A dream for many young people now days is to take a grand trip and backpack through Europe. I can relate, instead of Facebooking and falling asleep in class I spent my college days researching how to backpack through Europe. After graduation, I bought the cheapest one-way flight out of the US. I had the time of my life traveling through Europe. Of course, a major concern is a cost of doing this. Europe is not Southeast Asia, and prices are generally quite high for the average young traveler.
After dedicating more than a year of my life to backpacking through Europe, and setting foot in 33 European countries, I would like to think I know the cost of traveling throughout most of Europe. One of the main questions I get is
“How much does it cost to backpack through Europe?”
This question is vague. The cost to backpack through Europe depends on a number of things like:
- What time of the year will you be backpacking through Europe?
- What is your comfort level? Are you open to hitchhiking, couch surfing, and eating spaghetti every night?
And then the most important.
- Where in Europe do you want to go?
I want to answer this question for everyone wondering what I have spent backpacking through Europe. This is from summertime in Munich to spending New Years in Naples. From AirBnb’s to sleeping on the beaches of Mykonos. ( Yes I mean the actual beach, we were too poor to get a room on the island).
I know before you actually read the details you want an actual number in your head. I strive to travel on a budget of less than $35/day, no matter what country I am in. Honestly, I come in way under this number most days. So I will say this – in even the most expensive of countries you can backpack through Europe on $40/day.
In countries like Norway and France, this is going to require more legwork and planning. In countries like Bosnia and Serbia, you will actually have to try hard to hit $40 for the day. Alright, no more need for small talk – here we go!
How Much Does it Cost to Backpack Through Europe?
This is going to be your number one expense to backpack through Europe, but if you’re smart about it and plan ahead you can get around cheaply. Train travel is the easiest and most convenient way to backpack through Europe. I traveled for 3 months through Western Europe on a Eurail pass. The pass wasn’t cheap, it cost me $1300 for 3 months of unlimited travel through Europe, that comes to $14.50 a day. Considering the area I was traveling through and how much I was on the trains it was a bargain.
Europe is not only traveled by train, there is also a large bus network that connects most countries. I like to use GoEuro to compare bus vs. train costs. Traveling throughout parts of Croatia, Romania, and Poland by bus can cost as little as $8 a bus ticket.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Ryan Air. Ryan Air is a low-cost carrier who services almost all of Europe. If you have the time, check Skyscanner, and look where the cheapest place to fly with RyanAir is. I once got a flight from Rome to Marrakech for $10, yes you read that right.
How open are you to hitchhiking? In America this is seen as a big no-no; However in Europe, it is quite common. If you want something a little more secure try BlaBlaCar, similar to hitchhiking except it is prearranged and you chip in for gas.
How much time do you have to backpack across Europe? Since transport is going to be your biggest expense consider staying in one place for longer amounts of time. This will drastically cut your costs and increase your understanding of the region you’re in.
Personally, cost always trumps comfort. If there is a 10-hour train ride that costs $20, and a 2-hour train ride that costs $50, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going with the 10-hour train ride. Traveling without comfort in mind has saved me hundreds of dollars in the past.
Insider Tip** Do you care what country you start your Eurotrip in? I usually don’t care at all, as long as I’m on the continent. I can get around Europe easily. I ALWAYS check Skyscanner to see what European country is the cheapest for me to fly into from the states. The least expensive option wins; this method took me to Iceland for less than $300, and got me into Latvia for less than $250!
At the end of the day, you will need to find somewhere to lay your head down. Accommodation is the next biggest cost of backpacking through Europe. In terms of cost for comfort, your best option is going to be a hostel. I still meet many Americans that think staying in a hostel is scary, thanks to a stupid movie. This is crazy talk! For me, a hostel is the cheapest accommodation I can get for a decent amount of comfort.
In parts of Western Europe, you are going to be paying more for a brand new hostel in the city center. In the heat of summer season, some places in Scandinavia costs $40/night for a dorm bed. This is insane! In general, in Western Europe, I would expect to pay about $20/night for a dorm bed. In Eastern Europe, hostel beds will run you about $10/night. I use Hotels Combined to find most of the accommodation in Europe.
I know what you’re thinking, this is still a huge chunk of my budget and you’re right. Accommodation isn’t cheap, but honestly, a hostel bed in Oslo still costs me significantly less than my 1 bedroom apartment in NYC did.
You can find accommodation for nothing too. Sites like Couchsurfing connect locals and travelers, and many Europeans offer up their couches in exchange for a cultural exchange. I spent $100 for a week in Iceland because I “Couchsurfed” the whole time. Just remember to always check the reviews first, especially for female travelers.
Insider Tip** Thanks to AirBnb, I can rent out people’s apartments for a generally low cost in Europe. If you are planning to stay longer in certain cities, AirBnb may be a good option for you. Owners tend to give discounts to people who book longer stays. If you’re traveling as a couple this is an even better option because you can split the cost. Click here for $35 off your first stay.
Depending on where you are in the world, food and drinks can really eat up your budget. A nice meal out is going to be your most expensive option anywhere in Europe. However, a midrange meal in Paris may run you $20 a plate while meals in Poland will cost you around $5.
Traveling doesn’t mean you have to eat out. Unless there is no kitchen where we are staying, we cook most of our meals in and get most our food from the grocery stores or local markets. Eating your meals in shouldn’t cost you more than $10 a day, and if you’re splitting your food with others expect this cost to be even less.
When there is no kitchen, I opt for street food. I’ve had a massive sandwich in Berlin for $3, and pizza slices in Italy for $2. In some countries, food is just expensive everywhere. In these cases, I’ve gotten by on 4 skyrs a day in Iceland and Ramen noodles in Denmark. Hey, whatever keeps me on the road!
If you’re backpacking through Europe, you’ll probably want to have a beer in Amsterdam or a glass of wine in Italy. Alcohol can be the end all and be all of a budget, but it doesn’t have to be! Consider picking up your beer and wine from the grocery store or drink with your new friends at the hostel bars. Wine in Italy and France is amazing can cost as little as $2 a bottle. While you can get great beer in Belgium for $1 a bottle.
Insider Tip** In most European countries you can legally drink on the streets. So pick up your booze and people watch with a beer in hand.
Alright, so you’ve gotten to Europe, found your hostel, and put some food in your stomach, so now you have to fill your days with awesomeness!
Most big cities have free walking tours every day. I love doing these tours when I first get to a new city. It gets me acquainted with the place and also is a great way to meet people when traveling alone. Although these walking tours are free, a tip is expected for the guide at the end, $5 a person is pretty standard for these tours.
Many museums around Europe have free entrance times and dates. Always check ahead to take advantage of this.
Europe also has some pretty amazing parks and mountains. I know people always say that Switzerland is expensive, but consider just spending your days exploring the mountains. Nature is free!
Insider Tip** Did you keep your student ID from your college days? Good, this ID will save you plenty of entrance fees into museums, churches, and other attractions you’ll want to see in Europe.
Save Money in Europe
If you’ve made it to the end of this post and are ready to hop on the next flight out, then take away these main tips to really save money in Europe.
- Consider staying longer in places to cut back on transport costs. Move with a purpose, don’t backtrack and always calculate the cheapest ways to move.
- Regarding Accommodation: You get what you pay for. The more central hostel locations are usually going to cost more, perhaps it’s worth it to stay outside the city center, and walk in or take public transport.
- Eating at grocery stores can really save your budget. I’ve lived off pre-packaged salads and sandwiches in many countries.
- Just walking and exploring a new city can really fill your day. And it’s free!
My Two Cents
If it’s your first time backpacking through Europe, go see Western Europe and get out of it. Countries like France, Sweden, and Ireland are great, but they are extremely expensive. My favorite region to travel through in Europe is the Balkans. Countries like Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia are beautiful and very inexpensive in comparison. Generally speaking, the more east you get the cheaper the country. Where you are at is crucial to your European budget. I also find that countries using the Euro are going to cost more than countries with their own currency (besides Scandinavia). See the table for a general comparison.
|Paris, France||Krakow, Poland||Note:|
|Transport||$30||$13||Routes are International: Amsterdam>Paris Budapest>Krakow|
|Accommodation||$22||$6||Hostel Dorm Bed Prices|
|Activities||$10||$4||Price of Louvre Entrance vs Price of Entrance to Wawel Castle|
Based on my own experiences I’ve made this chart to show the costs of traveling throughout Europe (I really like pastels). Without getting too detailed:
- Green: crazy expensive countries
- Blue: expensive countries
- Pink: very affordable countries,
- Purple: budget countries.
Again, this is based on my experiences of going to the grocery stores, partaking in different activities, drinking at the bars, and staying in budget hostels and hotels.
Lastly, travel during the off-season. Prices from May to September are always going to be higher than prices during the rest of the year. Many hostels and hotels have high season prices and low season prices, and the price difference is huge. We saved hundreds of dollars just by traveling through Europe in the fall and winter months. Just recently we got a perfect seaside one bedroom apartment in Cyprus for under $30 a night! Traveling during the off-season also gives you bargaining power, many businesses would rather rent to you at a lower rate than stay empty!
So How Much Have I Spent Backpacking Through Europe?
As I mentioned before, I’ve spent a year of my life backpacking through Europe. I’ve traveled throughout Scandinavia, the UK, the Mediterranean, Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. Check out where we’ve been for the complete list. Sometimes, I travel on an extreme budget, and sometimes I am a little more indulgent. On average I spend about $1000/month, so, therefore, I’ve spent around $12,000 backpacking through Europe.
- Nomadic Matt talks about Eastern Europe specifically in this post.
- Eva breaks down here European expenses here!
Have you taken a big trip around Europe? Do you have any tips for better budget travel?