The answer is complicated, it depends on many things
What type of traveller are you? Do you prefer slow or fast travel? Hotels, hostels, or campsites? Major cities or small villages? How are you likely to spend your day — museums, theme parks, …?
How long do you want to travel for? 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, one-way ticket?
What’s your itinerary? Not everywhere is priced the same. London, Paris, Rome are all expensive cities (for example)… if you’re even going to do the cities.
Lets debunk a few myths. Travelling doesn’t have to be expensive. I have met some wonderful travellers who can stretch their budget to 350€ a month! But, do you really want to travel “the hard way” like they do?
they don’t pay for transport (unless its a last resort), they hitchhike and rely on free rides everywhere
they don’t pay for accommodation, but free camp/wild camp and CouchSurf
they only drink the cheap (and nasty) alcohol, or none at all
they don’t eat at restaurants, but only street vendors, and mostly basics (bread and butter)
hell, I’ve even met a CouchSurfer who dumpster dives for food
they travel independently
This style of travelling has its perks, not just the money saved.
You meet all kinds of crazy, funny people. A good portion of which don’t have a great grasp on the English language, making the experience so much more fun and authentic. I’ve heard quite a few stories of a car-ride that ended up with staying at their place, meeting their family, and enjoying a free meal. All the guidebooks suggest you don’t do it, but I met so many people who used it as their main way of getting around, without drama.
Well, you must know by now that it’s one of my favourite ways to see a new place and meet the locals. I tried to CouchSurf everywhere, but of course, it’s not always possible. There are both pro’s and con’s to CouchSurfing, which I’ll leave to another post.
Where you just find a nice grassy spot and pitch your tent… in the wild. As a solo traveller, it’s not really for me. I’ve done it, would do it again, but don’t prefer it. I free-camped in Vis, Croatia. I also paid for camping (solo) in Plitvic Lakes, Croatia, as well as in Ios, Greece, and (shared tents) in Sorrento, Italy. Camping and free camping can be fantastic, and a nice way to mix-things-up when you travel alone, but I prefer company.
Drinking and eating on the cheap
Sure its ok a few meals here-or-there, but do you want to say “no thank you” to a dinner invitation at a delicious restaurant because its going to cost 10€ too much? If there’s a group of you, you can always share dishes to bring the cost down, it makes everything more fun and social anyway, until the bill comes and it needs to be split.
One common theme amongst all the budget travellers was they they always travelled independently. That is, they didn’t pay the big bucks to get in on packaged tours. They just couldn’t afford it. Don’t get me wrong, tours have their place, usually the tour operator can get you a better deal than if you tried to go the same itinerary alone. But, do you need that 12-day action-packed itinerary? Travel slow, and pick-and-choose how many things you want to spend your money on each day. You can have just as good a time walking the streets and talking to locals as you can racing from museum to art gallery to cathedral.
Lower your standards
I met a 19 year old CouchSurfer in Hungary who was travelling on only 350€ a month. And as she says
You just have to lower your standards. Sleeping on the street isn’t that bad if you can’t find a couch, campsite, or cheap hostel; and you try and minimize the nights doing it. Just like days without showering, sometimes hitchhiking I go 3 days without a shower, it just makes that hot shower or warm dinner so much more special.
Now this is extreme travelling. But boy, did she cover some miles. Where I was buying bus tickets and waiting 3-4 hours for transfers, she was hitchhiking and standing on the side of the road with her thumb out for a few hours; with plenty of stories about connections she’d made along the way.
No offense, but I prefer buses, trains, ferries, and planes. Having a warm bed, warm shower, and warm meal at night. Sure I miss out on some great “I’m a hardened traveller” stories, but I like the safety and comfort of (usually) knowing where I will be at the end of each day. The few times that I have been stuck without a warm bed, shower, and meal have made for a great story, but I wouldn’t want it everyday. Maybe I’m just getting old?
Travelling Europe can be done on the cheap, it all depends on how much you want to sacrifice to say you did it on 10€ a day (or whatever your low-budget is). Personally I can sacrifice the 3-4-5 star hotels for a warm bed and shower in a hostel dorm (or CouchSurfing hosts place). But I’d rather not have to eat Gnutella and bread 3 meals a day, or have to drink 1-2€ cask wine. And, if there’s an adventure to be had, like White-water Rafting, I’m going to spend the 45€ and go ahead and have the time-of-my-life. Just need to remember to rein-it-in and only splurge on things every few weeks.
No matter where you go, and what hostel you stay at, you are always going to get those travellers who talk about how cheaply they are doing things. And good for them. But do you really want to miss out on an experience, or seeing something you came so far to see over a few Euro?
I have plenty of budget-friendly travel tips that I can share with you. Ask away in the comments, or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter.