You learn a thing or two after living in Europe for a few years, and I have found some great ways to travel that don’t involve paying loads of money for a Eurorail pass (those things are ridiculously expensive…seriously, who can afford that?!) or paying steep fees for a guided tour. Traveling through Europe does not by any means have to be that expensive and there are many alternate options to save money on your next European vacation.
This list covers 5 unique alternatives when traveling through Europe that aren’t widely promoted. And, I add a bonus at the end! This isn’t a deep budget guide, but I do throw in some nearly free options.
An important factor to consider is which countries you plan on visiting. While Switzerland is really expensive, prices are much more reasonable just across the border in Italy.
1. Blind Booking
Blind booking is a great way to fly to new countries and stay on budget.
Here’s how it works: Visit the Eurowings.com website then click on ‘Discover’ and Blind Booking. Once you select your departure airport, you’ll be taken to different trip options. These include things like shopping, beach, snow & ski, culture, and they change throughout the year. Then you’ll see the different cities you could end up in.
From here you have the option to uncheck places you to don’t want to go, for 5 Euro a piece, and the only stipulation is that you leave at least 3 options remaining. Sometimes if you limit too many, you will end up with no flight options so you may have to play around with it. I typically only uncheck places I’ve already visited, although I did go to Vienna for a second time with blind booking and did not regret it at all.
Once you complete your booking, you will get an email letting you know where you’re going! It’s that easy!
Fares typically start at 39.99 Euro one way. These flights are available from Germany only, so your departure airport needs to be from one of the major airports in Germany, but destinations are all over Europe. A huge perk to this type of travel is the spontaneity of it.
Downsides: While I love blind booking, I should mention that there are a few downsides. The first is that you don’t know what time of day you’re flying, so you could book a four-day trip but depart at night and return in the morning, leaving you with only two days at that location (that happened to me once in Croatia). The other potential downside is that there are only certain dates available when you are booking your flight. It’s possible to ‘cheat’ and lookup times for flights, but you’d have to check every possible city for the dates you wish to fly, which is a little tedious.
Busabout is a great alternative to paying for a rail pass. The price tag is also much better. The company offers a large mix of options, from guided tours, excursions, accommodations, to build your own itineraries. They also have hop-on hop-off bus tours, which is perfect for someone looking for slower travel and freedom to explore as they choose.
Along with the hop-on hop-off options, you can book accommodations as well, which are conveniently located at the pickup location. Most of the stays are in hostels, which are generally quite nice. All of the hostels I’ve visited in Europe compare to hotels, just without all the frills. And many hostels have private rooms and bathrooms, so really, there’s no difference.
The hop-on hop-off option stops at 38 cities around Europe, spanning from San Sebastian to Berlin and then Rome, with many stops in between.
If you don’t want to rent a car and would like more ease of travel without the potentially expensive train passes, this is a great option. And while this option typically appeals to a younger crowd, as I approach my mid-30’s I would think this would still be a fun way to travel.
3. Sail Europe (or to save money, take a ferry)
There are many tours that offer sailing vacations and range from 20-something parties to more elegant laid-back options to sailing on a private yacht.
If you are on a budget and don’t need all the extra frills though, you can utilize the countries ferry system. A ferry from Split to Dubrovnik is roughly $32, and these ferries go everywhere. This is the same in Greece. You can book a cheap ferry (like the locals do) and travel from island to island without forking over $1000 for a pre-made trip.
Additionally, in less than 4 hours and for less than 60 Euro, you could go from Venice to Rovinj, a cute coastal Croatian town. From there you could catch a bus for a few Euro to Split. You could even bring your rental car on the ferry too.
Or, if you happen to be in Salerno or Sicily, you could travel to Malta on a ferry for less than $60. From Salerno the ferry is roughly 26 hours, meaning it’s an overnight option. In the winter months, the seas can be really rough, so if you have a sensitive stomach like me this may be best to do in the summer months. There are also shorter options from Italy to Malta, and further north you can take a ferries many countries such as Finland and Sweden.
4. Pet Sitting
There are many websites where you can sign up to watch someone’s pet in exchange for a free stay. Trusted Housesitters is a popular option with plans for sitters and those needing someone to watch their fur babies. There is an annual fee ($120 if you want to house sit), so this isn’t completely free, but it comes insured and with a 24/7 free vet advice line.
5. Camp your way through Europe
If you like fresh air and being closer to green grass than concrete, camping your way through Europe is a great option. There are a ton of campsites in Europe, many more than you’ll find in the states, and there are many options on lakes, near a farm, or on the beach (like in Greece!). Many have full amenities and much more than you’ll find in the states. Things like a shop with local food items and supplies, restaurants, showers, and washing stations are fairly standard. If you’re on a lake or beach, there are usually kayaks and other water rentals for a low price. There is one catch though, unlike the US, many European campsites do not allow fire pits. They typically have grill stations, just not a campfire area. When we camped in Germany at the Titisee, campfires were verboten.
Then there is the decision of whether you will be tent camping or bringing an RV. Renting an RV will be considerably more, so let’s assume you’re sleeping in a tent. With this option, you’ll likely need to rent a car as well, and if not, be sure that the bus or train stops nearby. Euro Camping has an extensive list of campsites around Europe. Please note some are only for RV’s so be sure to check before you bring your tent!
And a bonus!
Another option (and one that is HIGH on my bucket list) is to bike through Europe. If I were to pick a country to start I would likely go with Germany, because it is such a bike-friendly country and they have an extensive network of trails. They quite literally connect every single town in Germany. It’s pretty amazing. Some popular routes are the Romantic Road or the Wine Route. The wine road has many stops along the way, including the famous Dürkheim Barrel, the largest wine barrel in the world. The route is just over 50 miles and has a cycle path that runs parallel to the wine road. Another area I’d consider is the champagne region of France, and there are many other great options for the cycling enthusiast around Europe.
Other ideas to save money:
- Use credit card miles for free hotel stays and flights. This obviously comes at a cost, so if you’re trying to save without using a credit card, you could consider accruing a free stay with a referral. Airbnb, for example, gives you free travel credit when you refer someone and they book through your link.
- Use Skyscanner.net when searching for budget airlines
- Consider your country. Switzerland is beautiful but it is so incredibly expensive that you can blow your entire budget in just a few days here. Instead, pass through on a day trip and stay in a less expensive neighboring country such as Italy.
- There are many car-sharing options and it’s actually a popular way to travel around Europe. BlaBlaCar is by far the most popular.