Last Updated: 7/12/21 | July 12th, 2021
Traveling around Europe can be expensive. Airline tickets, high-speed trains, overnight trains, ferries — they all eat into your limited (and precious) travel budget.
Fortunately, there are ways to get around Europe on a budget. The sharing economy, new bus options, discounted train passes, and lots of budget airlines — there are tons of options for navigating Europe without breaking the bank.
I’ve been traveling Europe since I started backpacking there in 2006 and have seen so many things change over that time period. I’ve watched travel hacks come and go and prices change and change again. While COVID has impacted things, as the continent slowly reopens, I can honestly say that it’s never been easier to get around Europe because there are so many new cheap ways to travel the continent.
Here are the best ways to travel around Europe on a budget:
1. Traveling Europe by FlixBus
Over the last few years, a new company has entered the market and totally changed the bus system in Europe. German-based FlixBus acquired Megabus Europe and has routes all around the continent. Prices start as low as 5 EUR and their buses include Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, free baggage, and comfy seats. They’re comparable to Megabus in pretty much every respect (Megabus still runs in the UK).
FlixBus quickly became my favorite non-train way to get across Europe cheaply. It’s not fancy by any means, but it’s the cheapest way to get around.
2. Traveling Europe by Busabout
You can buy tickets that let you travel their whole network with a set number of stops. They have short passes for trips of 5-12 days as well as passes that last 6 months.
When you consider the soft benefits of a guide, the day trips included in your pass, and the ease of meeting people, Busabout becomes price comparable to trains and flights (though still more expensive than a regular public bus). The only downside to Busabout is that if you want to visit a city that is not on one of their routes, you have to make your own way there at an added cost.
Note: As of June 2021, Busabout has suspended its service due to COVID-19. Service will re-start in 2022.
3. Traveling Europe by Budget Airline
By far one of the cheapest ways to travel long-distance in Europe is by budget airline. These airlines are hugely prolific on the continent and competition has led to incredibly cheap fares. It’s not uncommon to find flights for as little as 10 EUR!
Just remember that budget airlines make most of their money through fees. They are very strict about baggage limits or and many will ding you if you forget to print your boarding pass. Don’t expect any complimentary drinks or meals either. But if you follow the rules and know what to expect you can save a ton of money!
Some of the budget airlines to check for cheap flights in Europe are:
- Wizz Air
- Norwegian Air
For more information, here is a complete guide to finding cheap flights!
4. Traveling Europe with a Eurail Pass
I love traveling by train: sitting in a big seat, relaxing with a book, and watching the stunning landscape go by. It’s more comfortable than a bus and much less stressful than air travel. And the European rail system is one of the best and most extensive in the world.
If you’re going to travel by train, it’s hard to beat them on price and convenience for short city-to-city travel. For longer journeys (overnight journeys, between countries, or rides that require a high-speed line, like Paris to Bordeaux or Berlin to Munich), trains tend to be very expensive.
If you plan to travel around Europe and don’t want to fly, getting a rail pass is your best money-saving travel option. Your cost per trip will be a lot lower than if you were to buy these tickets separately.
Not sure if the Eurail pass is for you? Here is a complete breakdown of Eurail passes and when they should be used to save money.
5. Traveling Europe Using BlaBlaCar
The rise of the sharing economy has allowed people to hitch a ride with locals going their way, and BlaBlaCar is the reigning king of this service. It’s hugely popular and widespread in Europe, and I’ve used this service many times. It lets you rideshare with people who have extra space in their car. You find a ride, they agree to take you, and off you go. You just have to pay a small fee, which essentially covers the gas. You can find rides for as little as 5 EUR.
This is the BEST paid way to get around Europe because you get to meet a local, have a friendly conversation, save money, and get to where you’re going faster. It’s available in close to 20 countries in Europe.
While BlaBlaCar may not always be cheaper than the bus (FlixBus can be super cheap!) it’s usually way faster and way more interesting!
6. Traveling Europe by Rental Car/Campervan
If you’re traveling around a single country or small region of Europe, renting a car or campervan might be worth the price — especially if you can split the costs with someone. Car rentals can be found for as little as 25 EUR per day, making it a very affordable way to explore. While gas can be expensive, the border-free Schengen Area makes multi-country trips a breeze.
Campervans are particularly popular in countries like Iceland, Scotland, and Norway since those destinations offer a lot of hiking and camping opportunities. You can find campervans for as little as 60 EUR a day — super affordable when split with a travel partner! Use the app “park4night” to find free (and cheap) overnight parking all around Europe.
Note: Many countries in Europe require foreign drivers to have an International Driving Permit. You can get one in your home country before you arrive for around 20 EUR. (It’s essentially just a copy of your license in other languages).
7. The Cheapest Way To Travel Europe: Hitchhiking
The best way to travel Europe cheaply is to not pay for it at all! Hitching is quite common — and a lot safer than you think. I’ve met tons of travelers who have done it without incident. I myself traveled this way in Bulgaria and Iceland without any problems.
Just keep in mind that it’s important to use your head when hitchhiking. Always trust your instinct and use common sense. Keep your valuables on you in case you forget your bag in the car and never hesitate to text a friend or family member with the license plate before you get in. Write your destination on a sign and look presentable. That will help you find a ride faster.
Use the website Hitchwiki for tips to help ensure you have a fun and safe experience.
The BEST Way to Travel Europe: Mix and Match Your Transportation
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to get around Europe on a budget. But the best way is to MIX AND MATCH YOUR TRANSPORTATION. The key to traveling around Europe on the cheap is to know when to use each one of the listed transportation methods. For short trips, I like trains and BlaBlaCar. For medium-length trips (i.e. half a day), I’ll take a bus, BlaBlaBla car, or train. For long distances, I fly or take a high-speed train or an overnight bus.
Too many travelers think it’s an all-or-nothing thing. Like one way is always better than the other. That’s not true. There’s no one way to travel Europe. There are a ton — and you need to know when to use which method.
Ask yourself: What’s more valuable? Time or money?
If you have more time, take the slower cheaper routes.
If you have more money and a shorter trip, fly and take the train.
In any given trip, I will take at least four of the above methods when getting around Europe! It’s a mix and match kind of thing. One way isn’t good 100% of the time.
If you have no preference on how you travel — and you just want the cheapest option (which is usually what I do) — use a website like Rome2Rio or Omio. All you have to do is enter where you are going and these sites will mix and match the various ways to get around the continent for the least amount of money. They will string together buses and trains and planes to construct the quickest trip for the least amount of money.
Remember: no one method works 100% of the time! Mix and match! Do that and you’ll save tons of time and money!
Get Your In-Depth Budget Guide to Europe!
My detailed, 200+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while backpacking around Europe. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more! Click here to learn more and get started!
Book Your Trip to Europe: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
For suggestions on where to stay during your trip, here are my favorite hostels in Europe!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for fifteen years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
Want More Information on Europe?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Europe for even more planning tips!