10 Tips for Traveling Europe on a Budget

The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience.  The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him.  He goes “sight-seeing.”  ~Daniel J. Boorstin

It’s no secret that I love to travel.

For the past three years, as my family and I have lived in Prague as expats, my love for travel has only grown. We have seen and traveled and experienced more languages and countries (over 20) in these three years than I could have ever imagined. Well, more than I could have imagined from my life in the US.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that traveling Europe is doable on a tight budget. Most of Europe is within a day’s drive. It’s all dependent on how you travel.

Following, the top ten tips (from my experience) for how to travel Europe on a budget:

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

1) Research: buy or borrow a few good books on Europe. Make a list of the top places you’d like to visit in Europe. Start gathering links or clippings on the places you’d like to visit2) Begin watching for airline deals on cheap tickets from your home city to a city you’d like to see in Europe. Deals can be found for even as low as $500 round trip, especially if you have day and month flexibility. The lowest cost airport hubs in Europe tend to be Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, and a few others.

3) Decide to come in the tourist off-season. For most of Europe, this means any month BUT the end of June, and the whole months of July, August, and September. Here in Prague, the weather is beautiful even in October, part of November, and in April and May.

Rome, along the River Tiber
Rome, along the River Tiber

4) Choose to fly into a city that is central to the area of Europe you’d like to travel. For instance, if you’re hoping to see Switzerland, Salzburg, Lake Como, and Venice, then flying into Milan, Italy would be the best choice because of its central location.

5) Plan the way you’d prefer to travel between cities. I recommend renting a car, because my family and I have enjoyed getting to see and experience the off-the-beaten-path places as we travel between destinations. Some may recommend traveling by train and Eurorail, but consider that in many European countries, the Eurorail isn’t a great option (especially in the former Soviet Bloc regions). If you plan to rent a car, great deals can be found. Ensure that a) you’ve applied for and gotten an International Driver’s Permit at your local AAA office, b) you’ve read up on the differences in traffic laws in European countries from the US, and c) you’ve brought along a dependable GPS navigation system preloaded with European maps.


6) Map your travels out on Google Maps or on a hard copy map. Determine the length of your stay in each place. Prepare language guides and local information about each place on your list.

7) Find the places you’ll stay. **This is the biggest way to save money while traveling Europe.** Instead of standard hotels ($250 and up per night per person), search booking.com, traveladvisor.com, flipkey.com, and trustandtravel.com for apartments or villas (sometimes nice places can be found for as low as $350 for 3 nights) where you can stay. Sometimes it’s possible to find a place including breakfast, or one that will accomodate a 3-day stay instead of a week. The best rates are especially available in the off-season. Spend as long as you can on this part, as often, your favorite memories will be of the places where you did a little digging and research to find them. Also, even lower-cost hostels can be found in almost every European town and village.

the stunning Villa at Montecchia
the stunning Villa at Montecchia

8) Invest in a few brilliant pieces of travel clothing and accessories. Must-haves for Europe include a) a water-repellent jacket, b) a cross-body bag or documents holder for passport and money, c) sturdy walking shoes for treading cobblestones, d) a sweater or sweatshirt (even in the hottest months of the year, it can be cold in Europe!). Be prepared with these few things, and you’ll save money from having to buy it once you’re here. Clothes are expensive in Europe.

9) Invest in a handy camera, or in a camera that is easy to use, that takes great photographs. Chances are, if you’re traveling Europe, you’ll see and experience things you never dreamed of seeing and doing. You need the camera to prove to yourself that you actually did it, later.

Sunrise at Monterosso al Mare, the Cinque Terre, Italy
Sunrise at Monterosso al Mare, the Cinque Terre, Italy

10) Most importantly, bring your sense of humor. Every time we travel, something unexpected happens. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s small — but there’s always room for serendipity when you bring along a sense of humor.

As Maya Angelou said so well, travel is important: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

The View of Prague's Spires toward Old Town, from Charles Bridge
The View of Prague’s Spires toward Old Town, from Charles Bridge

Getting to travel Europe and its endless cultural treasures is a dream. Once you’ve been, you’ll want to return again and again. Be prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Any suggestions? Anything to add?

Published by Jennifer Lyn Art

About Jennifer Writer Author Photographer Artist Corporate Marketer Happy Wife & Mom World Traveler Grateful.

3 thoughts on “10 Tips for Traveling Europe on a Budget

  1. Jennifer –

    I completely agree with your tips, and have used all but some of the websites you listed. I took a quick peek at them and I can’t wait to try them while planning our next trip to Europe, thank you for sharing. Creating a love affair w/ travel is a gift I can’t imagine topping! Life is not about the things we acquire but about the experiences and relationships we have. Travel is such a wonderful way to experience different cultures (the people, traditions, music, history, food and fun) of different areas even w/in our own countries but more so in those abroad. As for the sense of humor – so true it makes for mishaps laughs instead of tears of frustrations.

    Take Care,

    1. Thank you, Jill! All you’ve said is so true, and beautifully said at that. Thanks for sharing, and best wishes to you as you plan and dream on your next trip!

  2. This comment is on behalf of Michelle, who left a very informative comment on my Facebook page. I wanted to share it here as well …
    From Michelle U:
    “We rented a car in Italy and a GPS, which we found more helpful and less expensive than downloading all the maps onto our GPS. (My brother-in-law did that–it cost him about $80, but he inadvertently downloaded the bike maps and it did not go well for them driving around Italy. Be aware some of the former Soviet bloc countries, however, aren’t on GPS–Slovenia for example).

    Make sure your cell phone works overseas–four quad. AT&T lets you pay a special monthly-charge for Europe that will reduce roaming charges. I didn’t need a smart phone, I’ve gotten along beautifully with just an I-touch. Wi-fi is everywhere and Skype is a miracle.

    I put language translator software onto my I-touch, but just a minor free one. Brushing up on languages before we traveled was sufficient so many people speak English. And if they didn’t, we had a laughing experience.

    I found it reassuring to carry a money belt.

    Rick Steves’ books are TERRIFIC.

    Visiting European relatives has been wonderful.

    And if something goes wrong, you can always Facebook home to strangers for money . . . (not!)”

    Thanks, Michelle, for sharing of your wide travel experience! -JK

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