You’re wanting to travel to Europe but don’t want it to cost as much as your annual income and don’t want to pay for your adventure with a credit card.
How do you keep the travel costs down to Europe on a shoestring budget but still making sure you have an amazing adventure?
Whether you’re searching how to travel cheap in Europe with your family, with friends, or by yourself, there’s no better time than now to plan and save for your bucket list trip overseas.
We recently traveled to Europe for the first time as a family for 3 weeks, my husband had been on over 10 trips to Europe in his youth and 20’s and is an experienced savvy International traveler, but this was our first family trip overseas to Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Austria.
Keeping costs down and traveling to Europe on a tight budget was critical for us since we are super frugal at home, we are living on one income, and also were paying for 4 people overseas.
Finding a way to pay for 2 tickets to Europe can be hard enough, but 4??
Traveling to Europe had been my #1 bucket list item for over 20 years, yet as a former accountant, it’s been tough for me to shell out that kind of dough when there’s always so many other things to save for like college costs, retirement, or repairing our old house.
We basically got to our point where it’s now or never and if we don’t plan for that family bucket list trip NOW, when will it EVER become enough of a priority to happen? Exactly… it wouldn’t!
While I love to save money, making time to live your life and achieve your goals is critical too. We only get one shot at the life we have, so if traveling is a bucket list goal for you too, there’s no reason you can’t start making it happen for yourself TODAY.
As a savvy money saving mom who hates spending money but has wanderlust yearnings, here’s all of our travel tips, tricks and secrets on how to travel cheap in Europe.
Start Planning Early
Planning your budget trip to Europe will become more of a reality if you’re planning at least 6 months to a year out in advance.
If you’re scrambling last minute to piece together an itinerary, the best discount lodging will probably be sold out, the earlier you book your train tickets, the less they will cost, and visiting some sites that require months in advance purchase will be gone (which is what happened to us trying to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam).
That definitely doesn’t mean you can’t travel to Europe for cheap if you’re hoping to go in 3 months, it’s just better if you give yourself as much time as possible to plan your dream trip.
Creating a travel budget and estimating expenses in advance is also a must! This will help you to see just how much this adventure will cost, will give you time to save or even make extra money, and will give you time to make adjustments if you need to bring the costs down.
Did you know you can download free travel guides through Kindle by having a 30 day Amazon Kindle trial? This is what we did right before we left on our trip, we signed up for the 30 day trial which is easy to cancel after your vacation if you don’t want to continue with the Kindle subscription.
Or I guess you could even use your download now to start learning everything you can through the free travel guides!
Be sure to download our free Europe Travel Tips printable below! It’s a summary of tips from this post.
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Save Money on Plane Tickets
Our absolute favorite way to save money on plane tickets is by responsibly using credit cards to earn airline miles. What better way is there to get a cheap plane ticket to Europe than by getting it for FREE?
Some travel credit card offers will even give you 50,000 free airline miles just for signing up! That’s already enough miles to pay for one ticket to Europe if you happened to live on the East Coast and aren’t traveling during peak season.
By signing up for a travel credit card and not only getting free miles by doing so, we diligently put every expense we could on our card to earn travel credit. The key to making this work to your benefit is by setting up an autopay each month and having your full card balance automatically deducted from your checking account.
The travel credit card we signed up for is no longer being offered, but Bankrate.com has a fantastic article rating the best travel credit cards in 2019.
Other ways to save money on plane tickets:
✔️ Traveling off season
✔️ Travel hacking flights by checking the prices for 2 one way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket on one airline. A site like Kiwi can do this for you.
✔️Have flexibility with travel dates – traveling mid week or on a red eye costs less than weekend travel dates
✔️Being flexible with your itinerary and consider changing your itinerary to make sure you get the lowest ticket price possible – our plan was to fly into Amsterdam and out of Paris, but because of the ticket price, we ended up flying in and out of Amsterdam.
Between earning free miles between two credit cards and by shopping around for the lowest prices, we were able to get 4 plane tickets to Europe for under $1000! If you’re hoping to travel cheap to Europe, saving money on the expensive flights will definitely help you reach that goal.
Related Post: How We Got 2.8 Free Plane Tickets to Europe
My son and I waiting for our flight to Amsterdam. He’s always the ham!
Saving Big on Lodging
The best places to stay in Europe on a budget probably depends on a few factors such if you’re a student, are you traveling with your family or if you’re traveling solo.
And also what your budget is is a big factor, a college student’s definition of traveling to Europe on a budget might have a different meaning than a family looking to travel on a budget.
If you’re traveling to Europe on a budget you’ll want to consider:
✔️Staying in a hostel (there are family rooms in hostels too! Bonus points when you find availability in a hostel castle!)
✔️Renting a flat or home through Airbnb
Our FAVORITE way to travel is by staying in an Airbnb, not only is it cheaper than a hotel, it gives our family more space to spread out, and we save money on food by not having to eat out for every meal. You can also earn free Airbnb travel credit when your friends or family book their first stay through you.
When you’re traveling to another country, the LAST thing you want to have happen is to find out the reservation you made doesn’t exist when you show up in person. As a long-time Airbnb traveler (who has had ZERO issues), this is how we always make Airbnb travel easy:
- Book lodging way in advance so there’s plenty of options to choose from
- Only rent from hosts with MANY 5 star reviews or someone with a power host rating
- For international trips, book a place with someone who speaks English and ideally lives in that town
If you haven’t booked with Airbnb before, you can actually save $40 on your first Airbnb booking with our link.
Our favorite site for booking international lodging is hotels.com. The fun pink animal print hotel in the photo above was actually a popular 2 star “best value” hotel that books out early we booked through hotels.com! You’d never know it was reasonably priced by appearances!
While I’ve always been a huge Trip Advisor user, the hotels.com prices almost always are either the same or lower, they offer lower prices to people who register with them, you can earn free hotel room stays, AND my favorite bonus, is if you book your hotels.com through eBates, you ALSO get cash back on your hotel purchase!
You can check out or signup for eBates for free here.
✔️Staying in a small, locally owned “pension” instead of a big hotel chain
Even booking out way in advance, we struggled to find affordable lodging in Fussen, Germany near the German-Austrian border. Instead of searching on the popular travel sites, and even through our favorite sites hotels.com and tripadvisor.com, we were able to score a family garden cottage at a highly rated bed and breakfast just searching on Google and translating the site into English. Being able to correspond via email and just translating the information was very helpful, and was made even easier since the B&B owner knew English.
✔️Travel to the popular and expensive cities during the week to get a price break
✔️Staying with someone you know
Staying with relatives saved us $600 by staying with someone we knew for 3 nights. That trip to Europe might be a great way to reconnect with distant relatives or your exchange student friends from high school.
While we were lucky in that were able to stay with family for a few days of our trip, we felt so blessed to also be able to visit with family friends and even my husband’s international friend from high school!
Budget Activities When Traveling in Europe
Enjoying the many free activities and sites in Europe makes traveling on to Europe on a budget much easier!
While you can definitely spend some money on visiting your must see sites, just strolling through quaint neighborhoods, peeking inside free historic churches, and skipping pricey palace tickets and instead enjoying the palace grounds for free all make great budget travel ideas.
Other free ideas include: visiting the local grocery stores, perusing shops, listening to free music in a park or city square taking in the history all around you and visiting castle ruins were all some of the best free activities in various European towns and cities.
If you DO plan to visit numerous museums and sites you’ll have to pay to get in to, definitely make sure to consider either a museum pass or city pass, for that specific city that you’re in.
Minors can also visit most of the museums and palaces for free, so definitely check into that before purchasing tickets in advance for any minors traveling with you. Getting free museum admission for our 17 year old was definitely a bonus!
Saving Money on Food in Europe
Even if you get your flights with miles and find a killer cheap place to stay, you still have to eat. While your current food budget you’d typically spend at home can help offset some of the travel food costs the reality is that your eating costs will still be higher than what you’d spend at home.
Fortunately traveling cheap in Europe can easily be done and extends to your food costs as well. There are so many ways to eat cheaply in Europe, and thankfully the local food is amazing as well!
The main ways to avoid outrageous food costs, especially in expensive cities like Paris, is to try to minimize eating at sit down restaurants, if you’re staying in a hotel or local inn, try to stay in places that include free breakfast, and to make sure your biggest meal of the day is at lunchtime when local cafes charge less.
Can you see the prices on those giant baguette sandwiches?? They’re all under 5 euros each! You simply cannot eat at a sit down cafe for under 15-20 euros per person in a popular European city.
Other ways to save on food costs in Europe:
✔️Buy your meals from local food carts or street vendors
This was a must in Paris! Mouthwatering and cheap meals can be found every where in the cities. Whether it be quiche, pastries, sandwiches on baguettes, or pizza, eating from local food vendors was the cheapest way for us to save money on breakfast and a late afternoon meal.
✔️Buy food from the food markets
Local food markets are another fantastic way to save! I was surprised that food in Europe costs less than were we live in the U.S. We were able to get a few days worth
of groceries at a discount market in Bavaria for under 30 euros! Eating meat, cheese, bread, yogurt and fruit is a great way to dine on a budget when traveling.
✔️Picnic at the park
There’s gorgeous parks and squares everywhere all over Europe! Having a picnic is also popular with the locals and it’s a great place to take your foodie finds from the street vendors or grocery markets.
✔️Stay in lodging that gives you free breakfast
✔️Eat two meals per day instead of 3 (a bonus if the first meal was free ;). We always tried to eat a large breakfast and then a late afternoon meal.
Getting Around in Europe
Getting around Europe is easier than it sounds and finding your away around in a foreign land isn’t as daunting as it might at first seem. Surprisingly, most people and especially younger people, speak English. We were really surprised at how many people spoke English and how many cities had English signs.
It’s also so easy to ask for help whenever you need it! Like we at times did with the train schedule assistance…
Traveling by train is definitely the easiest way to get around in Europe, you’ll most likely have a train station next to every major airport in Europe and trains are connected even to the small villages.
You will need to decide if it’s worth it cost wise to invest in a Eurail pass or if you want to pre-purchase train tickets.
If you’re traveling short distances, for instance to a destination that’s less than 30 minutes away, you can get by with standing and not purchasing a ticket if seats are full. But for longer trips, you definitely want to make sure you have a seat!
Staying in a walkable area is also a great way to save money on transportation! Walking is a fantastic way to get around, and definitely our favorite way, to soak in the local businesses and historical sights.
It was surprisingly easy to clock 10 or more miles per day by walking around instead of taking the tram or Metro.
Renting bikes– If long distance walking isn’t your thing, why not rent a bike? Biking is such a popular way that both the locals and the tourists get around.
Traveling to Europe on a budget is definitely easier to make happen and less intimidating than it seems! There’s truly no time like the present to make your travel dreams a reality and starting planning for saving for your bucket list adventure!
Please post additional travel tips you have below in the comments!