“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” – St. Augustine
Who would want to live their life with only one book, reading the same page over and over again? Why have a big house, a nice car and a bank account full of money only to be immobile? If you’re looking for the answer to those questions, come find me in Europe.
Europe is an unimaginable place filled with multicultural cities and landscapes that please even the biggest introvert.
Three years ago, I had never left the United States (except for a quick trip to Canada at 19 just so I could visit a bar and gamble). I have come a long way since then with my country count nearing 20. Without Europe, I would feel wearied in my thoughts and experiences and disappointed in my lack of endeavors. Europe is what gives me inspiration and opens my mind to the possibilities of this world. The 50 countries that Europe consists of are untouchable compared to the other 146 countries that exist on earth.
Hailing from a small town in Indiana, I know scores of people who talk and dream of traveling to Europe but claim they will never get there. They always defer the impossible idea due to many factors like finances, time off work, family, etc.
If this sounds like you, let me tell you, it is very possible. With these tips, you can travel Europe on a budget and have the time of your life (literally).
GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME
Make the trip from the states to Europe ONLY if you have at least two full weeks. To me, this is still not a sufficient amount of time. I have welcomed visitors from the states who only had 10 days and they soon realized between using 3-4 of those days traveling to Europe and back home they really only had less than a week to dive in to the culture. On top of that, the jet-lag is no joke and they seemed extremely exhausted the entire time. By day 8 they adjusted to the time change but it was time to go back home.
In my opinion, you are wasting your time and money if you cannot expense more than 2 weeks.
We are fortunate enough to live in Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, placing us about a 5 hour drive from Amsterdam and 4 hours from Paris. We can be skiing in the Alps in less than 3 hours or can be in Prague in 6 hours where we can party all night in clubs that American youth would drool over.
And we do it all on a tight budget.
DON’T SETTLE FOR EXPENSIVE FLIGHTS
I fly back and forth from Europe to the states every 3 months or so. When I first began making the trip across the pond, I was paying upwards of $1500. With good research and experience, now I refuse to spend more than $500 for an all-inclusive round trip flight from Chicago O’Hare to Frankfurt Main and without having to sacrifice so much travel time!
According to dailymail.co.uk, there are approximately 2,464 flights between the US and Europe daily. This gives you many options to choose from. You’ll find flights that will be super cheap BUT pay attention to the details of the trip. A friend came to visit us here in Europe and didn’t realize that he had a 15 hour overnight layover until he arrived in London to grab his connection to Frankfurt. Not ideal.
Another pal found a $400 flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, but he had a short layover in Reykjavík, Iceland; 45 minutes to be exact. Again, not ideal. You are in different countries where English is not the primary language and finding help sometimes can seem nearly impossible. Signs can be difficult to understand and the layouts of the airports will inhibit you. This 45 minute layover was not enough and he missed his connection.
Rarely will you ever find an airline’s website that has cheaper flights than travel sites like Expedia or Kayak. The best time to look at flights are on Tuesdays between 1 and 3 pm. Try to depart and arrive on less busy travel days; Fridays and Mondays are the most popular day to travel so flights are usually more expensive then. The cheapest flight I found to Europe had me leaving on a Saturday evening, when most people are enjoying their weekend.
AVOID THE MAIN, INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT HUBS
The cheapest way my husband and I navigate around Europe is by flying with a “budget airline” called RyanAir.
We depart with RyanAir from smaller airports like Frankfurt-Hahn, where parking is cheap and less than 10 gates exist. We arrive into smaller airports outside of the main cities we are traveling to. When we visited Rome, instead of arriving at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino like most tourists, we flew into Rome-Ciampano. In London, we surpassed going to the London City Airport and flew into London-Stansted. All flights were short in duration and under $200.
My husband and I flew to Rome for a combined total of $200. We were in Croatia for a week, spending only $150 on the flights. We visited a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea called Malta for $175. If you fly to Malta from Chicago you are looking at 20 hour trip for no less than $2,000. This reason alone is why you should navigate yourself around Europe from Europe instead of taking small individual trips from the states.
FOREGO THE HOTEL & USE AIRBNB
While it helps that we have a home base in Germany to come back to between trips, there are many cheap options for lodging in Europe. In cities like Amsterdam or Paris, where hotels on Saturday nights can be found for no less than $200-$300, AirBnb’s are a LIFESAVER. We have had the absolute best experiences utilizing their services.
In Paris, we acquired an entire apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower from our bedroom window for $50 on a Saturday night. In Rome, we spent $250 for 5 nights in a home that was 20 feet from the Vatican City walls and a 10 minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica where we witnessed Pope Francis give mass on a Sunday morning. Our gracious hosts brought us fresh fruits and meats every day while we were out exploring. We spent only $50 on food for a whole week thanks to them. We stayed in the Kensington district in London for $40 a night. It only took us 15 minutes to walk to Buckingham Palace and a 10 minute trip via the London Underground to Wembley.
In Malta, we had a balcony overlooking the bay that fed into the Mediterranean, adorned with wine and a 10 minute walk from the beach, all for $60 a night.
You can read our experience with Malta here.
The best way to navigate using AirBnb is by using their map feature. I research the main attractions or best areas to stay in and then find that area on the AirBnb map.
For example, the Champ de Mars area shown on this map is where the Eiffel Tower is in Paris. As you can see, there are multiple options of places to stay. If you are patient, zoom in and scan around this area for some time you will find much cheaper options. Remember, everything is more expensive on the weekends and in touristy summer months like July & August!
DO YOUR OWN TOURING
Every place you will visit offers guided tours and group trips. In my opinion, these are a nightmare. Not only are they expensive since you’re paying for convenience but you’re also bound to a set schedule. You can’t wander off on your own and you normally only visit the most touristy spots where you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people and wait in queues that can take hours.
While we’ve considered doing guided tours many times, we thrive on exploring on our own (not to mention it is much more romantic stumbling upon things with your significant other that you would’ve never experienced in a group). We love setting a schedule for ourselves; we can sleep in as late as we want, eat when we’re hungry, and have no obligations to anybody but ourselves.
In Malta, we walked 5 minutes from our apartment and spelunked in caves that were inhabited in the Neolithic area, dating back to 3000 BC. You would never have found this on a guided tour.
While it may be more stressful planning out your entire European itinerary, it is WORTH IT and CHEAPER. I wouldn’t do it any other way.
AVOID TAXIS: USE A RENTAL CAR AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
It is very rare that we travel to a place in Europe without renting a car. Our first trip we had taken was to Ireland, where we were dependent upon the bus system. We stayed immobile in Dublin due to our lack of transportation (one of my biggest travel regrets). You will find that the public transportation seems cheap, but can sometimes end up costing an arm and a leg too if you’re not prepared. If you don’t book your subway tickets and follow the map correctly, you’ll end up missing your connecting rail car and pay more to get back on the subway. Somehow you’ll find yourself on the outskirts of Paris with the final destination nowhere in sight (yes, this happened to us). Luckily, we now have the rail system in Paris down pat.
You can rent bikes in places like Amsterdam or Paris, which simplifies your navigating, but these can be expensive as well. We were going to rent bikes in Dublin but forewent that idea when we discovered it was $80 for 6 hours and if you are late bringing it back they will automatically charge you $100.
Taxis are the same way. They take advantage of tourists and their meters run up higher than you will see in any major city in the US. In Amsterdam, all of the taxis are Teslas, which screams expensive already. If you do take a taxi, you’ll realize the driver doesn’t know English and can’t figure out what you’re trying to tell them. We spent too much money on a taxi driver in Rome while he wandered around aimlessly as we are telling him we need an ATM (he obviously didn’t understand what we were asking). We soon regretted not renting a car.
When we book a flight with RyanAir, we reserve our car through them as well. While you must have an international license in most places to drive, you will enjoy the freedom that having a car will bring you. Pack your GPS or utilize Google Maps and you will love exploring Europe independently. I would recommend knowing how to drive a stick shift, as most rental cars (at least the cheap ones) are manuals.
I am not claiming ease with driving in Europe, and you may definitely get nervous driving in some places. While we were in Austria heading to Prague, we had to take a detour over a mountain to cross the river. I legitimately seen my fate flash before my eyes. We found ourselves on a one-lane gravel road in the Alps trying to pass a garbage truck, while looking down 5000 feet with no guard rail. Needless to say it was an adrenaline rush like no other. Looking back though, that was one of the most spontaneous, fun times we have had. How many times can you say that you’ve done that in your lifetime?
ENJOY YOURSELF, BREATHE IN THE CULTURE, TAKE IN THE SIGHTS
Trust me when I say you will not regret a trip to Europe. When you’re frustrated with planning and stressing about traveling Europe on a budget, just remember that there’s nothing like that feeling driving into Paris and seeing the tip of the Eiffel Tower; a sight you have been dreaming about since a child.
Nothing compares to eating an authentic dish of Italian spaghetti while watching the sunset over the dome of the Vatican.
Dipping your toes in the lagoons of the Mediterranean while sipping on your favorite wine is a memory that cannot be tainted.
Do you love Sleeping Beauty’s Castle? Visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany that was Walt Disney’s inspiration.
The cultures you delve yourself into and the experiences you have will last you a lifetime.
Moving from Europe this year to go back to the states is going to be very difficult. This place has made my travel dreams come true and I cannot imagine my life without it.
By this point, you have probably realized that I am a tad bit obsessed with Europe. There is no place like it and the experiences you have will give you memories to last a lifetime.
I’m only 25 and I have already seen a quarter of the world.
By following these simple tips, I am confident you can do the same!