Whether you’re planning a gap year, taking some time off, or just going on vacation, choosing to travel Western Europe can be both scary and exciting. Trying to see as much as possible on a limited time span can be hectic and fun. Choosing to make that trip on a budget can add another layer of complexity onto your vacation, but with a bit of planning and some flexibility you can enjoy all the sights of Europe on a shoestring.
Every travel guide will tell you that staying at a hostel is the way to go. In addition to providing cheap, clean lodging, staying in hostels gives travelers a chance to meet other backpackers and access local suggestions through the staff, but anyone who has traveled long term can tell you hostels get boring. Hostels are convenient but they offer a prepackaged look at a city that doesn’t vary much. Staying in hostels ensures you see the sites and attractions but doesn’t give you a chance to connect with locals.
Thankfully, it can be just as cheap to get an authentic experience without relying on hostels. WOOFing has become more widespread in travel circuits as an eco and budget friendly way to see the world. Volunteer your time at a local farm or business and in return get free lodgings, free food, and a whole new way to experience a city.
With the help of an intermediary company, home stays are offered by friendly residents who provide lodging in their home for a nominal fee. Instead of meeting other visitors, travelers meet locals who provide real insight into their towns; also sharing travel suggestions you can’t find at hostels.
Monastery stays are another great choice for the religious and nonreligious alike. Many monasteries provide basic rooms for a small donation. In return, lodgers are offered private access to some of the most beautiful frescos and paintings in the world. Monastery stays often require abiding by stricter rules regarding curfews and mixed sex lodging but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Eat Like a Local
After airfare and lodging, food can become the mostly costly part of a trip. Whether you’re traveling the coast of Italy or spending a week in Paris, touring a country with your stomach as a guide is a hallmark of a great vacation. Of course, five course meals three times a day isn’t budget friendly. Instead, eat like the locals. Grabbing lunch at the market is a great way to ensure fresh foods and great quality. Either pick up some ingredients to make dinner at your lodging or find a shop offering pre-made foods.
Take a walk through town and get dinner from street vendors for a cheap and authentic option. Ask residents for names of restaurants which cater to the locals. For example, in Spain and Portugal, bars offer a plethora of tapas you can chow down for the cost of a drink. Ask around for the best deals.
Find Free Days
Whether traveling for a week or a sabbatical, museum fatigue can set in fast. Even the most enthusiastic art lovers can become overwhelmed by all the available cultural opportunities. While the Uffizi, Louvre, and Sofia Reine may top your list of sightseeing adventures, those ticket prices are expensive and it may be a waste of money if you’re only interested a couple of exhibits.
Thankfully, most museums and galleries around the globe offer an endless way of viewing the most famous works of the world for absolutely free. In England, national museums are open free of charge year round. The Louvre is open the first Sunday of every month for no admission. Many museums in Spain are open to the public in the evening. Do some research before your trip and find free museum days to cut down on museum fatigue and save your budget.
Traveling to Europe can be a once in a lifetime experience but you certainly don’t want to be paying credit card charges for months afterward. Fully enjoying your vacation on a budget is possible, and may even result in more interesting and authentic experiences than the average backpacker doing the typical hostel and bar crawl. Branch out and do some research to find the best way to stretch your euro.
Author Samantha Hathaway is an avid traveler and financial consultant.