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How to Backpack Through Europe Cheaply

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Anna is a New Yorker writing about her globe-trotting, culinary, and healthy living adventures.

Backpacking Through Europe on a Budget

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 to 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.

Driving past the Eiffel tower on the way to the hostel from the airport.  To get from the airport to your hostel cheaply, use the metro which will cost you just a couple of Euros. A taxi will cost you over 50 Euros!

Driving past the Eiffel tower on the way to the hostel from the airport. To get from the airport to your hostel cheaply, use the metro which will cost you just a couple of Euros. A taxi will cost you over 50 Euros!

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 a 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 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.

What's Your Budget?

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 are less than 6 months left until expiration, travel insurance, a guide book, and travel accessories such as a converter and a digital camera.

Nice, in the French Riviera is "nice"

Nice, in the French Riviera is "nice"

What's Your Trip Objective?

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.

How Much Time Do I Have to Travel?

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 in how long your backpacking trip will last.

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Take advantage of low-cost airlines such as Ryanair to get from destination to destination. Flights are as cheap as $20

Take advantage of low-cost airlines such as Ryanair to get from destination to destination. Flights are as cheap as $20

When Do You Plan to Travel?

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.

Which Part of Europe Do You Want to Travel To?

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 then maybe you should consider Portugal, Southern Spain, and the French Riviera.

If you’re more into the 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 about which region is most appealing to you and begin narrowing down to which exact cities you want to visit.

Who Are You Backpacking With?

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.

This is me at Cinque Terre in Italy - a great backpacker's destination!

This is me at Cinque Terre in Italy - a great backpacker's destination!

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

Exploring ancient ruins in Crete, Greece

Exploring ancient ruins in Crete, Greece

More Money Saving Tips

  • 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.
  • Notify your credit card / debit 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!

Ready to Adventure?

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?

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