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European Travel on a Budget

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My brother-in-law, Josh, is preparing for a study abroad semester in Italy, and he asked if I’d share some insight into traveling Europe on a limited budget. Whether you’re studying abroad like Josh, or simply working with a tight budget, there are tons of ways to see Europe while making the most of your greenbacks!

  • Low Season Travel. If possible try to plan your trip during your destination’s low season as not only will your lodging be more affordable, but you’ll bypass the crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience. Europe’s low season is usually October-March, but there are a few exceptions, so do some research.
  • Free with student ID! If you’re studying abroad or taking a trip abroad while in college, don’t forget your college ID. Most State Museums are free to students  in Paris & London, and I bet they’re free in other cities as well.
  • Many national landmarks are free for everyone (for example the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Borghese Gardens, etc. in Rome are all free), so stick to the free landmarks, and you can get by pretty inexpensively exploring your chosen city, leaving  your major costs to be lodging and transportation.
  • Eat cheaply by buying food from street vendors (rather than eating at sit-down restaurants). Baguette sandwich and/or crepe stands seem to be on every other corner in Paris. And if you do eat in restaurants ask for tap water, or they’ll bring you bottled water and charge you for it.
  • Tipping?? It seems crazy to Americans,  but tipping at bars and restaurants is considered rude in some countries. Read up on the countries you’re visiting as it could save you 15-20% at each meal!


  • Plan a picnic! Pick up inexpensive lunch fare (cheese, salami, bread, fruit and maybe some wine!) at a nearby market and set up shop a in a public garden. This spring Ken and I picked up lunch fixings for two at a St. Germain market (10 Euro) and had a picnic in Luxembourg Gardens. It was an awesome setting for an inexpensive lunch (and people watching!).
  • Google It! Wherever you’re going, Google “Free Things to do in _____.” This seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised at how many free things you’ll find if you specifically search for it.
  • Open-air Markets. Check to see if your destination city has any open air markets. They’re usually packed with local, inexpensive, handmade things (souvenirs!), street performers and cheap eats. London’s Camden Market is a good example.
  • Check out the Study Abroad Financial Resources compiled by Credit Card Insider for unbiased tips and insight on navigating the not-so-glamorous but oh-so-necessary side of travel planning: foreign transaction fees, exchange rates, chip credit cards, bank communication, etc.

Do you have any budget travel tips to add?! Please share!

Picnic image via Colie Parks.

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  • Michael
    August 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

    1 – don’t go in the “low season” – parts of it are not so low due to school vacations, and X-mas periode and weather can be a spell-breaker in most of Europe in this periode. Go in the summer and save by camping or, indeed, picknicking – its much less fun in November!

    2 – go for longer periodes, and don’t rush around – you can go for two weeks in 7 destinations and will end up spending more than in 4 weeks in 4 destinations.

    3 – choose your destinations – some places may sound cheap but end up not-so-cheap after all, while other places may turn out to be cheaper than you might think. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track.

  • Wanderluster
    August 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I have had amazing travel experiences doing nothing more than what you have on your list. Thank you for sharing it with everyone!

  • takeawaytidbits
    August 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you! Just moved to London for a year, this really helped.

  • ksederbe
    August 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    1. Travel: Look into train or carpooling options. The German rail site allows you to search in English for train connections. I have done a 1-country pass for 7 days of train travel and we got a lot of mileage out of it.

    Also if traveling in Germany, many young people use mitfahrgelegenheit – a carpooling website that connects drivers with riders – you chip in for gas and can travel very cheaply. Between major cities (Hamburg-Berlin, ex) there are always lots of options and you meet interesting people.

    Also – budget airlines. You can travel very cheaply within Europe

    2. Lodging: airbnb or hostels or couchsurfing

    3. Food: I agree with Erin, buy groceries at a market or supermarket and picnic. You’ll get to try local stuff and explore new things, and save $. I have had some of the most memorable meals this way

    4. Free days at museums – lots of museums have one day a week or month that is free. Look into this before you go if you know there’s something you really want to see.

    just a few tips 🙂

    • francoisetmoi
      August 9, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Awesome tips, Kathryn! Thank you!

  • 10 Tips to Cut Your Travel Costs | Fabulous 50's
    August 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    […] European Travel on a Budget […]

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