When Dave and I decided to go to Europe for a month last year, the first thing I thought was…wait, can I even afford this?! While a month long trip is a stretch on any budget, we saved money where we could and the entire trip ended up costing way less than we thought. It took lots of planning and a little bit of compromise (okay, maybe a lot sometimes), but we made it work and it ended up being the best trip ever. Since we made our dream trip work on a pretty limited budget, I thought I’d share our budget travel tips with you. Don’t let money be the thing stopping you from traveling! Trust me. With a little bit of saving and planning, you can totally make any trip a reality!
1 // Don’t stay in hotels
One of the biggest expenses when traveling is accommodations. If you’re on a budget, skip the hotel and try Airbnb (or VRBO or Homeaway) instead. Not only are you getting a WAY better deal (almost all our Airbnbs in Italy were less than $100 a night, which is crazy), but you really get to feel like you’re a part of the culture. Most of our absolute best experiences were at Airbnbs! Also, what saved us TONS on our trip was staying with Dave’s family and a family friend. Make sure to tap into friends and family to see if you can stay with them when you’re traveling! If you want to know what Airbnbs we stayed at, let me know.
2 // Travel off season
This was also huge on our trip. We traveled from October 21st to November 21st, and honestly it was the perfect time. I would totally recommend it! Fall foliage was everywhere, and it was chilly enough for boots and coats but it wasn’t freezing. Prices go down quite a bit when you travel in the off season in Europe, and it helped with all our flights as well! Plus, lines are shorter and you get to meet more locals. I think the typical off season is from October to April, so try to plan your trip in that range.
3 // Buy the cheapest plane tickets possible
Aside from accommodations, buying a plane ticket is probably the most expensive part of any trip. We booked our trip with Norwegian Airlines, and it saved us so. much. money. We payed less than $1,000 round trip. That is seriously unheard of!! It was a nonstop flight, and we got a checked bag and 2 meals. I mean, it was amazing. If you’re flying to Europe, seriously check them out!! In general, make sure to do your research and compare all your options before booking.
4 // Avoid tourist restaurants
Tourist restaurants are always overpriced and never very good. Make sure to ask a local where their favorite spots are, or just simply make sure to eat outside of touristy areas. Also, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. There were a few places we might have overlooked because they weren’t super cute like some of the more touristy places, but ended up being super amazing (and super cheap)!
5 // Pack picnics and BYOB
Packing a picnic is a great way to save money on eating out, and it’s super fun! Head to the local grocery store and pick up snacks and lunch stuff to bring with you (and checking out local grocery stores is always an adventure in itself). Find a cute spot in a park or with a view to sit for lunch, and boom. Money saved! Also, make sure to stock up on wine and beer at the grocery store. Have a glass or two before you go out for dinner at night to save money on pricey drinks!
6 // Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
We both got the Capital One Venture card and it was perfect. We used our cards pretty much everywhere in Europe, and if we’d been getting charged foreign transaction fees, it would have added up reallllll quick. Plus, you get travel miles so that’s an extra bonus!
7 // Bring a water bottle
I don’t know what it is, but Europeans just don’t drink water like we do in America. To save a buttload of money, bring a water bottle with you everywhere. Even at a casual lunch place they will charge you like $6 for a bottle of water! If you forget to bring your own, make sure to ask for tap water. Some places will say they don’t have it, in which case…. either don’t order water or you will get charged.
8 // Don’t go overboard on souvenirs
I know it’s tempting to want to spend money on souvenirs and to go shopping on vacation, but if you’re trying not to spend your whole bank account, just don’t. I picked up a few small souvenirs, but other than that I hardly bought anything! It’s also good not to buy too much so you don’t get your suitcase too heavy. Going over the weight limit with your bag is never fun!
9 // Research activities beforehand
Figure out what’s on your “must see” list and plan accordingly. It doesn’t seem like it, but spending $10 here and $20 there on museums, churches, etc, can really add up quickly. So, make sure to spend money on the things you really want to do to make the most of your money. Otherwise, stick to seeing free things like parks, pretty views, buildings, etc!
10 // Use public transportation
Public transportation is pretty much the way to go in Europe. The Tube, Metro, and buses are incredibly cheap! We only took an Uber once and it was because I was super sick (pretty sure I had a fever!). Research all the different options when purchasing tickets. Plus, public transit makes you feel like a local!
Do you have any budget travel tips?
PS: Catch up on our latest European adventures in Venice here!