We planned to spend $8,000 per person, including our flight, for a two month backpacking trip through Europe and one year later, it remains one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. This isn’t the most exciting post I’ve ever written on this blog, but it’s something lots of friends and acquaintances have asked me about since we got back and so I’m putting all the cards on the table and sharing everything I know.
*Edited to add: Sam just emailed me from France to remind me that a year ago when we went, the USD – Euro exchange was a lot shittier than it is now and had we done the same trip this year instead, everything would have been 30% cheaper than it is now. Dang.
The flight, which we purchased a few months in advance, was a weird round trip flight (San Francisco to Rome, Italy and then home, from Madrid, Spain, back to San Francisco). I actually ended up going a month earlier to Rome and then purchasing a round trip ticket that flew from Rome to Entebbe (Uganda) and then back to Rome. It proved massively cheaper (by about $1,000) than flying “directly” to Entebbe (the flight would have gone through Eastern Europe anyways, so it didn’t make much sense) and then on to Rome. I spent $1,137.50 on my USA – Europe flight.
This is an expense that’s not to be trifled with. We got the Euro Rail pass with 11 travel days. The way it works is that you pay a flat fee based on the number of travel days you want in each region or country and then you can use those for a single day of train travel. In each travel day, you can take any number of regional trains for ‘free’ and/or add in a non-regional, fancier train with a reservation (and reservation fee). Most of our trips were on the larger, pay extra trains, but we were able to use the regional trains for a stop in Pisa and a few other little trips that it was nice to see, but probably not worth a whole train ticket’s price. We spent $756 each on the train PASS. (This does NOT include the reservation fees that we also paid.)
We budgeted $80 total (so $40 per person) per night and for the most part we were able to stay within that or even drastically lower than that. This is one place where traveling with a significant other makes a big difference as we stayed in AirBnB apartments all over Europe and almost always shared a bed. This turned out to be massively superior for us: The hostel experience is loud 🙁 and we both had trouble sleeping, plus we found it to actually be cheaper to split a room in somebody’s house than rent a hostel. Everybody that we say this to who is a few decades older than us is a little bit shocked (hostels used to be cheap, I guess!), but for the most part we were massively surprised by the high cost of staying in a hostel. It’s a trendy thing to do and you certainly pay for the quintessential backpacker experience.
That being said, it would be certainly worth it and fun if you are on your own and looking for friends to travel and hang out with. We did stay in a hostel in Switzerland (Zermatt!) and while the sleeping experience still sucked, we had a great time hanging out with a friend we made there. The other spot we stayed in a hostel was in Biassa, outside of Cinque Terre. Again, loud, but totally worth it and a fun experience. These two ended up being two places where the hostel actually was cheaper than anything else or where we couldn’t find another good option.
I have only wonderful things to say about our experience in AirBnB apartments and savings or not, I would highly recommend this method of traveling. Some of my absolute favorite experiences were through our hosts: We had a homemade breakfast and espresso and I practiced my Italian with the sweetest Italian lady that could have been our mother in Florence. We had the greatest home cooked Italian dinner with our host and her sister in Venice, complete with wine and new friends, PLUS two extra tickets to a private concert in a historic church that’s closed to the public usually were dug up and we got to go. For free. In Barcelona, our host invited us to the house BBQ as they/we watched one of the big soccer games in the living room; everybody shouted at the TV in Spanish and we tried our best to follow along. Honestly, I could go on and on. The verdict is that staying in the guest rooms of locals through AirBnB saved us money and helped us have a wonderful time. You can use THIS link and code to book your first stay on AirBnB. You get $25 off your first stay and so do I.
We also used Booking.com for a few nights, notably in Appenzell, Switzerland. Some places just don’t have as much buy in for AirBnB, so it’s good to look elsewhere. I prefer sites with lots of reviews and Booking.com was great for us. We’ve continued to use Booking.com and found most if not all of our South Africa accommodation through the site.
Last but not least, on two separate occasions we were, unfortunately, not able to lock down a place to stay through AirBnB before we needed to leave our last place. It was usually a combination of a lack of planning on our end and some bad luck (leaving Italy we attempted to book at least three different places in Switzerland, but each turned us down – they were out of town and had forgotten to update their calendar, plus it was Easter, so bad timing on our part).
In the end, with nowhere to stay that night, we ended up booking a spot through Hotel Tonight. This happened twice and while it’s not my first choice, I think it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal for a last minute place to stay. These two nights were some of our most expensive travel nights, but I’ve worked with Hotel Tonight in the past and so we had a leg up with some pretty big discounts from them. It’s not perfect, but I want to pass that along to you: You can use code Adventure25 to get $25 off your first night’s stay through this app; You get $25 off and I get $25 in my account. Win-win.
Well, hmm. Mostly, we ate whatever the hell we wanted to, whenever the hell we were hungry. In Italy, we had gelato every day. In Switzerland, chocolate. Etc. Part of the thing we loved about going to Europe was the food and we weren’t about to leave without trying things. That being said, we didn’t go over the top. Mostly we ate at middle budget places, avoided alcohol or other drinks besides water (you have to buy water at the table in Europe; just do it, it’s rude not to and amounts to less or the same price as a tip is in the USA), and didn’t order desserts at restaurants. (Opting instead for “street” desserts, which are cheaper.)
In Switzerland, we cooked at the apartment after discovering that the food wasn’t very good (read: actually kind of gross in many cases) and very very expensive. When cooking in an apartment, we made a lot of pasta with veggies and light cheese or toast with avocado and a poached egg (because it can be cooked without oil or butter, which we did not buy and transport with us).
We did purchase Tupperware that proved exceptionally useful and allowed us to sometimes pack leftover pasta for lunch the next day. Between this, prepared couscous from the grocery store, and easy cheese/bread/salami picnics, we were good for most lunches and train rides. This method was great for keeping us happy – we could eat whenever we each wanted to – lowering the cost for lunch and our overall food budget, saving time, and giving us a bit more money to play with for dinners.
Usually breakfast was a pastry and a cappuccino. In a few places we got granola and yogurt or something simple to stick in our apartment fridge. Overall, I found this method of eating while we traveled to be fairly healthy, definitely delicious, the right amount of food, and within our rough food budget.
We didn’t do every single thing, but rather picked and chose as we saw fit. We mixed in some hikes (free!) and plenty of just wandering around the cities and famous parks (also free!). That being said, there are obviously plenty of things that you must pay for and are totally worth it and we certainly picked museums and attractions that we knew we really wanted to see in each country and city.
In Paris we cut costs a bit by seeing both the Musee D’Orsay and the Louvre on the “free for young people” night, which was great. In Appenzell, Switzerland, our apartment rental included a pass for a free ticket to some of the local attractions, which was a fantastic deal. Overall, do the things you came to do and make sure to see the wonderful historic and artistic attractions, but for sanity and budget, don’t do every little possible attraction that you possibly could if you went page by page through Lonely Planet.
And there you have it! We were in Europe from March 26th through June 5th 2014. That’s 72 days. We spent just over $8,000 each, but I’m rounding it to exactly $8k, United States dollars. Average that out and we spent $111 per person, per day, factoring in the round trip flight from the US to Europe. Without the flight, the trip would have been about $6,800 per person, which comes out to $95 per day.
In closing? Totally totally TOTALLY worth it.
Here’s all the right links: Italy posts are HERE, Switzerland posts are HERE, France is right HERE, Spain is HERE, and all the Backpacking through Europe posts can be found HERE.