Thinking about backpacking in Europe? If so, then I am psyched for you. Having done the backpacking thing myself, I know how exciting this trip is and I’ll be happy to share some tips with you on how you can have an unforgettable experience, cheaply.
Backpacking has become a very popular and cheaper alternative to getting around expensive Europe. The term “backpacking” refers to packing rather lightly for a trip usually using a backpack; getting from place to place using the cheapest means possible such as low-cost airlines, buses, or trains; sleeping at hostels or "couch-surfing" rather than expensive hotels; and having a longer break than the standard one-two week vacation.
Your backpacking trip through Europe will be unforgettable. You will experience lots of new cultures, see many sights and will meet lots of new people. You’re probably wondering how to begin your backpacking adventure. No worries! I will walk you through the process of planning and actually living the backpacking trip of a lifetime cheaply.
Plan Your Trip
Planning your backpacking travel through Europe ahead of time is the most important thing you can do in order to make it cheap(er). It may sound counter-intuitive to the ideal backpacker lifestyle of just going with the flow with the new people you'll meet but believe me, backpacking is not something you can do on the whim if you want to do it cheaply.
You don't want to learn the hard way that Ryanair has no seats available for your preferred flight, there's no bus or train from from A to B, and only hostels with bad reviews are available for dates that you're planning on being in town. You will need to plan your trip precisely if you want to travel cheaply.
Below are some important questions you should answer to help you plan your backpacking trip through Europe.
This is the most dismal part of planning your backpacking trip because you’ll soon realize that backpacking isn’t all that cheap and you'll need some major funds. But believe me, it’s so worth it! Plus, I will share tips on how to make it cheaper. Since you’re considering backpacking, you probably don’t have an unlimited budget.
So what exactly is your budget and what should you budget for? Costs within Europe will really vary depending on a bunch of factors such as the region of Europe you choose, the time of year, how you choose to sight-see, where you go out, and whether you know people at each destination. Remember also to factor in the costs of getting to Europe. Airfare costs will depend on where you’re coming from.
You’ll also have the cost of your backpack (or suitcase on wheels) if you don’t already have one, a passport if you don’t already have one and a new one if there’s less than 6 months left until expiration, travel insurance, a guide book, and travel accessories such as a converter and a digital camera.
Think about why is it that you want to backpack through Europe. Is it because you want to check out the local culture and museums of Western Europe? Or is it because you want to practice Spanish because you've been studying it since Junior High?
Or perhaps you want to check out where your ancestors hail from. Your trip objective will really determine lots of the other factors to consider.
Are you planning a backpacking adventure for the entire summer or just for Spring Break? Or perhaps for an entire year? Determine exactly how much time you have. Also consider the fact that your trip budget will play a huge role as to how long your backpacking trip will last.
When do you want to embark on your backpacking escapade? Summertime is the most popular time when you’ll meet lots of new people and will be able to fully enjoy the beaches and all. On the other hand, summertime is also the most expensive and hostels become quickly unavailable. Think about what trade-offs you want to make.
Europe is huge and each country varies – even each city usually really differs from one another. So think about your trip objective and determine the region that will help you achieve it. If you’re thinking beaches than maybe you should consider Portugal, Southern Spain, and the French Riviera.
If you’re more into culture, then maybe you should concentrate on Italy and France. Or maybe you want to do something completely different and wonder through Eastern European countries such as Poland, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Think which region is most appealing to you and begin narrowing down to which exact cities you want to visit.
Do you have a backpacking buddy or a group of friends you're planning your trip with? Or perhaps you're thinking of backpacking solo? Your travel companions (or lack of) will play a huge role in where and how you'll backpack through Europe.
Transportation Tips for Traveling on a Budget
Transportation in Europe can be expensive, and not to mention confusing, if you don't speak the local language. To get from place to place cheaply, you will need to research transportation between your destinations ahead of time.
- One of the easiest way to get around Europe is by train, where the trains are both comfortable and reliable. If you plan on traveling long distances by train often, get a Eurail pass in order to save money. Do not get a Eurail pass if you'll only be taking short trips because it will actually cost you more! Another thing to consider if you plan on taking trains to get around is that sometimes regional trains are cheaper than Eurostar trains. So do your research.
- Low cost airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, Aer Lingus and Trasavia have made traveling Europe by air very cheap and quick. It is important though to book early in order to save. Ryanair flights are as cheap as €14.99 ($20), excluding fees. Also note that Ryanair flies to secondary airports which are usually outside of major cities so you may incur additional costs to get you to the city but public transportation is usually available cheaply.
- Traveling by bus, although less comfortable than other means of travel, is the cheapest way to get around. Do research ahead of time to find out if buses are available between the cities you want to travel and you'll save big.
- If you're traveling in a group, you might consider renting a car which becomes affordable when you're splitting cost four-way. Research which budget car rentals are available at your destinations, their rates and whether there are extra costs for drop-offs at other locations. Keep in mind though that gas prices are more expensive in Europe than the U.S.
- Use public transportation within your destination cities. Metro and bus ticket usually cost just €1 - €2.
Tips on Getting Cheap Accommodations
The average cost of hostels in Europe is $20-$40 per night
Check out my favorite website for booking hostels, www.hostelworld.com. Each hostel is reviewed by guests based on factors such as character, security, location, staff, fun, and cleanliness. It's a great way to filter your search and find a hostel that's right for you.
Accommodation costs really add up when traveling for an extended amount of time, even if you're staying at cheap hostels. The most popular hostels fill up quickly, especially during peak tourist season so you'll need to book ahead of time. Think whether you have friends you can stay with who are perhaps studying in one of your destination cities. What about the European exchange student you stayed in touch with through the years, maybe you can crash at their place for a couple of days and catch up. Also consider couchsurfing, a site that connects travelers with people who will let you stay with them for free and perhaps will even show you around.
More Money Saving Tips
Credit Card Tip
Notify your credit card / debt card company of all the countries you plan to travel to ahead of time. Otherwise your bank card company will shut off your account and it will be hard to turn it back on from abroad. I learned this lesson the hard way!
- Research whether your chosen destinations offer special discounts on certain days. For instance, in Paris, on the first Sunday of every month you can get access to museums like the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and the Picasso museum for free. If you do your research ahead of time, you can take full advantage of such discounts, making your Eurotrip cheaper.
- If you're a student, bring your student card to get extra discounts for museums and sometimes even lunch.
- Dining is rather expensive in Europe so avoid restaurants and grab some pre-made sandwiches at a local supermarket or some local fast-food.
- Don't get guided tours but learn about your destination sites ahead of time from travel guides and really appreciate seeing the place in person when you're there. Many European cities offer free guided tours so check ahead of time if such tours are available and book them ahead of time.
- Don't buy souvenirs. Let your memories, camera and journal be your most prized souvenirs.
- Save on your liquor tab by pre-gaming at your hostel and finding out where there are drink specials or happy hours.
By following these easy tips, you'll be on you way to traveling through Europe cheaply. Ready to start planning the adventure of a lifetime?
Which countries are you planning on traveling to?
Alyssa Dillon from Missoula, MT on May 25, 2015:
Articles like this always remind me that it is entirely possible to travel on a budget, it just takes a little extra planning. Thank you for the great tips! I can't wait to get out there and do it myself.
Lee John from Preston on January 12, 2015:
Excellent Article love it, Thanks for sharing
Haydee Anderson from Hermosa Beach on June 04, 2014:
Excellent backpacking Europe tips! In particular, saving money by not buying souvenirs and drinking during happy hour will help stretch the tightest of tight budgets for several days.
lelsyaha on May 23, 2014:
Excellent tips ,Mobile App for traffic it's very important
Tom Schumacher from Huntington Beach, CA on February 14, 2014:
Great hub! It's been years since I was last in Europe. Given the opportunity I would love to return and spend a few months traveling via backpack and more thoroughly explore Romania, Greece, and the Nordic regions. - Thanks for sharing. Your experience brought back many wonderful memories!
Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on June 10, 2013:
I've never backpacked through Europe, but it has been a long-time fantasy of mine. You've given me a lot to consider - thanks! Another thing I'd like to add; learn enough of the local languages where you'll be visiting, to make your trip easier and more interesting. This came in really handy when I got lost in Berlin! (My hub "My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (6) Berlin" tells about this).
Since I'm still alive and healthy, there's still time - plus, having toured Europe by motor coach, I have some idea of what to expect. Your hub will really come in handy then!
Damo on May 24, 2013:
Budget flights are really cheap these days in Europe, often a lot cheaper than the train. I found a flight from London to Budapest for £9 on http://www.trendjetter.co.uk! You need to be very flexible with your dates though.
Kalmiya from North America on May 15, 2013:
Backpacking Europe is easy to do as trains are inexpensive and go everywhere and nearly all Euro cities and towns have amazing hostels for cheap. We went to Nice, France where you would think it would be expensive to stay but there are many hostels there. One of these is in a former chateau that now has a swimming pool and great facilities including a laundry. You can check out my Nice hub for details. Thanks for your info and details; it may be time for another trip!
sean crawford from los angeles on April 10, 2013:
Hello fellow hubber! Studying abroad in Italy was the best thing to happen to you being that you became a traveler. I once decided to backpack in Mexico and ended up staying for a year. Using one city as a home base seemed to be cheaper. However, if I go to Italy, I think I will go backpacking for the experience.
amandajoyshapiro on February 05, 2013:
Wow, this is such a great travel hub! It answers so much, even questions most don't think about: getting supermarket meals instead of restaurants. Seems like you had a memorable time, even mentioning some mistakes helps.
Frangipanni on January 23, 2013:
I did that 25 years ago and loved it too. Great hub. I think the train is the best and most convenient way to see Europe. Where did you stay in Cinque Terre for cheap?
John Patrick Baumann from St. Louis on December 05, 2012:
Great hub! Just come backpacking through Europe last month, miss it already!
Kirsty Stuart from London, UK on December 05, 2012:
Great advice here - I particularly like the tip about not going on guided tours and finding your own way instead - cheaper and much more fun!
dommcg on November 07, 2012:
Being from Europe i find travel relatively cheap, flights cost pennies nowadays and ther train is really good. thanks for the hub very interesting.
MomsTreasureChest on July 28, 2012:
Great Tips & a lots of useful information, especially the credit card advice!
carozy from San Francisco on July 01, 2012:
What a great and helpful hub. I'd love to travel once I have paid off some bills. Love your hubs, so much good travel info.
Chris J on June 03, 2012:
Travelling on a budget or solo? Don't forget this Free Mobile App from this traffic search engine:
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Anna (author) from New York, NY on May 01, 2012:
Hey there, Renz! Thanks for stopping by and your comment. I'm glad you found the hub interesting and practical :) Although a trip to Europe can be pricey, with some planning, you can definitely make it much cheaper.
Renz Kristofer Cheng from Manila on May 01, 2012:
Interesting hub! This is practically useful because I keep on hearing that trips to Europe usually cost a ton.
Anna (author) from New York, NY on April 30, 2012:
Hey Robert! I'm happy to hear that my hub reminded you of your summer in Europe :) Thanks for reading and commenting!
Robert Erich from California on April 30, 2012:
Oh man Global-Chica! I read this hub and I would have shared it even if you hadn't shared any of mine. Reading this reminded me so much of my summer in Europe. Good ol' Ryan Air, trains, sleeping in hostels and on park benches. Great tips and who knows, maybe one day we will run into each other in a far off land. Keep writing and I will keep reading! Voted up and shared.
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:
Thanks, Wesman. I think you should just go for it and no "testing some waters" necessary! I'd be happy to give you advice if you'd like.
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:
B. Leekley, thanks so much for liking and sharing my hub. I really appreciate it!
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:
nifwiseirff, thanks for the great tips you've provided!
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 15, 2012:
Thanks so much for stopping by, mbwalz! How exciting that you've also backpacked through Europe before and I agree that it's a very exciting thing to do and very memorable. It must've been more challenging to do it without a cell phone or internet so props to you!
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 09, 2012:
edelhaus, great tip about packing for a backpacking trip!
kuttingxedge, I hope you'll get a chance to use these tips soon. I'm glad you find them useful.
Teresa, although backpacking may not be for everyone, many of these tips are helpful to anyone who's looking to travel Europe on a budget.
Jason, thanks for the resources for additional backpacking tips.
Clevercat, it's awesome that you've done a backpacking trip through Europe before. I'm happy that these money saving tips have remained valid through the years.
Simone, I'm happy to hear that you find my travel tips useful and are already using some of these like the student card when you travel.
Munchwaffle, so true about technology like GPS helping out when traveling.
Cardelean, thanks for stopping by. You're lucky that you knew ahead of time about notifying the credit cards companies about traveling abroad. I learned the hard way when I wanted to buy a plane ticket in Vietnam for my next destination and found out that my card was blocked. It was a huge hassle to call the card company internationally from Vietnam and they kept putting me on hold. That was an unnecessary expense!
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on March 08, 2012:
This is a nice and extensive piece!
Oh I'd so love to do this, and especially before I get too much older.
...but I've not even been to Europe - so maybe I should "test some waters" before thinking of something like this?
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on March 08, 2012:
This is such a well written, well organized, sensible, and helpful hub that I shared it with followers and on Twitter and Facebook.
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on March 08, 2012:
While I'm not the traditional backpacking type, many of my friends have done so. You can make international friends via language exchange sites, which may end up giving you a place to crash and guided tours. A GPS enabled phone is a must, and you can purchase a local SIM in many countries (saving on data-roaming costs).
After carting around a large backpack for a couple of months in Japan, I'll echo Edelhaus - pack light, then re-pack lighter.
MaryBeth Walz from Maine on March 08, 2012:
Great hub. I did this for two months in 1986. Things were so different then, no cell phones or internet or Euro! But it was one of the most exciting things I've ever done. And thank goodness for Rick Steves and Let's Go Europe. Thanks for your hub, makes me feel nostalgic for 22 again!
cardelean from Michigan on March 07, 2012:
Excellent tips. I traveled through Europe in 1997 with my mom. Although we didn't backpack, we did stay in hostels, use the train, and did lots of research on discounts. I loved the tip about the credit cards. We did that when my husband and I honeymooned in Greece and it prevented a lot of problems. Nicely done.
munchwaffle from Philippines on March 07, 2012:
agree with the tips :D we also found it easier with a map or iphone/android gps with us. voted interesting!
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on March 07, 2012:
Dang, Global-Chica. You really know what you're doing! Thanks for these fantastic travel tips. While I'm not much the backpacking type anymore (or am I...?), I have really made bank on many of your great pieces of advice on the past. Student ID cards are AMAZING for saving money!
Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on March 07, 2012:
I completely agree with these tips. Having backpacked through Europe back in 1996, I did the Eurail thing and flew from Heathrow since that was the cheapest for me, living in the US. I also didn't do any guided tours accentor for one toward the end of my two month tour (I was exhausted by then, lol!)
Jason on March 06, 2012:
Some good tips here thanks. I also found some good stuff on www.traveleuropeonabudget.com for backpacking cheaply. Also check out rideshare.co.uk for cheap rides.
Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on March 06, 2012:
Don't think I'm the backpacking type but it might be something my kids try. Very informative hub. Great job!
Steven P Kelly from Tampa, FL on March 06, 2012:
Awesome! Thanks a lot for the well-thought-out article! So useful, I can't wait to get a chance to use it.
edelhaus from Munich, Germany on March 06, 2012:
Really good advice! I would just add one thing... having done the backpacking thing (25 years ago) I would say that once you decided on everything you need to take and filled up your backpack, take everything out again. Remove at least half and then repack. You will never need half of what you think you do and you can always use laundry services in hostels so that your clothes are fresh.
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 06, 2012:
Thanks, hoteltravel! I'm very happy to know that my hub might've inspired you to go backpacking in Europe one day. I hope that you'll do it and love every minute of it. And of course save some money with my tips!
hoteltravel from Thailand on March 06, 2012:
Excellent tips. I have never gone backpacking in Europe. May be this hub will inspire me. Voted up, useful and shared.
Anna (author) from New York, NY on March 06, 2012:
Thanks so much, ladeda! Happy to hear that my advice is validated by another backpacker. Thank you for stopping by.
ladeda on March 06, 2012:
Fantastic Hub. I've backpacked around Europe several times, and you offer some great advice! Thanks for sharing!