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Best Ways To Travel Around Europe On A Budget

Posted by Abbey Krzymowski on 12/6/23 7:00 AM


Are you headed to Europe and have quite a bit of country-hopping on your itinerary? Here are some of our tips for making it happen (even while on a budget)! 

Whether you're headed to Europe for the first time for a quick trip, or spending a whole semester living in Europe as a volunteer with International Language Programs, you probably want all the tips on how to make your vacation a success. One of the main things we hear from our volunteers traveling around Europe is how to see their dream cities without breaking the bank — We get it. Spending less money on the bus or train means more money on museum tickets in Austria. gelato in Italy, and beach cabanas in Greece.

What's this about living in Europe as a volunteer?
Come check out which countries you can volunteer in with ILP! 

Don't let your budget stop you from traveling to Europe. I was so glad I found friends willing to save up for a trip to Europe with me (and even more glad when I found out some ways we could all stick to our budgets). I'm even more glad those tips worked in multiple countries because they've been saving my savings account when I was volunteering in Europe for a whole semester, and when I went back for another trip just for fun. If you're in the same boat, you're in the right place — here's all the info you need to start.

Traveling Around Europe On A Budget 

ILP Adventure

Going By Plane

This may surprise you, but flights can actually be the cheapest (and often most time-efficient) way to travel around Europe. Every semester we have volunteer groups that find crazy good deals to dream countries, like a $30  flight from Rome to Athens. Yep, that actually happened.

Budget airlines will be your best friend if you want to country-hop in Europe.  You can get major deals from hubs: sometimes less than $20 from country to country for a one-way ticket. We love love love those prices. Just know that some budget airlines can be tricky — sometimes, you can end up paying way more for a ticket just because of fees. For tips on avoiding all the budget airline fees check out this blog post.

Knowing all the budget airlines to research in Europe can also help. Here is a list (and other tips about) of budget airlines in Europe. That post has info on the hubs in Europe, which can also get you a good deal. 

Lucky for you, we've written even more specific info if you'll be traveling in one or two of these countries and want to know where you can jet off to, for cheap. 

Tips For Getting Those Cheap Flights

Check multiple airlines — Check out sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights ... but don't forget about the websites of specific budget airlines

Opt for one-way tickets — Sometimes, you can snag prices under $20 for a one-way ticket. Then, you can travel to your next destination by a one-way ticket, or by train or bus (more on that, below). 

Travel light — We mentioned this before, but budget airlines love to add fees to your ticket. Things like choosing your seat, checking a bag, and even printing your ticket often have fees. If you can travel with just a carry-on, that'll reduce your flight cost. 

Keep other airports in mind — London has several airports, not just Heathrow. Often, the biggest, main airport is going to be the most expensive to fly into, but you could save by flying into another one of London's airports instead. You'll have to consider the cost of getting into the city from a more remote airport, but sometimes it helps you save quite a bit. 

ILP Europe

The Deal With Buses

On my last trip to Europe, I primarily traveled by bus. We did a lot of local, intercity bus travel once we arrived at our destination, but to get between cities (and different countries) we took long-distance buses. We flew into Germany, then took a bus over to Austria, then a bus between Hungary and Slovakia, before heading into Poland. So fun, so easy, and very affordable. 

I loved traveling by bus for a lot of reasons —price was one factor, but I also loved being able to look out the window between cities, and loved that it didn't come with the hassle of air travel. Maybe your flight is just an hour long, but you'll likely need to get to the airport 1-2 hours earlier, go through security, then go through the hassle of de-boarding and waiting for your bag if you checked one. That travel time adds up, even though things look like a quick 1-hour flight at first glance.

On the other hand, when you're traveling by bus, you can just show up to the bus station a few minutes before departure and be on your way. Then when you arrive, you just snag your bag and de-board the bus which takes less time than de-boarding a plane (plus, the bus station is usually in a more central location than the airport).

Oh, and some countries may know these long-distance buses as coaches (so when asking, ask for the coach station or coach schedule — "bus" may refer to local, inter-city buses).  

Booking Bus Tickets 

You have a lot to choose from. Certain countries will have their own bus lines and companies, but for overall Europe travel, Flixbus or Omio are usually what I go with first. I've had friends who prefer Eurolines, if that's helpful to know. 

Getbybus and Busbud are two sites that can help you with bus tickets, routes, and schedules. 

Like airlines, there are certain routes and days that are going to be more expensive. Sometimes, Flixbus has tickets for $5, so if you're not too fussy about where you're going in Europe, you can snag a killer deal. Shopping around with the different locations and dates can help you keep to your budget. 

About Overnight Buses 

Buses are actually a great option for overnight trips if you're trying to save a few bucks because then you don't have to pay for accommodation that night. We have a lot of volunteers who take advantage of night buses on their weekends to see as much as possible during their semester. For example, you could leave on a Friday night, arrive at your destination early Saturday morning, spend all day in that city, and then leave Saturday night from that spot. This gives you all of Sunday to catch up on sleep and prepare for the next week of volunteering Traveling like this is exhausting (I don't get my best night's sleep on a bus) but it can make for a very affordable weekend when you're just paying for a bus ticket to get you there. 

ILP Europe

A Bit About Trains

Trains aren't an option to and from every destination, but they can absolutely be a great way to travel quickly between cities. In some countries, you'll find that train is absolutely the way to go — some countries have high-speed trains that match flight times (or are faster, considering all the planning and time that goes into air travel that was covered before). 

Booking Train Tickets

You can check out Omio for train options, but there are other sites too, that might be better. RailEurope is a popular choice to look into tickets and routes between countries (and cities within the same country). 

Some countries have their own train system. You'll want to look up on their site for ways to save, like booking tickets in advance, or seeing if there are discount codes. For example, if you'll be traveling extensively in France, it may be worth it to buy a pass. They have discount passes that mean train ticket prices are capped, even if you book last-minute, with discounts on other routes. These deals typically only work within countries with their own train system. 

A Few Train Tips 

Some countries have a shared train system — EuroStar is a high-speed train system between the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. EuroCity connects Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, and France. There are several, but knowing the shared train system can get you more direct routes from country to country if they're all in the same network.

RailEurope has a breakdown of these shared systems (just scroll down on their page until you see "Train Guides". Then, you can click into the different network to see the shared countries). Trainline is another one to check out for routes and rough prices. 

Look into a multi-country pass — It typically isn't the most budget-friendly option, but we're including it here just in case it's helpful to know about. Eurail offers passes that give you continuous days of train travel between dozens of cities for a fixed price. There are also passes where you can purchase a certain amount of travel days in a 2-month period (for example). Again, these are typically $200 - $700, but if you're in a situation where you can cram in a ton of travel during the high seasons, where prices are higher, it could be a good choice to pick. Learn more here

Booking tickets in advance. For many train tickets, buying in advance will save you some money (sometimes tickets are as much as 30% or 50% off if you're booking early!). If you're an ILP volunteer, you will know your vacation dates once you arrive in country — maybe your vacation is at the end of your semester, or maybe it's towards the beginning/middle. It may not mean you have a lot of heads up time, however, you have every single weekend off from volunteering. That means you can get together with your group and plan a fun weekend away via train months in advance if you'd like. Even booking 30 days in advance vs 7 days in advance can mean saving a decent chunk of change. 

High-speed trains — These are quick but can be pricey (sometimes a flight is less money than a high-speed train). Is getting there 2+ hours faster worth the extra cost, or could you spend that time on a slower train/bus to save a few dollars? 

ILP Europe

Quick Tips That'll Help 

Deciding Between Buses, Trains, And Planes?

When you're first planning your itinerary, it can be hard to figure out how to get from one place to another — is a plane going to be the best? Are trains much faster than a bus to this location? What's my most affordable option? I like to use Rome2Rio for this — you just type in your two locations and they'll search how to be from Point A to Point B. It pulls up all of your options and a rough price estimate most time, making it easy to compare your options. Once I figure out rough prices and times, I'll look on Omio to double check and book from there if I'm taking a train or bus (Omio also has a handy compare tool to use if you prefer). 

Countries With A Price Tag 

Certain countries are just more expensive to travel to than others. There are just some things that make a country inherently more expensive to travel to — cost of living, hotel/accommodation prices, food prices, ticket/entertain costs, and the exchange rate are just a few things to consider. Of course, how you spend your money is a big part of your budget, but just the country you're in makes a huge difference. Want an example? My daily costs for my trip to Germany was around $100 a day for everything (meals, overnight accommodation, transportation, things to do, etc.). In Romania, it was about $25. 

Generally speaking, Western Europe is going to be a more expensive vacation than if you spent it in Eastern Europe. We have a list of European countries for budget travelers here (which includes some of my favorite cities!). 

Traveling On A Budget 

A lot of our ILP volunteers are college or just graduated high school, which typically means funds are tight. We're all about making things as affordable as possible, with discounts and so many fundraising tips to help you afford the cost of your location's program fee. We also have tons of tips to help you travel on a budget while you're out exploring — tips that I've used on my own trips! 

Here's more on how to travel on a budget. 
How to backpack Europe on a budget 
Here's what 4 months of traveling in Europe cost me
Take advantage of Europe's free walking tours

Choosing Where To Go 

This may be the hardest thing about your Europe trip ... deciding where you want to go! It's so tricky in Europe because the whole continent is very well connected ... you can get to pretty much anywhere in a few hours by train, bus, or plane. It's hard to zip around a cram in as many countries as possible, but one way to save is to narrow down your list and spend more time in fewer spots.

That way, your budget isn't going to train or bus tickets every other day and you have more time to explore the spots on your list. The first time I went to Italy, I was just there for 2 days (just in Rome). The second time I went, I spent more than a week there, just visiting two cities. My trip felt less rushed, way more relaxed, and I actually had time to see and do all the things I wanted to before jetting off to another city for 48 hours (or less). 

It may help to decide on an area of Europe to explore so you're not crisscrossing the entire continent in just 6-7 days. Here's your total guide to the top spots in Europe.

ILP Adventure

Have questions about what volunteering with ILP would actually be like?  

A semester abroad can be an incredible experience, but obviously it helps if you know a bit about what you're getting yourself into.
Click the link below to learn some of the basics:

  ILP Adventure How it all works



Topics: All The Travel Tips, Europe

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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