11 Ways to Save Money While Traveling Long-Term in Europe
Traveling long term (three or more months in a row) can be expensive especially in Europe, but there are so many ways to save money while country-hopping. I managed to travel for a year with a small budget and a part-time income, but it was just enough to keep me afloat as I went by also incorporating these money-saving hacks. If you're thinking of traveling longterm, there are a number of ways to save money as you go. Here are some of the tricks I implemented while backpacking through Europe.
Couchsurfing is exactly what it sounds like: you stay with people in other countries by sleeping on their couches. It's a great way not only to save money but also to meet locals around the world. Couchsurfing began on the idea of "living like a local," and many people using the app and the website still stick to that objective. However, I noticed that a lot of travelers have started complaining about the fact that some have started to use it as a dating app. Female travelers should definitely do their research when considering this as an option and have a backup plan in case they need to leave a bad situation. In terms of payment, accommodation is completely free, but it is kind of expected that you bring some kind of gift to the person you're staying with, or at the very least, treat them to a meal and/or drinks.
Personally speaking, I had nothing but positive experiences on Couchsurfing and still keep in touch with my first host and her friends. Couchsurfing is not only limited to staying on someone's couch; you can also use the app just for meeting up and becoming friends with other travelers. I met a really cool new friend this way who messaged me on the app and we really hit it off!
Note: If you are planning using Couchsurfing JUST in the interest of saving money, I would not recommend it. You have to be willing to spend time with your host and be open to the experience of spending time with a stranger. Sometimes, the host makes it clear in the beginning that they might not be able to spend time with you, but you just have to feel out the situation first.
2. Stay With Friends / Acquaintances
If you're looking for a place to stay and you know someone who lives there, why not ask if you can spend a few days with them? It's similar to Couchsurfing, except you're staying with someone you actually know, which could definitely quell some of your stranger-danger woes. If you don't know anyone in the country that you're visiting, ask around; you never know if a friend of a friend is in your future destination.
Pro tip: I got into the habit of "Checking In" on Facebook whenever I got to a new destination, and I can't even begin to tell you how helpful it actually was! Although it may seem like you're bragging and being all, "Look at me! I'm a world traveler and I'm going to all these places," it actually was more of a way for me to keep track of where I had been to and to see if anyone was there that I knew. Surprisingly, this also allowed friends to comment on my Facebook "Check-In" and tell me that their friend was also in the same location and that we should meet up. I always ended up getting some great introductions to new friends, reconnecting with old acquaintances, and getting some crowd-sourced travel recs and tips.
3. Stay in Backpacker Hostels
Backpacker hostels are a great way to save money while traveling and also a great way to meet other adventurous, young travelers. You can choose to stay in dorms or private rooms which will cost you more. Oddly enough, all female dorms also cost more money, which is super unfair (why should women have to spend more money just to feel safe?). ANYWAY, this might be a blog post for another time. I digress.
Many hostels have an age restriction - some places only allow those aged 35 and under to stay in each place, and some don't have a limit. It will usually say when you book online. I typically use Hostelworld to book. The nice thing about Hostelworld is that you can also see who else is staying at the hostels you're considering. On the booking page, it will show the nationalities of the other guests; names and private information are not released because that would definitely be illegal, but it's still pretty cool to see who you might meet from where before you go.
These were some of the hostels I stayed in in Europe and would recommend (these are also affiliate links):
- Amsterdam, Netherlands: Generator Hostel - I loved this place! It was inside a renovated school building. One of the best-designed hostels I've ever been to.
- Berlin, Germany: Sunflower Hostel - In the trendy neighborhood of Friedrichshain, there's a lot to do around here. The hostel is still pretty new as of 2017.
- Antwerp, Belgium: Antwerp Backpacker's Hostel
- Bruges, Belgium: St. Christopher's Inn, Bauhaus Hostel - Bar downstairs, hostel up. Good crowd and really nice staff.
- Galway, Ireland: Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel - One of the first hostels I stayed at on my trip! The people that work here are so nice. Free breakfast and facilities!
- Lille, France: Hostel Gastama - really great location in the old part of Lille. This is on the cutest street.
Other sites I recommend for finding cheap-ish accommodation:
- Airbnb.com - By the way, if you've never used Airbnb before, use my link to get $40 off your first booking!
- Booking.com - Here, you can book Apartments, BnBs, Guesthouses, and more.
4. Buy Groceries and Make Your Own Food
Part of the experience of traveling to a new country is trying the food, but sometimes that can really add up. I decided to save money by only going out for food once or twice a week at most, but I was primarily cooking food at the hostels I was staying at for a lot of the time. Many hostels had kitchens and cutlery, making it super easy to cook my own meals and it was way cheaper to do that than to eat at restaurants every single day. Plus it's also much healthier.
In Europe specifically, there are TONS of affordable grocery stores to shop at. Plus, wandering into foreign grocery stores has become one of my favorite hobbies. I just like to look and see what other countries are consuming. (Is this weird? I feel like I'm not alone in this, haha.) Here are a few that I often frequented to buy my foods.
- Carrefour (French): Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey
- Lidl (German): Basically in all EU and Schengen Zone countries
- Konzum (Croatian): Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia
- Tesco (English): Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Slovakia, U.K.
5. Cut Down on Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is super expensive and is an easy cost to cut out, especially while traveling. Granted, going out to bars is also a good way of getting to know other travelers, but it's not completely necessary to drink while getting to know someone.
For me, this was an easy one to cut out of my spending budget as I wasn't a big drinker, to begin with. Plus, not being hungover every day was really great. On the days that I did drink I was less motived to go out and sightsee the following day and felt less productive with my online work.
6. Consider Becoming Vegetarian
Vegetarianism isn't hard to do while traveling. In fact, many travelers I met were vegetarian and had either become one while traveling or started out as one. Dishes with meat tend to be more expensive, so if you are trying to save money, then you might want to consider vegetarianism. Many countries offer veg-friendly options, and every single country has its own produce. Hummus and carrots it is!
How do you find vegetarian and vegan restaurants abroad? You can always just do a Google search or use the website Happy Cow.
(If you decide to leave Europe and go to Cape Town, check out my recommended list of vegan restaurants.)
7. Find a Volunteer Exchange
This is one of the best ways of saving money while traveling. Plus, volunteering abroad allows you to experience each place more slowly. Typically, volunteer exchanges range from two weeks to a few months depending on the expectations and requirements of your host. I volunteered at four different hostels while traveling, and while I had mixed feelings about certain experiences, they were overall pretty positive and allowed me to save money on accommodation. Volunteering isn't just limited to working at hostels: you can work on a farm, teach kids English, etc. I found all my opportunities by getting a $20 annual membership through Workaway which offers hostel work, farm work, family stays, and more. You can also find hostel opportunities on the website, World Packers.
8. Don't Buy Things You Don't Need
If you're backpacking longterm you don't want to be carrying around souvenirs--trust me! The weight adds up very quickly. If it feels like a test for you to walk through markets and store shops, then don't do it.
That being said, unexpected expenses will come up during your trip. There were a few times in my trip that I needed to replace items or buy things I forgot to pack, but I tried to make sure they were only necessary purchases: new sneakers, a coat for when the weather got colder, band-aids, a reusable water bottle. But otherwise, I rarely spent money on things I didn't need.
You don't necessarily need to keep track of your spending, but it's good to be aware of what you're spending money on. Waiting to look at your bill at the end of the month and having a big surprise waiting for you is never fun. It can help to write stuff down or save receipts. I used the Mint app for a little while, and it helped make me more aware of my finances.
9. Go On Free Walking Tours
Most countries in Europe offer free walking tours. In fact, I think many countries probably have them. Even though they are marketed as "free," it's expected that you still tip the tour guide at the end of the tour. Regardless, this is an inexpensive way to explore different cities on a budget. I recommend the tour operator, Sandemens (offering tours in 19 cities in Europe). One of the best cities to take advantage of free tours was Budapest! They had maybe the most interesting selection of free walking tours that I had seen, such as the Communist Tour and the Street Art & Graffiti Tour.
10. Book Transportation and Accommodation as Early as You Can
Making all your bookings in advance is one of the best ways to save money. Almost everything is cheaper when purchased ahead of time, however, you end up being tied down to certain travel dates. If you don't mind that so much, then it's a definitely worth reserving hostels, flights, and even tours a few weeks to a few months before you get to each place.
To check for cheap transportation in Europe, I loved using GoEuro which compares trains, buses, and flights all in one convenient search engine. Often times, flights are also cheaper than Eurail trains. The budget airlines I've used in Europe are:
If you are bringing just a carry-on, then you can definitely find really cheap flights. A checked bag will cost you extra on these carriers. If you want to know how to pack minimally, read my packing post here.
11. Sign Up For a Travel Rewards Program
Getting a credit card that will earn you travel points is a great way to save as you spend. You can earn money towards future trips just by using your credit card on literally anything. I have over 65,000 points saved that I can now spend on flights and accommodation just from using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. There is also no international transaction fee when you use your card abroad. It's honestly the best! I love that card so much and use it whenever cash isn't required.
How to Save Money While Traveling Long-Term:
- Stay with friends
- Stay in backpacker hostels
- Buy groceries and make your own food
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
- Become a vegetarian
- Volunteer at hostels or other places
- Be conscious of your spending habits
- Go on free walking tours
- Book transportation and accommodation as early as you can
- Sign up for a travel rewards program with a credit card like Chase
Did I miss anything? What are your tips for saving money while traveling?
Thanks for reading!
P.S. - This post contains affiliate links and helps keep my site running. So, if you'd like to support me and my blog efforts, please book using the links sprinkeled througout thispost. Thank you!