Every summer, tens of thousands of ambitious yet budget-focused 20-somethings pack up, slip on a pair of reliable walking shoes, and fly off to the Europe for a long-term holiday in search of adventure and experience in a different culture. Lots of young travellers opt for safe, cost-effective and largely linear package tours, while others attempt to buck the trend and see where their instincts take them - an option that can rack up travel costs quickly. In this article, we'll explore a few ways you can enjoy the sights and sounds of Europe without breaking the bank.
Free Walking Tours
Most major cities in Europe have companies that offer free walking tours that run between one to three hours and explore significant cultural hotspots. For example, in Paris you can meet up with a group of other travellers on the scenic Boulevard Saint-Michel and have a guide take you across the Seine to see the Notre Dame cathedral, Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. The guides are often charismatic, knowledgeable expats with a deep passion for the city. When travelling on an open itinerary, take advantage of the opportunity to ask the guide about non-touristy local restaurants and sites often overlooked by other travellers. Be aware, however, that while these guides run "free" tours, tips are strongly encouraged. In Europe, an individual tip of 10 euros is an acceptable minimum.
Avoid Chain Hostels
Like many travel hotspots across the globe, Europe is peppered with hostels accommodating budget travellers. What they sometimes lack in hotel amenities - daily turndown service and beds bigger than a single - they make up for in price. No two hostels, however, are the same. Some are family-run, while others belong to a continent-wide chain. If you are looking get the biggest bang for your buck, it might be in your best interest to avoid the hostels that strive for a more hotel-like environment. They're often very large with a price to match their size. Moreover, these establishments have often lack the facilities smaller hostels have, and charge for things that smaller hostels typically don't; for example, laundry services and a private kitchen. With bigger hostels that host over 100 guests, laundry rooms are often logistically challenging for them to run and they often refrain from having them, whereas some mom-and-pop youth hostels are established in cozier buildings with a washer and dryer, and even offer full laundry service provided by the staff. For budget travellers, kitchens in large chain hostels are rare. Most of them run in conjunction with a restaurant and bar, offering food and drink at regular prices. When searching for a potential hostel to stay at, look out for smaller places that offer these two amenities - it'll save you some money along your European journey.
Cook Your Own Meals
What's better than eating pasta in Italy? Or enjoying tapas in its native home of Spain? While it's tempting to eat authentic European cuisine at every meal, your budget might not be able to stomach it. Try planning your diet around eating out at most once per day and purchasing ingredients and snacks for the rest. If you take the advice given above, you're hopefully staying in hostels that offer kitchen amenities complete with an oven, microwave, stovetop and a shared fridge to store your groceries. For example, an average breakfast out in Berlin can cost you about 12 euros, whereas a box of cereal or a combo of bacon and eggs will run you half as much and last you for a few days.
Budget for Frequent Withdrawal Fees
It may seem silly to include a point about repeatedly paying ATM fees, but for peace of mind and saving money, it might be wise to withdraw money more frequently and with fewer bills. By limiting your cash on hand, you have two things: a tighter daily allowance for spending and less money in your pocket in the event that something unfortunate happens, such as losing your wallet or being the victim of a pickpocket (it happens sometimes.) Suppose you withdraw $500 on Sunday and spend $250 by Wednesday when, unfortunately, someone swipes your wallet or purse. You've lost $250. Instead, withdraw $250 on Sunday and spend half by Wednesday. If your money gets stolen, you've only lost $125. While it may be annoying having to pay withdrawal fees, it's a better alternative than taking it all out at once only to have your entire coffer drained in the unfortunate event of theft.
Use Day Passes and Bicycle Rentals
Public transit in major cities can get pretty expensive. When purchasing a ride on the train or on a bus, keep your eyes open for day passes or punch cards to save you some money while affording you the convenience of not having to pay repeatedly per ride. For example, in Barcelona a single-journey ticket in 2013 will cost you 2 euros, whereas a 9.10 euro T10 pass will give you ten rides - a savings of 10.20 euros. This is a great option for travellers looking to stay in a city for a week or less.
Moreover, mainland Europe is a largely bike-friendly continent, with cycling built into the infrastructure of many of the major capitals. In Berlin, bikes accounted for 13% of total traffic in 2009 and rental companies offer bicycles at a rate of about 10 to 12 euros a day. Not only is biking a cost-effective way to get around during your trip, but it'll also keep you in shape and allow you to travel as the locals do.
The Bottom Line
Even though destinations such as Thailand and South America are significantly cheaper places to visit for the backpacker on a tight schedule, Europe remains still a popular place for people looking to explore what the world has to offer. While there are expensive and costly ways to enjoy the continent, there are just as many ways to enjoy it on the cheap - especially if your itinerary is open to new and exciting experiences.