Europe is not the cheapest continent in the world. In fact, it can be pretty pricey when compared to other travel hotspots like East Asia. It is hardly the sort of place you can imagine being able to spend seven months living on a tiny budget off less than a couple of grand.
If you want to travel Europe long term and use hotels for accommodation, and eat at fancy restaurants, and take buses and trains everywhere you go, then £2000 is an unrealistically small amount of money to do this for. You’re going to need a bigger budget, or you will need an income.
On two separate occasions (but both times using quite a similar style of travel), I took a trip of seven months for this small amount of money. I am not going to lie or gloss it over… a lot of sacrifices had to be made, and what I am about to describe is not for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a few tips from it though…
A large cost during traveling, is actually getting from A to B. I just walked. I love trail walking (I’ll reveal the reasons why in a later post.) By linking together several trail walks myself and a companion managed to hike out of the UK, and pay only a tiny fee to board the ferry to France, where we continued to walk some more.
Instead of paying a couple of hundred for the travel costs, you end up paying a couple of hundred for an epic experience that becomes about much more than getting from one place to another.
Cost: Free, but spend some money on daily costs.
The same is true of hitchhiking, another free and fun way to get around. I feel safe in Europe. I can’t vouch for anywhere else yet, but I will hitchhike in the future wherever and whenever I feel comfortable doing so. You travel a lot of miles without spending any money, but much more importantly you get really rich and diverse experiences meeting new people from all walks of life. If you think that the only people that will pick up a hitchhiker are hippy types or dangerous criminals then you are very sadly mistaken. (Read this article for the reasons why I love hitchhiking.)
Car sharing is another very cheap way to get around. More organized and official than hitchhiking, you can make car sharing connections through the website, which links drivers to potential passengers who split the fuel – saving money and helping the environment. Again, this can be a great way to meet new people, though I feel it doesn’t quite have the thrill of hitchhiking, where you are never really sure who you will end up with, or where exactly you will be by the end of the day. It is a comfortable medium, and a great way of getting around.
Cost: Petrol for journey divided by number of people in car
As a side note, I would recommend being aware of the public transport cost in each country that you visit. Obviously, in some countries where transport is very cheap, you may be able to afford yourself the odd train, bus, or even taxi.
Long distance train journeys in France were much cheaper than they are in the UK, for example, though you will still pay a significant amount per journey.
In Belgium, young and fresh as I was at the time, I bought an under 25 rail card that gave 20 journeys in the country. They even allow two people to share this card. The country is small, highly populated with cities, and well linked by train. It was perfect. We could even sometimes “forget” to note down our journey on the tickets, which were rarely checked, and therefore managed unlimited transport for a month for about €15 each.
This is really the biggie when it comes to travel, isn’t it? I suppose it’s the biggie in life too. We pay rent, and we get a roof over our heads, and hopefully a nice warm bed.
I mostly slept in a tent. Some people are just going to leave the blog right now. I know, I’m perfectly aware that this isn’t for everyone.
But for me, there is nothing more liberating in this world than waking up in a beautiful secluded spot, stretching and yawning, and unzipping the tent door to gaze out upon the rising sun as it beams out over the ocean, casting its first light on the crashing waves and morning mists. Nothing. Can’t beat it. If you say otherwise you haven’t done it, or you haven’t gotten over the initial shock of sleeping outside. It’s beautiful!
I only occasionally used campsites. Every few nights you need a shower and a little bit of a lie in. Most of the time, at least on the trail walks, it was wild camping all the way for me. Walk, see a spot that looks divine, pitch for the night and enjoy some hot food over a stove and maybe a cup of tea. Delightful.
Cost: total cost of wild camping, after the initial £100 to get a tent? Zero. Free accommodation. Just like it should be. Cost of campsite in Europe – around €10 a night.
Hostels & Hotels?
I remember getting to Bordeaux once, and asking about the price of the hostel. It was €25 a night. I left, got a train out of the city for about a euro, and pitched by a lake. Europe is just not cheap for hostels.
Maybe if I had more money I would have taken the bed. I’m definitely not against hostels, and in the future I will use them much more, especially in countries where I can get a bed for a few dollars a night. When walking the Camino de Santiago, we used hostels regularly at €3-4 a night. Next time I travel I want to spend more time in hostels with other travelers. But there’s a reason why hostels weren’t such a widely used option at the time.
How long would I have lasted if I had spent every night of my trip in a £20 hostel? If I had spent nothing else, and done nothing else apart from stayed in hostels and enjoyed their mighty fine breakfasts, I would have lasted 3 months. Being realistic about other costs, I would say I would have been home in less than a month had I chosen this as the standard option.
So, what else did I do? Surely I didn’t just walk around and stay in a tent? If so, then this article is pretty pointless for anyone who isn’t a trail route enthusiast. No, there are many other ways to take care of your accommodation in Europe, without spending a penny.
Cost: Around €10-30 a night in Europe for a basic hostel bed.
When I went to Paris, I used coachsurfing. If you haven’t heard of this site already, then brace yourselves… coachsurfing is a community of local people connected online, who open up their doors to travelers, and offer a space at their place. There are people all over the world who are a part of this, and it means you can pretty much stay in any city for free. But don’t take advantage of the spirit and idea of the concept. This isn’t a hotel. Every host is different, but you should always respect their home and their life, and try to make the experience as mutually enjoyable as possible.
Coachsurfing gives you the opportunity to see whatever city you are visiting not only through your own eyes, but also the eyes of your host. In Paris, my host Andrea took us out for a meal, talked with us about Paris and all the sites, and let us stay 3 nights in his new apartment. He took us out for a couple of beers at a bar near Bastille, and had a little smoke and some wine with us on his balcony. Perfect. We also got to help him move house, which was great for the team spirit.
Volunteering For Bed & Board
And last but not least, is to volunteer using one of the following organizations: Wwoofing, Workaway, HelpX. Again, if you haven’t heard of these sites, and you are interested in budget travel, you really need to check them out. The idea is simple: you do a few hours of work a day, and the host gives you food and board, and most of the time a whole lot more.
Again, the exchange is not supposed to be dead. It’s not a hard, cold trade. This is travel, and most hosts are looking for new experiences as much as you are. I did this many times in Europe, and always found it incredibly rewarding. Go with the attitude that you want to embrace the host’s life, and learn from them as much as possible, and you will always take something away. But also try to give back.
You will find all sorts of opportunities available, so take your pick of what feels right for you. Farming, homesteads, vegetable gardens, animals, and a whole lot more. You can stay for weeks and months at a hosts house if you get along, and won’t have to spend a penny on food or accommodation, and you can also explore the surrounding area with a solid base.
The final essential on the list is food. After that you don’t really need anything else. You can have an amazing time seeing stunningly beautiful places, meeting people, learning skills, and just accepting and enjoying life.
One of the cheapest ways you can get food is to take it out of dumpsters (crazy law alert: this is illegal in some places, or something). Loads of shops and supermarkets and restaurants throw away tones of amazing food every day. However, this is one thing that I don’t like to do in the long run. I want to live without money, but I don’t really want to always eat out of bins. I respect those who do, but I aspire to have an organic veggie garden someday, because I feel I deserve wholesome food.
I lived off bin food for a month while living at a community in Belgium. I loved it in a lot of ways. We had more than enough food to feed 10 humans and 50 animals, all from one supermarket. We had a new crate of danish pastries every morning. Life was pretty easy.
When I was in Europe, I mostly ate supermarket food, which I bought and cooked. It’s cheap enough. On the trail walks we often lived off a very simple diet. Sometimes dangerously simple – like oats, and rice with a bit of sauce for flavor. Malnutrition alert! Later on I learned to cook some pretty impressive one-pot meals on my stove using potatoes and vegetables!
Our trail routes were well balanced with time Wwoofing, and this meant we would be duly fattened up by our hosts, who usually had their own veggie gardens with amazing homegrown food, some of the best you will ever eat in your life. So, if you mix in a fair share of volunteering at the right places you are not going to go hungry for very long.
Cost: €1-3 per meal
By now some of you are going to be thinking; do I really want to only eat from supermarkets and stoves when I am traveling? I totally feel you, and that’s why I’m going to introduce you to ‘Menu du Jour’, which in English means ‘menu of the day’. The menu of the day exists in France, Spain, and I belief many other European countries. It is mostly on offer for the workers, who get to enjoy long lunch breaks to eat traditional full-on meals… they have three courses and swill it down with wine before getting back to work.
Go into a restaurant in France between 12-2pm, and ask for the meal of the day (en francais, Menu du Jour), and you can expect to pay about €8-15 or less for a three course meal with wine. The food is brilliant, as the french don’t really do bad food. It is a set meal, that is the only catch. Options are limited. I don’t mind; I am getting a three course meal for a tenner in Europe! Try the same in Spain and expect to pay closer to €5-10. Bargain!
See, you don’t have to live completely like a homeless person to travel cheap. You can have days off. I used to take “holidays” during my travel stints; short periods of time to relax and spend a bit more on burgers and drinks on the beach.
You could also check out the specialities of European countries for cheap. Grab a waffle in Belgium from a local street stand rather than a tourist trap shop. Eat a continental breakfast on the mediterranean coast for a few euros. Drink some fresh orange at a market for a euro. That sort of thing allows you to get more of an experience of the country, without busting the bank balance.
Cost: €5-20 for a three course meal
You want to see the sights of a place that you visit right? Same here, and I wouldn’t let a low budget stop me from doing something I really wanted to do. With all of that money saved on food and accommodation, I could afford to splash out occasionally to see something incredible. But actually most of the best things are free, or at least pretty cheap. Nature’s beauty doesn’t cost much, and that is a lot of what a country is to me.
In the cities in Europe, cultural entertainment is pretty cheap. Museums and art galleries, exquisite architecture, and most educational experiences are offered at low prices. You just have to avoid the urge to want to spend money just to feel exquisite. For example, just gaze upon the Eiffel Tower from the bottom, instead of paying €40 to ride an elevator to the top. Instead, head over to the Arc du Triumph where you can get nearly the same elevation for about €3. Common sense. I got a boat ride down the Siene for about €7, a price I was willing to pay for the one-off experience. The same trip would cost me €50 of I wanted to be a bit more pampered on the way.
It’s little tricks like this that save you a fortune. I’m just using Paris as an example of a city that could be very expensive. With the right mentality anywhere can be cheap.
So there you have it folks. That’s how I did Europe for 7 months (twice) on less than £2000 per trip. I hope you can take some tips from this article, and head off to the rather expensive continent without fears that ‘you can’t afford it’.
That’s the thing. Of course, a lot of sacrifices were made to make this trip possible with such as small budget. But without making those sacrifices I might never have gone in the first place, or I would have gone and had a month in France and been back home again.
It is possible to travel no matter how much or how little money you have. And I would actually thoroughly recommend to anyone traveling on a budget so small that it almost scares you, at least once.
I wouldn’t have had the experience I did if I would have had more money. There were times on the trail routes that we would shiver ourselves to sleep at night, and the only reward was the warmth of the sleeping bags and the feeling of thawing out the next morning when the sun comes out. Maybe I would have booked a hotel if I had more money, but then, in my opinion, my experience and learning would not have been as raw.
A day on a trail walk in Europe, wildcamping and eating hot stove food bought from a supermarket, would cost less than €5 a day.
A whole month Wwoofing, with the occasional day or night out at the weekend, might cost as little as €80, but you could even spend nothing at all, or make money online while doing it if you have the means.
A day in Paris (or another major city), coachsurfing, but going out seeing the sites and having a bit of snacky food, can cost as little as €20-30, and you can get a lot done with that. Or you can stay in a hotel for €300 a night, eat out for €50, and then hit the most expensive quarters in town to come back a thousand dollars down. Your choice.
Got any travel tips for doing Europe on a budget, or want to have a moan about anything I’ve said in this article? Pop your rant in the comment section!