The Cost of Traveling Far Eastern Europe

Photo of a gorgeous statue in UkraineOver the summer, I left the popular European tourist trail and saw three of Europe’s lesser-visited countries: Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine. They’re located on Europe’s far eastern border and see few tourists. While Bulgaria sees a few more tourists because of its proximity to the Balkans and acts as a stop on the overland route from Turkey to Budapest, the farther north I went, the fewer travelers I saw. In Ukraine, I only encountered US Peace Corp volunteers and a handful of Europeans.

I don’t understand why—these countries are inexpensive, safe, and lack the overwhelming crowds you find elsewhere in Europe. These countries are half the price of their Western counterparts. In fact, during my 46 days in these three countries, I spent a total of $1,876.50 USD. And that was even taking into account all the sushi I splurged on! That’s a great deal for 46 days in Europe.

While I would normally break down the cost of each country into a single post, I want to put these countries together so you can see all at once how affordable this area of Europe is.

The Cost of Bulgaria

A gorgeous view of nature and a beautiful building in Bulgaria
While in Bulgaria, I spent a total of 1,405.40 LEV in 23 days. That works out to be roughly $1,000 USD, or $43.47 USD per day at today’s exchange rate. In the 23 days I was there, I visited all the major sightseeing destinations, including the expensive and way overrated, Sunny Beach.

How I spent my money
Food: 475.90 (cheap local meals, a few restaurants, and a lot of sushi.
Accommodation: 445.70 (I stayed in dorm rooms and Couchsurfed for five nights)
Alcohol: 259.40 (I partied pretty heavily, especially along the Black Sea)
Buses: 100
Taxis: 19 (A few intra-city and airport taxis.)
Tours/Sightseeing: 53
Movies: 42.5
Water: 8.9
Chess in the park: 1

All prices are in Bulgarian LEV.

How much can you really do it for?
About the same. Excluding my sushi splurge, my daily average would have been around $38.29 USD. I didn’t spend lavishly in Bulgaria or really do anything beyond what the normal budget traveler would do. I used local transport, ate local meals, stayed in cheap hostels. If you aren’t a sushi fan, budgeting $35–40 USD per day in Bulgaria should be adequate.

If you’re looking for nicer accommodation and more restaurant meals, you should consider budgeting $50–55 USD per day. And while these are not the rock-bottom prices you can find in other parts of the world, when comparing them to prices in Western Europe or Scandinavia, things are considerably cheaper.

How to Save Money in Bulgaria
If you want to save even more money in Bulgaria, here are a few ways to cut your expenses:

Couchsurf – Hostels are cheap, but if you want to save even more money on accommodation, you can Couchsurf and stay with locals for free. There are a lot of available hosts in this country.

Cook – There’s a lot of cheap Bulgarian food, especially the pizza, hot dogs, and sandwiches on the street. Cooking your own food will obviously make things cheaper too, especially since the markets have a wide variety of inexpensive fruits and vegetables.

Stay at Hostel Mostel – Staying at this hostel can lower your costs because not only do they offer free breakfast, they also offer free dinner (which also comes with a free beer). Staying here gets you two meals a day. They have locations in Sofia, Plovdiv, and Velinko Tarnovo.

Take Buses – The trains in Bulgaria are more expensive than buses.

The Cost of Romania

Photo of the old town of Brasov, Romania
While in Romania, I spent 1878.30 LEI or $578.83 USD in the 16 days I was there. That works out to be 117.38 LEI or $36.17 USD per day. This covered the cost of travel from Bucharest through Brasov and Transylvania to Cluj-Napoca.

How I spent my money
Food: 724.4 (sushi meals, a few nice restaurants, as well as cooking for three days)
Accommodation: 881 (dorm rooms and two nights in a private room)
Alcohol: 9
Transportation: 113.9 (buses and airport taxis)
Tours/Sightseeing: 80 (Bran Castle, a bunch of museums, and walking tours)
Cold Medicine: 57
Water: 13

All prices are in Romania LEI.

How much can you really do it for?
You can do Romania cheaper than I did. I spent quite a bit on sushi and had a few nights in a private room. Moreover, I got a cold and had to spend some money on medicine, which upped my budget too. $30 USD is a reasonable backpacker budget for Romania, though you’ll probably spend more if you drink.

If you want a few nights in a private room, nice meals, and more sites, your budget will probably come close to $45 USD per day. If you ONLY stay in private rooms, then simply triple the amount of money I spent on accommodation and that’s how much you’ll need to budget for a place to stay.

How to Save Money in Romania
I didn’t find that Romania offered amazing ways to save. There wasn’t really any one thing that I found and was like, “Wow! This is going to be great! My budget is saved!” Outside the normal Couchsurf/cook/eat local tips, the country is cheap enough.

The Cost of Ukraine

The very important landmark: Saint Sophia Church in Kiev, Ukraine
My last stop in the region was Ukraine. While I was in Ukraine, I spent a total of 2377.95 Ukrainian grivna or $297.07 USD in the seven days I visited the country. That works out to be a 339.70 Grivna or $42.52 USD per day. I was in Kiev and Lviv while I was here.

How I spent my money
Accommodation: 740 (I stayed in dorm rooms for about 100–110 grivna per night)
Food: 1122.50 (mostly local Ukrainian restaurants and two fancy sushi dinners)
Alcohol: 261 (two nights out in Kiev)
Transportation: 219.20
Tours/Sightseeing: 10
Water: 15.25
Chess: 10 (I paid to lose at chess in the park. It was fun.)

All prices are in Ukrainian grivna.

How much can you really do it for?
One of the reasons my budget for Ukraine was so high was because I went out for sushi twice. When you exclude those meals from my budget, my daily average drops to 251 grivna or $31.09 USD. I don’t think you can visit Ukraine for much cheaper than that. I was the ultimate backpacker here and stuck to everything cheap.

However, I suggest you spend more and not be so frugal. Splurge on sushi or drinks or a nice room every so often. This country is cheap. (The cheapest I’ve been to in Europe, in fact.) Live it up. Enjoy it, because after the European soccer championship comes here next year, prices will surely go up. The Ukraine is currently one of the best value countries in Europe. Make the most of it while you can.

How to Save Money in Ukraine
If you really feel the need to spend even less money in Ukraine, you can do three things:

Couchsurf – If 5–10 euros per night is too much for you, then Couchsurf and save yourself money.

Head out of Kiev – The country is substantially cheaper outside of Kiev, as well as the closer you get to Russia.

Eat Local – By only eating at local restaurants like Puzata Khata, you’ll keep your food prices down as low as you can. A typical meal here cost me about 30 grivna ($4 USD).

Drinking – This tip actually applies to all the countries mentioned here. In all these countries, you can buy 2.5 liter bottles of beer in supermarkets and corner shops for $1–2 USD. It’s incredibly good value and is the way to party on the cheap.

The eastern part of Europe is the best bargain you’ll find on the continent. These three countries were much more affordable than I’d previously thought, and traveling here definitely helped me correct some of the overspending and higher costs of Western Europe. But, beyond just the monetary savings, these countries are rich in history, delicious food, and offer a challenge for travelers that you don’t find on the well-worn trail in other parts of Europe. I’m so happy to have finally made it out here.

Note: I didn’t visit Moldova because of time constraints, but I’ve heard its prices are on par with the rest of the area. I didn’t go to Belarus either because it costs a few hundred dollars for a visa, and I didn’t feel I would spend enough time there to justify the cost.

  1. jan

    Good informative post. I see from other posts that you really liked the Ukraine. Out of the three countries compared here would you rate it the most likeable?

    • Hi Matt and travel readers ,

      if you ever come to Budapest ( I believe I didnt see it on this page ) then you have 2 free nights with us at our apartment guesthouse, Nova Budapest. We are listed 7th best on tripadvisor. ILove your articles. keep up the great work.


  2. Thanks for the info. My girlfriend and I are currently planning a 6 or 7 month trip. I think we’re going to start in SE Asia, but who knows where we’ll end up. I can’t wait to see Easter Europe someday.

  3. I was shocked at how cheap Romania was. I was there last year during Holy Week, and between a rental car and gas, awful Euro Pop CDs, food, sites, an overnight sleeper car and going out a few times, I spent less in seven days than I did on the ticket from MAD-BUC-AGP.

    My splurge, other than the private overnight train (about 42€ from Gurui Humorlori to Bucharest), was staying with a man named George in Botiza, Maramures. He and his wife treated us to filling dinners, private tours and a comfy bed for 20€ a night. We thought about forgoing the painted monasteries to stay a few more days with him!!

    Informative post – I hope to get back out East soon.

  4. Great info here! I am heading to Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus in January/February. I know Belarus will be pricey but it sounds like Ukraine and Moldova will help balance it out a bit! Would love to know the hostels you stayed at in Ukraine and if you’d recommend them.

  5. Violeta

    There is just one thing about Bulgaria I do not agree with. The trains are considerably cheaper than the buses! I do not know why you’ve got this impression.

      • Atanas

        Violeta is right, Matt. The trains are really a cheaper way of travel in Bulgaria. That`s because they are older and dirtier than the buses. Not like in Western Europe.

    • Charles

      Budget buses are definitely cheaper than trains these days, which doesn’t make sense to me, but this is the case throughout Europe.

  6. I love how well you keep track of your expenses mate! Something I’ve never really done and it’s great to see how it breaks down. I hope I can find a way for my own blog to offer its own unique brand of value. Ukraine is my 2nd favourite place in Europe, but if you really wanted an ‘experience’ you could have checked out Transcarpathia! 25 hryvnia for 1L vodka bottles in the club 😀 😀

  7. Adrienne

    Thanks for the great tips on how to experience an amazing area without having to dig to dip into our pocket! Your advice will be very helpful whenever traveling to Eastern Europe!

  8. I want to visit Romania so bad, since my best friend was born there and wasn’t there for 20 years. I mailed him this post, so he haven’t got the price tag argument anymore. Thanks for sharing, Matt.

  9. just real quick: I don’t like you promoting couchsurfing only as a means of staying somewhere for free. I’m a CSer myself, and I’ve hosted way more than surfed and I hate the freeloaders. If I have guests, I want them to be interested in me, my country, in sharing and exchanging. Just a thought.

  10. well… I think that may change soon for Ukraine, especially with Euro 12 coming next year maybe it will open up to more visitors… will be interesting to see how those countries will progress

  11. I’m also impressed by how you break down your expenses. You must have developed a system over the years. Of course it would be easy if you could put every purchase on a card, like some people manage in the U.S. This is impossible of course. Maybe you keep receipts for most things, but even this isn’t often feasible, e.g., with street eats. Maybe you’re in the diligent mode of noting down everything. I just wonder as I can’t imagine myself getting everything broken down so precisely.

    On another note: I recently feasted on 5 Baht or $.16 street sushi in Bangkok, a dream. :-)

      • rhoan

        hello there Matt,

        My friend and I are planning to to Romania this coming July 17-19, 2015. I would like to ask what were the tourist spots that should be visited during this 2days and what are the local foods there? I want to try.

        thank youa nd advance.

        • Julie

          You should definitely visit Botiza, in the region of Maramures. My son did a Peace Corps experience there for 2 years, fell in love with a young woman from there and we visited for the wedding in 2012. It was an amazing place. They now live in Cluj-Napoca, a much bigger & fun city. The people are so friendly and generous.

  12. Kevin

    Great post, Matt. I have a good friend currently living in Kiev and I’m pretty sure I’ll get there in 2012. This is reassuring.

  13. Haha Matt I think you need to stop eating so much sushi to help with costs… but seeing as its your favourite its hard to cut it out. Thanks for the breakdown in costs. I need to start keeping a diary for my own benefit as well being able to share it as an additional post! Cheers

  14. Don’t feel bad for not visiting Moldova and Belarus. Although Moldova has some good wine, there’s pretty much nothing in Belarus, the capital is more or less westernized, the rest is just mlee..

  15. These pictures are very beautiful. I visited Bulgaria a few years ago. Your pictures bring back so many great memories! Thanks for sharing.
    Twiter: @samoir216

  16. Greg

    Awesome post! I’ve been wanting to go to Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine for some time now. I think I will take your advice :)
    I’m the weary traveler thought – if I got stranded anywhere what would is the general cost of transportation in these countries? I think I’ll be using SOStravelers.

  17. Nadia | Gap Daemon

    Great post Matt. I spent my post-uni gap year travelling through eastern Europe and loved it. Great value for money, huge variety of things to check out and – especially in Belgrade and Budapest – amazing nightlife. Olomouc my personal highlight.

  18. I haven’t hit that part of Europe yet either but I’m itching to go! I recently got the idea of cycling the Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea so I guess I should put aside some time and see a lot more of the region.

    Quick question though: Puzata Khata – is that a type of restaurant (Pot-bellied Peasant House according to one site I just googled) or is it a chain or similar low-cost native food places? My searches don’t seem to want to answer me definitively but I’m leaning towards the chain restaurant choice…

  19. Hi Matt,

    I completely agree with you on this. Originally I’m from France but I spent a year living in Romania and of course travelled in this zone quite a lot. It’s very cheap, so you can do so many more things with the same budget, that’s amazing. The things is that these country really have bad reputation in Europe at least, people are scared of thinking of going there and don’t understand why “you would go there while you could stay somewhere that you know”, a shame. Hungary is quite nice too :)

  20. Peter

    Hey Matt,

    While I like the experience, I was hoping for $25 per day in those places. Would that amount per day work out?

  21. Kris

    Thanks Matt,
    Do you think there are some cheap options for holiday homes with friends as a way to save money.

  22. Scarlet

    This is a great little article, makes me want to go to these places even more, but you mentioned sushi about 30 times

  23. Walt

    Absolutely loved Romania….the people were friendly and helpful….the sights were fantastic….went up and down the Transfagaran Highway…..the food was cheap and very good……I look forward to going back!

  24. Julie

    Great breakdown. I’m doing a similar solo back pack this summer (hh hath romania serbia bosnia and slovenia). Curious as to where how you think is best place to do money exchange? Pre trip to have a bit before getting to each country or in each country (airport/bank etc ). Thanks!!!

    • Dee

      @Julie: Depends how u get there. If u fly in, as far as Romania goes, avoid the airport exchange houses. They have the worst exchange rate. The regular exchange houses are better than the banks. You should have enough RON to pay the taxi driver and thats all (50 RON tops) In Bucharest there are non stop exchange houses everywhere.

  25. helen

    do you find the buses from poland south to hungary , and romania are safe for an older woman traveling along. especially the night buses? thanks for response

  26. Josie

    Great post! We are looking to spend 3 months in eastern europe next summer before moving on to SEA. Do you think it is still confortably doable with 50USD per person per day? We are a couple, we don’t drink but we like to move a lot… Thanks a lot!

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