Everyone has dreams of seeing Europe, but so many are intimidated by the expense! But have no fear, my mistakes and I are here – to teach you how to travel the continent CHEAP and on a budget! To save money while traveling Europe, avoid making these budget-busting mistakes – no worries, I’ve added solutions too!
These mistakes cost me so much extra, especially since I was traveling for a long period of time in Europe. I don’t want you to have to do the same! Overall, budgeting trips to Europe comes down to a good balance of planning and flexibility.
My biggest mistakes were having planned too much or having done too little research beforehand. Let’s dive in deeper so you can make your Europe trip as budget-friendly as possible!
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Changing Travel Plans
I lost so much money because of my poorly planned travels.
Storytime: On a Thursday night at a bar in Florence, my friend and I decided to buy train tickets to Rome for the next day. We woke up feeling… not great. But we still dragged our feet to Santa Maria Novella Station only to spend a hot, miserable day in Rome and having to buy another ticket for an earlier departure – wasting about $100!
Obviously, unexpected things come up, especially if you are traveling over a long period of time! You can’t predict everything that could happen, but you can choose flexible ways of traveling so that you have to make as few costly changes and save your money traveling Europe.
Solution: Consider Buying One Way Tickets Where You Can
The main ways you will probably travel? Trains and Planes.
I used Omio for all of my train bookings. And for air travel, the best budget airlines for me were RyanAir and EasyJet. You can also look at places like Skyscanner or Student Universe.
If you are unsure that your travel dates are firm, then opt for one-way tickets. A lot of the budget airlines have fees for flight changes or cancellations and it can be a lot safer & easier on the wallet to choose one-way tickets in the first place.
I think you can tell by that photo that I did not know the way to pack a suitcase! Luckily, I’ve learned my lesson!!
You may think paying the extra fee or bringing an extra suitcase will be fine. However, it really added up for me, especially because my travel plans were changing all the time (unexpectedly.)
Solution: Leave room for souvenirs & other purchases in your luggage. Also, make a packing guide before the trip to stay on track – download my FREE Printable Packing Guides here to get you started.
Following a packing guide is the easiest way to make sure you’ve got your essentials and then balancing those out with the extras you might want to take.
And of course, you know you’re going to shop even if it’s just a little! Stay a little underweight to account for the extras you could add to your luggage.
Not Understanding the Tipping
To save money while traveling Europe, you’ll have to do some cultural research about the destinations you are planning on going to. That is definitely the case when it comes to tipping.
In general, the idea is that people don’t really tip in Europe unless it’s like the most amazing service you’ve ever had. But that obviously varies from country to country, from service to service (like taxis versus restaurants.)
For example, in Italy, restaurants will charge a coperto or cover charge for you dining at the restaurant (usually around 1,50 or 2 euros.) This cover charge in a way basically covers your tip, so don’t get confused if you see an extra charge like that and also think they expect the tip.
Solution: Do research & look up the countries you will be traveling to beforehand!
Personally I love Rick Steves’ guides when it comes to information like this. You can reference one of his tipping guides for general rules of thumb!
As I said, things will vary from country to country, so it’s best to just conduct a simple google search if you are nervous about the tipping traditions!
Buying Way Too Much
Honestly, there’s probably no surprise here. I love to shop. And Europe is killer for shopping.
So you can imagine spending a prolonged amount of time there and finding every Zara in each city I visited did not fare well with my wallet.
Don’t let the same happen to you! We are all allowed a treat, but if trying to travel Europe cheaply then its best to bypass the department stores.
Solution: Budget in the spending for extra souvenirs or shopping. Shop locally for less expensive goods.
When budgeting for your Europe trip, don’t just factor in your transportation, accommodation, and food. Definitely include an extras tab!
You may not be a fashion addict like me at Zara, but I think every human has the itch to buy something material in memory of a place they visited.
When possible, choose to shop locally. Often things will be less expensive and more sentimental!
Not Taking Advantage of Free Tours
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There are so many free things to do in Europe! I wish I had taken more advantage of these activities so either one, I wasted less money, or two, so I could have seen more!
For example, every first Sunday in Italy museums are free!
Other examples: Churches often do not require any kind of admission price to walk in. If you are looking for the whole package, hostels are a hub for free walking tours and great ways to meet people.
Solution: Research the local news of where you are traveling to, which will show you events happening.
Another great option if you are of the same religion or do not mind going to the mass of another religion, is to attend service at churches. I lived in Florence for two months and had never been inside the Duomo. A year later, I attended Sunday mass, with near to none tourists and got to sit in the cathedral for an hour. It was a special experience that cost me absolutely nothing!
Choosing Accommodation Outside City Centers
While it may sound convenient to choose the cheaper hostel or hotel near the train station, you run the risk of spending much more on public transportation.
For example, in London, I’ve stayed both in the center in a hotel and out of the way in a hostel. I absolutely loved my hostel experience, but in terms of convenience and spending money to get around the city, I preferred staying in the center.
Of course, prices for hotels & hostels can vary, so often with this category, it takes a bit more comparing during your search as to what is going to give you the most value in terms of convenience and saving money.
Solution: When searching for hotels, filter the search by the miles away it is from the city center.
This is a great tool on most search engines like HostelWorld or any hotel websites where you can define the best location for you.
If you know what neighborhood you want to stay in or what landmark you’d like to be close to, this is a great way to see the cost of what you’d like in the most convenient area for you. It could be the perfect balance to location convenience and budget-friendliness.
Exchanging & Taking Out Money
Exchanging money is a necessary evil when traveling to Europe. Plus, it’s pretty confusing to understand where or how to find a good rate.
If you are looking to save money while traveling Europe, I personally wouldn’t exchange too much cash for euros before arriving. Many places take credit cards and in major cities, there are safe ATMs where you can take out euros if you need to.
You don’t want to over-exchange so you aren’t left to convert it back to dollars!
Solution: Research your best rate, both for exchange & with your bank.
I have a whole post dedicated to using ATMS abroad and cover a lot of other money-safe tips.
What I can say is I found higher rates are usually at airports, as well as the random exchange stores you’ll find in the main tourist areas of cities in Europe (trust me, you’ll see them.) Try banks or post offices first!
While you shouldn’t need to convert too much cash in general, I do recommend having a bit of cash in the country’s currency when you arrive. This is in case you need to take a taxi or find yourself in a situation where your card is not available.
And for taking out money in ATMs, simply discuss with your bank if there is a fee for international transactions. You can even look into travel rewards cards if it seems to fit you better.
Avoiding alcohol is a way to save money anywhere, but especially to save money traveling Europe! However, I of course understand the allure of sitting on a rooftop bar enjoying a cocktail overlooking the city. I’ve been there!
More so, I’m not even just talking alcoholic drinks! In Europe, you are often charged if you ask for water. Sometimes a glass of wine is even cheaper!
Solution: Ask for tap water. Design your plans with your budget in mind!
At restaurants, make sure you specify that you would like tap water. The bottles are not usually expensive, but the price can vary, especially at nicer restaurants. So if you want to be extra safe, go for the tap water!
When it comes to alcoholic drinks and going out for cocktails, simply plan your days around that in mind.
Have a smaller lunch if you plan on going to an aperitivo in Italy. Or if you know you’re hitting the pubs in Ireland, make sure you’re not shopping your heart out the day before!
And if you are a student studying abroad, some bars have special offers for you!
Eating in Tourist Areas
Often in main squares, you’ll see these alluring big restaurants with tables in the plaza spilling out of the storefront and waiters even asking you to eat there as you walk by!
Don’t fall for it! These restaurants can surely provide a decent view if they are right in the tourist hub, but trust me they are not the places to go for the best cuisine or, for our concerns, the best price.
These restaurants are fully designed for tourists who don’t know where to find the best cuisine or what the price point is for food in the area.
Solution: Take the streets off the beaten paths!
Look for local restaurants. Sometimes they are literally just around the corner from the big tourist spots!
Not only will you probably get better, higher quality food, you will also find it to be so much cheaper!!
Not Cooking More
Let’s be honest, 50% of the time we are traveling to see the places, the other 50% is to eat their food!
When you are traveling, you should absolutely dine out and try all of the local cuisine made by the locals themselves!
Eating out abroad can get expensive though, just like how it can at home! If you have access to a kitchen, I highly recommend preparing some of your own meals!
Solution: Curb the eating out bill by shopping locally and making some meals or choosing to eat one meal at your hotel/airbnb.
Not only does this save you money, but you get to feel more like a local. You’ll shop in a foreign country’s market and get a peek into how they live daily life.
And you have the opportunity to cook with the local ingredients that are most important to their cuisine!
An even more straightforward way to do it is to just say you will eat breakfasts in your accommodations. You can be consistent with that and there are more options for it that don’t require a full kitchen!
Not Getting a SIM Card immediately
When considering travel in other parts of the world, don’t forget to consider how you will use your phone! Last summer I was traveling Italy for a month. I thought I would just wait the first week and pay my American phone company’s international charge when I was with my family and then get my SIM card.
Wrong choice! I wasted like $150 when I could’ve gotten my Italian SIM and paid $15 euros for the month (which I had to do anyway.)
Solution: Pretty obvious, choose a SIM if you are traveling abroad for a long time!
I had a great experience using a SIM card from the Italian phone companies. I paid a lot less and was able to get more than enough data than I needed! Whatever path you choose, just make sure you take care of this detail before or right at the start of your trip!
Have you made any costly mistakes while traveling? Let me know with a comment & we can learn from each other!
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I’m sure as my travels continue, more mistakes will be made… but the important thing is to learn from them! I’ll be sure to share my secrets & mistakes to help you budget travel at your best!