Backpacking Europe: How To Travel To 12 Countries for Less Than $3,200
If I had to sum up my experience backpacking Europe, I’d do it like this: 2 sisters, 42 days, 12 countries, 1 incredible experience, 0 regrets. It sounds kind of like a tagline from a movie and I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it was really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We met people from all over the world, experienced different cultures, and visited sites where history books came to life. It was truly unforgettable and dare I say life changing. If you’ve ever wanted to take some time off to travel long-term, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do it.
Of course, trips like this come with a price and the first thing on everyone’s mind, undoubtedly, is “how much does it cost?” It’s no surprise that you need money to travel but honestly, you probably don’t need as much as you think to pull off a trip like this. The cost of your backpacking trip largely depends on your route, time of year, and travel style. That goes to say that the luxury traveler will have a completely different trip cost than the money-conscious traveler. If you’re willing to travel in the off-season, it will be significantly less expensive than the summertime. If you prefer to kick it in Western Europe, that’ll require more funds than travel throughout Eastern Europe.
I say this to say, there’s no one-size-fits-all cost when it comes to backpacking Europe, or even travel in general, but I’m sharing what I spent to give you a good idea if you’re in the planning stage or even playing around with the idea of taking your own trip. I traveled to 12 countries WITHOUT spending a fortune AND I didn’t sleep on the couches of strangers to do it. Here’s a complete breakdown of the true cost associated with backpacking Europe.
The Euro trip
My trip spanned across 12 countries and 15 cities. My ambitious itinerary included the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Turkey and a trip to Morocco for a few days to escape the winter weather in Europe. My sister and I mapped out the countries we wanted to visit before the trip so we had an idea, but we did not book anything in advance in case we wanted to change our route.
Before you head out, you’ll need a few key items like a backpack, travel accessories (locks, packing cubes, converters…), insurance, etc. I will not include these into the total price of my trip as I received most of my pre-trip expenses as Christmas gifts, but I will say that you don’t need a $300 backpack. My Marmot Aspen 35L cost a third of that and got the job done.
Transportation was the biggest trip expense. We boarded 9 flights, 3 buses, a train and shared a ride (which sounds a lot like hitchhiking, doesn’t it?). While leaving an open itinerary allowed us to pick cities and countries as we went (like that time we booked a flight to Morocco 4 hours before departure!), it also meant that the cost of transportation didn’t play in our favor. Booking last minute trips, especially by air, gets expensive whereas if you book in advance you can find trips for $30-$40 on European budget airlines. Here’s the transportation breakdown per person:
Roundtrip flight to/from Europe – $175
Flights within Europe – $633
Bus travel – $100
Shared ride (Blablacar) travel – $21
Train travel – $42
Total cost: $971
Throughout the trip, we stayed in 7 hotels, 3 hostels, and 3 Airbnbs that ranged from luxurious 4 star accommodations to 6 bed dorms. While we originally planned to stay in mostly hostels, that quickly changed when we realized that they can sometimes be the same price, if not more expensive than Airbnbs! If you’re willing to sleep in a 10 (20 or even 30!) bed mixed dorm, hostels are very affordable but once you get more selective the price goes up. Renting a room in a house or an entire apartment through Airbnb sometimes worked out to be cheaper (and a lot more comfortable). Here’s the accommodation breakdown per person:
Hotels (19 nights) – $319
Shared home or entire apartment through Airbnb (11 nights) – $194
Hostels (8 nights) – $119
Total cost: $632
Even that total surprises me! I should point out that we stayed a total of 5 nights for free by cashing in our Marriott Reward’s points. As a business traveler, I had racked up quite a bit of points and used this to splurge on a luxury hotel in London and a couple of days on a hotel in Madrid. In retrospect, we could have stretched our points across several countries if we needed to. One more thing – don’t knock trains and buses! Overnight bus rides meant we didn’t need to book a place to stay for the night.
Getting there and where you stay are two major components but the day-to-day expenses are just as important and will take up a huge portion of your budget. This includes food, alcohol, sightseeing, public transportation, etc. and can very greatly depending on individual travel styles. When I travel, I enjoy eating local cuisine as much as possible, visiting a few museums and historical sites, enjoying the nightlife, wandering aimlessly, and getting around on public transportation.
Food: While backpacking, I ate out everyday, for every meal. My advice is to eat like a European – bread and coffee for breakfast, big lunches, and smaller dinners. I also lived for a good 5 course lunch special for €10 (which can be found all over Portugal and Spain). Some backpackers enjoy buying food and cooking their own meals. If this is your style, you’ll save a lot of money.
Sightseeing/Activities: We did a lot of paid attractions in Paris, such as the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, and The Louvre. In other places, we maybe visited a museum or two but opted for other experiences like cycling (Madrid and Amsterdam), taking day trips (Portugal and Amsterdam), the nightlife (London and Valencia), and my favorite – visiting free attractions.
Public transportation: In most places we took public transportation (which is really easy to use) and avoided taking taxis/car services (except in Athens, for instance, where there was a transportation strike the day we arrived). In all countries, there was a LOT of walking.
There were also miscellaneous expenses like purchasing an E-Visa for Turkey and paying city taxes upon check out in Paris and Venice, which are not included in hotel costs. While I did not keep track of every meal, every museum ticket, and every metro ticket, I was very consistent with my ATM usage. Whenever I arrived to a new destination, I withdrew €100 from the ATM to cover day-to-day expenses. In countries that do not use the Euro (Turkey, Hungary, the UK, and Morocco), I took out the equivalent to 100-150 USD which is how I arrived at the below figure. Keep in mind, I bought souvenirs, clothes, purchased new makeup in Greece, and even paid way too much to get my eyebrows done in Spain. These are not included in the cost.
Total cost: $1508
I freely withdrew money whenever I needed and did not incur any foreign transaction fees. This is a huge deal because fees quickly add up! To read more about how I manage my finances when traveling, check out this post on travel resources.
Total trip cost of backpacking Europe for 6 weeks: $3,111
That’s only $74 per day to travel across an entire continent. To give you a little more context, my roundtrip ticket to Morocco in 2009 cost a whooping $1,200 and that was only one country whereas this trip lead me across 12 countries. Before I left on my trip, I spent countless hours scouring the internet for the true cost of backpacking Europe and most advice said to budget between $70-$100 per day. Keeping this mind, I saved on the high end to make sure I had enough cushion to get through the entire trip, but much to my surprise, I spent several hundred dollars less than I thought I would.
As you can see, traveling the world sounds a lot more expensive than it actually is and truth be told, you can’t really put a price on an unforgettable experience. The benefits far outweigh the cost – I promise! With a little bit of planning, you can embark on your own backpacking trip without skimping on comfort. Start by setting up a budget, and when the time comes, search for the cheapest flight to get you there and affordable accommodation during your stay
Tiffany is travel + lifestyle blogger aiming to inspire globally minded millennial women to escape the mundane (if only for a moment), embrace their inner wanderlust, and to boldly live life on their own terms. You can find more of her tip and experiences on her blog.