Budgeting for backpacking across Europe
Friday, 29 April 2016
Imagine packing a single bag and flying to Europe for a six-week vacation to visit 19 countries and 35 cities—all for little more than $8,600.
Tyler Morgan is a LEAP program associate, University of Alabama graduate, and digital marketing employee at BBVA, and the backpacking dream became his reality last summer. Morgan boarded a plane to London on May 4, 2015, and didn't return home until June 14.
His experience included everything from eating spit-roasted frog in rural France to drinking at ruin bars in Budapest to mastering public transportation routes—all while keeping his spending in check. This six-week trip on $8,600 (including flights) meant Morgan had to be seriously disciplined before and during his travels.
We sat down with him to learn how he did it—and how you can do it, too.
When did you start planning for this trip?
I knew I wanted to go the summer before so I started saving at that time, but I didn't get really serious about it until early 2015, about five months before my trip.
How did you know how much it would cost?
I did a ton of research in advance and was on Savvy Backpacker, a site for how to travel cheaply throughout Europe, almost every day. It would tell me how to plan for almost everything.
How did you save for this trip? Did you have $8,600 just lying around?
[Laughs] No. I worked really hard to save. Based on my research, I knew I needed to save about $700 per week before the trip. It wasn't easy to do. In addition to going to school, I was working at the University of Alabama as a corporate account manager 20 hours per week for about minimum wage.
How in the world did you do it?
I took out a small loan and then got serious about cutting corners. I bought a good blanket and turned off my heat for the winter. I showered at the gym to keep my water bill low (it also helped save on soap costs; the gym had free soap). I cut my own hair, I rarely ate out, and I got rid of cable. I also stopped drinking at bars. It all added up.
When planning for your travel, how much did you budget for per week?
The rule of thumb for people on an extreme budget is to factor $1,000 per week, without lodging. I estimated about $800 per week. That was for spending money, which differs depending on which country you visit. What you spend in Paris will be more than what you spend in the Netherlands, for example.
How did you factor in lodging?
The best way to stay within a budget on the road is to go cheap on your accommodations. I highly recommend hostels. You can find great ones for $10 per night. The maximum I spent was $30 per night, and sometimes those would include breakfast. Hostelworld is an excellent resource to find places to stay on the cheap.
How did you deal with food and transportation costs?
Eating out can easily become your largest cost on the road, so instead I shopped in markets. I would spend 4EUR and pick up items for a sandwich. I'd then get a bottle of wine and have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.
For transportation, I booked everything on local sites. Many well-known sites such as Rail Europe offer passes for people looking to visit more than just a few countries, but those passes are generally much more expensive than if you booked rail travel on the local sites for each railway. Just translate the sites into English and you are good to go.
What surprised you the most about traveling on a budget?
It surprised me how much you really can do. A budget can seem limiting, but you have to think of your trip based on experiences. You are living down on creature comforts and up on experience. When you live on a budget, you can spend on amazing things like rides up the Eiffel Tower and camping trips in Scotland. Don't be afraid to splurge a little. Yes, you are on a budget, but don't wait until the end just to realize you have a bunch of money left over. Plan ahead and budget for allowances—you don't want to constantly worry about money.
What advice can you offer travelers who want to take a similar trip?
- Do as the locals do. Asking locals what they liked to do led to some of the best experiences I had on the trip. I stopped a guy on the streets of Budapest and asked him what he liked to do for fun. He told me to take a train to a natural hot springs where there is a party every Friday and Saturday night. He also told me about ruin bars. I wouldn't have known about these things otherwise. You can also walk into hostels and ask the people who work there—who are usually locals—what to do. Don't be afraid to eat like locals do.
- Consider group travel. Joining an organized tour can be a cost effective way to start your trip. I did this by booking my first two weeks with a Contiki tour. Along with about 50 other people, I was able to get my feet wet and learn the ropes before going out on my own. Included in the price was my transportation, lodging, food, tours, and free time to explore.
- Planning is important, but leave room for spontaneity. Plan the countries you want to visit, plan the cities you want to see, but don't plan every minute of every day. One of the best times I had was when I took a group bus trip to Wicklow, Ireland. There, I saw breathtaking views of mountains, met incredible people, and drank the most magnificent Irish coffee I'd ever tasted. You want to leave room for opportunities you didn't plan for.
Start saving for your European Adventure today!
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