My name is Andy, and I have an addiction: I love traveling more than being home. Last year alone, I spent over six months traveling around the world in addition to traveling as a freelance tourism photographer.
Whenever I attempt to explain what I do for a living, I’m met with immediate questions about how I can afford to live this dream lifestyle. Of course, I’m not cashing million-dollar checks and flying around the world in my private jet. Despite this fact, I have figured out the formula for traveling affordably and often.
I know most Americans don’t have the flexibility to take off months at a time as I do. So in early 2020, I challenged myself to create a two-week trip to four countries in Europe for under $1,500 (flights from Montana included). To travel around Europe like this would be a dream for many people, and I wanted to prove that it is obtainable with discipline and a little effort.
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How to Travel Europe Cheap: The Five Pillars of Travel Expenses
Traveling on a budget is about balance, and I like to divide my trip into five pillars of expenses:
- dining and drinks
- ground transportation
The tighter the budget, the more you’ll have to compromise on which pillar you’re willing to spend more money on. So, without further ado, here’s the breakdown of my expenses and some tips on saving at every step.
Pillar 1: Flights
Flights are where the ultimate budget trip is made or broken, and to find the best deals, I use many apps to track flights and find killer deals. For instance, I used Scott’s Cheap Flights to alert me to flight deals. With a lot of playing around, I eventually decided on a multi-city flight from Bozeman, Montana to Berlin, Germany, with a return flight from Paris, France, to Bozeman two weeks later.
This decision was the foundation for the trip, and when I booked the flights, I didn’t know where I’d end up between Berlin and Paris. Ultimately, I settled on taking the train from Berlin to Prague, Czech Republic, then a flight to Barcelona, Spain, and finally, another flight from Barcelona to Paris.
Flights within Europe are crazy cheap, but I used about 5,000 award miles per flight for this trip. Had I not booked with award miles, it would have been $150 total for both flights.
Pillar 2: Accommodations
The next step to start forming my trip was to book my accommodations. Again, I chose to sacrifice comfort on this trip to save money for my food budget and ended up staying in hostels for the duration of the trip. The hostels ranged from $15 a night in Prague (for a private room) to $31 a night in Paris.
Hostels have become more expensive over the years in Europe, but going in January keeps the prices lower than the craziness of paying $70 a night in peak season. Airbnb can be just as cheap as a hostel if you’re traveling as a couple or a group and splitting the cost.
Pillar 3: Dining and Drinks
Total: $580 ($41 per day)
Now, if it’s not already evident, this is where I focus most of my attention. Of course, I love to taste the different cultures’ cuisine and beers, but this is also one of the easiest pillars to cut out costs if you have discipline.
My transportation and accommodation budget left me around $54 per day to spend on entertainment, dining, and drinks. Some days were far pricier than others, but I would balance it with inexpensive alternatives.
The key is to find out where the locals eat and to avoid eating anywhere where the hordes of tourists are. To do this, the best thing you can do is ask the folks who work at the hostel, as these people understand how to eat cheap and hearty meals.
Expert Tip: One of the most straightforward fixes for a broken budget is to hit the local grocery store. Most hostels have a community kitchen and even space to store food. Combined with free dinner options at my Barcelona hostel, I could invest a little more money in my beer budget (a must for Prague and Berlin).
Pillar 4: Entertainment
A heavy food budget didn’t leave me with much per day to spend on entertainment. But that was fine with me as most of my enjoyment in Europe comes from cuisine and endless hours wandering cobblestone streets. Despite the meager budget, I still managed to see and do a lot during my two weeks.
I explored WWII museums in Berlin, the Picasso Museum of Barcelona, and the Louvre in Paris – of course. I also took advantage of numerous free walking tours around Berlin and Prague (recommended by Jackie Nourse herself).
There was also no way I was passing up the opportunity to watch Barcelona FC play and watch Messi score a goal from the 8th row. Because the team they were playing wasn’t notable, and it was not the peak season, I could get unreal tickets for only €60.
Pillar 5: Ground Transportation
The final piece of the puzzle is transportation – public transport, public transport, and finally public transport. Subway rides, bus rides, and the train from Berlin to Prague used most of my transport budget. Plus, the occasional Uber.
But with that said, the best way to see Europe is on foot, so pack those walking shoes! During my two weeks, I averaged between 20,000 to 30,000 steps per day, and not only did it allow me to see the cities, but it also kept my costs down.
Grand Total: $1,584
Alright, I know what you’re thinking. I’m a total failure. $84 over budget!? I hope that you can forgive me.
Budget-Minded Travel Tips For Europe
Now that we’ve covered the basics, you can apply them to virtually any destination in the world. Let’s talk about specific, budget-minded must-dos in each of the four cities I visited.
Grand Hostel Berlin – A beautiful and straightforward hostel with an incredible bar.
Dining and Drinks
Stadklause – Incredible schnitzel with a very local feel. Schnitzel, all the sides, and a liter of German beer cost under €20.
Curry 36 – No trip to Germany is complete without currywurst, and this was the best I had
Basmah Sudanese – This came as a suggestion from the hostel, and it might have been the best food I had in my two weeks. For €6, I was able to get a massive plate of filling and delicious Sudanese food.
Yorckscholösschen – This jazz and blues club was always rocking and a short walk from the Grand Hostel.
Berlin Free Walking Tours – I was excited to see WWII and Berlin Wall history for myself, and this free walking tour was excellent. Three hours of in-depth history covering everything from WWI to WWII to the Berlin Wall and, of course, the fall. It leaves every day at 10 am from the Brandenburg Gates. The stop at the Memorial to Murdered Jews is heart-wrenching but beautiful.
Reichstag Building – Germany’s parliament building, has a rich history of its own. In the late 1990s, they added a glass dome to the top that looks down into the parliament floor. You can sign up online to enter it for free, and it offers incredible views of Berlin.
German Historical Museum – While not free, the value for €8 is second to none. It covers history dating back to the middle ages and German history until the fall of the Berlin wall. Well worth the visit.
Prague, Czech Republic
Hostel One Prague – An incredible resource, and I wish I got to spend more time there. They offer a free dinner every night and have an affordable bar in the basement (The Rave Cave).
Dining and Drinks
U Fleků – If you’re going to go to one brewery in Prague, make it this one. The beer flows freely for about $1.50 a glass. Oh, and it’s been around since 1499.
Tynska Bar and Books – While not exactly for the budget-minded, this cigar bar will make you want to stay all night.
Hany Bany Café – With its constant nods to Pulp Fiction, this bar has solid burgers at an even better price.
Prague Castle – If you’re walking, it’s a good hoof up a mountain, but the views are worth it. This 9th-century castle looks over the city of Prague and is free to walk around the grounds.
Jewish Quarter – One of the more beautiful parts of Prague, the Jewish Quarter was my favorite area to stroll back alleys and side streets.
Prague Free Walking Tour – Just like in Berlin, there are plenty of free walking tours that provide a better feel for the rich history.
Check out our Prague City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers for more Prague travel tips.
Hostel One Sants – A sister hostel to the one I stayed at in Prague. This hostel has a considerable community focus. Volunteers run the hostel, and every night they cook a free dinner before leading anyone who wants to go out to local bars and clubs.
Dining and Drinks
Bodega Joan – My six days in Barcelona was a mission to find the city’s best paella, and this spot won my heart.
Blacklab Brewhouse – Having just come from Prague and Berlin, I was a little spoiled with beer at this point, but Blacklab Brewhouse was a special spot.
La Xampanyeria – Along with paella, I also ate my way through too many tapas bars to count. La Xampanyeria is still the one that stands out the most to me, and you can have a fantastic meal for under €6.
Citizen Café – While not very Catalonian, this was the best breakfast I had of any of the cities I visited.
Barcelona FC – A fútbol match is a must in Europe, and there was no better way to see my first one than by watching the legendary Messi play.
Gaudi Buildings – The legendary architect made his mark on Barcelona in a big way. Everything from the famous (still under construction) Sagrada Familia to numerous buildings all around the city are must-sees when walking the city.
Montserrat Monastery – High in the mountains sits a monastery that has been around since the 9th century, and I would consider this a must-do if you have a few days to spend in Barcelona. You can have the perfect day trip for the cost of one €23 train ticket to Montserrat.
Travel Planning Tip: Order a prepaid SIM card before you travel!
Dining and Drinks
Chez Janou – This beautiful and quaint café is the perfect stop to get your fill of French cuisine at a reasonable price. Oh, and get the chocolate mousse, trust me.
L’As du Fallafel – While falafel isn’t the first thing you relate to Paris, this spot’s constant line down the street is a good indicator of just how good it is. It’s the best falafel I’ve had outside of the Middle East and was a good fill for €7.
Terroir & Burger – I discovered this little hole in the wall while wandering around late one night. Beautiful French cuisine tucked in a packed alley full of boutique restaurants. Even if you don’t eat here, it’s worth walking this alley.
Mon Paris! – After two weeks in Europe, I was craving an old fashioned, and this was the best one I’ve ever had outside of America. The charcuterie board was a piece of artwork as well.
Louvre – This bullet point needs no explanation, and one could easily spend their entire vacation wandering around the Lourve. So just go, don’t even question it.
A la Civette – The oldest tobacco shop in the world since 1716, this shop also boasts a great selection of cigars and pipes. I didn’t buy anything, but it was worth it just to browse through.
Eiffel Tower from Palais de Chaillot – Another item that needs no explanation, but this viewpoint is perfect for your Instagram-worthy vacation photo.
Go for a wander – Honestly, I spent most of my time in Paris endlessly wandering the streets. There is a vibe to Paris that is indescribable.
Europe has a stigma of being an expensive destination, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow these tips. I hope you’re inspired to plan your dream European vacation, whether it’s these cities or any other wonderful city.
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