From December 1 to January 22, 2017, I made my way through Europe with only a backpack and a $5,000 budget. As great of a trip as it was, I learned a lot about living out of a backpack. There are many things I would do differently if I were to go back to save money and have other experiences.
Since you’re reading this, you may have aspirations to travel, too. Here are 6 tips for backpacking Europe for two months with a budget of $5,000 or less.
#1. Pick a date and book your departing flight as soon as possible.
Here’s the cold hard truth: once you book that ticket, your trip becomes real. Even if you don’t have a budget set yet, your new priority will be to start saving for the trip that is definitely happening now. This will help you to override impulsive spending tendencies.
Going to the bar or spending money on stuff you don’t need won’t seem as enticing when you know you’ll be wandering the streets of Italy or Spain in only 5 short months.
Having your date of departure and a ticket booked is the best way for you to make a dream of traveling come true. It is the best way to give yourself a reason to start saving your money.
#2. Make a list of your resources- and become more resourceful.
Most people say they don’t have enough time or money to travel, but if you commit to making it happen, it will. Maybe you aren’t interested in living out of a backpack. But your definition of travel can become real if you stop talking and start doing.
If money or time is an issue, here’s something you can do- make a list of every resource you have available that might allow you to travel on a budget. Here are some ideas:
- List all of your friends or family members that live in foreign countries
- Ask your boss, colleagues, or peers if your company or school offers any opportunities to travel.
- Make a post on Facebook telling people you are considering traveling in the next 6 months and ask for recommendations. (You’d be surprised how many people say “I have a friend here that you should meet!)
Out of my 52 nights in Europe, I only paid for a place to sleep for 38 times, which saved me $300. How?
I reached out to a friend who was studying in London, and another teaching English in Prague. I made the Facebook post I recommended above, and got connected with a friend of a friend in Germany to stay with over the holidays.
Not only did I have a free place to stay, but I made memories and new lifelong friends along the way. It was the best decision of my trip.
#3. Purchase (and pack) less gear than you think you’ll need.
While many of the recommendations you’ll get for gear are useful, some things on the lists will end up getting very little use. Don’t put money into something a guide deems “crucial” if you don’t know that you’ll use it.
The last thing you want is some expensive gadget sitting in the bottom of your bag the entire trip. It might cost you (literally) an opportunity to experience something much cooler.
Some people freak out about their gear..
“I need to buy this!”
“I can’t go until I have one of those.”
But seriously- don’t worry about it. You will be okay, and if you forget something, there will be a store wherever you go to get what you need.
As a basic backpacking guideline, you’ll want a sturdy backpack and at least one set of clothes for the warmest and coldest temperatures you expect to encounter. Pack 3–5 outfits, and 6–8 pairs of underwear and socks. My trip was during the winter months, so I had mostly cold weather clothing.
#4. Walk The Walk
If you’re looking to save money while you travel, here’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give you: walk. No, seriously. Don’t spend money on public transportation if walking is an option.
Europe has great resources for transportation, including trains, busses, trams, and more. They aren’t too expensive, but they do cost money to use. So when you can, walk. Not only is it free, but it’s one of the best ways for you to discover little corners of cities you never would have found.
Some of my best memories come from walking around the backstreets of Nice in the south of France. After a 4-mile sunrise walk along the promenade, I got lost in a corner of the city for several hours before wandering back to my hostel.
#5. A grocery store per day will keep your budget at bay.
I found that the majority of my money went towards food while in Europe. It’s hard for it not to, as everything tastes amazing and you’ll want to experience the cuisine of each unique culture you explore.
I anticipated this going into the trip. Once I got over there, I came up with a strategy that worked pretty well:
Eat 1 meal per day at a restaurant and prepare the rest of your meals from a grocery store.
Every city in Europe will have a grocery store somewhere. Use your phone to find one, and walk to it. You can easily get enough food to last you for the day for under $10, leaving you with $15–20 to buy a nice dinner.
My grocery store “staples” were baguettes, deli meats, cheeses, prepackaged salads, oranges and apples. It was also a good opportunity to save a buck purchasing alcohol if I was going out that night.
Using this technique, I averaged about $24 per day on meals.
#6. Spend more time in central/eastern Europe.
My trip was split between 8 different countries. While London and Paris were the most expensive destinations I went to, cities like Prague and Krakow were very enjoyable and much cheaper.
For example, I paid $30 per night to stay in a hostel in Paris. My hostel in Krakow- albeit not as nice- cost $7.44 per night.
I highly recommend you spend as time exploring the lesser traveled parts of central and eastern parts of Europe. There is much to see, plenty to eat and drink, and lots of things that will make for unique stories when you go home.
Above all, travel is meant to be a unique experience. Everyone’s desires and preferences will be different, so do you and don’t be sorry for it. If you don’t care about seeing something people think you “should” see, don’t waste time or money on it. Go explore something new and make a memory that you can share with others.
My travel experience changed my life for the better. I hope it changes yours too. Bon voyage!
To read the full article, with a detailed breakdown of how I spent my $5,000 budget during the trip, check out: coachk.co/backpackeurope