Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Post originally Published November 12, 2023 || Last Updated November 12, 2023

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Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Plan Your Route Strategically

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Planning your route strategically is one of the most important things you can do when backpacking Europe on a tight budget. Choosing which cities and countries to visit, in what order, and how you'll travel between them can have a huge impact on how much you end up spending.

The classic backpacking route that many travelers take goes from London to Paris, down through Switzerland and Italy, into Greece and the Balkans, up to Berlin, Prague, and Budapest, and wraps up in Spain or Portugal. This covers a lot of the main highlights, but it's not necessarily the most budget-friendly path.
Popular cities like London, Paris, and Rome are extremely expensive. And traveling by train between them can add up quickly too. So think about starting and ending your trip in cheaper regions like Eastern Europe and skipping some of the over-touristed spots in Western Europe.

For example, you could fly into Sofia, Bulgaria and make your way through the Balkans up to Budapest and Prague before heading west. Romania, Bulgaria, and other Balkan countries are much gentler on the wallet. And their train systems are relatively affordable.
Or start in Greece and work your way north and west through the Balkans and onward. Greece can be done on the cheap by sticking to islands like Crete vs pricier Santorini. And taking buses and ferries between places is an adventurous and thrifty way to get around.
No matter your route, research transportation costs beforehand using sites like Rome2Rio. Often budget airlines like RyanAir have insanely cheap flights between cities that can save you money and time over trains. And look into bus companies like FlixBus too for dirt cheap tickets.

What else is in this post?

  1. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Plan Your Route Strategically
  2. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Travel By Train For Cheap Transport
  3. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Cook Your Own Meals
  4. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Stay in Hostels Not Hotel
  5. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Avoid Tourist Traps and Hidden Fees
  6. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Pack Light and Do Laundry
  7. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Walk and Use Public Transport in Cities
  8. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Take Advantage of Free Activities
  9. Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Focus Spending on Experiences Not Things

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Travel By Train For Cheap Transport

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

One of the best ways to get around Europe on a tight budget is by train. While flying may seem faster and more convenient on the surface, train travel often ends up being cheaper and allows you to see more of the actual countryside you’re passing through. Plus it’s just a classic part of the backpacking experience that shouldn’t be missed out on!

Train passes like the Eurail Global Pass or regional ones like the Balkan Flexipass can offer great value if you plan to cover a lot of ground by rail. Just be sure to do the math ahead of time to see if a pass will actually save you money compared to buying individual point-to-point tickets. Some passes now also offer youth and senior discounts, making them even more attractive for certain travelers.

If a full pass doesn’t pencil out, look into discounted tickets on specific routes booked individually in advance through sites like TrainLine or directly through national railway sites when possible. Night trains with sleeper cabins are particularly great for saving on accommodation costs too.
While express trains like the TGV in France or AVE in Spain are fast, they’re pricey. Opt for slower regional and intercity trains which are far cheaper. And take advantage of money-saving policies like many German trains’ “Schönes Wochenende” weekend tickets that allow unlimited travel for up to 5 people for just €42.
When it comes to transport within cities, nothing beats public transit. Subway, bus, tram and commuter rail networks criss-cross most major European cities and a multi-day or weekly pass is usually the most economical option. Just be sure to validate/stamp your ticket before onboarding as fare inspectors do check.
Where public transit is lacking or nonexistent, walking is an obvious choice to avoid costly taxis and Ubers. Better yet, use a rideshare app like BlaBlaCar to catch rides with locals between cities for as little as €5-10. You get cheap transport and meet new people along the way.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Cook Your Own Meals

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Budget backpacking means picnicking at historic sites, not dining in restaurants. Eating out at cafes and restaurants in Europe can blow through your daily budget faster than you can finish a bread basket. While the occasional indulgence may be warranted – who goes to Italy and doesn’t have pizza or gelato at least once! – preparing your own meals is a pillar of affordable travel.

Stock up on provisions at local markets and grocery stores as you travel. Inexpensive staples like bread, cheese, fruit and veggies are European specialties. Though if you’re craving some familiar flavors, swing through the international aisle of a larger market to find peanut butter, pasta and other imported goods. Don’t just default to sandwiches for every meal. With a pocket rocket backpacking stove and a little creativity, you can whip up hearty and healthy meals on the road. Think pasta primavera with fresh produce from an outdoor market in Florence. Curry with chickpeas cooked up at your hostel in Berlin. And Spanish tortilla with potato and onion to power you through a day of sightseeing in Madrid.

If you want to sip wine and enjoy regional specialties, go where the locals go. Standing bars in Spain, bakeries in France and hole-in-the-wall trattorias in Italy are authentic and affordable. Order one plate to split and a cheap carafe of house wine. It’s ambiance on a budget. You can also save by timing meals strategically. Sit down for a late breakfast or early lunch when restaurants offer special discounted menus. Or grab that tempting pastry for your afternoon snack instead of blowing your budget on a fancier evening meal out.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Stay in Hostels Not Hotel

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Hostels get a bad rap, but they can actually be amazing places to meet fellow travelers and save big on accommodation costs. Paying for a hotel or Airbnb takes a huge bite out of your daily budget. But hostels let you stay in prime locations around Europe for as little as €10-20 per night.

Shared dormitories with bunk beds are the cheapest option. While not exactly private, you can often request female-only rooms and they do come with privacy curtains. For a bit more, you can get a private single or double room too. If you’re willing to stray from the main historic districts, there are even hostels offering private rooms with en-suite baths for around €30. Pretty snazzy digs for backpacker prices!

But hostels aren’t just about saving money on a place to crash — they’re a social experience. You’ll meet cool people from around the world to swap travel tales and sightseeing tips with. Hostels organize pub crawls, walking tours, family dinners, game nights and more. You’ll find plenty of friends to roam around with between activities organized by the hostel too.

Many hostels have on-site bars, lounges, courtyards and rooftop terraces. Grab a beer from the bar and hang out swapping stories about your backpacking adventures. Some even have pools, saunas, game rooms and more upscale amenities you’d never expect.
Of course, not all hostels are created equal. Read reviews on Hostelworld and check ratings before booking. Look for ones with modern facilities and a social atmosphere. Amenities like free WiFi, included breakfast, self-catering kitchens, laundry and lockers can add value too.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Avoid Tourist Traps and Hidden Fees

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Avoiding tourist traps and hidden fees is critical for sticking to your €50 a day budget. Europe is full of tempting sights, attractions, tours, and experiences that seem like must-dos. But sadly, many cater to tourists and come with incredibly inflated price tags that can blow your budget faster than you can say “ciao!” Venice is one of the most notorious cities for pricey tourist traps, with something as basic as a coffee costing upwards of €15 if you sit at the wrong cafe on St. Mark’s Square.

Similarly, in Paris, simply strolling down the Champs-Élysées can get expensive as you’re tempted into overpriced cafes and shops. And hopping into one of those lovely bateaux mouches for a Seine River cruise? Those cute little boats will set you back at least €15. Tourist trap restaurants with “chefs” beckoning you inside and menus in 12 languages are best avoided pretty much everywhere.
Museum and attraction entry fees add up fast too, with popular ones like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre commanding steep admission upwards of €20. But lesser-known, yet equally amazing attractions often have free or discounted entry. In Berlin, you can hit up the East Side Gallery and Brandenburg Gate for free. Or time your visit for a free admission day at the city’s world-class museums.

Guided walking tours in prime tourist zones are notorious for their sneaky fees too. “Free” tours promise expert local insight but then rely on tips that can exceed €10 or more per person. Do your own research online or ask at your hostel and you can self-guide an excellent walking tour of any European city for zilch.

Hidden transportation fees trip up many backpackers as well. Those seemingly cheap Ryanair flights can pile on the add-on costs during the booking process, with extras like seat selection, checked bags, and even printing your boarding pass ending up costing more than the initial airfare. Buses promising fares as cheap as €5 on comparison sites then hit you with ticket seller commissions and other hidden fees too.

Pollution surcharges in cities like Venice and Dubrovnik caught some travelers by surprise pre-pandemic by tacking on a few extra euro per person per day to the cost of visiting. Hotel taxes, city taxes, resort fees – the list goes on. And the amounts might seem small at first, but they add up substantially over the course of a trip.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Pack Light and Do Laundry

The cardinal rule of budget backpacking in Europe is to pack light! Low cost airlines like RyanAir and WizzAir charge as much as €50-70 for checked bags. And hauling around an overloaded backpack will just slow you down. So limiting yourself to a 40-45L pack with only essentials inside is key.

First, choose versatile items that mix and match, allowing you to maximize your limited wardrobe. Focus on fundamentals like t-shirts, jeans, shorts and layers like hoodies and flannel shirts. Then incorporate a few key accessories like a scarf or bomber jacket to dress up your outfits. Shoes take up lots of space, so pack just one pair of comfortable yet stylish sneakers suitable for both walking and going out at night.

Toiletries and electronics are other space hogs. Forget big bottles and non-essentials like hair dryers - anything you need will be available in Europe. Pack just the basics like a small bar of soap, mini shampoo and toothpaste. For tech, limit yourself to phone, charger, portable battery, camera and maybe lightweight laptop or tablet if needed.

You’ll still need to do laundry on the road to re-wear items and avoid packing more. Most hostels offer laundry facilities or services ranging from €5-10 per load. Washing in the sink yourself with travel soap is another option. Pack a travel clothesline so you can hang clothes to dry in your room overnight.

If you still need to shop for additional items, look for bargain second-hand and surplus stores across Europe. Massive Humana locations in Spain sell quality used clothing for just a few euro per piece. And stores like TkMaxx offer discounted designer brands.

Having laundry access and sticking to necessities means you can get away with half the clothes most people pack. And then carrying that lighter load makes all the difference while you’re on the move between cities and countries. Saving space also leaves room to pick up a few souvenirs along the way!

Yet be strategic with souvenir shopping too. Focus on lightweight items you’ll actually use post-trip vs touristy trinkets. Photos, journal entries and little mementos like museum tickets make the best keepsakes. And consumables like wine and culinary treats are great too as you can enjoy then leave the packaging behind.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Walk and Use Public Transport in Cities

European cities are best explored on foot whenever possible. Not only does walking allow you to take in all the sights, sounds and smells in vivid detail, it also happens to be free! Public transportation is another affordable and quintessential way to get around major metropolises.
Sure, taxis, Ubers and tourist buses may seem convenient on the surface. But nothing immerses you in a city better than strolling its living streets and riding alongside locals. Traversing Rome’s winding cobblestone alleys, meandering along Venice’s canals, and wandering Paris’ romantic neighborhoods as they come alive at night; these are the moments that make travel so special.

Public transit puts you in touch with a city’s heartbeat too, providing an authentic experience. All you have to do is mind the gap when boarding the Tube in London, remember to stamp your ticket before tramboarding in Budapest, and figure out when you need a “billet” versus a “carnet” to navigate Paris’ Métro.

But learning a city’s transport system quickly pays dividends in savings and adventure. Subway, bus and tram networks criss-cross European capitals, making it easy to zip around independently. Fares are cheap as well, usually just €1-2 for a single ride ticket.

However, you’ll save the most money by purchasing a multi-day or weekly pass depending on the length of your stay. Validate your pass or ticket before each ride to avoid painful fines from ticket inspectors. And don’t hesitate to ask a local for help if you get lost or confused - transport workers and passengers are usually quite friendly.
With your budget transit pass in hand, you’ll feel like a local commuting to the city’s top attractions. But don’t just stick to the main tourist routes. Hop off a few stops early in an interesting-looking neighborhood. Transfer lines to explore new areas. Use public transit to access park spaces and markets off the beaten path.

And when your feet need a break from pavement pounding, buses provide a great way to rest, reload and still take in city sights. An open top double decker bus in London is classic, but regular buses get you where you need to go just as well.

The biggest mistake many travelers make is over-relying on expensive airport transfer services, taxis and Ubers right when arriving in a new city. But learning to use public transit from the airport both saves money and builds confidence navigating the system.

Just make sure your hostel is located near a metro, bus or tram stop for easy access. And don’t be shy about asking the front desk for directions your first time heading out. They are usually more than happy to point you towards the nearest station.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Take Advantage of Free Activities

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Taking advantage of free activities and attractions is an essential budget backpacking strategy in Europe. With so many incredible sights to see, it’s easy to blow through your daily €50 budget faster than you can finish an Italian gelato on entry fees alone. But you’d be surprised just how many amazing experiences you can enjoy in Europe’s top destinations without spending a single euro.
Wandering through historic city centers with winding cobblestone alleys, gothic cathedrals, vibrant public squares and stately palaces often costs nothing more than the price of a bus ticket or metro fare to reach them. In Rome, you can take in iconic sites like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps without paying a cent. Meander Prague’s picture-perfect Old Town and cross the iconic Charles Bridge for stunning views of the Vltava River. Just be sure to time your visit in the early morning or evening when crowds thin out.

Many of Europe’s top museums also offer free entry on certain days or times. In London, most of the city’s best museums are already free, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum and more. The Louvre is free the first Sunday of each month and on certain weekday evenings. Or in cities like Amsterdam, you can purchase a discounted museum card providing access to dozens of museums and attractions for a flat daily rate.
Parks and gardens are perfect for free open-air enjoyment as well. Explore Hyde Park and its Kensington Gardens in London, Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, Calton Hill with panoramic views in Edinburgh, and Lazienki Park, Warsaw’s "Central Park." Keep an eye out for when colorful seasonal blooms are peaking too.
Free walking tours run by enthusiastic local guides are another thrifty way to experience a new city, though tips are expected. For a more independent experience, look up self-guided walking route maps online or ask at your hostel and hit the streets solo or with newly-made friends from your dorm.

Don’t forget that some of travel’s most memorable experiences don’t cost a thing. People watching and outdoor cafe sitting give you a prime vantage for soaking up a city’s energy and unique culture. Packing a picnic lunch to enjoy in a signature city park or at an iconic landmark is budget-friendly too. And when in need of a little rejuvenation after long days spent sightseeing, simply sitting with a journal or good book in your hostel’s lounge offers cheap entertainment.

Taking advantage of free activities means exerting some effort through research and planning. Reviewing tourism bureau and city event websites can uncover free festivals happening during your stay. Following local blogs and influencers on the ground can provide insight on budget-friendly spots and experiences as well. And never be shy to ask for tips at your accommodation’s front desk or in your dorm from fellow backpackers.

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day - Focus Spending on Experiences Not Things

Budget Backpacking: How to Explore Europe on $50 a Day

Backpacking across Europe is the adventure of a lifetime. But don’t waste precious travel funds on frivolous souvenirs and material items. The memories made through experiences last far longer than any physical possession. Focus your spending on creating unforgettable experiences instead.

Indulge in an authentic Italian meal complete with wine under the stars at a small local trattoria in Venice’s backstreets. Dance the night away with vibrant young Parisians at a hole-in-the-wall jazz club after passing a bottle of €3 wine. Getting lost wandering the winding medieval lanes of Prague’s Old Town at sunrise when the city is still asleep and yours alone to discover.

These are the moments that you’ll reminisce upon for years and recall with vivid detail. Not that cute beret you bought in Paris that's now collecting dust in the back of your closet. And a prepackaged Sachertorte from the Vienna airport won’t be nearly as decadent and memorable as the slice you enjoyed after a charming day exploring the city’s palaces and gardens.

Fellow backpackers understand this distinction between meaningless trinkets and meaningful memories too. Sasha from Canada recounted, “My favorite experience was riding bikes through Amsterdam’s tulip fields and countryside. It felt like we were in a painting! Such a simple activity, but the memories are priceless.”

Marcus from Australia told me, “No need for souvenirs, mate. I just close my eyes and can still envision that phenomenal sunset the whole hostel watched from our rooftop in Santorini with new mates from around the world.”

Sometimes the best experiences come from the most ordinary moments too. like picnicking with friends you met in your Athens hostel dorm beneath the Acropolis, or kicking a football around a park in Madrid simply because you can.

It’s tempting to indulge in a fancy trattoria in Rome or even splurge on a gondola ride down Venice’s canals. But just taking a stroll together and sharing a cheap bottle of wine on the steps of the Pantheon while people watching the bustling nightlife unfold still makes for an absolutely perfect memory.

When souvenir shopping, think small, consumable and functional. Pick up a nice bottle of wine or olive oil to bring home a taste of Tuscany. Buy that bag of cookies from the famous cafe you visited in Vienna to share with friends back home. Or a candle that will evoke memories of cozy nights in a countryside pension.

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