Europe is expensive, but surprisingly affordable if you know where to cut your spending. I spent a grand total of S$4,875.75 (€3,085.92) for 31 days, with the following breakdown:
Flight = S$1,087.50 / €688.29
Transportation = S$1,782.87 / €1,128.40
Accommodation = S$941.21 / €595.70
F&B = S$537.06 / €339.91
Entertainment = S$474.34 / €300.21
Others = S$52.77 / €33.40
Not counting the return flight from Singapore, it costed me S$122.30 / €77.34 daily. Considering my first 11 days were spent in the notoriously expensive Scandinavia and I managed to cover 43 cities in total, not to mention an aurora tour and a classical opera cum ballet ticket, I’m actually quite happy with the final amount.
Here are a few tips on how to travel Europe on a budget:
Your choice of countries affect the budget.
Scandinavian countries cost a fortune. If you’re tight on budget, you may want to rethink Norway, Sweden, Finland or Denmark. Hell, my 9 days in Norway alone cost almost the same as my 21 days elsewhere. That being said, Scandinavian on a budget is not unrealistic, if you manage your F&B, accommodation, transport and other expenses well, as you’ll read in the individual section below.
If you are looking for cheap places, by all means head to Eastern Europe. Excepting Austria (though you may argue it’s technically in Central Europe), the prices here are almost Southeast Asian cheap! I’ve heard the Balkans and the Baltic states are even cheaper, so you may want to consider that too!
It’s simple: the lesser known the places are, the higher chance it’ll come at cheaper price tag.
However, don’t make money the sole factor affecting your travel choices. Go to places that you actually want to go, mix it up with little known destinations that may surprise you along the way. That’s the whole point of traveling!
If you are staying for a few days in each place, the cheapest way is to buy groceries and prepare your own food. But as I’m constantly moving between cities and I prefer to sample local delicacies, I had to use a different approach.
To start the day, bakery goods are cheap (€1-4) and they fill up your stomach well. Don’t fear that you’ll get bored with bread—they are usually diverse enough and localized to individual countries (e.g. skollebrød in Norway, butterbrezel in Germany, trdelník in Czech Republic). Bakeries/dessert shops sometimes charge you extra for sitting in, so dine out whenever possible.
Avoid cafés, restaurants and hotels-based eateries—many of them come with taxes and service charges (I have to admit this takes a lot of discipline and I violated this rule a lot towards the end). Instead, visit the market squares and town halls, where you can usually find street food kiosks selling unique, traditional food at affordable prices.
In Norway, where even the food kiosks charge ridiculous prices, check out the convenience stores. You can find hot, fresh food like pizzastyke and lølpøkse which can pass off as frugal dinner options.
Energy bars are helpful for when you’re feeling hungry but still finding a cheap dining option. Before coming to Europe, I bought 3 packs of 12 Snickers each for under S$15. Enough for the whole trip.
Tap water in most European countries are drinkable (do research beforehand). Bring your own water bottle and keep a lookout for ’em faucets. I only had to buy water 3x, and when I actually did, I kept all the plastic bottles and filled them up every morning.
Luckily, I’m not really an alcohol person so this cut my budget down a lot. Even then, I managed to buy an odd beer and red wine here and there when they’re selling cheap, especially in Czech Republic.
Living in hostel is not too bad. It costed me around €15-60/night, and these are mostly located near the city centers! In Eastern Europe, it can even go as low as €6/night! Use a combination of Booking.com, Agoda, HostelWorld and other aggregator sites to find the cheapest price possible.
Don’t go cheap just for the sake of it though. Safety and comfort is still important! I always read all the 1-star and 2-star reviews on Tripadvisor to make sure that the negatives are tolerable. Any mention of bed bug or irresponsible host is an automatic no-no for me. As a rule of thumb, I make sure they are rated 3 stars or above in Tripadvisor (or at least 6 in Booking.com).
Couchsurfing is also an option. You get a free accommodation (though it’s a courtesy to bring a small gift for your host). I didn’t try this option as I could only confirm my Europe trip really late and I had many ungodly near-midnight arrivals, but this could’ve certainly pushed the budget down a lot.
When they don’t charge you premium, night trains save you a lot of time and money. I saved at least 5 nights of accommodations with overnight trains and an overnight ferry.
No need to pay extra for a couchette or a bed—not many people take night trains (at least when I visited in winter) and you often get two seats with foldable hand-rest which you can easily convert into a mini-bed. I take seats with tables whenever possible, as that means you get the two seats opposite you too and you can stretch your legs further!
For Hurtigruten ferry that connects most of Northern Norway, compulsory cabin prices are applicable if you stay beyond certain duration of time on the ferry. So make sure you alight at some interesting port cities for a night or two before continuing. When you have to travel overnight on a ferry without a cabin, don’t panic. Just head to the observation lounges where there are plenty of seats which you can join together into a comfortable bed.
Here’s where I stayed:
- Oslo: Sentrum Hostel – SGD37.44/night
- Bergen: Marken Guesthouse – SGD41/night
- Flåm: Flam Hostel – SGD41.76/night
- Trondheim: Trondheim Vandrerhjem – SGD48/night
- Reine: Reine Rorbuer – SGD203.2/night
- Tromsø: Tromsø Bed & Books – SGD47.2/night
- Bremen: Townside Hostel – SGD28.72/night
- Amsterdam: WOW Amsterdam – SGD37.92/night
- Würzburg: Babelfish Hostel – SGD30.53/night
- Füssen: Maurushaus – SGD41.87/night
- Munich: Jaeger’s Munich – SGD22.12/night
- Prague: Hostel Lipa – SGD11.59/night
- Budapest: White Rabbit Hostel – SGD9.48/night
- Vienna: Do Step Inn – SGD24.46/night
- Salzburg: Stadtalm Naturfreunderhaus – SGD33.97/night
- Florence: Ciao Hostel – SGD41.87/night
- Rome: Guesthouse Stradivari – SGD32.99/night
As you can notice, transportation is the highest of all my expenses. This is mostly because I visit a new city/town every other day. Most people would advise you to stay in each city for at least 3-4 days, which is actually a very sensible advice. But if you happen to be a mister cheong like me, it doesn’t apply.
I can easily finish an entire sightseeing in 1 day and I’m still gonna pay that transportation cost sooner or later anyway, so why bother paying another night of accommodation to experience nothing new the next day? It’s a different story if I were a full-on backpacker with plenty of time to blend in with the local culture, but unfortunately I can’t afford the time.
Hence, my cost-saving strategy is to rely on cheap buses. Eurolines, Student Agency, Flixbus, Leo Express, Megabus all provide reasonably cheap transport between European cities. To find the cheapest price possible, I usually use Rome2Rio to check the list of operators and then go to individual operators’ sites for the actual price on my travel dates.
Some trains/buses provide discounts for under-25s, under-18s and/or students, so always check before booking. There are also plenty of discounts if you book early and/or online. Most of my buses cost under €10. My Bratislava-Vienna transport was at a super-bargain €1!
Flexibility also goes a long way. If it’s cheaper to travel on different dates or even different hours, I’ll tweak my itinerary by allowing myself to stay longer at key strategic cities (e.g. Amsterdam, Prague, Florence) where there are good day trip options.
Despite constantly moving, I tried not to be too ambitious by not traveling between countries right away. It’s better to connect between nearby cities first before crossing to another country. This kept the cost lower and helped to preserve my sanity by not staying on the road for too many hours. The only exception are the Scandinavian countries, where staying for another night is actually more costly than moving.
Some people even went to the extent of sneaking into trains/metros without paying. In a German train, I saw a couple who went in without tickets. They got unlucky and a conductor asked them, they just said that they’d like to buy the ticket inside the train—no further questions asked! When I was riding metros in Vienna, I have never had my tickets checked. Ditto for places where the traffic is extremely busy (e.g. Cinque Terre) and nobody could tell who have and who doesn’t have tickets. I don’t like getting into troubles, so I paid for every single transport I took. But if you’re really that frugal, take the risk at your own discretion.
Finally, get used to walking! It’s free, healthy and you get to see more of each city. Only when a place is not reachable within a 40-minute walk, then I’ll use the public transport. Believe it or not, yes, you can cover most European cities in 1 day completely on foot.
Same old, same old advice. Book early. Use Skyscanner or other flight aggregator sites to find the cheapest flight possible, but do not forget to double check on the actual airlines’ sites in case if there are promotions (promotions are not usually listed on aggregators).
If you’re doing multi-cities, it’s advisable to take the same flight operator to enjoy cheaper flights. Be flexible with your departure and arrival cities, tweak them if you can get a better cost (I had originally wanted to end in Norway, at one point I considered ending in Budapest before finally settling with Rome).
Many airlines provides free city tour during long transit, so make sure you check the terms and conditions before making reservations.
Well, this is where you should actually be spending. What’s the point of getting all the way to a city if you’re not planning to enjoy it? I spent good money to do an aurora tour, a fjord cruise and watched a classical music concert in Vienna.
That being said, do research beforehand. Not all attractions are equal, some charge high but are actually quite crappy. And then there are many free attractions which are actually really nice.
Bring your student card along. Even if you’ve already graduated because they don’t really check. Students are entitled to discounts in many attractions, especially in museums.
Avoid doing paid tours. I got lazy towards my final few days in Rome and settled with a guided Naples & Pompeii tour. That costed me S$190.46 / €120.55, which I could’ve easily done on my own at half the price. Besides, there are many free walking tours you can find simply by googling.
– Bring your own towel and toiletries as hostels charge you for these.
– Bring your own lock to keep your valuables secure. Hostels usually provide you with free lockers, but charge you for renting locks. When there are no lockers provided, I just use the lock directly on my backpack.
– Do read the fine print whether free luggage storage is provided upon check-outs. This would really save you on having to spend another €1-4 just to store your luggage on train stations.
– There’s no need to rent a pocket wi-fi. Most hostels, buses, trains and/or train stations in Europe provide free wi-fi. You can do your last-minute research in those places.
– Toilets in Europe are charged, so make sure you empty your stomach and bladder before you leave your hostel every morning. Make a habit to go to the bathroom whenever you visit an attraction or an eatery. Free museums are also good places to find free toilets.
– Don’t hurry yourself changing to Scandinavian and Eastern Europe currencies. These currencies are rare in Singapore and other Asian countries, hence the exchange rate your neighborhood money changers provide tend to be unfavorable. Instead, change once you’re in Europe.
Hope this little guide helps in planning your trip. If you’re interested to find out which places I visited, read this post: 31 Days, 11 Countries, 43 Cities: How to Travel Europe for S$4.8K / €3K.
Do you have any other tips to share for budget traveling in Europe?