Europe on a Shoestring: Travel on a Budget

Travel in Budapest at night
Budapest, Hungary at night. Photo by Greg Koszorus

Sitting in the backseat of a blue hatchback Saab, I look out onto the peaceful Danube River, which runs through the center of Budapest, Hungary. The bright lights of the Hungarian parliament light up the night sky, reflecting off the river. The historic bridges along the river are illuminated with lights, and I am amazed at the beauty of this city.

It is my first night in Europe, and I can already tell what an incredible trip this is going to be. We plan to visit Hungary, Austria, Italy, France and Germany. I can’t wait to experience the different cultures and witness the history of each place. Looking at my boyfriend, who is seated next to our Hungarian friend in the driver’s seat, I wonder how I got so lucky. How did I get all the way here from little Greeley, Colorado?

Well, by saving and planning, that’s how!

When my boyfriend first asked me to travel with him to Europe, I said yes without any hesitation, but in my head I was wondering how the heck I was going to pay for this on a student budget. After thinking about it, I decided I was going to make it happen.

The first thing I had to do was start saving. Every tiny paycheck I got, I would put a portion of it into savings. No more Starbucks, no more going out to eat and no more shopping. Sadly, Starbucks was the hardest thing to give up, but it was all worth it.

Travel in Austria was even easier using the Eurail Select Pass. Photo by Kirstin Graber
Travel in Austria was even easier using the Eurail Select Pass. Photo by Kirstin Graber

After doing my research, I learned that the best way to save money when traveling is to plan ahead. In my case, this was key when traveling to Europe because it is much cheaper to pay in dollars than in Euros. Constantly researching online for the best prices available also helped.

Buying a plane ticket from the US to Europe can be extremely expensive, but fortunately, travel websites like Priceline and Expedia made it possible. After saving and ticket hunting for a few months, I was finally able to afford my ticket to Budapest.

According to Yahoo Travel, one small thing to remember is that the cheapest days to buy a plane ticket is on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon and traveling on a weekday.

Next on the list was finding a place to stay in each country. Once again, the travel websites came in handy. We looked for accommodations in safe locations at an affordable price, and travel websites provide all the information you need. Even though you don’t know exactly what you are getting, that is just a part of the adventure.

Train travel is one of the cheapest ways to get around in Europe and can be the most fun. If you buy a Eurail train pass, you will save a good amount of money. We chose the Europe Select Pass, which allows you to travel a certain number of days within your chosen countries for one set price. Since my boyfriend and I were under age 26, we could purchase a discounted youth pass. It cost us US$ 451 each for eight days of train travel within Italy, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

When you do get to your destination, remember to set a budget for the trip and stay within the budget. Know the currency and always calculate how much you are spending in dollars. Often times, people think they are spending less than they really are.

Budget travel in Italy
With a little planning, it’s possible to travel on a student budget in Italy. Photo by Greg Koszorus

Another important aspect of traveling is to know the little quirks about the country you are visiting. For example, in Italy, restaurants have a “sit down” price and a “take out” price. In Venice, we found Paninis for 3€ ($3.88). When we ordered, the man told us to sit and wait for the Paninis. When we went to pay, he charged us double the price.

When we asked why, he said it was because we sat down and ate in the restaurant. We could have saved 6€ ($7.77) if we had taken the order and stood outside. Knowing things like that is important, so you are aware of ways they may overcharge you.

Many students claim they don’t want to travel because of how expensive it is, but I am proof it is possible. Your bank account may decrease dramatically, but the experience and knowledge you gain is worth it.

Just remember to plan ahead, save your money and stay within your budget. I have no regrets for going and cannot wait until I have saved up enough to go again.

Budget travel in Europe
The author and her boyfriend, Greg, during their budget travels in Europe.

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