You’ve been planning that trip to Europe for ages. Spending a few hours every week to plan the perfect itinerary… deciding where you’ll stay, what you’ll see and how many macarons you’ll eat.
But there’s just one problem. You aren’t sure how to travel within Europe for cheap.
We all know Europe travel is more than a check against a bucket list, a Venetian gondola ride, or a romantic dinner atop the Eiffel Tower. It’s a journey where the reality is more beautiful than your dreams.
So it’s understandable that you’d want to experience it, absorb it without breaking your pocket.
What you need to know right now is traveling through Europe on a budget is possible and just as phenomenal. With right tips, tools, and knowledge, you can explore Europe how you always wanted to.
This post (first in a three-part Europe transports series) covers my 6 economic, budget-friendly travel tips and hacks you can use with your eyes closed (or squeezed tight) to travel within Europe like a local.
Use travel forums and resources.
The forums are the mecca for travel planning, especially for choosing the transports. Many of these platforms are filled with hundreds of pages on Europe travel tips and experiences. The online community of enthusiastic, veteran travelers is more than happy to answer your doubts and questions to the best of their knowledge.
- Rick Steves: A well-known American authority on European travel.
- Lonely Planet: The holy grail of travel guidebooks.
- TripAdvisor: A leading travel review site.
- Fodor’s: The largest publisher of travel and tourism information in English.
- Nomadic Matt: A top budget travel expert and blogger.
They’re all absolutely fantastic places to start off your Europe trip planning. Create an account and start looking through the topic threads. If you don’t find a similar topic to your question, simply add a new one.
The World Wide Web is running wild with a plethora of travel search engine platforms that quickly compare and summarize routes, prices, and schedules with a few clicks. Being one of the top travel destinations, the search engines make Europe trip planning a happy affair. Below, I’ve listed the sites I personally used (and loved) on my European endeavor early this year.
Sites for train travel:
- Loco2: One the best booking sites that don’t charge a service fee.
- ÖBB: The national railway system of Austria that offers schedules and fares.
- Seat61: The all-in-one site for train travel around the globe.
Sites for airline travel:
- ITA Matrix: A brilliant travel industry software (owned now by Google) that analyzes flight routes and prices with best results.
- Skyscanner: A travel fare aggregator and metasearch engine. Tip: Use the option of ‘Search Everywhere’ in the To field or ‘Whole Month’ in the Depart/Return one to find cheaper flights near your destination.
- Kayak: Owned by The Priceline Group, Kayak is similar to Skyscanner. Tip: Use ‘Explore’ under the More tab in the main menu to find cheaper destinations within a region.
- Skiplagged: An airfare search engine where you’ll find “ridiculous travel deals.”
- Hopper: A powerful app that tells you when to fly and buy tickets.
- Momondo: Another airfare search engine by The Priceline Group.
Sites for bus travel:
- Busbud: A leading search engine to find and buy bus tickets with ease.
- Busradar: A platform to search, compare, and buy intercity fares in Europe.
Get on mileage programs.
I screwed up big time when it came to miles. First of all, I didn’t know they existed. Then, I didn’t act fast enough to get on airline mileage programs. By the time some sense found a place in my brain, I’d already gone through more than 10 international flights without collecting the miles.
Don’t repeat my mistake.
If you’ve already enrolled in one (smart cookie!), skip to the next point.
Here’s a detailed guide you can use to turn airline miles into your travel wallet.
Remember to get an airline membership which covers partner airlines you frequently use or may in the future. Some memberships allow mileage accrual from family members’ flights as well, like Emirates (yay!). P.S.: Signing up for such programs is free.
Know the baggage rules.
Travel within Europe is absolute fun. You can easily hop on trains, buses, cruises or airlines to go from one country to another without too many restrictions. Perfect for traveling cheap.
The one caveat that comes with economic European transports is their baggage rules. That means each company–irrespective of their type of service–has different baggage policy for every route, fare, and seat compared to their competitors.
Quite significant because the charges for an extra or overweight luggage can cost you anything between €20 to €100, based on your transport company and fare. You can even be denied boarding if you refuse to pay up or can’t shrink your luggage.
I recommend you to closely review the rules before purchasing any ticket.
Always mix it up.
Now that we’ve covered baggage, let’s hop onto my favorite part of Europe travel, and that’s using a mix of transports to go from A to B. It brings color to the otherwise tedious process of leaving and going to a new city and everything in between.
Not only will you save a ton of money, but you’ll get to experience Europe the way locals do.
You may be considering buying a Eurail pass. While they do give you the control to focus more on experiences, they aren’t the ideal option to travel Europe for cheap and without a plan.
Go to the travel aggregator sites like the ones below to find economic routes.
- GoEuro: A metasearch platform to find and compare buses, trains, and flights.
- Rome2Rio: My favorite search platform for comparing economical transport routes.
Get a travel credit card.
This is a lost cause for me. I live in India, and unless I have a substantial income the current travel credit cards will continue to elude me. But you guys, who’re better off than me, head on over here to find the one which offers the best perks and miles for your money.
And for you guys living in the US, the tl;dr summary says Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the industry leader.
All’s not lost though. There’s a less rewarding cousin of the travel card–a forex card. It’s the best option for people who either travel rarely, with a family or aren’t eligible for travel credit cards (like yours truly).
One big advantage: You can preload multi-currency funds in the card (much better than using your international debit card for every transaction). And three disadvantages are the bank charges a fixed percentage for every ATM withdrawal, cross-currency usage (for example, using your Euro funds to pay instead of Pounds in the UK) and selling the remaining funds back to them.
Tip: It’s crucial that you distribute your money into at least three sources while traveling: Cash, debit card, and credit card. You’ll always have access to one or more funds if you fall victim to mugging, theft or loss of belongings.
This article gives a good rundown of all the available Indian forex cards and what to expect when you start to use one.
Sign up for newsletters.
Last but definitely not the least. All the travel companies–whether tour agencies, airlines, or local tourism boards–give out exclusive offers and deals through their daily or weekly newsletters.
In this industry, newsletters are the lucky charms for travelers, always bringing hope and happiness to their inbox. Don’t miss out on them!
You should sign up with your preferred services for Europe travel at least 3 months prior to find and book the best deal. The following newsletters send out a daily email with tons of offers to, within, and from Europe.
Newsletters for great deals
Please note: These newsletters give deals originating from the US and the UK. (If you know one which sends out Europe travel deals from India, ping me right away.)
You can even put an alert on a specific flight on Skyscanner, Kayak, Hopper or Momondo. This is a great way to monitor the airline prices before booking it on a cheaper date or fare.
. . . .
I adored traveling through Europe with different types of transports. If given a chance, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Not only did I understand how locals live through their day-to-day, but I also met people from all walks of life. Some I would’ve loved to sit down with and chill for days on end, and some I was happy to leave behind and never EVER see again.
When you travel on a budget, you give a part of yourself to the local culture and norms. You find another reason to fall in love with traveling (and the world). And nothing can beat that!
How did you make the most of your time and money while traveling through Europe?