Everyone wants to travel. There’s no doubt about it. But a lot of people, especially college students, just don’t have the funds. I didn’t think I’d be able to afford it either. But I studied abroad in the fall of 2016 and visited 13 countries and 25 cities! All without breaking the bank. And I want you to be able to do that, too.
That’s why I’ve come up with 13 Budget Travel Do’s and Don’ts. These simple budget travel hacks can help you save hundreds of dollars on your next adventure, whether you’re visiting Barcelona or the Amalfi Coast. Plus, keep reading to find my discount code and save 5% off your next Bus2Alps trip!
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.
DO Take Advantage of Budget Travel Airlines
If you’re traveling from country to country within Europe, there are a ton of budget travel airlines that you can take advantage of. When I was abroad, we frequently flew with EasyJet and RyanAir. The seats are relatively cramped, and it’s not uncommon to have a delayed flight, but I’ve never had any serious issues with these airlines. Just make sure you bring your travel pillow for a quick nap, and you’ll be fine.
Flights with these airlines typically range from about 50-200 Euro (depending on where you want to go, obviously). If you want to get the cheapest deal possible, make sure you plan your trip a few weeks in advanced.
QUICK TIP: Use sites like Kayak and SkyScanner to compare prices on airlines. Make sure you use a private browser to ensure you get the lowest price possible (airlines often track your browser cookies and raise prices each time you visit the site).
When booking with these airlines, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Tickets are typically nonrefundable. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time at the airpot – if you miss your flight, you’re out of luck.
- Some airlines will charge you to print out your boarding pass at the airport. Avoid this fee by printing your boarding pass at home or by downloading it right to your phone.
- A checked bag is not included in the price of your ticket. I always recommend traveling with only a carry-on (see my next point), but if you must check a bag, make sure you pay for it when you book your ticket. They will charge you extra to check a bag at the counter.
- They are typically quite strict with the size of your carry-on. If it doesn’t fit in the box, you have to check it (and thus pay for it). Make sure you do your research ahead of time.
DON’T Check a Bag
As I mentioned above, budget travel airlines are quite strict with their bag policy. Checking a bag is typically an extra 20-30 euro for bags under 15kg. What a waste.
Avoid this trap completely by packing everything in a carry-on suitcase. I know it sounds impossible, but it’s completely manageable! I once packed for an entire week with just my carry-on suitcase. Don’t forget: you’re allowed one carry-on, one “personal item” (AKA a backpack), and a small purse. Take advantage of that!
Again, just make sure you use a bag that is within (or at least close to) the airline’s required dimensions. You can read more about traveling with a carry-on suitcase here.
Related post: How to Travel with Just a Carry-On Suitcase
DO Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is by far the best way to save and manage your money while traveling. There’s nothing worse than getting hit with hidden fees and expenses. First of all, make sure you research your airline to avoid getting charged for an oversized bag or for not having your boarding pass printed out. Next, find out what time you need to check in and out of your hostel.
And of course, you always want to research the city you’re traveling to before getting there. I love reading other people’s travel guides to do my research. Find out what attractions cost admission fees, how much public transportation tickets cost, and approximate how much you’ll be spending on food. Then leave some room for unexpected charges. If you do all of this, you’ll be able to effectively manage your money while traveling.
DON’T Stick to Just One Method of Travel
Europe has a great variety of budget travel airlines, but don’t overlook other methods of travel. You may just be missing out on a great bargain. There are a ton of high-speed trains that go across Europe – EuroStar, Thalys, and RailEurope, just to name a few. These trains are inexpensive and are pretty time-efficient. If you don’t want to waste any time, you can look into an overnight journey. The trains are comfortable and some even offer free WiFi.
There’s also a number of coach bus companies that can help you get to where you need to go. You can try Eurolines and BusEurope. I once took a bus from Prague to Munich, and the ride wasn’t bad at all. Just like with the trains, the seats are comfortable and they often offer free WiFi.
TRAVEL HACK: Mix and match your transportation methods. Instead of booking a roundtrip flight, it may be cheaper to fly there and take a train back. Be creative! You can use websites like GoEuro to compare flights, trains, and buses.
DO Use Public Transportation (Or walk!)
Sure, taxis are convenient. But they really add up! Plus, some taxi drivers may take advantage of tourists and try to rip you off.
Instead of relying on taxis, buy yourself a bus or metro ticket. Public transportation is cheap (especially if you invest in a weekly or monthly pass) and it’s a great way to experience a new city like a true local.
Public transportation may seem intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language. That’s where the Maps app comes in. If you don’t have data on your phone, plan ahead and search for the directions when you have access to wifi. Take screenshots and pay close attention to your surroundings. You will get to where you need to go. By the end of your trip, you’ll be a master of foreign public transportation.
However, whenever possible, ALWAYS walk to your destination! It’s free, it’s great exercise, and it’s the best way to explore a new city. You never know what you’ll find. Just make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes!
DON’T Exchange Money at the Airport
Airports have terrible exchange rates. When it comes down to it, you’ll just be losing money. To get the best rate possible, I recommend visiting your bank before leaving to exchange money. Exchange for at least a few hundred Euro so that it can last you a while.
If you run out of cash while you’re abroad, take out money using an ATM. Of course you’ll still be charged a fee, but if you take out a large amount of money at once (at least 200-300), you’ll make the most of that annoying charge. In my four months abroad, I only used an ATM three times, so I was able to minimize my transaction fees.
Actually, I don’t really recommend using cash at all. Not only are the fees annoying, but you risk pickpockets. Whenever possible, use a credit card. Apply for a travel credit card before leaving to avoid conversion fees and to earn points on all of your travel purchases. I used the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, but I’ve also heard great things about Charles Schwabb.
DO Take Advantage of All-Inclusive Packages
One of my favorite trips was to the Amalfi Coast with Bus2Alps. Bus2Alps is an INCREDIBLE company for young travelers, and they took care of practically everything that weekend. For about 250 euro, they provided us with private transportation, accomodations for 2 nights, breakfast, a private guided boat tour of Capri, local discounts, and several Bus2Alps tour guides. This was absolutely one of my favorite trips of my semester abroad.
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While abroad, I also utilized Stoke Travel and Discover Excursions. Not only will you save money, but you’ll meet a ton of other travelers your age and make memories to last a lifetime. I HIGHLY recommend using travel companies for budget travel.
DON’T Be Afraid of Youth Hostels
For just tens of euros a night, hostels are the best budget travel hack.
I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous to stay in a hostel the first time. The thought of sharing a room with strangers freaked me out. But they’re really not bad at all! People who stay at youth hostels are, well, traveling youths (just like you!). They’re in the same boat as you, and you’ll often meet friendly people with amazing stories. Your belongings will be safe, as most hostels offer lockers – just don’t forget to bring your travel lock!
In addition, most hostels also offer free or cheap breakfast, as well as free activities like walking tours and bar crawls. So essentially, for a just couple of euro a night, you get a place to stay, breakfast, free activities, and new friends – sounds like a bargain to me!
DO Eat Like a Local
Here’s a general rule: if you can see a tourist attraction from your dinner table, you’re paying too much for your food. Restaurants near tourist attractions typically hike up their prices. Basically, the food quality and price don’t match up.
Avoid this trap by walking AT LEAST 2-3 blocks before grabbing dinner. My friends and I used to just wander until we didn’t know where we were anymore before picking a restaurant. Sometimes it’s good to get lost! Not only will you save money, but you’ll be eating better food as well. You know you’re at a good restaurant when the locals are eating there. If you’re at a loss, ask a local for a recommendation!
DON’T Eat Out Too Often
This goes hand-in-hand with eating like a local. Dining is a HUGE expense of traveling. If you eat out for every meal, you can easily add at least 60 euro a day to your bill. Don’t deprive yourself of dining-out experiences, but don’t overdo it either! You can easily cut this cost by eating strategically.
First, you can book a hotel or hostel that offers complimentary (or cheap!) breakfast in the morning. Most hostels offer unlimited breakfast for just a couple of euro. Enjoy a nice cappuccino and croissant, and grab a piece of fruit for later.
Another great budget travel tip is to browse through a local grocery store. You can prepare a few sandwiches for a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, or you can stock up on easy-to-make meals. When I was living in Rome, I’d go to the grocery store once a week to pick up a bulk of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, and even boxed pasta.
It’s customary throughout Europe to enjoy a nice glass of wine during dinner. That’s fine. But if you’re planning on going out to a club or a bar, expect to drop big bucks on your drinks for the night.
Drinks at a nightclub can cost well over 10 euro. I remember one particular nightclub in Paris charged 10 euro for a single shot!
If you’re planning on going out one night, pick up a bottle of 4 euro champagne from the grocery store, or even a bottle of liquor to share with your friends. Drink up before heading out!
Just a quick disclaimer: binge drinking and public drunkenness is not tolerated in many European cities. It’s the quickest way to label yourself “the trashy American.” If you’re going to drink, do so responsibly and avoid being sloppy in public.
DON’T Buy Things You Don’t Need
This may like an obvious “budget travel tip,” but you’d be surprised how many students fall into this trap. Tourist gift shops are full of junk that you don’t need. That Eiffel tower trinket you just have to have? It’s just gonna sit and gather dust once you get home. It will also take up precious space and weight in your suitcase.
Instead of wasting your money on useless souvenirs, buy something of high quality that you’ll love for years to come. When I was in Florence, I splurged on gorgeous leather boots – best. decision. ever.
DO Use your Student ID
Being a student really does have its perks, especially when it comes to budget travel. Many museums and attractions offer a student discount if you show your ID card. In Paris, I don’t think I paid a dime to enter a single museum or monument. Whenever paying admission for something, always ask if there’s a student discount (even if it isn’t advertised).
If you’re studying abroad, show your European student ID. If not, give your American ID a shot – you never know!
What do you think? Will you be using any of these budget travel tips? Do you have any tips of your own? Leave a comment down below!
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