Yes, I know this challenge well: how to travel across one of the most expensive regions in the world on what, relatively speaking, constitutes pocket change. It is possible, in fact an ingenuitive traveler can move across Europe just as cheap — or even cheaper — than most anywhere else in the world.
When I am in Europe I typically spend less than $10 per day. But, of course, this means that I am opting out of various goods and services rather than even bothering to waste my time searching out the cheap options. 15 Euro for a dorm bed is not cheap, 10 Euro a meal is an entire day’s travel expense, and don’t even get me started on the cost of transport on that continent. Three slashes should be drawn through each of these standard travel amenities, as if you want to travel through Europe on an piddly small budget you will rarely use any of them. Rather than paying for the services of others in this region, it is vastly cheaper to provide them for yourself.
Ride a bicycle, camp, buy food in supermarkets and prepare it yourself, the more you do for yourself the cheaper travel will be. The traveler needs three things: food, shelter, and transportation. You can cut out two of these costs right off by biking and camping, and then keep food costs to well under $10 a day, and you will soon find that traveling cheap in Europe is possible.
To rig up a bicycle for vagabonding, plan on making around a $100 – $150 investment. Try to get an older 70’s or 80’s model touring ten speed. These bikes can often be picked up for under $50. Make sure it is in decent condition and is fully ridable. Next replace both wheels, tires, the chain, rear sprocket and works with high quality replacements. I’ve found it better to buy a cheap used bicycle and outfitting it with high quality essentials than it is to buy cheap quality new bicycle. Once the bicycle is fully retro-fitted buy a gear rack that goes over the rear wheel. Be sure to also invest in a helmet and some other safety gear and a good chain.
Now that the bicycle is ready go you are ready to add on a gear carrying basket. I usually just grab an old milk crate from the back of convenient store. Tie it on. Now you have a place to stick your rucksack. You are now rigged for transport — you can go from one end of Europe to the other for free.
More on bicycle travel
- How to travel by bicycle in Europe cheaply
- Bicycle gear for long distance travel
- Outfitting a bicycle for long distance travel
- Bicycle travel on the Travelogue
If you are not comfortable biking then walking will also do. After doing both for stretches of travel I must say that I prefer biking. In point, with only 90 days at a time to visit 25 countries of Europe’s Schengen region, it may be good to up the pace to at least bicycle speed, as walking would not take you too far before needing to get completely out of the region. I fear that walking trips in Europe are now significantly hampered by recent immigration agreements.
But if you are tramping and need to pick up the pace, just stick out a thumb and hitch a ride. Hitchhiking is generally decent throughout Europe, and it is often amazing how far you can go quickly using this method.
More on tramping and hitchhiking
- Walk Not Ride: Walking Better and Often Quicker than Public Transport
- Vagabond Journey Hitchhiking index
As far as shelter goes it is prudent to carry a tent. Either by a cheap one from a department store, bring one with you from your home country, or rig one up out of a tarp. I have done the tarp method more times that I care to recollect, but don’t recommend it. In point, the amount of money that it costs to buy a cheap tent is not worth the cold, wet, and windy nights of trying to sleep under a tarp.
When it cities, offer your services in hostels as they will often give a traveler a free bed if they do a few hours of work each day.
More on free shelter
- Camping on the sly
- How to Sleep Outside for Free
- Hostel work in Budapest
- How to build a free shelter
- Bus Station Hotel
- Couchsurfing Tip
- Airport Hotel is Free
In terms of food, shop in supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and convenient stores. If you carry a small stove you can cook your own food. If you don’t have a stove one can be made from a tuna fish can using rubbing alcohol as a fuel. If you really want to stretch it, you can make use of the soup kitchens and homeless shelter that cover much of the region. Go to the tourist information offices in the cities you travel through and ask for the list of local homeless resources.
- How to Eat Roadkill
- Traveler Food: Chicken, Eggs, Rice, Vegetables
- How to Clean Drinking Water for Travel
So it is very possible to travel through Europe cheaply. Not only that, but if you are fending for your own transport and accommodation and/ or trading work for room and board, you can come out of a jaunt to Europe spending less money than in many other cheaper regions of the planet. When I travel in say Central America or Southeast Asia or China, I am often looking for cheap accommodation, cheap food, cheap transport and, in the end, I often spend more money when I am traveling in an expensive region like Western Europe or Japan and providing my more of my own necessities on a daily basis.
More on traveling cheap
- Traveling cheap is not just to save money
- Money for Travel
- How to save money to travel
- How to live the traveler life
- Travel Business
- Travel Forever
- Free Accommodation
So when in Europe always be on the lookout for fresh opportunities, talk with people, find work, free accommodation, food, and adventure. There is something special about traveling beneath the tourism infrastructure, there is just something essential about providing your own means when traveling and cutting your own path through the world.
Complete question about tramping in Europe
I spontaneously decided to go to Europe and backpack for the summer — I just purchased my ticket and I’m leaving in five days. I am arriving in Rome and have no set plans.
I am on an extremely tight budget (just graduated college). Even hostels at 15 euros a night seem outrageously overpriced; I won’t be able to afford them. My reason for traveling has to do with what you discuss in the “cheap travel not just to save money” article on your blog. I am doing this because I am a filmmaker and a storyteller — and I want to experience the world on foot (not as a tourist).
I have been a fairly sheltered person all my life, so doing something like this is extremely exciting and scary for me. I have never gone to a different country without knowing where I’m going to sleep and how I’m going to stay afloat. Your blog has really helped and inspired me to take this leap of faith. I’m sure Europe is like a walk in the park to you considering your traveling resume, but it’s a lot to handle for me. If you have any words of advice or encouragement, I cannot thank you enough.
I know you’re a really busy man, so I won’t be upset if you do not respond to my email. Just know that I look up to you tremendously.
All the best to you and your family!