Here is a map of everywhere we stopped and traveled to during 90 days with $3,500 each while traveling Europe on a budget:


  I think "backpacking Europe" is on a lot of people's bucket lists. I know it was on mine.

  Yet even when I knew I was declining a good job offer and taking a year off school post-graduation, I had a hard time wrapping my head around numbers and if I could afford such an endeavor.

  Money was something my family didn't have a lot of and as much as my parents loved me and wished they could help me afford my dream of traveling the world for a year post-college, it just wasn't feasible. But I worked 2-3 jobs throughout my five years of studying and managed to save about $10,000. It wasn't a lot, but I was determined to make it enough for one year of travel.

  I met my now-husband the summer before my senior year of college and filled him on my grand plans to see the world after I graduated. When we started dating he immediately started planning to come with for the first three months of travel in Europe. We purchased a one-way ticket to Lisbon from Toronto for $280/each in February of that year, securing our plan and completely naive of the adventure we had ahead of us.



  Cost Breakdown: How to Travel Europe on a Budget

  Before, during, and after the journey, we received a number “how do/did you afford it?” questions.

  The answer is we didn’t need that much. Europe on a budget is totally feasible, as long as you're comfortable being a bit uncomfortable. Turns out we ended up spending less in three months than most people spend on a one-week vacation. Here are the stats of what we spent traveling 25 countries (roughly 14,500km) in a span of 3 months.

  3 months unlimited Eurail pass- $1,216/each

  Direct flight from Toronto to Lisbon- $290/ each

  Flight from Oslo to Toronto- $370/each

  Average daily budget (including all accommodation, food, souvenirs, clothes)- $40/day ($20/each)

  In the end, we went under our daily budget spending only $3129 of the $3600 we gave ourselves, averaging a daily spending of $35. Nothing was left out of the budget and included everything from 30 cent coffees in Slovenia to an outrageous $167 day in Amsterdam (whoops). Below I’ve attached a picture of the tracker we used on our trip that recorded what we had spent at the end of each day.

  To be honest, we didn't go into this trip expecting to track expenses or giving ourselves a budget of $20/day. About two weeks into the trip we realized we weren't spending much and decided to do some calculations to see how affordable we could make the trip. Both of us are competitive and take challenges a little too seriously, so when we decided to try it out it ended up following us through to the very end.

  The total for our 3 month trip to Europe came to $3,440.5 ($1,216 + $290 + $370 + $1,564.5) per person for everything.



  So how did we spend so little in Europe?

  1. We adjusted to different cultures and currencies

  Europe is a vast continent with countries that vary greatly in how much you can make a US dollar stretch. In countries like Bosnia, Serbia, and Poland, you’ll be able to rent an Airbnb, eat decent food, and splurge on some ice cream while still spending under $40/day. In Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, you’ll find yourself pitching a tent almost every night and eating hot dogs for a week straight because a personal pizza will cost roughly $15 even at the cheap food joints.

  You’ll have to learn to become accustomed to many different countries and currencies in very little time. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding exchange rates and being hit with big bills once charges convert and hit their credit cards. Find the exchange rate online, and if you plan to exchange money make sure to NEVER exchange money at an airport or train station. These stations usually give a much worse rate than an exchange store somewhere on the street. Also, make sure you look for exchange places that advertise "No Commission". Those that don't will charge you ridiculous fees for their services, despite offering a better exchange rate.

  We ended up making most purchases on our credit cards because we had low international interest rates and the conversion rates were always fair. In Europe, especially western Europe nearly everywhere takes major credit cards.




  2. We invested in a Eurail Pass

  Over 30% of our total budget was spent on Eurail passes.

  Although the up-front cost of $1,216 can be off-setting, it is the single-best way to visit a lot of places in a little time when traveling Europe on a budget. Upon originally landing in Europe, I expected to visit a maximum of 12ish countries. When we got to the end and realized we managed 25...that was quite insane.

  Click here to see a map of common Eurail routes. The map only shows major cities, and there are THOUSANDS of destinations and routes that are not shown. Europe’s rail system is extremely efficient and stops at almost all towns that have at least 5,000 people, sometimes fewer.

  The best way to see how many places you can reach using the Eurail pass is by downloading the Eurail app. Look at a map of Europe and choose two towns. Enter them in the Eurail app and chances are there is a way to get from one town to the other using the system. The app even works offline and we rarely had an issue with departing times not matching up.

  If you plan to use the Eurail pass for the entirety of a 3 month Europe trip, it will most likely be worth the money. However, there are some flaws in the system. If you plan to only visit major cities such as London, Paris, and Florence, the Eurail pass can end up being more of a headache than a money saver. Many large cities in western Europe require additional reservations for an extra charge. Read my entire Eurail guide here.



  3. We shopped at supermarkets and avoided eating in large cities

  Almost all European grocery stores are equipped with a bakery, which offers everything from freshly baked chocolate croissants to small handheld pizzas. If you are going to travel to Europe but plan on eating out at least once a day, you can expect your budget to be at least $1000 higher.

  Contrary to popular belief, supermarket baked goods are delicious across all of Europe. They are no Walmart bakery section. We found supermarkets were convenient, but in many countries cafes also offer reasonably priced baked goods. When you're backpacking Europe on a budget you also burn a lot of calories a day. This means many guilt-free indulgences of delicious croissants, quiches, and more!

  In addition, straying away from eating anywhere near city centers saved us a lot of money. Even though we didn't visit large cities often, we still spent time in places like Barcelona, Venice, Geneva, Berlin, Oslo, and more. We quickly discovered two things in the cities when it came to food:

  Food in the city centers is catered to tourists. Some of the worst Italian food I've ever had is in the middle of Florence. However, the hole-in-the-wall Italian villa that has been in the same family for a century and takes an hour to get your that's some of the best Italian food I've ever had.

  It also can be double the price. I will keep using Italy as an example. A plate of pasta in the middle of Venice can easily run $18/plate. However, in the bustling beach town for Italian locals call Viareggio, giant plates of homemade pasta run at $5.

  So what's the lesson here? By taking yourself out of major tourists zones, you'll most likely be getting more authentic food and a cheaper price point. If you are in a city, it can be as easy as wandering a few hundred feet off the main tourist path to find better options.



  4. We got creative with accommodation

  Here's where things get a little sketchy. I would be lying if I said every night in Europe was spent drifting to sleep to the sound of romantic Italian music under the moonlight. Traveling Europe with no plan was the best idea we had, but we often ran into issues for campgrounds, sleeping arrangements, and accommodation because everything affordable was booked far ahead of the tourist season.

  More nights than I'd like to admit came with the stress of being in a small European village where the only hotel is booked out or $250/night and the trains had already stopped running. As a young and enthusiastic 22-year-old filled with a lust for adventure, it made things exciting and daring. As a now 28-year-old, I'd probably add the extra $1,000 to the budget to have more wiggle room when it came to accommodation.

  Yet even with the uncomfortable nights, at the start of the journey, we quickly fell into a routine of booking an Airbnb about every 3rd or 4th night. This would allow us a break and some relaxation, a refreshing shower, and the opportunity to cook a hot meal. Over our three months, we never booked a room over $35. A minimal Airbnb budget got us a private room overlooking Mount Blanc, a beautiful new apartment looking over the rolling hills of Bosnia, and even a small camper in someone’s backyard in Norway.

  Out of the 90 nights we spent on the road traveling Europe on a budget:

  36 nights were spent wild camping

  1 night sleeping in a bush in A Coruna, Spain

  7 nights at a campground

  20 nights in Airbnbs

  10 nights in a hostel

  6 nights with family/friends

  3 nights on an overnight train

  And 1 stranded night sleeping on our beach towel in the Zagreb train station.

  Do you notice something in these numbers? Not a single hotel on the list.



  5. We didn’t go crazy on souvenirs

  Out of 3 months in Europe, I bought myself a few items of clothing, one ring, and a headband. Josh went crazy and spoiled himself with a 3 euro t-shirt and sunglasses.

  Toward the end of our trip, we bought a few small items for family. Other than that we took our memories through pictures. I love bringing home a few memorable items from a trip, but I keep it light because the less you bring home, the more those few items will mean to you. Living out of a backpack also made it easy to not splurge on unnecessary items. At the start of the trip, I didn't want to buy anything because I knew it would be extra weight I would be carrying on my back for the next couple of months, and all our camping gear, camera gear, and food already seemed like a load.



  6. We understood tourist zones=higher prices

  As mentioned above, one of the major advantages of the Eurail pass is that it doesn’t limit you to Rome, Paris, and Berlin. When we were in Amsterdam we rented an Airbnb about an hour out of the city because it was roughly $80 cheaper than anything we could find in the city limits. When trying to shop in Oslo, we discovered that supermarkets in smaller surrounding towns had much better prices. In Switzerland, we actually took the train out of the country and into France just to grocery shop.

  It’s very difficult to find places to sleep on a budget in high-tourist cities. If you plan to stay around a large city for more than a day, rent something out of the city limits or camp in the nearby wilderness. The Eurail train system is usually efficient (outside Eastern Europe) and a quick train ride in and out of the city can save big bucks on prices.



  7. We embraced travel in Eastern Europe

  Although it is less developed than Western Europe, Eastern Europe has some major benefits when it comes to stretching your wallet and traveling Europe on a Budget. In recent years, the Balkan countries have spiked in tourism as well. After many decades of being presumed as unstable and unsafe, countries like Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria have spiked on Millennial and Gen Z travel radars. Places like the coast of Croatia have gotten a bit pricey, but in countries like Serbia, travelers can still easily find city hostels for $5/night.

  In Eastern Europe, you can also walk into a supermarket and come out with two loaves of freshly baked garlic bread and four bakery pizzas for a total of $4. Not bad, eh?

  The truth is, your average budget is going to differ depending on your location on the continent. In Eastern Europe, you could easily live off of a daily budget of $20, while in Scandinavian countries, you’ll need more like $60/day to survive, even on an extreme budget.



  8. We found flight deals

  Our round-trip flights to Europe cost $660, which is quite cheap considering some people spend over $2,000 on their flight to Europe. If you are close to Canada, consider flying out of a Canadian airport, since it will usually save you anywhere from $100-$400 than flying from the United States.

  Second, be extremely flexible. We didn’t know what day we would leave or return from our trip, we just booked whatever day was cheapest based on searching multiple different booking websites and dates.

  If you are really serious about traveling Europe on a budget, flexibility is key. This minor detail can fluctuate the total cost of your trip by upwards of $1000-$1500 dollars per person.



  8. We tracked expenses

  Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Europe on a budget wouldn't have been feasible if we didn't keep ourselves in check when it came to spending. I know how easy it is to go on a trip, swipe a credit card, and have a mild panic attack when you get home and look at the final bill. Just because I traveled Europe on a budget doesn't mean there have been other trips I spent way outside my comfort zone. The anxiety I have when overspending is never worth the extra food, alcohol, or splurging. To some people it is, but to me, that is not the case.

  If you ever want to ensure you stay within your trip budget, whether it's a luxury or backpacking trip, being aware of what you are spending is crucial. I checked my credit card statements multiple times to not only calculate expenses for our tracking journal but to ensure we were staying well within our limits and I didn't have to worry about running out of money while jobless and galavanting around Europe.

  9. When not on trains we walked EVERYWHERE

  Back when we backpacked Europe on a budget, I remember I really wanted an Apple Watch to track steps and miles but couldn't justify the cost before we left. It is one of my biggest regrets from the trip.

  I think we averaged roughly 10 miles/day with our 30-40 pound backpacks. There were many times we had places we wanted to see that were miles from the train stops. Instead of paying for taxis or Ubers, we'd walk to the destination. Sometimes we tried to hitchhike, but depending on the country it was a pretty unreliable mode of transportation. I'll be the first to admit my shoulders were rubbed raw from our backpack straps during the first couple of weeks, but by the end, I was probably in the best shape of my life. Walking not only saved money but allowed us to do things such as buy an entire liter of ice cream and eat it in one sitting without guilt outside the gate of the Leaning Tower of Pisa when it was 100 degrees out. Balance.



  Conclusion: Europe on A Budget in 2021

  Europe on a budget is not easy. There are times you will crave a comfortable bed. There are times you will get frustrated when it’s 12:30am and you can’t find a place to camp. There are times you will stare at something you really, really want, but then have to leave behind because it’s not in your budget or it’s too difficult to carry around in your backpack with limited space.

  Backpacking is not easy either. The first week you will continuously scream “WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF” every 5 minutes while hiking up the hills of Lisbon with 30 pounds on your back. Grocery shopping day means adding a few extra pounds to your bag too. You’ll suffer from at least a dozen blisters on your toes, and each day you’ll wake up with sore feet. But as soon as you start walking again, they’ll feel better.

  If you want to backpack Europe on a budget you have to be rough, tough, and not one of those people who consider “backpacking Europe” to consist of walking your backpack from the train to the hostel in each major city. By the end, your shoes will have trekked hundreds of miles and your laundry done only a handful of times. The only requirement is that you just might have to be a *little* crazy. The good kind of crazy.

  This is the final list of countries we visited on our European trip:

  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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