A quick online search will lead you to dozens of articles on how to cut costs when traveling to Europe. But each article caters to a certain type of travel personality. Not everyone is a luxury traveler, or the polar version, hitchhiker. If you’ve been following my blog and can relate to my personal travel style (solo female flashpacker), here are my tried-and-tested tips.
1. Book early.
From budget flights to flash-in-the-pan sales on Agoda, prices are relatively lower if you book weeks to months ahead. For example, Anda Hostel Venice is usually €20/night. If you book ahead and choose off-peak season, it can go down to €10/night.
2. Try other modes of transportation.
It’s not always about budget flights. Riding the train or bus can be cheaper, without much difference in travel time. For example, I took the FlixBus from Amsterdam to Brussels for only €11 for a 2-hour, 45-minute drive, while my hotel was a 15-minute walk from the bus station. Had I booked a flight, it would have cost around €50-180 for a 45-minute to 2-hour flight, excluding the process of preboarding and airport-to-hotel transfer.
Check out Go Euro, the ultimate app that helped me plan my 30-day Euro trip. You enter your target location, date, and time, and then they will show you all the price options and schedules for planes, trains, and buses.
One option I wish I tried: sleeper train, where you take the night express train (8 hours or more), sleep in a bunk bed, and wake up in your destination. It’s sometimes cheaper (and more adventurous) than spending an extra night in a hotel and booking a flight.
3. Consider other types of accommodation.
I used to be a sheltered, naïve traveler who thought that hotels were the only way to go. I’m glad I opened up my world to hostels, traveler apartments, homestays, and P2P home rental platforms. They’re cheaper and more fun. I get bored in the sanitized confines of hotels, where the front desk’s list of activities are limited to overpriced, cliché tour packages.
As for the safety issue, just be street-smart and you’ll be fine! A hostel or homestay gives you a better interaction with the local culture, access to spots not often written about, and a chance to connect with other adventurous travelers. My most memorable trips did not involve luxury hotels. I’ve met so many backpackers from around the world, and I still keep in touch with them.
4. Buy food from groceries, supermarkets, and street markets.
Avoid the restaurants in front of tourist spots. They’re ridiculously overpriced! For example, the restos and shops around Piazza San Marco in Venice are notoriously expensive. You’re better off walking a few blocks away to get the same quality of pizza and pasta for a lower price. Ask the locals where the best eats are. They will most likely point you away from the major tourist spots.
The great thing about Europe is that you can purchase affordable, ready-made gourmet meals in convenience stores and supermarkets. A typical restaurant meal costs €15-25 sans service charge, while the grocery version can go from €8-15, drink included. Street market finds are also more affordable and fun. Have a picnic at the park or hang out at the street food stalls with fellow excited travelers. Also look for closing-time deals at supermarkets.
5. Choose the right rail pass and tourist card.
Tickets to trains, buses, subways, and trams are usually purchased per ride, but if you are planning to take several trips per day, then choose the right pass and bundle deal. It varies per country and city.
For example, I purchased the Paris Navigo Weekly Card for €27.8, which gave me unlimited metro rides for 7 days compared to €1.50 per single ticket. In Barcelona, I got the 10-ticket pass (bus and metro) for €10.2 (compared to €2.2 per single ticket). In Madrid, I did not purchase any metro tickets because I walked most of the time. As for the famous Euro Rail, I skipped it. I will discuss why in my next blog post.
Some cities offer tourist cards where you can visit as many tourist spots as you like. In Venice, there’s the Venice Unica City Pass, which lets you see several museums and churches starting at €21.90 for 24 hours. In Netherlands, there’s the I Am Amsterdam City Card, which gives you free entrance to over 60 museums and attractions, plus unlimited public transport rides, starting at €60 for 24 hours.
I did not avail of any tourist card because I can only tolerate 1-2 museums a week before all the statues start to look the same and haunt my sleep.
6. Make friends.
Whether you’re joining hostel activities or meeting up with people from travel groups like The Solo Female Traveler Network, you’re sure to save money. Joining groups can help you cut down costs when dining and ordering group meals, sharing a taxi ride, or paying for group tours. Just exercise caution when making friends in a strange new country. Be street-smart.
7. Pack an eco water bottle.
Bring a reusable water bottle so you can refill instead of buying from restos and street stalls, which not only have a high price tag (compared to buying from supermarkets), but also contribute to plastic pollution.
Majority of European countries have safe drinking water from the tap or public drinking fountains, but there are a few cities where you’re better off avoiding the water at all costs. When in doubt, consult travel forums.
8. Look for free things to do.
Each city offers free tourist activities. Just ask Monseiur Google. From free walking tours to museums with window hours for free entrance, there are several! When I went to Greece, my trips to Santorini and Mykonos were cancelled because of the cyclone, so I was stuck in Athens. Fortunately, they were celebrating European Heritage Days, which means free tickets to all museums and ancient ruins that weekend, including the famous Acropolis.
9. Be careful of scams.
There’s nothing like a travel scam to make a dent in your wallet. For starters, as you make your way towards a busy tourist spot, you will most likely run into someone wearing a convincing uniform or ID, asking, “Are you going to [insert famous tourist spot] right now? The main entrance is closed today, but for only [insert fee], I can take you to a special entrance that only few people know about.”
When you get there, you’ll realize that the “secret entrance” is just the back entrance with no actual fee. The main entrance is not even closed, and your money went straight to the scammer’s pocket. It’s not just gypsies or pickpockets to be wary of. Click here to see a list of common travel scams compiled by my one of trusted travel bloggers, Nomadic Matt.
In my house, I am the queen of DIY travel. Ask my mother! I always save money when organizing my own itineraries. I enjoy customizing my own trip to avoid tourist traps and unnecessary activities. The only time I agree to pay for an organized trip is when there’s time constraint (like when I went to Tuscany, Italy).
Planning a solo trip to Europe soon? Tell me about it in the comments section below.