Posted in Travel Tips on January 11, 2013
One of the biggest surprises with people I talk to at home is they still can’t get their head around how I can afford to travel the world on an incredibly low amount of money (in relative terms). In a year of travel around Europe – which is one of the most expensive continents to travel in the world – I spent approximately €7000 including all flights, accommodation, food, and tourist activities. When I tell people about this though they just can’t believe it doesn’t cost at least double this figure to travel each year, with some even believing you need as much as €40,000 for a one-year trip. You don’t. In fact, if you can get a working visa somewhere abroad you’ll only need a couple thousand Euros with you to cover your flights + first few months abroad until such time that you get a job. So the question is – how the hell do you save money as you travel so that you can still have a good time and not be on the breadline?
Stay in hostels, budget accommodation, camp, or couch surf
Predominantly when I travel I stay in backpacker hostels. Alternatively I may stay in a cheap little B&B or a budget hotel if I’m sharing with someone. When I’m on my own though hostels is the way to go because they are just so much cheaper for solo travellers. The average price of a dorm room in Western Europe is about €15 per night in a hostel, but a hotel could quite easily cost you about €80 per night. That’s immediately a €65 per night saving and is a large part of how I manage to travel on so little all the time. If you’re into camping you’ll save even more, and couch surfing could make your accommodation costs next to nothing, but it all depends what type of accommodation is best for you.
Budget airlines all the way!
Where Europe does win on price compared to other continents is the cost of flights within the continent using budget airlines. I know my friends from North America are always astounded at how cheap it costs to fly a long(ish) distance in Europe compared to what they pay at home. For example, to fly a round trip from my home city of Edinburgh to Tenerife in the Canary islands in December it only cost me 100 GBP. The flight is over 4 hours long each way, and included all taxes, luggage, and all other fees. It’s very possible to get one-way flights in Europe though for as little as €30 or €40 including fees during the off-peak season too depending upon where you’re flying and how early you book. Although there are certain low-cost airlines which I am not a fan of personally, if you make sure to stick to their rules rigidly you will often fly very cheap to pretty much any country within the continent.
Experience the outdoors!
Going to the beach doesn’t cost money if all you’re doing is going to the beach. The same goes for hiking, walking, or other ‘back to basics’ style outdoor activities. There is beauty in just going for a walk and taking things in. There’s also a beauty in meeting new people, learning a little bit of a foreign language, and just being outdoors in the sunshine. Sometimes the most beautiful parts of a country are outdoors and are therefore something you don’t need to pay for. Sure, maybe it’s cool up top of the Eiffel Tower, but taking pictures from down below will cost you nothing. I suppose it depends what you value as important on your travels, and everybody has to do what’s best for them, but for me I am happy mostly doing the simple things that don’t cost a lot. In fact, they are often what makes my trip special.
There’s always something to do for free in a city
In Europe especially you’ll often find museums and art galleries are free either all the time, to certain groups of people such as students, on certain days or during a certain time of the day. Do a little bit of research online before you go and you’ll know exactly when and where to go to get in without costing you a bean or maybe getting a discount instead of paying full-price. What I have found in every city I go to though is that there is always something to do for free that you would usually expect to cost money. It may be a museum or art gallery like that mentioned above, but it may also be an outdoor cinema, or free entry to another tourist attraction. Check the official websites for each attraction you’d like to visit and you’ll usually find out. Google is the greatest invention of recent times!
Exchange your money at ATMs
By enlarge you’ll always find that taking money out of an ATM abroad offers a much better exchange rate and a smaller fee than exchanging money at a foreign exchange booth. In fact, I think in the last 4 years I have only once not used an ATM abroad to take out money and that was because the ATM was broke, I was in a small town with no there ATMs around that I could see, and the foreign exchange booth next door was open! If you’re going to be in one country in particular for a long time you also may save even more money by getting a bank account there and putting some of your money into it. This way you won’t get all the foreign transaction fees which do add up over a year.
Avoid taxis like the plague!
Taking a taxi to/from the airport every time you arrive in a new European country is a sure fire way to end up running out of cash fast! Public transport in even the most expensive Western European countries is still usually quite cheap. For instance, to take a train from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport right into the centre of Amsterdam it will cost you €2.50. A taxi will cost you €50. Even if there’s 2 or 3 of you sharing a cab, that’s still a huge saving by taking the train, but it’s amazing how many people don’t know this (or try find the info online before going) and just jump in a cab automatically.
Pace yourself with eating out
On a typical 2 week vacation abroad it’s common for most people to eat out everyday. However, when you’re travelling abroad for several months or for an entire year this is just not practical if you want to live on a budget. In Western European countries especially you’ll save so much money by limiting the amount of times you eat out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should never have a meal out on your travels. However, usually I try to limit myself to 2 times per week. I might do it 3 times in a week if I’m in a city where it’s quite cheap to eat out, or if I arrive into a destination late/early when supermarkets are closed or far away. For a whole year of travel though you really need to curb it as much as you can. If you’re staying in hostels you’ll usually have kitchen facilities there to cook & store food, or occasionally I see backpackers who travel with a little electric stove, but you’re best bet is hostels or self catering accommodation so you have the facility to eat in. By buying local produce and attempting local recipes you also don’t have to miss out on the local experience when it comes to food either!
Team up with other travellers
You’ll meet a lot of people on your travels. You’ll most probably meet a lot of other backpackers on certain routes through Europe. In certain destinations it’s not possible to get there cheaply, or maybe you want to go on a road trip? If you have 2 or 3 people to share the costs of renting a car then suddenly trips become more financially viable. They can also be a lot more fun! The same goes for buying food. Sometimes it’s cheaper to team up with another person and buy food in from the supermarket than it is to buy for 1 person.
Travelling doesn’t need to be as expensive as you may think. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your expenses. Hopefully the above easy tips will help you on your future travels.