When we decided to take this trip and backpack across Europe, the questions we received from friends and family seemed endless. “Why are you doing this? What is your plan? Where are you going? How can you afford it? How long will you go?” Emily, Abby and I sat down over drinks and wanted to share what we have learned, how we are doing this, and offer some tips that can save you thousands of dollars.
Preparing Your Finances:
I have just broke my $3,500 dollar mark (flight included), and I have been traveling Europe for two months and visited 7 countries. We took time to plan for our trip, but maybe not in a sense that some people “plan.” We planned to save. We didn’t buy unnecessary material items unless needed (clothes, eating out, bars and clubs, $5 coffee drinks, full cable, etc.) That doesn’t mean we were hermits. I still traveled the US, visiting friends and family throughout the Midwest, went to Colorado several times, Minneapolis over St. Patty’s, camping in Yellowstone, numerous concerts and sporting events, attending weddings and countless other fun activities. But we prioritized our spending for those events. I had to convince myself several times NOT to do something, though, as well. For example, “Hey, so and so is playing two hours away, let’s go! Welllll, maybe not, in two weeks I’ll be camping, so I’ll let this slide and save.”
The paychecks came every month for those three years in Kansas and I set up a savings account to withdraw money monthly, just to add a little more cash to the savings. Even if its only $250 dollars a month for three years, that adds up nicely and is some extra spending money overseas. Money is the first step in wanting to do something like we are. Prioritize that money, know why you are saving, and like Nike, Just Do It.
We knew we wanted to spend as much time possible traveling, so we had no return date. There are several countries that are cheaper to fly in to than others. Once you get to Europe, you can travel anywhere else by train, bus or plane from $10 to, oh, $60 depending on how far you are going. The countries that are very cheap to go in to are usually Dublin, Amsterdam or, in our case, Brussels. When Abby and I traveled to Europe four years ago we flew to Dublin round-trip for $770. This trip, believe it or not, one way to Brussels cost us $265. We bought the tickets approximately 6-8 months in advance. Also, once those tickets are booked and the dream becomes reality, saving comes so much easier. It is always on the back of your mind, spend $11 for two sugar loaded coffees from Scooter’s or save that money for a meal in Europe? Easy decision for us, but maybe not for others. But do not rush to buy tickets! Flight prices change all the time, so keep an eye out, check it weekly or whenever you have free time when you’re fiddling with your cellphone. Set a limit for how much you would pay (ours was around $700) and be patient but persistent.
So overall, your first steps to traveling to Europe on a budget: prioritize spending, start saving and get your tickets booked. Then after that, like Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.
What to Pack:
We are backpacking, so this section is unique to our style of travel. We are living out of backpacks, my bag being the largest at 75 liters while the girls are around 40-60 liters. When we began to make a list of what we would need, keep in mind that the clothes you pack must be versatile to the different temperatures and climates you may encounter. Also, pack outfits that you can mix and match, that way you at least FEEL like you are wearing different clothes, but overall you are just changing your outfit a bit. Pack clothes that you wouldn’t be afraid to get rid of, because you can always buy more clothes overseas if you don’t pack enough or simply get rid of them if they get ragged or ruined.
Good pairs of shoes are a necessity. We all bought new walking shoes before we left which has been a blessing, since we are averaging well over 7 miles of walking per day. We also packed a pair of casual shoes that can go with all outfits. Feel free to pack more, but remember that shoes could be taking up valuable bag space.
All other things that you need to pack, toiletries and the such, you can pack lightly as you start and always pick up more as you need. And if you are traveling with a group, just share so that you can conserve more of that valuable space in your bag. The girls packed one set of everything for makeup and beauty products and share, again, saving valuable space for the two.
Summary of my Bag:
- 4 button up shirts
- 4 t-shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 1 pair of gray pants
- 2 pairs of shorts (1 khaki, 1 gray)
- 3 pairs of shoes
- 1 set of Under Armour Cold Gear
- 1 cardigan
- 1 all weather jacket
- 1 light athletic jacket
- 1 pair athletic shorts
- various socks and underwear (enough for about a week at a time)
- water container (spend some money on a nice one, water is more expensive than beer and soda, so fill up at your place before you leave or any other chance you have at a fountain)
- travel towel (many hostels charge for towel use, save money..bring a towel!)
- outlet adaptors and electronic chargers (no U.S. outlets overseas, of course!)
- toiletries and shaving kit
- sack-pack filled with various other small items (pens, notebook, deck of cards, book, portable travel fan, padlocks for hostel lockers, etc.)
The trip we are doing is a little unique to what others may want to do, but I still believe we all want to save money when we do anything. We want to see as much of Europe as possible and also spend as little money as possible to extend our time here. Pretty simple: the more money you have, the longer you can stay.
We are young, so hostels are an option to stay at. Hostels are budget hotels made for travelers like us. The room size can vary from 4 beds to 16 beds or more; meaning you could possibly be staying in a room with 15+ people. Not ideal, but very cheap. Beds at hostels range anywhere from $10-35 per night depending on the season, number of beds, or quality/luxury of the hostel. Some hostels do provide a kitchen where you could prepare meals and store food saving more money for your budget. One strong negative from the girls’ perspective is the bathroom situation. Hostels’ restrooms are locker-room style and have many stalls or showers that offer limited privacy…not all, but most. Hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers, but some roommates may not be as respectful as you wish. Also, a lot of hostels will have a bar or restaurant connected which is always a perk when wanting to grab a quick drink or meet new friends. However, I believe hostels are my number two option.
I prefer Air B&B. For those of you living under a rock or unfamiliar with how Air Bed and Breakfasts work, a home or apartment owner rents out their place to you for however long you would like to stay. These hosts may be renting out a rental space, their own personal home, or if you are brave enough, just a room that you can have while they are still there. We enjoy the comfort of an Air B&B for several reasons. First, they’re like your own home. You have a full space to yourself and you can relax without any unwanted or annoying roommates that you may possibly encounter in hostels. Second, the kitchen. When wanting to save money, cooking your own food and staying in for dinner is a great way to save some bucks. Third, the bathroom and shower. Having your own personal space to do your business is always a positive. Finally, the washer. I say, “washer,” because most homes or apartments in Europe do not have a dryer. You only have a few outfits, which at times you must wear two or three times before washing. Having a washer to use is a life saver for all who are involved with your party.
Overall, when booking a place to stay weigh your options. Compare prices from hostels to Air B&Bs. A lot of times, they could end up being the exact same price per night with a few extra perks, depending on what you are looking for. If you aren’t built for a lot of roommates, check out an Air B&B before booking an expensive hotel. And always check the reviews, they will tell you if you are getting a great place or if you might have some problems that arise.
A Few More Tips To Remember:
-When finding some traditional restaurants to try, stay away from highly populated tourist areas and main squares. These places cater to the tourist population and usually over charge and, to be honest, don’t even seem to compare to those restaurants that we find in outer neighborhoods. Take a stroll down a back alley or off on a side street to find cheaper food and more traditional dishes from real locals.
-As we said before, cook for yourself to save some bucks. However, one of the best parts of traveling is the food and drink. Lunch specials are very common in most countries and they provide large portions of good food at a very cheap price. They provide soup or salad, main course, and sometimes even a dessert or free beverage for $5-8.
-Know when to tip at restaurants. Not all countries expect or even want tips, so do your research beforehand.
-Learn some local phrases. Learning the basics (hello/goodbye, please/thank you) is very appreciated by the locals and they tend to treat you better or help you out more. However, if you’re coming from the USA, be prepared to be the only person who doesn’t speak multiple languages.
-Adjust your phone plan. We switched from Verizon (holy cow, high prices for international!) to T-Mobile, which was significantly cheaper and has no data usage limits….very helpful when wandering around lost and needing some direction.
-Public restrooms are rare and cost 50 cents or more to use. Use the restroom at your place or before you leave the restaurant so that you won’t have to pay-to-pee.
-Get to your train/bus station at a time that seems ridiculously early to you. Chances are, your ticket gives you NO information on what platform your transportation departs from and you must find that out when you get to the station. It’s better to be way early, hanging out with a homeless man in a run-down bus station than to be late for your departure because you couldn’t find your platform.
-Buy some instant coffee and save yourself some money. Coffee sizes in Europe are no where near the size of American coffee, so prepare yourself.
-Restaurant service in most countries in Europe is very slow. Europeans are not in as big of a hurry and eating out is seen as more of a social event. Servers don’t work for tips and make normal wages, so they are not going to wait hand-and-foot for you like in America, where they almost become annoying as they seem to check your table every 5 to 10 minutes.
-Do the free walking tours, you won’t be disappointed.
-Keep your wallets and phones in your front pockets or your purses zipped. A tourist is usually easy to spot and are targeted by pickpockets and scammers. I have never had a problem in my three trips to Europe, but all are not as lucky.
-Find places to stay close to what you are interested in. We always book hostels and Air B&Bs that are close to what we want to see. It saves on trams, metros, taxis and other small fees that add up if you are unable to walk the city. Some cities are too spread out, so a metro may be needed, but most are very walkable. Get those steps in!
-Be ready to step outside your comfort zone, every day is an adventure and you never know what could happen!