Last Updated: 5/13/2023 | May 13th, 2023
Traveling around Europe can be expensive. Airfare, high-speed and overnight trains, ferries — they all eat into your limited (and precious) travel budget.
Fortunately, there are alot of ways to get around Europe on a budget. The sharing economy, new bus options, discounted train passes, and lots of budget airlines all help you navigate Europe without breaking the bank.
I’ve been traveling Europe since 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, 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. Travel by Bus
Taking intercity buses is one of the cheapest ways to get around the continent. The main international bus companies are Eurolines and German-based FlixBus, which expanded greatly when it acquired Megabus and now has routes all around the continent.
Flixbus is usually the cheapest bus option, with prices starting as low as 5 EUR. Their buses include Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, free baggage (one carry-on and one stored under the bus), and comfy seats. (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. They most of Europe. Here’s a map of their routes to help you plan your trip!
However, there are plenty of other regionally-specific bus companies that will get you elsewhere. For example, Alsa is the main provider in Spain and its neighboring countries.
2. Travel 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! I use Skyscanner to search for the best deals. They do all the legwork!
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!
For more information, here is a complete guide to finding cheap flights.
3. Travel by 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 (and more sustainable) 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 can get 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.
4. Travel by 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. Prices are set by the driver and are meant to offset the cost of gas and overall wear on the vehicle.
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!
5. Travel by Rental Car/Campervan
If you’re traveling around a single country or small region of Europe and looking for flexibility, 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, though keep in mind that gas is expensive. For the best deals on rental cars in Europe, use Discover Cars.
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 and when considering that this also includes accommodation! 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). Also keep in mind that renting an automatic vs standard transmission will usually cost around twice as much.
6. Travel by Hitchhiking
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 and CHEAPEST 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 depending on where you are going and for how long. 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 around Europe. There are a ton — and you need to know when to use which method.
If you have more time, take the slower, cheaper routes.
If you have more money and a shorter trip, fly and take the train.
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 guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel while in Europe. It has suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.
Book Your Trip to Europe: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight using Skyscanner. They are my favorite search engine 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. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (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!