giving you unforgettable memories of your trips. However, backpacking through Europe is no easy task. Especially if you’re on a budget.
If you’re not careful, you can easily spend a fortune on your big Eurotrip, and still wonder whether you even saw the best of Europe. To avoid this, we have compiled a list of our best tips for backpacking through Europe to make sure your trip is awesome and doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
1. Check Out Our European City Travel Guides
European travel tips are great, but specific city tips on how to save money, cheap places to eat, and things to do are even better. Here are our in-depth travel guides for Florence, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Vienna, Cologne, and Copenhagen. We also have specific tips for Austria here.
2. Pack Light
Backpacking through Europe is fun, but it can easily become a nightmare carrying around a 50+ liter backpack. Save yourself the backaches by packing what you NEED. For suggestions on what to pack and how to choose the best backpack for traveling, check out our bulls*** free packing list as well as our anti-packing list, and our guide on picking the best travel backpack.
3. Get Travel Insurance
4. Avoid Backpacking Through Europe During High Season
Summertime is the worst time to be backpacking through Europe, as it is super crowded and expensive. Instead, travel during the shoulder or off season as crowds are smaller and accommodations are almost 40-50% cheaper.
If you must travel during the summer months, we highly recommend booking accommodations in advance.
5. Visit Cheaper European Countries
Staying too long in popular European destinations can get expensive. Instead, share the love and visit cheaper, but equally beautiful European countries like Estonia, Hungary, Croatia, or Czech Republic.
6. Do Research for Typical Tourist Traps and Scams
You can save yourself a lot of money by researching common tourist traps and scams for your destination before you go. Need an example? Sitting down and having a cup of coffee in a coffee shop in Italy can cost you over €10. If you had done your research ahead of time, you would have known that you should take your coffee to go or stand up to avoid the crazy fees.
7. Plan Your Trip Around the First or Last Sunday in the Month
In most European countries all state museums are free either on the first or last Sunday of the month. By visiting Florence on the first Sunday of the month, we saved over $100 in museum fees.
8. Pack Your Student ID
If you are between the ages of 18-24 and have a student ID card, you are eligible to get discounts on many attractions in Europe. So don’t forget to pack your valid student ID.
9. Don’t Try to See All of Europe in Just One Trip
I know how tempting it can be to pack your European itinerary with as many European countries as possible, but seriously don’t do it. Narrow it down to a few places, that way you save money, travel to places you really want to, avoid burn-out and spend time really appreciating a country by giving it more than just two days. Europe isn’t going anywhere, you can always come back.
Also, it’s great to plan for your trip, just don’t overplan! Be flexible and give yourself some wiggle room to experience a place and have fun.
10. Stay in Hostels
You can find hostels any and everywhere in Europe. Staying in a hostel is also a great way to meet other travelers and make friends while you’re backpacking through Europe. Great search engines to use for booking hostels are Hostelworld and Booking.com.
11. Don’t Stay in a Private Room in a Hostel
Private rooms in hostels are always more expensive than a private room at a budget hotel or Airbnb rental (see tip 15).
12. Stay in Hostels With Free Breakfast
Save money by staying in a cheap hostel that includes breakfast! Why not kill two birds with one stone?
13. Avoid Staying Directly in the City Center
Save money by not staying directly in the city center. Instead, book accommodations that are within walking distance or a short bus ride to the city center.
14. Take Overnight Buses or Trains
Especially if the overnight bus or train costs less than a night at a hostel!
15. Rent an Apartment
I know what you’re thinking… apartment rentals can’t possibly be cheaper than a hostel. But they can be, especially if you’re traveling in a group or as a couple. To find the right apartment, check out Bluepillow, a global vacation rental search engine that finds you the best deals in town. Ben and I rented an entire apartment on Airbnb for $50 USD a night in Rome. Not only was it cheaper, but we also had our own private space, kitchen and washing machine, with no snoring roommates. Click here to get $35 off your next booking with Airbnb with our Airbnb coupon code.
16. Look into Camping
There are plenty of campgrounds in Europe, and a good number of them are close to popular European cities. Camping is a great way to cut your accommodation expenses by more than half, especially in popular, expensive cities. For example, we paid $10 per person for a 2 person bungalow in Venice that was a 10-minute bus ride from the city center.
Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals, learn about the city, make new friends and stay somewhere for free!
For more in-depth info on hitchhiking through Europe as well as on specific cities, check out Hitchwiki.
There is also a very useful and active Facebook group, Hitchhiking in Europe, where you can ask questions, read about other people’s experiences and even find a hitchhiking partner.
20. Share Your Journey With a Stranger
You can easily and cheaply get where you want to go by carpooling with locals already heading in your direction. The best and most active ride sharing program in Europe is called BlaBlaCar.
21. Rent a Bike
Rentals are cheap, and bike lanes are plentiful and wider than most pedestrian sidewalks, so why not save money while you’re improving your health. Some cities, like Vienna, even have free bike rental programs!
If you are cycling throughout Europe, look into Warmshowers. Warmshowers is a free community similar to Couchsurfing, but for touring cyclists. Bikesurf is another non profit sharing community where you can rent out bikes for free or very cheap from locals throughout your visit!
22. Take Cheap Buses
I find it weird that travel writers neglect to mention buses in their “Tips for Backpacking Through Europe” articles, especially when it’s such a cheap way to get around Europe.
A great website to use to find the cheapest way to get anywhere within Europe is Busradar. Busradar is a search engine for bus trips in Europe, however they also incorporate trains and BlaBlaCar in their searches.
23. Don’t Get the Eurail Pass
Many bloggers will swear by Eurail and brag about how cheap it is, but it’s not! They are only telling you that because they got free passes in exchange for writing a post! They would probably never buy it themselves, and yet they are recommending the shit out of it. Skip the pass, save money and take buses instead!
24. Fly With Budget Airlines
Don’t like long bus rides, hitchhiking, or sharing a car with strangers, but still want to save money? Then fly with budget airlines. Budget airlines are the travel gods’ gift to budget backpackers like us, and Europe has over a dozen! :) With European budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet or Norwegian Air, you can easily fly anywhere in Europe for close to nothing! For example, we flew from Rome to Amsterdam for only €17 last summer!
To keep your flight costs low, read our guide on how to effectively use budget airlines and pay $0 in fees.
25. Don’t Forget to Take the Trains Too!
Train travel isn’t always the cheapest or most budget friendly way of getting around Europe, however there are instances where it can be cheaper than other modes of transportation. So don’t forget to check regional rail websites when planning your trip.
26. Walk or Take Local Transportation
Walk everywhere you can once in the city and when you can’t walk anymore, take public transportation. We also recommend dividing your sightseeing based on location, that way you don’t waste money hopping from one end of the city to the other.
27. Purchase Your Bus Ticket Ahead of Time
Most European countries charge an extra fee when you purchase your bus ticket directly from the bus driver. To avoid the extra fee, purchase your bus ticket ahead of time at a tobacco shop or newsstand. In some places, like Naples and Milan, you can’t even purchase public transportation tickets on board at all, you must buy them ahead of time.
28. Don’t Try to Take Public Transportation for Free
Public transportation may seem free in many European countries, especially since everyone seems to just hop on the buses and trains without paying, but it’s not! These countries actually use the honor system, which means if you are caught by one of the undercover patrollers, you will pay a hefty fine! For example in Salzburg, you pay an €80 fine if you are caught without a ticket! So pay the €1-2 fare or risk being €50+ in the hole.
29. Cook Your Own Meals
Surprisingly good quality meat, produce, and everything else for that matter are cheap in European supermarkets, which means you save money by cooking your own meals.
P.S. If you want to eat at least one meal a day at a restaurant, we recommend it be for lunch. That’s when most restaurants have deals, like “menu of the day”.
30. Stuff Your Face At All You Can Eat Buffets
With prices between €5-10, all-you-can-eat buffets are the way to go. Filling and cheap. Did you know there is a pay-what-you-want all-you-can-eat buffet in Vienna and they are open 23 hours a day?
31. Eat at Pay-What-You-Want Restaurants
There are several pay-what-you-want restaurants in Europe where you can eat a nice healthy meal without worrying if you can afford it or not. For a list of these restaurants, read our Pay-What-You-Want Restaurants Around the World article.
32. Refill at Water Fountains Instead of Buying Water
Popular European cities have water fountains everywhere, so instead of buying water bottles just refill your refillable water bottle to save money and the planet! However, be wary of drinking tap water in Eastern Europe.
Austria, France, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, and Luxembourg’s water is rated among the best drinking water in the world.
33. Eat Street Food
There may not be as much cheap street food as there is in Thailand or Guatemala, but there is still some in Europe. A popular and filling street food is Döner Kebab, which usually cost between €2-3. Also, avoid eating street food in touristy areas where they will charge more.
34. Eat Food at the Supermarkets
Most supermarket chains sell hot or cold sandwiches, salads, and other to-go meals for cheap. Oh, and don’t forget to raid the bakeries too!
35. Free Samples at Farmers Markets
Okay, this is for the super budget backpacker. Get a meal’s worth of food from all the free samples at a farmers market! However, know that this is not always a guaranteed meal.
36. Eat Local Dishes
Suppress those big macs, ribs, and steak cravings and eat local dishes to save money on food!
37. Drink Beer but Don’t Drink it All the Time
Everyone knows beer is cheap, especially in Germany. But the more you drink, the more money you are going to drink away! Those €3 beers add up!
38. When in Italy, Take Advantage of Aperitivos
Between 7-9pm bars and sometimes restaurants have aperitivos! All you have to do is order a drink (not a cocktail, they are usually the most expensive) and you’ll get unlimited access to a buffet of tasty snacks. The trick is to sip slowly and socialize, that way you eat a meal or two worth of food for the price of one drink!
39. When in Germany or Austria, Go to Beer Gardens
Yup, that’s pretty self explanatory!
40. Buy Your Beer & Wine at the Supermarkets
For the price you pay for a glass of wine in a restaurant in France or Italy, you can buy a whole bottle of wine at the supermarket.
41. Have a Park Picnic
Grab some cheese, fresh baked bread, cold cut meat, fruits and of course wine, and have a picnic at the local park! Cool places to do this: Vondelpark in Amsterdam, along the Salzach River in Salzburg, Margaret Island in Budapest, Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome, Parc Ciutadella in Barcelona and Volkspark Friedrichshain in Berlin.
42. Avoid Eating in Touristy Areas
In those areas, you pay twice as much as you would if you were three streets over.
43. When in Italy, Take Your Meal to Go
Restaurants in Italy charge a 3-5% fee to sit down and eat. To avoid this fee, take your meal to go if you can.
44. Always Ask the Waiter if it’s Included
Water and bread are rarely free in European restaurants. It’s not like the states where waiters bring you free tap water and bread to eat while you wait on your meal. To avoid your $10 meal costing $30, always ask if it’s included in the price. Better safe than sorry.
45. Go on Free Walking Tours
You can find free walking tours in practically every European city, so take advantage of them. Free walking tours are a great way to explore and learn about the city without paying for it (well almost, since technically you have to tip the guide)!
46. A Must-See Doesn’t Mean You Must See It
Visit attractions you really want to see, or have an interest in! Don’t go see the small ass Mona Lisa painting with millions of people if you don’t like art! Spend money and time on the stuff you enjoy!
47. Go Hiking, it’s Free
From Mount Olympus in Greece to the snowy cone tops of the Austrian Alps, Europe has some of the most impressive mountains in the world, so why not hike a few! And no, you don’t have to be an expert hiker to enjoy Europe’s mountains. All you need is a pair of good hiking shoes, a list of easy to climb mountain trails and determination :)
48. Visit the Lakes Around Europe
Not only are they less crowded than European beaches, they are absolutely gorgeous and tranquil! Some of our favorites: Lake Bled in Slovenia, Königssee in Germany, and Zell-am-Zee in Austria.
49. Get Out of the City
Cities are purposely design for you to spend money. Almost everything you do will require you to take money out of your wallet! Therefore, get out of the city to visit the countrysides and fall in love with nature! Enjoying nature doesn’t cost a thing.
50. Avoid Museum Fees
Many museums in Europe have free days, so do some research ahead of time to see when popular museums are free! To give you an idea, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is free on Mondays after 7pm and the Vatican Museum is free all day on September 27th for World Tourism Day.
51. Avoid Long Lines
Visiting an attraction in the morning is a sure way to get stuck in long lines. Instead, head to attractions around lunch time or an hour or two before close. We backpacked Europe during the summer and with this tip we waited a maximum of 30 minutes at an attraction.
52. Don’t Forget to Do Free Attractions
A simple google search with the text, “Free things to do in [your destination city]”, can get you a crazy amount of things to do even in the most expensive European city for nothing.
53. Wear Comfortable Shoes to Go Sightseeing!
There is a lot of walking around when you’re exploring a new city, so wear comfortable shoes.
54. Attend Free Concerts and Events
Europe has some of the best free concerts, festivals and open-air events in the world, so take advantage of them! Here are a few awesome ones:
- Donauinselfest (Vienna, Austria)
- Vienna Film Festival (Vienna, Austria)
- Edinburgh Free Fringe (Edinburgh, Scotland)
- Pluk de nacht (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
- Tomatina (Valencia, Spain)
- Notting Hill Carnival (London, UK)
- OcktoberFest, Germany
- Christmas Markets (most of Europe)
55. See a World Class Opera for Only €3
The Vienna State Opera House sells standing-room tickets to world-class operas for only €3. All you have to do is show up 90 minutes before the opera show starts. The opera in Budapest also sells €2-3 tickets, and with those you can even sit down.
56. Wander Around the City Without a Guidebook
Put the guidebooks down, wander around cities, get lost and discover something you weren’t told to see! Talk and hangout with locals, and let them guide you to all the local hotspots. We promise it’s way more fun than following the guidebook.
57. Sundays = No Shopping in Europe
Sunday is a day of rest for most places in Europe, especially in Austria, Italy and Germany. Many, if not all shops, malls and even supermarkets are closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly! Don’t complain about not being able to spend money. Do what the locals do and don’t spend money; take time to relax, hangout with friends at the park and enjoy the consumer-free day.
58. Looking into Purchasing City Cards
City cards can be a great way to get discounts or free admission to attractions, tours, public transportation and sometimes even food. However, be sure to do the math to make sure it’s worth it.
59. Travel Slow
Don’t rush through countries like you’re on a bad blind date, rather take your time and appreciate a place, meet locals and delve into a country’s culture.
60. Skip the International Phone Plan
These days you can get in touch with almost anyone via free apps like Whatsapp, FB Messenger, and Skype. With free wifi pretty much everywhere in Europe, you don’t have to worry about not being connected. We have been traveling for 3 years now without a phone plan, and not once have we thought “damn, we should have gotten that international phone plan!”
If you don’t like depending on other people for wifi or using insecure public wifi, look into getting a portable wifi device.
61. Know Your Visa Allowance
If you are an American citizen, you are allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. So use those 90 days wisely by knowing which European countries are a part of the Schengen Visa and how long you want to stay in each place. If you want to stay in Europe longer than 90 days, read this article to learn how to do so.
62. Learn the Basics in the Local Language
Here is how to say thank you in French, “Merci”, German, “Danke”, Italian, “Grazie” (GRAHT-tsyeh), Spanish, “Gracias” (GRAH-syahs) and Latvian, “ paldies ” (PUHL-dyehs). See, saved you some research :D.
63. Public Bathrooms Will Cost You
There are many touristy places in Europe where you will have to pay to use a public bathroom! Venice even has a bathroom pass you can purchase for $5 USD, that’s how serious it is. So make sure to use the restroom before you leave a restaurant or museum. We love sneaking into McDonalds and Starbucks to use the bathroom for free.
Just because you’re backpacking through Europe on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have an unforgettable experience. The travel tips above will help you cut down on your travel expenses so you can embrace all that Europe has to offer without going broke! Happy Eurotripping!