My hair in this photo is wiggity whack. Oops. It was so windy that day, and I really CBA with Photoshop. Plus, budget travel isn't always glamorous, so best get used to it.
I'm no expert, but I'd say I probably know a little more than your average when it comes to booking cheap travel throughout Europe. To date, I've been to 24 out of 28 countries in the EU, and still climbing! But it's not as glamorous as it looks; I don't just get to jet off to a foreign country whenever I fancy. Budget travel requires a decent amount of planning and knowledge in order to do it successfully. You by no means have to have a significant amount of money to travel throughout Europe, either! So here's exactly how I do it.
1.) Remain flexible with dates.
Keeping your options open will allow you to plan for the cheapest flights possible. Skyscanner has an option where you can search destinations for the entire year, which is great if you know you want to go somewhere, and want to see when it's cheapest to fly. Although it's not usually the cheapest a year from now, you can view the results in chart form or graph form for the whole year.
2.) Remain flexible with destination.
If you're open-minded, traveling on the cheap will be much easier. Choosing your dates and searching that way will give you the cheapest places you can fly. Skyscanner has that feature also!
3.) Pick a region and stick with it.
Whether you're flying, taking the train, hitchhiking, or pogo-sticking to your destination, it's always worth your while to explore choosing locations in close proximity. While it may be the cheapest to fly from London to Moscow to Edinburgh to Rome (it probably won't be), you'll spend a lot of time in transit, and you want to make your trip worth your while.
Here are some popular, easy routes you can try:
Amsterdam ⇒ Brussels ⇒ Cologne ⇒ Berlin ⇒ Munich ⇒ Salzburg ⇒ Vienna ⇒ Bratislava
Malta ⇒ Sicily ⇒ Naples ⇒ Rome ⇒ Florence ⇒ Bologna ⇒ Milan
Riga ⇒ Talinn ⇒ St. Petersburg ⇒ Helsinki
Dublin ⇒ Edinburgh ⇒ London ⇒ Paris
Barcelona ⇒ Madrid ⇒ Lisbon ⇒ Lagos
4.) Travel off-season.
I hardly ever travel during the Summer. It is the best time of year to travel, but not for budget travelers. If you want to spend your trip with everyone else and their mom, then go right ahead. But flights will be significantly cheaper if you choose to travel during the off season. Avoid mid-October and early April (Brits are out of school), and during Christmas and Easter.
5.) Book one-way tickets.
Usually, booking a round-trip ticket is significantly less expensive than booking two one-ways, but that's not necessarily the case with budget airlines. Try looking at the price for two one-way ticks instead of one round trip. It won't hurt.
6.) Get rates in US Dollars.
Things are always way cheaper in USD. Even if you're flying out of somewhere else, you'll get the best deal if you search for your rates in US dollars. Promise.
7.) Be aware of all the budget airlines in Europe.
Europe is reigning king of budget airlines, which have become a dear/hated friend of mine over the last three years. If you want to travel around Europe on the cheap, you better get to know which ones exist! Wikipedia has a dope list of all the budget airlines that you can check out here.
8.) Check price comparisons.
Everyone has their own preferences, but I use Skyscanner (and swear by it) to do most (if not all) of my price comparisons. Skyscanner links to hundreds of airlines, so it gives you the most actual and up-to-date price comparisons.
9.) Know the airline's hidden fees.
Most budget airlines will charge you asinine amounts of money to do things like check your bags/buy food/breathe. So be aware of the charges BEFORE you go, so you can avoid them if at all possible (although they'll still probably find a way to charge you).
10.) Check planes trains and automobiles.
Flying isn't always the cheapest way to get around. Check how much train and bus travel will cost. You can even look at the Eurail website to find out if you think the Eurail pass is worth your while. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even try hitchhiking!
11.) Know the cheapest destinations.
Just because a flight is cheap to a certain destination, it may be unbelievably expensive once you get there. I literally spent $9 on a trip to Norway once, and ended up spending an obscene amount on just accommodation and food once I got there. Eastern Europe will always be your cheapest bet, with it getting more expensive the more west/north you go, and the closer into big touristy places (Barcelona, London, Rome, Paris) that you are. Research some of the best locations for budget travelers. I have a list that I made here.
Some of the most expensive destinations that you may want to avoid are Sweden, Norway, the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, and France.
Some of the cheaper destinations are Prague, Budapest, Romania, Serbia, and Berlin!
12.) Convert your money before you go.
Avoid using ATMs abroad - you'll get charged massive fees & for the exchange rate if you do. Try not buying your money at the airport either, because you'll be charged commission fees. Exchange your money before you travel.
Once you get there.....
13.) Walk everywhere!
Public transit can get expensive, especially if you're buying individual tickets instead of weekly passes. Walking everywhere allows you to see even more hidden gems, instead of just the tourist areas! You'll save money too :)
14.) Try Couchsurfing/HomeStay or hostels.
Don't rule out Couchsurfing or hostels right off the bat. If you're serious about traveling on a budget, you can almost always rule out staying in a nice hotel. Both couchsurfing and hostels are also the best way to meet new people. And Couchsurfing is completely FREE! I recommend hostelworld.com if you're looking for hostels, couchsurfing.com for couchsurfing, or for a unique experience, try living in a homestay!
15.) Visit family run businesses.
Venture out of the city center to try local cuisine. You'll save money doing so, and support family run businesses instead of large corporations! Some of the best food I've ever had while traveling was at someone's home/restaurant in Istanbul.
16.) Skip museum fees.
You can still see some of the world's most famous museums without having to pay a penny. For example, London has these completely awesome "Museum Lates," where certain nights a month, you come in after hours for free, get some alcohol, and view the museums (although to be fair, Londons museums are always free). The Lourve has a free day on the first Sunday of the month. On March 8th, Women's Day, all museums in Florence are free for women. The Guggenheim in Berlin is free on Mondays from 10 am - 8pm.
17.) Try a pub crawl.
On top of making friends for life, organized group pub crawls are an excellent ways to save money. Often, you can pay 10 euros for a free drink at several different bars.
18.) Cooking / picnics / grocery shopping.
Cooking has been a lifesaver when it comes to my wallet while traveling. I do enjoy eating out, and am sure that I definitely always try the local digs. But if I'm really in a budgetary bind, I go to the local grocery store and stock up on some noms to cook in the hostel kitchen.
Also, take advantage of free tapas (if you're in the south of Spain) or aperitivos (if you're in Italy) which often give you a free drink with every food item you buy (or the other way around).
19.) Take advantage of free walking tours.
Free walking tours are pretty much my lifeblood, and a great way to get to know the basic history of a city, as well as see all the central sites. Free walking tours are often a perk of hostel stays, so if you're hostel-searching, and you're interested in going on free tours, perhaps try to find a hostel that offers them!
20.) Choose a central location.
It's an age-old trick: find a place to stay outside of the city center. However, I completely advise against this. You literally could spend even more by paying for transportation into the city center. It's better off to stay close to the center and walk.
21.) Nix the taxis.
Always avoid taking a taxi if you can. You're much better off using public transportation or walking. If you do need to use a cab, do your research ahead of time to find out taxi customs. Some countries have city-sponsored taxis, and any other companies will charge you up the wazoo, or try to scam you. Also, if you don't speak the local language, you're also an easy target for taxi scams. Be very careful when taking a taxi, but try to avoid it.
22.) Find the hidden gems.
The touristy stuff isn't always the coolest. Find the hidden gems in each city; They're usually much more cost effective and you'll have seen some pretty badass stuff. I use the app 'Trover' to find some awesome hidden gems shared by other travelers.
23.) Gleep the free wifi.
I literally am the queen of lurking outside of a Starbucks to steal their wifi. No shame. People always ask me about cell phone plans, which seems unnecessary to me, and honestly just a security blanket. I've gone 3 years without internet connectivity abroad (except when I'm home in London), and I've never had a problem! Worse comes to worse, creep around outside a Sbucks or McDonald's or literally anywhere with free Wifi. PLUS, in this day and age, a lot of big cities are ramping up their universal WiFi, so you may be able to use that if you're in a city that's more technologically advanced!