***Last updated: July 2019
The past couple of summers I spent at least two months each year traveling around Europe – always on a budget. I now have budget travel in Europe down to a tee, and I wanted to share all of the cheap ways to travel around Europe with you. What’s the cheapest way to get around Europe? How do you find cheap places to stay in Europe?
During my trips all over Europe I came across several websites and apps that help make your trip cheaper – because when traveling Europe, you never want to just show up and hop on a train or bus – you always have to book in advance. This does require more travel planning than in other parts of the world, but use the tools I am sharing below and you can see Europe for very little money:
The following websites and apps are the ones that I use to figure out how to find cheap accommodation and how to get from country to country – both the cheapest and the most convenient way:
How To Find The Best Accommodation
The cheapest option is of course Couchsurfing. But it can be difficult to find a couch or spare bedroom in Europe, especially during the summer months when hosts get swamped with hundreds of requests – especially in popular destinations such as Berlin, Prague, London and Paris. Make sure to send a personalized request instead of just copying and pasting a general request – as a couchsurfing host myself I can tell you that hosts despise those. When I request a couch, I always read through the host’s profile and find something to connect with them on which I then can refer to in my request.
Renting an apartment is the best option if you’re looking for a little more privacy. Over the years, I’ve come to prefer apartments over hotels, and the main reason for that is that I really like having a kitchen while I travel. Having a kitchen means I can make me a cup of coffee or tea and the morning and prepare my own breakfast, I can prepare sandwiches for the day or a picnic lunch, and it saves me so much money to not have to eat out three times a day.
If you don’t want to rent an entire apartment for yourself, you can also rent a room in somebody’s home – that way, you’ll help them cover their costs, but you still get to benefit from all the things that make couchsurfing so awesome: a local host who is happy to share his/her house with strangers, and they usually offer to take you out, or at least give you off-the-tourist-path recommendations for their favorite bars, restaurants and things to do.
Whenever I rented a room on Airbnb, I was invited to join my hosts for dinner or a glass of wine or a game night. It made my experience so much more personal and memorable.When I travel alone, I don’t necessarily need an entire apartment to myself, but I do prefer having my own room instead of staying in a dorm. Private rooms on Airbnb are usually around the same price as a dorm bed. For a couple, most cities have super cheap studios and apartments (see picture above), so definitely check out Airbnb in addition to your favorite hotel & hostel search engine.
By the way, if you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, you can sign up through my referral link and get up to $40 off of your first booking!
As for hostel and hotel search engines: If you are staying in hostels, I recommend not only checking the hostel booking websites, but in addition also check Booking.com, where I’ve often found deals for hostels that weren’t offered on other search engines. And of course there are plenty of options for hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses on Booking – in Berlin, for example, you can get a private room for two for as little as $39. Here are my tips to get the most out of Booking.com:
- If you don’t want dormitories in the search results, click the ‘Show Private Room Only‘ option (see screenshot below).
- Look for sales & special deals to get the best offers.
- Check the customer rating – I personally never book anything that is rated lower than an 8.
The other thing that’s great about Booking.com is the fact that you can usually cancel your reservation up to three days before your stay. Often you have the option to select a ‘non-refundable’ rate which is a little cheaper than the rate for a booking you can cancel, so if you’re 100% sure you are going on your trip, opt for the non-refundable rate and save even more (I usually choose this rate).
How to get around Europe
Omio is my first go-to website when I look to travel around Europe. What I like is that it shows me all the options I have to get from Place A to Place B: Plane, Bus, Train and (shared) car. And not only does it show me how much each of these options will cost me on the date of my choice, but also how long it will take me. That way I can still decide if I want to go for the $30 bus ticket over the convenience of a flight, or if it makes more sense to take a two hour flight over an eight hour bus ride. Omio has special rail rates as well – I often don’t find their rates on the official rail websites they take you to when you want to book a ticket, so make sure to go through Omio.
The easiest way to use Omio is by downloading their app:
If you are planning to travel Europe by train, TheTrainline.com is the best website to help you find the best connections and the cheapest fares. Trainline offers much less expensive tickets than you’d find on each individual train provider’s website, for example Deutsche Bahn in Germany or Renfe in Spain. When planning a Euro train trip, be aware than unlike in the U.S., it makes a huge difference in price when you buy your tickets. Simply showing up at the train station to buy a ticket will cost you more than double what you pay when you book your ticket in advance. While this makes your trip less flexible, it’ll save you a lot of money – I always book my trains in advance. Trainline now also includes bus fares in their search, so you can compare the train price / time to a bus and make your decision based on what works better for you.
Bus travel is hands-down the cheapest way to travel around Europe these days, and the number of bus companies that zigzag all over Europe seems to be growing steadily. It can be hard not to lose track of all the different bus providers and which ones cover which route, but that’s where Busradar comes in.You simply type in your travel date and your departure and destination cities and Busradar will show you all the available bus companies that cover this route, and how much a ticket for each one is. Sometimes the difference between ticket prices is marginal, but sometimes companies have sales and comparing ticket prices can save you a considerable amount of money. Busradar also shows you which amenities each company offers, i.e. things like toilet on board, wi-fi, how many pieces of luggage are allowed and if there are power outlets.
What I also like about Busradar is that they include car sharing (more on that in the next paragraph) in their searches, right in the listing with all the bus companies as you can see in the image below, pointing out how much faster car sharing is compared to bus travel.
I’ve been using BlaBlaCar in Germany for years, and it has grown into the biggest car sharing platform in Europe. I have been using car sharing both ways – as a driver taking passengers with me, and as a passenger sharing a ride – dozens of times within Germany but also internationally from Milan to Munich via Austria, and I have always had great experiences. The great thing about car sharing is that you automatically meet like-minded people and can connect with other travelers easily. While car sharing is not necessarily cheaper than buses anymore (bus tickets are ridiculously cheap!), it is certainly faster than taking a bus.
Tip: If you are unsure about taking a ride with a stranger, read through the reviews that other passengers have left.
Europe is blessed with several budget airlines – it is rare that I had to pay more than €50 to get anywhere within Europe, be it from London to Barcelona or Berlin to Istanbul. Flights can be ridiculously cheap (the best deal I’ve personally found was a flight from London to Cornwall for £1!), and for some distances, say the UK to Italy or Portugal to Sweden, it simply makes sense to take a cheap flight instead of spending two days on trains or buses. It can be a bit tricky to find out which airlines cover the destination you’re planning to visit, but Google Flights has become much better in including budget airlines recently – much better than Skyscanner even – and most other flight comparison websites don’t include budget airlines at all. A quick Google search usually reveals which airlines go to the place you’re planning to visit, and this guide on budget flying within Europe by Rick Steves also has some great information, plus a list of all European low-cost carriers.
Cheap holiday package deals
As you know, I am usually an independent traveler, but sometimes even I can’t say no to a great travel bargain – and that’s how I found myself on Mallorca a few years ago: because I had stumbled upon a package deal that included flights and accommodation in a 4* hotel for a week for €200! And of course it’s up to you what you make of your vacation: I still ended up exploring the whole island with a rental car, but I didn’t mind coming home to a fancy hotel and knowing I didn’t have to deal with airport transfers.Package deals like this aren’t rare to find in Europe – right now you can find great last minute deals to places like Greece, Turkey and other Southern European destinations online – for example a week of self-catering in a beach resort in Greece including flights from the UK for £179! A week on the Turkish Riviera for £167 including return flights from the UK? Or a week in a vacation apartment in Cyprus for £232, also including flights? Yes, please!
Looking for package vacation deals like this can enable you to include a week in a country that you might not be able to visit otherwise. These deals are particularly good in the shoulder season – and I don’t think that deals to Greece for example will ever be better than they are now. Check out websites like Lastminute.co.uk or Holidayhypermarket for package deals like those mentioned above.Do you have any tips on how to get around Europe on a budget? Feel free to share them in the comments below!