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How To Plan A Cheap European Backpacking Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Tersina Runge



Embarking on a backpacking trip through Europe is an adventure of a lifetime. From historic cities to picturesque landscapes, Europe offers a diverse range of experiences for budget-conscious travelers. With proper planning and a little creativity, you can explore the wonders of Europe without breaking the bank.


Before you set off on your European backpacking journey, it’s crucial to have a well-thought-out plan in place. This article will guide you through the essential steps to plan a cheap European backpacking trip, ensuring that you make the most of your adventure while keeping your expenses in check.


Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the world of budget travel, this comprehensive guide will provide you with valuable tips and insights to help you navigate through Europe on a tight budget. So, let’s dive in and uncover the secrets to planning an affordable European backpacking experience!

Key Points:

  • Embarking on a backpacking trip through Europe is an adventure of a lifetime.
  • With proper planning and creativity, you can explore Europe without breaking the bank.
  • This article will guide you through the essential steps to plan a cheap European backpacking trip.
  • Experience Europe on a budget with valuable tips and insights.


Selecting the Best Time to Travel

Choosing the right time to travel to Europe can significantly impact your expenses. The peak tourist season, which typically falls during the summer months from June to August, is known for inflated prices and overcrowded attractions. If you’re on a tight budget, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October). Not only will you find cheaper accommodation and transportation options, but you’ll also enjoy milder weather and fewer crowds.


Another factor to consider is local festivities and holidays. While experiencing local celebrations can be a highlight of your trip, it can also lead to higher prices and limited availability. Research the major events and holidays in the countries you plan to visit and determine whether you want to avoid or embrace them.


Furthermore, it’s essential to keep in mind that different regions of Europe have varying weather patterns. If you’re planning outdoor activities or sightseeing, be sure to choose a time when the weather is most favorable. For instance, Southern Europe tends to have mild winters, making it an attractive option for off-season travel, while Northern Europe’s summers are more pleasant.


Key Points:

  • Avoid traveling during the peak tourist season to save on expenses.
  • Consider traveling during the shoulder seasons for cheaper prices and fewer crowds.
  • Research local festivities and holidays to plan accordingly.
  • Choose a time when the weather is most favorable for outdoor activities.


Choosing the European Destinations

Europe offers a vast array of destinations, each with its own unique charm and attractions. When planning a cheap backpacking trip, it’s essential to choose destinations that fit within your budget. Consider the following factors when selecting your European destinations:


1. Cost of Living: Keep in mind that the cost of living can vary greatly across Europe. Choose destinations where your money can stretch further. Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria often offer more affordable options compared to Western European countries like France or Switzerland.


2. Transportation Costs: Consider the proximity and accessibility of your chosen destinations. Opting for cities or towns that are well-connected by public transportation can help you save money on travel expenses. Additionally, consider the cost of transportation within each destination, such as bus or subway fares.


3. Cultural Diversity: Europe is known for its rich history and diverse cultures. Select destinations that interest you both culturally and personally. Whether you’re interested in art, history, or culinary experiences, choose destinations that align with your preferences to enhance your overall experience.


4. Hidden Gems: While popular tourist destinations like Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam are undoubtedly worth visiting, consider adding some lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path destinations to your itinerary. These hidden gems not only offer unique experiences but are often more budget-friendly as well.


Remember, you don’t need to cover every country or major city to have an unforgettable European backpacking trip. Focus on a few destinations that align with your interests and budget, allowing you to explore them more deeply.


Key Points:

  • Consider the cost of living in different European destinations.
  • Choose destinations that are well-connected and have affordable transportation options.
  • Select destinations that align with your personal and cultural interests.
  • Explore hidden gems to discover unique experiences and budget-friendly options.


Budgeting for Accommodation

Accommodation expenses can often be one of the biggest costs during a backpacking trip. However, with careful planning and smart choices, you can find affordable accommodation options in Europe:


1. Hostels: Hostels are a popular choice for budget travelers as they offer dormitory-style accommodation at a fraction of the cost of hotels. Look for hostels that offer private rooms if you prefer more privacy. Additionally, consider staying in hostels that provide communal kitchens, allowing you to save money by preparing your meals.


2. Guesthouses and B&Bs: In some European countries, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts can be a more economical alternative to traditional hotels. These accommodations often offer cheaper rates and a more personal touch.


3. Couchsurfing: For a truly budget-friendly experience, consider Couchsurfing. This platform connects travelers with locals who offer free accommodation on their couches or spare rooms. It’s a great way to connect with locals, learn about the culture, and save money on accommodation.


4. Camping: If you enjoy the outdoors, camping can be an affordable option. Many European countries have well-equipped campsites where you can set up a tent or rent a cabin at a reasonable price.


5. Airbnb and Apartment Rentals: Renting an apartment or using Airbnb can be a cost-effective option, especially for groups or longer stays. Look for accommodations in less touristy areas for better deals.


6. Overnight Transportation: Overnight transportation options such as sleeper trains or buses can help you save money on accommodation. By traveling while you sleep, you can wake up in a new city without paying for a night’s stay.


Remember to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons when availability may be limited. Compare prices, read reviews, and consider the location and amenities offered to make the best decision for your budget.


Key Points:

  • Opt for hostels, guesthouses, or B&Bs for affordable accommodation.
  • Consider Couchsurfing for free accommodation and cultural exchange.
  • Explore camping or renting apartments for budget-friendly options.
  • Take advantage of overnight transportation to save on accommodation costs.
  • Book in advance and compare prices to find the best deals.


Saving Money on Transportation

Getting around Europe can be an exciting adventure, and with some savvy planning, you can save money on transportation while exploring the continent:


1. Public Transportation: Utilize public transportation systems such as buses, trams, and subways, which are often more affordable than taxis or private car rentals. Many cities offer discounted multi-day passes or tourist cards that provide unlimited travel within a specified time frame.


2. Walk or Bike: Europe’s cities and towns are often compact and pedestrian-friendly, making walking an excellent option to save money while exploring. In bike-friendly cities, consider renting a bicycle for the day to easily navigate the streets and enjoy the sights at your own pace.


3. BlaBlaCar and Carpooling: BlaBlaCar is a popular carpooling platform in Europe where drivers offer empty seats in their vehicles for a fee. This can be a cost-effective and sociable way to travel between cities and even countries.


4. Discount Airlines: Take advantage of budget airlines that offer discounted fares for intra-European travel. However, be mindful of additional fees and baggage restrictions, as these can add to the overall cost.


5. Rail Passes: If you plan on traveling extensively by train, consider purchasing a rail pass. These passes provide unlimited train travel within a specific time period and can be a cost-effective option, especially for long-distance journeys.


6. Plan in Advance: Booking transportation tickets in advance, whether it’s for trains, buses, or flights, can often result in significant savings. Prices tend to increase as the travel date approaches, so securing your tickets early is key to getting the best deals.


7. Off-Peak Travel: Traveling during non-peak hours or on less popular days can also lead to cost savings. Look for early morning or late-night flights or take advantage of mid-week travel when prices may be lower.


By utilizing these transportation tips and choosing the most cost-effective options for your itinerary, you can keep your travel expenses in check and make the most of your budget while moving around Europe.


Key Points:

  • Utilize public transportation, walking, and biking to save on transportation costs.
  • Consider carpooling platforms like BlaBlaCar for a cost-effective option.
  • Look for discounted fares from budget airlines for intra-European travel.
  • Consider purchasing a rail pass for extensive train travel.
  • Book transportation tickets in advance and travel off-peak for cost savings.


Packing Tips for a Cheap European Backpacking Trip

When it comes to packing for your European backpacking adventure, it’s essential to pack light and smart to save money on luggage fees and ensure convenience during your trip. Here are some packing tips to consider:


1. Bring Versatile Clothing: Pack clothing pieces that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. Opt for lightweight, quick-drying fabrics that can be easily washed and dried, allowing you to pack fewer items and save on laundry costs.


2. Pack Layers: Europe’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers that can be added or removed accordingly. This will help you stay comfortable in varying temperatures and avoid the need to purchase additional clothing while on your trip.


3. Travel-Sized Toiletries: Minimize toiletries by bringing travel-sized containers or transferring products into smaller containers. You can also purchase necessary items like shampoo or toothpaste locally to save space and reduce weight.


4. Essential Electronics: Limit the number of electronic devices you bring to save on weight and charging needs. Consider packing a versatile, lightweight travel adapter to ensure that you can charge your devices easily.


5. Pack a Reusable Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is important while traveling, so bring a reusable water bottle. In many European cities, tap water is safe to drink, allowing you to refill your bottle for free instead of purchasing bottled water.


6. Essential Travel Accessories: Invest in a sturdy and comfortable backpack suitable for long hours of walking. Bring a travel-sized umbrella or rain poncho to be prepared for unexpected weather conditions. Don’t forget to pack a money belt or a secure pouch to keep your valuables safe.


7. Travel Insurance and Documents: Print out copies of your travel insurance, passport, and important documents. It’s also a good idea to store electronic copies in a secure cloud storage accessible from anywhere in case of loss or theft.


Remember, packing light not only saves you money but also makes your journey more enjoyable and hassle-free. Be mindful of luggage restrictions imposed by airlines or transportation providers to avoid excess baggage fees as well.


Key Points:

  • Bring versatile and lightweight clothing that can be mixed and matched.
  • Pack layers to adapt to varying weather conditions.
  • Opt for travel-sized toiletries to save space and weight.
  • Limit electronics and bring a versatile travel adapter.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle to save on purchasing bottled water.
  • Invest in essential travel accessories like a sturdy backpack and a security pouch.
  • Print copies of important documents and store electronic copies as a backup.


Finding Affordable Eateries and Street Food

Experiencing the local cuisine is an integral part of any European backpacking trip, and luckily, there are plenty of ways to indulge in delicious and affordable food while exploring the continent:


1. Seek out Local Markets: Explore local markets where you can find fresh produce, baked goods, and regional specialties at lower prices compared to restaurants. These markets often offer a vibrant and authentic dining experience. Grab some ingredients and prepare your own meals if you have access to a kitchen in your accommodation.


2. Embrace Street Food: Street food stalls and vendors are a great way to sample local flavors without breaking the bank. From traditional snacks to international cuisines, you’ll find a variety of affordable and tasty options while wandering the streets of European cities.


3. Menu del Día: In certain European countries, such as Spain, you’ll find restaurants offering a fixed-price menu del día, which includes a set meal of multiple courses at a reasonable price. This is a great way to enjoy a filling meal without straining your budget.


4. Picnics in Parks: Take advantage of Europe’s beautiful parks and green spaces by packing a picnic. Grab some bread, cheese, fruits, and other snacks from a local grocery store or market, and enjoy a budget-friendly meal surrounded by nature.


5. Local Recommendations: Ask locals or fellow travelers for recommendations on affordable eateries frequented by locals. They can point you to hidden gems where you can experience authentic cuisine without the hefty tourist prices.


6. Avoid Touristy Areas: Restaurants in heavily touristy areas tend to be more expensive. Venture a bit further away from popular attractions and landmarks to find local restaurants and cafes that offer more reasonable prices and a more authentic dining experience.


7. Takeaway and Food Trucks: Consider grabbing food to-go from takeaway shops or food trucks. These options often offer cheaper alternatives to sit-down restaurants while still serving up tasty and satisfying meals.


Remember to be mindful of any dietary restrictions you may have and carry snacks or small meals with you to avoid impulse purchases when hunger strikes. By exploring local cuisine opportunities and opting for affordable dining options, you can savor the flavors of Europe without straining your budget.


Key Points:

  • Explore local markets for fresh produce and regional specialties at affordable prices.
  • Indulge in street food for a taste of local flavors without breaking the bank.
  • Look for fixed-price menu del día options for a filling and reasonably priced meal.
  • Enjoy picnics in European parks with budget-friendly snacks from local grocery stores.
  • Ask locals for recommendations on affordable eateries frequented by locals.
  • Venture away from touristy areas to find restaurants with better prices and authenticity.
  • Consider takeaway options and food trucks for affordable and tasty meals.


Exploring Free and Low-Cost Activities

One of the great advantages of backpacking through Europe is the abundance of free and low-cost activities available. Here are some tips for making the most of your time without breaking the bank:


1. Free Museums and Attractions: Many museums and attractions in Europe offer free admission on specific days or times. Take advantage of these opportunities to explore art, history, and culture without spending a dime. Research the museums and attractions in the cities you plan to visit and note their free entry days or discounted rates for students or young travelers.


2. Walking Tours: Walking tours are an excellent way to discover a city’s history, architecture, and hidden gems. Many cities offer free or low-cost guided walking tours where you can learn from knowledgeable locals while exploring the city on foot. Additionally, self-guided walking tours with audio guides or mobile apps can be a cost-effective alternative.


3. Enjoy Nature: Europe is home to breathtaking natural landscapes. Spend time hiking in national parks, exploring coastal trails, or simply enjoying a picnic in beautiful gardens. Nature is often free to access, and the tranquility and beauty it offers are invaluable.


4. Attend Local Events and Festivals: Keep an eye out for local events and festivals happening during your visit. These festivities often showcase the local culture, music, and traditions and may offer free or low-cost entertainment options. Check local event calendars or ask locals for recommendations.


5. Free City Walking Tours: Many cities provide free city walking tours led by knowledgeable locals who share insights and stories about the city’s history and landmarks. These tours typically work on a tip-based system, allowing you to contribute what you can afford based on your budget and satisfaction.


6. Explore Public Parks and Squares: Public parks and squares are excellent places to relax, people-watch, and soak in the atmosphere of a city. European cities have beautifully designed parks and lively squares where you can spend time without spending money. It’s an opportunity to mingle with the locals and enjoy the vibrant culture of the city.


7. Visit Local Markets: Exploring local markets is not only a great way to sample fresh and affordable produce but also to immerse yourself in local culture. Browse through the stalls, interact with vendors, and soak in the lively ambiance of these markets.


By seeking out free and low-cost activities, you can fill your days with enriching experiences and create lasting memories without straining your budget. Be open to embracing local culture and taking a more in-depth look at the hidden treasures each European destination has to offer.


Key Points:

  • Take advantage of free admission days at museums and attractions.
  • Participate in free or low-cost guided walking tours to explore cities.
  • Explore Europe’s stunning natural landscapes through hiking and picnics.
  • Attend local events and festivals for free or low-cost entertainment.
  • Join free city walking tours or contribute based on your budget and satisfaction.
  • Relax and enjoy public parks and squares to soak in the local ambiance.
  • Visit local markets to experience the culture and sample affordable produce.


Managing Money while Backpacking in Europe

Properly managing your money is crucial when backpacking through Europe. Here are some tips to help you stay within your budget and make the most of your funds:


1. Research Currency Exchange Rates: Before your trip, familiarize yourself with the currency of the countries you plan to visit and understand the current exchange rates. Look for reputable currency exchange services that offer competitive rates to get the most value for your money.


2. Notify Your Bank: Inform your bank about your travel plans to avoid any issues with your debit or credit cards while abroad. Some banks may place a temporary hold on your card if they see transactions from unfamiliar locations, so it’s important to keep them informed about your travel itinerary.


3. Use No-Fee Debit/Credit Cards: Look for debit or credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees. These cards allow you to make purchases and withdraw cash without incurring additional charges. Research different banks and financial institutions to find the best cards for your needs.


4. Carry Local Currency: While many places in Europe accept credit cards, it’s always a good idea to carry some local currency, especially in smaller establishments or rural areas. This ensures that you have cash on hand for any unexpected expenses or situations where card payments may not be accepted.


5. Budget for Daily Expenses: Establish a daily budget that covers your accommodation, food, transportation, and other essentials. Stick to this budget as much as possible to avoid overspending. Use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to help you track your expenses and ensure that you stay on track.


6. Be Mindful of ATM Fees: Keep an eye on ATM fees when withdrawing cash. Some banks charge additional fees for using ATMs that are not affiliated with their network. Plan your cash withdrawals strategically to minimize these fees and consider withdrawing larger amounts to reduce the frequency of withdrawals.


7. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion: When paying with your card, especially in tourist areas, you may be offered the option of paying in your home currency. This is known as dynamic currency conversion, and it often comes with unfavorable exchange rates. Opt to pay in the local currency to avoid unnecessary fees.


8. Save on Communication Costs: Minimize communication costs by using free Wi-Fi in cafes, hostels, and public areas for internet access. Consider using messaging apps like WhatsApp or Skype for making calls and sending messages instead of relying on expensive international calling plans.


By implementing these money management tips, you can make your funds last longer and have a worry-free backpacking experience through Europe. Keeping a close eye on your expenses and making informed choices will help you stay within your budget and fully enjoy your European adventure.


Key Points:

  • Research currency exchange rates and choose reputable exchange services.
  • Inform your bank about your travel plans to avoid any issues with your cards.
  • Use debit/credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Carry local currency for places that may not accept card payments.
  • Establish a daily budget and track your expenses with budgeting tools.
  • Be mindful of ATM fees and plan your cash withdrawals accordingly.
  • Avoid dynamic currency conversion and pay in the local currency.
  • Save on communication costs by utilizing free Wi-Fi and messaging apps.


Safety Tips for a Budget Backpacking Trip

While embarking on a budget backpacking trip through Europe can be exciting, it’s important to prioritize safety and ensure a smooth travel experience. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:


1. Research and Plan Ahead: Before you travel, thoroughly research the destinations you plan to visit. Familiarize yourself with local customs, traditions, and any potential safety concerns specific to each location. Stay updated on travel advisories and register with your embassy or consulate to receive relevant updates and assistance if needed.


2. Share Your Itinerary: Provide a copy of your itinerary, including accommodation details and travel plans, to a trusted friend or family member. Keep them informed of any changes or updates to your plans as you travel. This ensures that someone knows your whereabouts in case of an emergency.


3. Secure Your Valuables: Keep your passport, cash, credit cards, and other important documents in a secure location, such as a money belt or a locked compartment in your backpack. Use a combination lock to secure your bags and consider using a TSA-approved lock for added security during flights.


4. Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Stay attentive to your surroundings, especially in crowded tourist areas or on public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings and be cautious of any suspicious or unusual behavior. Avoid displaying large sums of money or valuable items that can attract unwanted attention.


5. Trust Your Instincts: Trust your instincts and listen to your gut feeling in unfamiliar situations. If something feels off or uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation and seek a safe place. It’s better to be cautious and prevent potential risks.


6. Stay Connected: Carry a reliable means of communication, such as a fully charged mobile phone with emergency contact numbers saved. Ensure that you have access to local emergency services numbers for each country you visit. Stay connected to Wi-Fi whenever possible for communication and navigation.


7. Practice Responsible Drinking: If you choose to consume alcohol, do so responsibly. Drink in moderation and be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid accepting drinks from strangers, and always keep an eye on your beverage to prevent tampering. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, make your way to a safe location or seek assistance.


8. Stay in Groups: When exploring unfamiliar areas, particularly during late hours or in less crowded areas, it’s safer to travel in groups. Join organized activities or connect with fellow travelers to explore these areas together, reducing the risk of being targeted.


Remember, safety should always be a priority while traveling. By staying informed, being alert, and using common sense, you can have a safe and enjoyable budget backpacking trip through Europe.


Key Points:

  • Thoroughly research and plan your destinations before you travel.
  • Share your itinerary with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Secure your valuables and use locks to protect your bags.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid attracting unwanted attention.
  • Trust your instincts and remove yourself from uncomfortable situations.
  • Carry a reliable means of communication and know local emergency numbers.
  • Drink responsibly and be cautious when accepting drinks from strangers.
  • Travel in groups, particularly in unfamiliar or less crowded areas.



Embarking on a budget backpacking trip through Europe is an incredible adventure that allows you to explore the diverse cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and rich history of the continent without breaking the bank. By following the tips and strategies outlined in this guide, you can have a memorable experience while staying within your budget.


Choosing the best time to travel, selecting affordable destinations, and budgeting for accommodation and transportation are crucial steps in planning a cheap European backpacking trip. Additionally, packing light, seeking out affordable eateries, and exploring free and low-cost activities will help you make the most of your funds while immersing yourself in the local culture.


Managing your money effectively, staying aware of your surroundings, and prioritizing safety ensures a smooth and worry-free journey. By being prepared, taking precautions, and trusting your instincts, you can have a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience throughout Europe.


Remember, the key to a successful budget backpacking trip is to balance your desire for adventure and exploration with responsible money management. With careful planning, research, and a spirit of adventure, you can create incredible memories while keeping your expenses in check.


Now that you are armed with these valuable tips and insights, it’s time to start planning your cheap European backpacking adventure. Get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty, history, and diversity of Europe while making the most of your budget. Bon voyage!