We get it: you want to take advantage of these super-low fares to Europe while they last, but you don’t have a ton of cash to plan an extravagant trip. No worries! It’s actually pretty easy to plan a cheap Europe vacation without spending a ton of money. It all comes down to planning ahead, being smart about your budget, and saving where you can so you splurge somewhere else.
Ready for some practical tips? Keep scrolling.
1. Take care of the big stuff first.
Typically, the biggest expense of any trip is airfare. When it comes to cheap plane tickets, we’ve got you covered. Most of our flights are discounted up to 30% for students. Europe fares are already pretty low right now, so when you add a discount, you can get a really, really cheap flight. How cheap we talking? If you plan ahead, it’s pretty easy to snag a flight to Europe for under $300 from the East Coast or from around or under $400 from the West Coast.
Now, we know a few hundred dollars isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket on a student budget. That’s where our promo codes come in. Snag a spring break promo code, keep your eyes peeled for a Europe sale or plan waaaaay ahead and grab your tix over Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
2. Big stuff, part two.
The second biggest expense? Accommodation. Little known fact: StudentUniverse also has student discounts on hotels and even some hostels. Score! Depending on where you’re traveling, make sure to check out hostels and other local accommodation. Sometimes these are really the cheapest options. We like to use Airbnb for staying with locals and Hostel World for finding good hostels.
Never stayed in a hostel before? It can feel a little strange the first time, but they’re SUPER popular in Europe—and cheap too! Even in big cities, like Barcelona and Rome, it’s easy to find high-quality hostels where you can stay for only $20/night. Read through some of the reviews to make sure it’s clean and safe, make sure you understand what kind of room you’re booking (6 bed? 10 bed? Female-only or co-ed? etc.) and then go for it!
Pro-tip: Many hostels offer free breakfasts and discounted or free activities, too. Check the descriptions, the hostel’s website and the reviews to see if there might be perks of staying at a given hostel. Free breakfasts and free activities = more savings.
3. Consider the destination.
It’s no surprise that some destinations in Europe will be cheaper than others. London, Paris, Zurich and Rome are among the most expensive. Eastern Europe tends to have cheaper European cities overall—try heading to Istanbul or Budapest for a much cheaper experience. Numbeo’s Cost of Living calculator is a really helpful resource if you want to get an idea of the average cost of a city. You can also compare two cities to each other to see side-by-side which city might be better for your budget.
Of course, this isn’t to say that you should never visit more expensive destinations like London or Paris, or that they can’t be done well on a budget. It’s just good to keep in mind as you’re planning that budget trips will be easier in some places rather than others.
4. Consider the timing.
Europe—like anywhere—is more expensive in peak season, which is typically June-August. This varies by specific region, so do some research, but just know that summer trips will be more expensive all around. If you can travel in “shoulder season” (just before or just after peak season, i.e. May or September) or off-season (for Europe, winter), you’ll save a lot! Hotels and flights and even lots of bookable activities will all be cheaper in spring or fall than in the summer months. Cha-ching!
5. Plan ahead.
It’s cliche, but it’s true: the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the discount. Planning your entire trip one week before your plane takes off might work out, but it won’t be scoring you any extra discounts. Flights, hotels, hostels, activities: literally everything gets more expensive when you get closer to your trip dates. Just take our advice: once you have your trip dates down, book as much as you can.
You can also often save money on activities and museums just by booking your tickets online, even if it’s a same-day ticket. Always check the website and see if you can save money by booking a ticket online (you’ll get to skip the line, too!)
One exception: local train and bus passes (usually) are the just the same price when booked day-of at the train station, so don’t worry too much about buying those in advance.
6. Pick and choose activities carefully.
Europe is a wealth of activities, museums, castles, cable cars, tours, and so on. The bad news? No matter how thick your wallet is or how long your trip is, you really can’t do it all. The good news? You definitely can do some of it, even if you’re on a budget. When you’re booking activities, always ask about student and youth discounts. And consider which activities are most important to you. You may have to give up some to make room for others.
Every city, from Paris to Prague, has free things to do. How do you go about finding them, though? Search the name of the city you’re visiting on our blog to see if we have posts about free or cheap things to do there (we probably do). Search online to see what other travelers have done. Or ask hotel or hostel staff or a local host. (P.S. Pro tip: almost all London museums are totally free. If you’re visiting London, this is a great way to experience a lot of European history and culture without spending a penny.)
6½. Do your research!
Some activities are cheaper on certain days. Lots of cities in Europe—especially bigger ones—have discounts for museums and other things to do on certain days of the week (often Mondays). You’ll also find free-entry days for many attractions, or you might be able to get a discounted (or free) ticket if you’re entering in the evening. (I.e. if the museum closes at 7pm and you get there at 6pm, you might be able to score discounted tickets. Ask ahead of time though!)
7. Save on food.
You’re in Europe, so food is definitely not something you want to be skimping on. Pizzas and pastas, pastries and coffee, bread and cheese, cakes, seafood, sausages, beer: it’s all here and it’s incredible.
However, if you don’t want to go into debt while satiating your food baby, there’s a few things you can do.
- Go out for fancier or larger meals at lunch, when prices are cheaper. Many restaurants will offer the same dishes for a cheaper price during lunch hours.
- Take advantage of open-air markets and other similar places where you can fill up on small plates for cheap. Local markets are a great place to grab lunch (or dinner!).
- Make your own food sometimes if you can. Many hostels and Airbnbs have some kind of kitchen facilities that you’ll be welcome to use. You can stock up on some basic groceries at a store or market and then make a few lunches or dinners on your own. This saves a TON—and if you’re buying local ingredients from a market, you don’t have to miss out on trying local foods.
- Avoid highly-touristy restaurants in the center of the city. These places tend to be more expensive, because they’re convenient and often offer familiar foods for travelers. Be adventurous and wander a bit further from the center of the city, and you’ll find delicious food at great prices. And don’t be afraid to try the street food!
8. Choose transportation wisely.
Trains, buses, subways, taxis, Ubers—if you need to get from place to place in Europe, you have options. Unfortunately, some of those options will be more expensive than others. Plan ahead where you can about what kinds of transportation you’ll need so you won’t be stuck paying for an expensive taxi because you didn’t realize the buses would stop running at 8pm.
And of course, take the cheaper form of transportation whenever possible. Usually, the cheapest form of transportation is your own two feet! Don’t be afraid to just walk around and explore. Many of Europe’s cities—both small and large—are endlessly walkable and sometimes you find the best hidden gems on the way from one place to another.
9. Save money with a multi-use bus or subway pass.
In many cities, you can save money if you pay for a multi-use or weekly subway pass rather than buying individual tickets. For example, in Barcelona, a single-use ticket is €2.20. If you buy a T-10 pass, it’s good for 10 rides on local buses or the metro and it’s only €10.20! That means you’re getting more than half off every single ride.
If you’re confused about the public transportation, don’t be afraid to ask staff at your hostel or hotel or another local about it. They’ll have all the insider tips!
At the end of the day, it’s pretty easy to plan a cheap Europe trip: don’t overspend on activities, buy food at smaller cafes and markets or cook for yourself, walk as much as possible and stay at budget accommodation. Phew! And keep in mind that at the end of your time, whether you’ve spend $100 or $1 million, you still got to make some mems in some of the most amazing cities in the world.
What European city is next up on your bucket list? Start looking at tickets now and get planning.