10 steps to cheap travel in Europe
Chances are you’ve looked at plane tickets on at least one occasion and figured I guess it’ll still be there when I’m 65 and retired. Don’t be discouraged! I am going to explain how you can travel to the European country of your dreams for less than you imagined possible.
Step 1. Forget about your exact travel plans
The quickest way to make your trip as expensive as possible is to narrow your search down to something incredibly specific.
For example, just because you have a four-day weekend at Easter doesn’t mean it’s a good time to travel. Be open to being flexible about travel dates, places you travel to, and the types of places you stay. The more flexible you are, the cheaper the trip will be.
Step 2. Determine where you really want to visit.
I know I just said be flexible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose where you want to visit, it means you have to be open to getting there in ways you didn’t anticipate. If you want to visit Dublin more than anything, don’t look for flights from the US to Dublin alone. Chances are you can find a plane ticket from the US to another European city for much, much less. You can then book another short flight to Dublin for less than $80 roundtrip. It’s also a great way to see an additional country!
Step 3. Determine which city you will fly from
The prices of flights to Europe vary enormously depending on the airport you are flying into, the one you are departing from and the dates of your trip. So a good first step might be to determine which airport you’ll be flying out of. If you live in a big city like New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, good luck! You will find the cheapest flights to Europe from these cities. If you don’t live in these cities, you will most likely end up flying through them to get to Europe. So if you can drive to one of those cities, that may be an inexpensive option. Otherwise, consider booking a flight to one of those cities from your hometown. Although it seems strange, you can get cheaper flights by booking each leg individually instead of booking a ticket from your home to your destination.
Step 4. Determine the cheapest European city to fly to
The easiest way to do this is to check out websites that aggregate all the cheapest airfares so you don’t have to search through hundreds of flights yourself. Some sites allow you to type the United States or the city you know you will be departing from in the “from” field. In the “to” field, try choosing “everywhere”. Then scroll down the resulting list looking for the first or cheapest country in Europe to fly to. If, for example, Norway costs $340 and France $380, then it’s probably worth choosing France if that’s your desired destination; however, if the difference is more than $100, I would choose the cheapest airport first. The annoying thing about Skyscanner is that the offers are often no longer active and sometimes you also have to search through many dates looking for the cheapest one to travel to. But patience is key and this is how you find the cheapest flights. Another tip is that sometimes flights are run through travel agencies and it’s probably worth looking into the agency for reviews before booking your ticket, bearing in mind that satisfied customers rarely write reviews. But if the agency has a five-star rating, that may be a clue to passing.
Step 5. Find an inter-European flight to reach your dream destination in Europe
One thing that most people don’t realize is that flying from one country to another in Europe is very cheap.
I have flown around Europe for $14 each way. It is not a joke. I have never paid more than $60 for a flight within Europe. Use Kayak.com to find a flight to your actual destination from any country where you ended up booking the cheapest flight to Europe.
Step 6. Now that you have arrived, find a cheap or free place to stay.
Everyone has their own idea of a dream vacation. If staying at the Ritz is your thing, I’m surprised you read this far in this article. For most of us, we just want to stay somewhere decent while enjoying all that Europe has to offer. I have never stayed in a dump in Europe. I don’t want to and I’m not that desperate. Accommodation comes down to four options: hotel, rental, hostel, or Couchsurf.
- Hotel. Staying in a hotel is a safe way to go and if it’s your first time in Europe or you don’t like to take risks then this is probably the route you want to take. Hotels, depending on where you’re visiting, range from $20 to $200 a night, so you may want to keep that in mind when choosing a destination. I wouldn’t recommend staying in Monaco unless your oil company is making record first-quarter profits, but staying in nearby Nice could be an option. In other words, keep your options open.
- Rental. Booking a room, apartment, villa or rental house is also a safe bet, but it can be a bit more complicated than just checking into a hotel. Sites like Homeaway and Airbnb offer really unique locations and I have to say that some of my favorite places I’ve stayed in Europe were rentals. From a winery villa in Tuscany to a secluded mother-in-law in a quiet suburb of London, I’ve really enjoyed staying in rentals and the price is usually much less than staying in a hotel if there’s a group of you who can share the cost.
- lodging house. The word hostel brings up thoughts of scary movies, but the reality is that the difference between a hostel and a hotel is sometimes indistinguishable in Europe. Of course there are hostels where you get a bunk bed in a room with five other travelers and for some people this is exciting and interesting! But just because bunk beds aren’t your thing doesn’t mean you should rule out anything with the word hostel in the title. I’ve stayed in a few “hostels” that were just as nice as a hotel.
- couchsurfing. If you’re really on a tight budget or meeting local people is really important to you, there’s no better way than Couchsurf. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, visit the Couchsurfing website. Essentially, the site allows you to request to stay with someone who is willing to host travelers at their home for free, and vice versa. People leave reviews about travelers and hosts so you can have some assurance that they are reputable. Of course, this carries risks and safety precautions must be taken. Also, you should always have a backup plan in case the situation doesn’t work out.
Step 7. Eat cheap.
I am focusing on the necessities of visiting Europe: travel, accommodation and food. Of course, there are many other ways to spend money, but these are the things you have to spend money on, food being one of them.
The food is amazing. I love food and the first couple of times I went to Europe I was disappointed because I walked into random restaurants and most of them were mediocre. This all changed when I started searching TripAdvisor for restaurant reviews, that was all it took to make every meal amazing. This wasn’t so much money-saving advice as general advice. However, TripAdvisor allows you to search by general price of restaurants, so $ is cheap $$ is moderate $$$ is getting expensive etc.
Here’s a money-saving tip: Shopping for groceries in Europe is usually very cheap. So if you have booked an apartment with a kitchen, take advantage of it! Go shopping at a local market and buy new strange foods to cook! If you’re on a road trip, grab some snacks to save a few bucks.
Step 8. Realize that there are still more expenses
Although travel, accommodation and food are your main expenses, of course there will be others. Things to think about include transportation once you arrive, attraction fees, and souvenirs.
Transportation options include taking public transportation. Most European cities have fantastic and cheap public transport that can be purchased with local currency or with a debit card at a kiosk. Note that American credit cards often don’t work as you need a chip and PIN number.
Renting a car is a great option if you plan to travel outside the cities, it is usually quite affordable and gives you maximum freedom of mobility. Trains, while lovely, are usually not a cheap way to travel around Europe. Flights are much less expensive and faster. But if you’re in love with the idea of seeing the countryside by train, then it’s worth a try. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the Eurorail website for a fee. Or if you’re more flexible and feel it’s worth the risk, you can buy them in person at the train station for a little less.
Step 9. Travel light
Even if you don’t think traveling light will save you money, trust me, it will. First of all, all airlines will charge baggage fees. So each leg of your flight will cost you between $25 and $100 for each bag. That adds up fast. Second, if you have two suitcases, you’re going to fill two suitcases with stuff you probably don’t need. Third, taking cheap transportation like the subway becomes frustrating and impractical when you’re carrying two unwieldy suitcases. Fourth, your bags have to be with you at all times or in a hotel, so if you plan to leave in the morning and go to another city, you won’t be able to do anything until you get to your hotel. and check your bags. In general, it’s a huge pain to carry a lot of stuff around Europe with you. My advice, and I can’t stress it enough, is to fit everything in a backpack. I have a 50L backpack and it had everything I needed for a month and a half in Europe. Yes, there are also places to do laundry in Europe. If you’re saying, well, you don’t understand why you’re a boy. I traveled with two young women and they both put everything in a backpack. If you say you don’t understand because you are young, I traveled with my mother to Europe and she put everything in a standard size school bag! You can do it too!
Step 10. Always plan for the worst and hope for the best
Every time I travel to Europe I plan my anticipated expenses and round everything up. I also plan for at least $200 of unexpected expenses. In the end, my expenses are always well below this number, but I never want to end up in a situation where I feel overwhelmed by the cost.
In 2,000 words I have given you the summary guide to Europe on a tight budget. Of course, there are many other things to think about when booking your trip to Europe, but the most important thing is to just do it! Find those cheap airline tickets to Europe and book them. You can fill in all the blanks later, don’t try to plan everything before you buy your tickets, and don’t try to plan every second of every day. Allow time to be spontaneous and immerse yourself in European life.