Have dreams of dining on a moonlit night, while gazing at the Eiffel Tower lit up the distance? Skiing the magnificent Alps? Walking the streets that emperors walked in Rome? What’s standing in your way??? Money you say? Let’s be frank, the expenses involved with travel can be daunting but with some patience and a few commonsense strategies your dreams CAN and WILL become a reality.
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How to Budget for a trip to Europe, Ultimate Guide!
How do you afford a trip to Europe? and how can I travel to Europe on a budget?
I’m not wealthy but I’ve figured out a good way to make my travel dreams a reality. In this article we’ll discuss proven ways to fund your trip to Europe and save money while you’re there so you can spend less time worrying about money and more time enjoying your favorite European destinations! So, keep reading for the best Europe trip budget travel tips!
Europe Budget Travel: easy ways to pay for your next trip to Europe
First thing we need to fund this trip! This seems so obvious: put away a little money each time you get paid. How much money? The amount is up to you but be consistent. The first time we decided we wanted to visit Europe, my husband and I each agreed to put away just $25 per week, so total $2,600 per year. Because our travel tastes aren’t extravagant, we had enough to go after just two years of saving! If you can make the commitment to do this, and have some patience, eventually you WILL have enough to take the trip of your dreams.
Decide what your priorities are
To expedite the process, you could forgo that expensive coffee every morning. You may find yourself sipping a cup of espresso at an outdoor cafe in Paris before you know it! Little expenses add up. Pack a lunch instead of eating out. Cook at home instead of eating out and you could be sipping a glass of wine while taking cooking classes in the Italian countryside.
We have a modest home, and we don’t drive new cars because seeing the world has become our priority!
You may be interested in: How to Travel for Free with points.
*Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, for more information see my terms and conditions page.
Another big expense is lodging. If you can split travel costs with a friend or two it becomes much more affordable. Besides, isn’t everything better with a friend?
You may be interested in: While traveling with others can be rewarding, it also comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some ways to help make your group travel a success.
It may not cost as much as you think
If you live in the United States and are dreaming of a European vacation, I’ve got good news! Europe is often cheaper than many US destinations! I skip my way across Europe saying “wow, this is cheap!” From food to accommodations, transportation, attractions and entertainment, things are just less expensive. To be honest, it isn’t uncommon for travel related expenses to be sometimes 2 to 3 times less expensive.
Do you find that hard to believe? A while back I created some illustrations comparing popular US travel destinations against European, to show just how much more reasonable prices often are for tourists to European Countries.
Let’s compare one of the most recognizable sites in all of Europe: Neuschwanstein Castle, with the Laura Ingalls Wilder House in Missouri. Guess which was more???
choose your destination wisely
Some countries are more expensive
Let’s talk location because it makes all the difference. Now one of the expensive locations may be at the top of your wish list and that’s ok. You may just have to save a little longer or choose other ways in this article to save on your trip. Do your research on the cost of your destination. If you find that your dream destination is on the pricier side, decide if it is something you want to splurge on. If not, pick another destination.
Countries in Eastern Europe, like the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Romania tend to be less expensive than Western Europe. Scandinavian Countries like Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland are known for having high prices. Somewhere in the middle you’ll find countries like Germany, the Republic of Ireland (except for pricey Dublin), France, and Italy.
large cities vs small town
In general, budget minded travelers can save more by skipping big expensive cities in favor of a smaller town or village.
If you’re on a budget, the exchanger rate could be a game changer.
A big consideration when you budget for a trip to Europe is the exchange rate. While the Dollar to Euro exchange rate is normally in an acceptable range (you’ll get somewhere around .93 euros for 1 dollar), the Dollar to British Pound exchange rate is normally abysmal. The last time I checked (on a random day) I can get .77 pounds for 1 USD. YIKES!!!
Check current exchange rates at Google Finance.
My top tip for getting the cheapest flights, and the best deals on car rentals and accommodation is to book early. Last-minute great deal is a thing of the past and if you wait too long, you may miss out on the best deals. I try to book at least 6 months out.
Pro tip: DON’T stop there! Once booked your airfare rate is probably locked in (unless you are booking with points!) but you can still monitor your rental car and accommodation prices! I try to always book options that offer free cancellation. Once a month I will go back and check rates on my rental car and rooms and if the rates go down, I rebook!
how to save on flights
Airfare is often one of the most expensive travel expenses. Here are some strategies for saving money on a plane:
flights to Europe
My strategy for finding good deals on airfare is to search flight options on Google Flights. Be sure to set up a price tracker and they will let you know when prices change.
choose your airport
Some airports are significantly less expensive to fly into. In general, the bigger the airport the more budget friendly. You can use the Google Flights tool to research the cheapest airports in the area.
Pro tip: Once you have found a cheap flight and are ready to book, go to the official website of the airline and book there to avoid any issues with 3rd party booking.
cheap flight notifications
My TOP TIP for snagging flight deals is to sign up for GOING (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights.) You simply give them your email address, tell them your home airport, and they will periodically email cheap flight deals to your inbox! Simple AND Free! sign up now!
Your biggest expense you will have when traveling overseas is your airfare. One of the biggest ways that we plan a Europe trip on a budget is by using rewards miles to book free flights. My husband and I decided to sign up for a travel rewards card, American Airlines in our case. In the span of just 3 years, we have earned enough miles to fly to Europe in high season 6-8 times! LEARN HOW TO EARN FREE FLIGHTS!
Cheap flights in and around Europe
There are many low-cost airlines that operate in Europe, such as Ryanair, EasyJet, and Eurowings. These airlines offer affordable fares around Europe (likely much less than what you are used to paying within the US). However, it is crucial to note that budget airlines often charge extra fees for baggage, seat selection, and other services. AND if you plan on using one of these airlines do be aware that their baggage limitations are often not as generous as what you may be used to in the United States so check the Airline website for accurate information.
how to save on accommodations
Your two biggest expenses when planning a budget for a trip to Europe are generally going to be airfare and accommodation. There are a few ways for the budget minded to save on accommodations. (and don’t forget to book early!)
If you want to check the best rates on hotels, vacation rentals, hostels and even castles! you can find them on Booking.com. Simply sort your results by the lowest prices, but don’t forget to check guest ratings and reviews because a bad experience may not be worth the money you save on a cheap stay!
Search Hotels, Hostels, Vacation Rentals now!
The city center of a European city tends to be more expensive than outlying neighborhoods. For the budget minded, a better place would be outside of the city center and use inexpensive buses, subways, and trams to get around affordably.
My travel style is middle of the road. I often consider my accommodations part of the experience, so I don’t skimp here. I like to book unique options like castle stays, historic buildings, or a great place with old world charm. I try to avoid chains and sterile accommodations (some of you consider that modern decor and clean lines ha ha.) That considered, most places we stay at are about $150 per night based on double occupancy but you can find better rates.
Something you almost NEVER find in North America and something I really love about Europe is that single travelers get a break on hotel room rate for single rooms! It is fairly common to find a private room for a solo traveler for a discount off the regular rate!
Hostels are very popular in Europe and a popular option with travelers on a tight budget. Hostels aren’t for everyone, but you can typically get a room for around €20-€40 Euros per night.
Vacation rentals are great options for larger families or groups, or travelers looking to save money by cooking their own meals. You can book anything from a private room to an entire house.
Check vacation Rental rates on VRBO now!
IMPORTANT: READ THE REVIEWS: always read the reviews on a property before you book and choose a host with a good reputation. Search your various options on VRBO
Camping is another budget-friendly option for travelers in Europe, which has a well-developed network of camping sites, ranging from basic tent sites to fully-equipped caravan parks. Camping is particularly popular in the summer months, when the weather is warm and sunny. Basic tent sites can cost as little as €5-€10 per night, while the average cost of fully-equipped caravan parks is €30-€40 per night.
House and Pet sitting
Sign up for services like Trusted House sitter and you can stay for free! These services match up people who are looking to house and or pet sit and in return you get a free place to stay.
If you plan to be loving from one location to another consider taking a overnight train. It will save on the cost of a hotel for that night. You can search for overnight trains at Interrail.
saving on Food and Drink
Depending on where you are and where you are coming from, you may be pleasantly surprised at food costs. However, if you’re eating out every night your food budget may disappear as quickly as that bratwurst you had earlier in the day. Here are a few ways to save on food and drink.
Many hotels offer free breakfast. If I fill up on breakfast, I often find I’m not hungry until well after noon. If I eat that late in the day. I often don’t need to eat again all day… or have room for dessert or a snack! We’re talking around €10-€15. ($13 USD) per day for one meal! CHEAP!
Street food in Europe is so good! And is a great option for a shoe-string budget traveler. You can get a filling and delicious meal that can be found for around €5-€10.
supermarkets and local markets
Supermarkets and the grocery store are a great option for budget travelers who want to save money on food. Visitors can find bread, cheese, cold cuts, soups, sandwiches, and other snacks for a fraction of the cost of eating out. It’s also a great way to try local specialties without cleaning out your bank account. You’ll get the best prices on food items and it’s a great way to explore the local culture!
Sightseeing: inexpensive and free things to do
Don’t let your desire to save money prevent you from doing the fun stuff! I mean you really do only live once, and you’ve been dreaming of getting to this destination so just enjoy!
Here are some ideas for the best things to add to your itinerary that are either inexpensive or free:
- Find a streetside cafe, order yourself a snack and watch the world go by.
- Churches, Cathedrals, and Abbeys: Europe has some of the best and most opulent in the world! and they are most often free.
- Museums are a great inexpensive way to pass the time. Many offer free entry / free admission on certain days or during specific hours.
- National Parks are often free.
Here’s one of my favorite “free” things that I’ve experience in Europe!
It’s free to explore! take in the architecture or make your way down a winding trail. Europe is covered in walking trails!
To find information about both guided and self-guided tours check the local Tourist Information office.
A Guided tour can be a great way to learn about a new city, but they can also be expensive. Fortunately, there are many free walking tours available. These tours are typically led by a local knowledgeable tour guide who is passionate about their city and its history.
In addition to free walking tours, there are also many self-guided tours available. These tours can be found online or in guidebooks and can be a great way to explore a new city at your own pace. Download free audio guide tours before you leave home.
budget transportation in Europe
Transportation costs: When factoring your Europe trip cost of transportation is a significant factor. Here are some things to consider:
Another way to save money while traveling in Europe is to take advantage of public transportation which is much more common than in the US. It’s perfect for day trips to the European cities of your choice! Seamlessly plan your bus travel and train routes in Europe with Rome2Rio.
- Train Travel: Train tickets can be purchased at the train station. However, travelers can save money by booking their train tickets in advance and by purchasing rail passes. Compare prices to see if a train pass like the Eurail pass would be a good value for you.
- Buses and shuttles: Traveling by bus is often the slowest option but is also the most affordable way (cheap way!) to get around Europe.
Taxi or ride share
Some countries in Europe have Uber and Lyft. Some countries heavily regulate their taxi companies, while in others getting ripped off is a possibility. Do your research on your destination.
If you’re a free spirit like me and don’t like to be tied to a schedule, you may want a car.
Potential extra costs for driving:
- Insurance: Some credit cards offer rental car insurance when you book your rental on the card. Check with your card provider. If not, you will need to purchase insurance.
- International Driving Permit: you may need an International Driving Permit, which is basically just the information from your driver’s license transferred to a form so that non English-speaking authorities can easily decipher your information. Get one at your local AAA office around $30
- other drop off locations: there are significant fees for dropping off a car at a different location
- border crossing fee: there is generally a small fee associated with crossing a country border in a rental car.
- navigation system: Most companies charge if you want to use the GPS navigation system (around $10 per day.) If you don’t have any other way to navigate, I highly recommend it for convenience. We have this Garmin Unit that we bring when we travel. (European maps cost extra)
- Parking in larger cities / major cities: can be expensive, as much as $25 per day. If you plan to spend much time in an area like this, skip the car.
- Tolls: Different countries charge you to use their motorways. Often, you’ll need to obtain a Vignette (toll pass)
Call ahead to be sure that your credit card doesn’t access foreign transaction fees on purchases. We use our American Airlines card to earn points for free flights, but I also like the Chase Preferred cards because not only does it not have any foreign transaction fees, it also has built-in travel protection.
Getting money (ATM)
The easiest and best way to get Euros for your Europe trip is at a reputable ATM. I usually hit one at the airport upon arrival. If I need more, I look for an ATM either in or attached to a bank during business hours. That way if the machine snatches my card, I have a good chance of getting it back. This is how you’ll get the best exchange rate and ATM fees are minimal. Don’t forget to refuse the Dynamic Currency Conversion. You want to be charged in Euros not dollars because they will charge you more to convert the money.
Important note: Be sure you use your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM. Credit cards consider this a cash advance and that can be very costly!
shopping for gifts and souvenirs
here are some ideas for dirt cheap things to buy in Europe:
- Food items (like Chocolate and other candies)
- Postcards: pretty postcards, are very inexpensive. Start an album when you get home!
for bargain shopping search out:
- Flea Markets
- Farmers Markets
- second hand stores
staying connected on a travel budget
It’s important to be able to stay connected when we travel. Most cell phone companies offer rates for international travel, but it can be costly, around $10 per day. Check your provider for rates and policies on using your phone in Europe and to find out exactly what your charges will be.
These are some low cost or free options for staying connected:
You’ll either need cell phone service or wi-fi to use these options. Most hotels offer free wi-fi and you can find it at different places around town, such as near the Tourist Information Center. (be cautious about using your phone on unprotected networks.)
Is a popular app where you can make calls, send texts, and video chat through a wi-fi connection. Your contact will need to download Whatsapp so that you can connect.
Make calls and video chat with your friends at home who are also on Facebook.
Purchase a phone or a SIM card
You can pick up an inexpensive phone when you get to Europe. Alternatively, you can purchase a SIM card to replace the one in your phone. This is an inexpensive option, you can probably get by for under $30 for your entire trip. There are cell phone stores in airports, and almost every town on your itinerary, that can assist with these options. eSIM cards can be purchased before you leave and activated when you arrive. Newer phones support eSIMs.
Find the “allow wi-fi calls” setting on your cell phone. Even though we don’t have cell service in Europe, we are able to make and receive phone calls from the US when connected to wi-fi. We were not able to get this to work for calls within Europe though.
Guest cards and discount passes
Inquire at your hotel, guesthouse, or other accommodations about discount passes and guest cards that may be available to you.
Often overnight visitors to a town or region are eligible for discount passes that offer free or reduced admission to many area attractions as well as free use of local public transportation.
You may be able to purchase a single or multi day pass that could save you money depending on how many attractions you plan to visit. To be certain this will save you money, add up the cost of a single ticket entry fee for each attraction and compare it against the cost of the discount pass. It may not be the cheapest way to go.
The cheapest time of year to travel to Europe
The short answer: the best time for travelers who are on a budget to visit Europe is during the off-season. Peak season is the most expensive time to travel.
Summer is considered high season in Europe and that’s when you will experience the highest rates on everything from rental cars to accommodations to flights.
Winter, (apart from the Christmas markets season) is off season. This is when you will find the best rates on flights, hotels, and rental cars HOWEVER, many attractions close for winter.
If you are looking for a happy medium then shoulder season is your best bet. It’s the perfect balance between affordable prices and finding attractions open. Shoulder season in Europe is approximately April and May and again in September and October.
other benefits of shoulder season:
- fewer crowds: you’ll find fewer tourists and crowds compared to high season
- temperate weather: the weather tends to be better than in the heat of the summer and chill of the winter months!
protect your investment
Since you are reading this article you are probably budget minded. Now that we’ve discussed how to tour Europe on a budget you will want to think about insuring your trip. No matter if it’s a two-week trip or a two-month trip, you have a lot of money tied up in this endeavor. You should give serious consideration to purchasing travel insurance.
I highly recommend purchasing a plan that has a “cancel for any reason clause.” Most travel insurance plans do not cover pandemics. “Cancel for any reason” covers most issues that arise, including “we changed our mind and don’t want to go.” NOTE: These type of policies usually have to be purchased between 14-21 days of your initial trip payment. I have used Travelinsurace.com to shop for travel insurance, they provide quotes from top rated insurers. See their “cancel for any reason” search option on their site.
Do be aware that you may need to purchase travel health insurance if your policy doesn’t cover you when traveling internationally.
Start planning now!
Now that you know how you are going to pay for your European travel on a budget, and insure your trip, it is time to get down to the fun part, the planning!
Check out my guide for Planning Your Dream Trip!
And don’t forget to pick up a Rick Steves travel guide! The #1 guide for Europe travel!
frequently asked questions
How much does it cost to travel to Europe? and What are some tips to have a relatively inexpensive trip to Europe
While I would love to give you a concrete answer, this really depends on where your destination is, what your travel style is, and what time of the year you plan to visit. Real budget minded travelers can camp or stay in hostels, eat street food or pick up food at the supermarket, explore free attractions, travel during the off season, and use buses to get around. Their daily budget could be as low as $35 per day (not including airfare) to travel Europe.
Luxury travelers could spend hundreds of dollars per day, while middle of the road travelers like me fall somewhere in between. My budget for a Europe trip is somewhere around $100 per day for everything: accommodations, meals, shopping, and attractions.
How much cash do I need for my Europe trip?
This is a question I hear quite often and to be honest, that really that depends on you. We use our credit cards for almost everything because that’s how we earn free flights. You should have some cash on you at all times for emergencies and if nothing else so you have money to use the bathroom because you often have to pay to use the restroom!