Romanticizing backpack excursions through Europe has long been the bread and butter of travel writing.
Riding gondolas through the waterways of Venice or peering out over the Eiffel Tower’s steel infrastructure: while every European backpacking dream can be a reality, it comes at a cost.
“I think the trick was to make friends with fellow backpackers who were all traveling on a similar budget,” said Monica Stott, The Travel Hack blog founder. “That way, you’re all in it together and you don’t feel like you’re missing out because you’re all enjoying these budget experiences together.”
As there’s no feeling quite like having saved money and seen the world.
“It’s always a thrill to score a good deal – especially on big-ticket items like plane tickets,” said James Feess, The Savvy Backpacker co-founder. “And, after the trip is over, it does feel great to come back to a bank account that isn’t empty.”
These are the money-saving tips and tricks we think hold the most weight.
Make a Budget and Stick to It
While Europe’s allure makes it easy to fall off a budget, stick to a prescribed spending cap.
“A successful budget traveler tracks their spending every day,” Feess said. “They also have a budget and they stick to it. If they overspend today, then they’ll underspend tomorrow.”
One of the trickiest places, according to Feess, is the food budget. While it’s simple to research budget dining options, it’s easy to overspend on food and alcohol. Cooking a few meals or buying groceries to eat as snacks is one way Feess combats excessive food costs.
“Eating out can get very expensive, but it would be a shame to eat cheese sandwiches and ramen every day, because food is such a big part of any culture,” Feess said. “So when you do eat out you want to make sure you’re getting a good value.”
Among the ways to score a good value for meals – and nightlife – is seeking local eateries and cheap spots for bites and booze.
Bring the Family: Travel Is for Everyone
While budget travel through Europe is thought of typically as a single, 20-something’s endeavor, family travel through Europe can be inexpensive.
“My kids are both under 2, so I’m making the most of not having to pay for their flights while I can,” Stott said. “When traveling with kids, we rarely have nights out, so we save a lot of money by not visiting restaurants and bars and that money can go towards more family-friendly activities.”
Stott encourages traveling families to take advantage of sharing-economy accommodation sites.
“You can cook your own meals, have some extra space to stretch out, and stick to your kids’ routines,” said Stott.
Transportation: You Get What You Pay For
When looking at transportation options there are a few things to remember.
“Be flexible,” said Brenna Holeman, blogger of This Battered Suitcase. “I’ve found that by being flexible with both my destination and the dates of traveling, I’ve discovered tons of cheap flights.”
Holeman recommends that travelers base themselves in one area for a long period of time and take shorter trips from that location.
“Europe is such an easy continent to travel around,” Holeman said. “And with the boom of budget airlines, transportation is cheap, too. I live in London. I regularly find flights around Europe for $50 or less.”
Another note of advice: Avoid the temptation to cram in a dozen destinations.
“A lot of young people want to make a grand trip around Europe where they visit 10 cities in two weeks,” Feess said. “The amount of cash they spend getting from city to city ends up being a huge budget-killer. Plus, that much travel wears you out physically and physiologically.”
Accommodation: Think Value and Budget
While hostels and cheap hotels are the trademark of backpacking, splurging shouldn’t be out of the question. After days, weeks or months of sharing a room, a boutique hotel might sound like nirvana.
“I recommend websites like Doris and Dicky for affordable boutique hotels, as they specialize in unique hotels that cost less than £100,” Stott said. “We prefer to stay in self-catering apartments that can be equally as luxurious.”
When skimming apartment rental websites, sometimes a simple request for a lower fee can reduce costs.
“I’ve [renegotiated rental fees] with apartments via email,” Stott said. “If you have the option to contact the owner or manager, send them a message explaining that you love the look of their apartment but it’s over your budget. Tell them what your budget is and the dates you’d like to book it for and, you never know, they might accept.”
Technology: Travel Light and Bring What You Need
While there are thousands of tech gadgets on the market, stick to tried-and-true devices.
“I try to keep things simple, especially if I’m traveling carry-on and need to keep the weight down,” said Dave Dean, founder of Too Many Adapters. “My go-to pieces are some noise-isolating earphones, a Kindle Paperwhite, a multi-USB travel adapter and a combo portable battery and Wi-Fi extender.”
Cellphone Service Abroad
“If you’re from the U.S., both T-Mobile and Google Fi offer low-cost or free calls, texts and data use around the world,” said Dean. “Failing those, roaming still tends to be a horribly overpriced option.”
Dean’s strategy involves buying local SIM cards for his phone, ranging from $10 to $50 per SIM card.
Buying and Filling Your Backpack
Many travel-specific packs are on the market, along with tech-enhanced bags and traditional packs. Feess and his wife vouch for Osprey and Kelty bags, with dozens of types to choose from.
What to take on your trip is inevitably the fount of beginners’ travel advice columns.
“During my first year of backpacking I packed every travel gadget under the sun,” Stott said. “I had so much stuff it was ridiculous. By my second year of backpacking, I learned to pack light.”
For more inspiration, visit http://www.wheretraveler.com.