Backpackers’ Budget

How to Save Money While Traveling

  • Cook for yourself! One of our first stops in a new city is always the local grocery store. It’s worth it to spend an extra few euros per night to get a place with a kitchenette or guest kitchen. Even if that’s not an option, you don’t need any kitchen supplies to make breakfast and lunch yourself.
  • Choose a few locations and stay for longer. There are multiple benefits to the slow travel approach. For one, you get to experience the city beyond the typical tourist destinations and perhaps get to know a few locals. Also, on a long-term travel trip like ours, travel expenses (buses, trains, planes) add up significantly! Outside of accommodation, transportation is our biggest expense. Limiting intercity and inter-country travel cuts down on your costs dramatically. It’s also a great way to negotiate a cheaper per-night accommodation price. Bonus: It’s better for the planet!
  • Travel in the low season. I’ll say it again: travel in the low season! The maximum we’ve spent on per night accommodation in Europe is 15 euros per person. Our average is around 11 euros. You’ll average twice as much in the high season.
  • Buy booze at the store. An Amstel costs 83 euro cents at a Greek grocery store. It’s 5 euros at a bar. ‘Nuff said.
  • Hostels aren’t always the best deal. If you’re traveling with two or more, you can often find budget hotel rooms in a city for cheaper than the rate of multiple beds in a hostel. On the other hand, in big tourist destinations, sometimes hostel prices can’t be beat. Research, call around, and always negotiate!
  • Avoided the “guided tours” and “package deals.” You’ll have more fun, more adventure and won’t get ripped off.
  • Bring your own sleeping bag liner and DEFINITELY bring a towel (see packing tips for more info). You avoid the charges levied by hostels for such “amenities.”
  • If you’re able (under age 26 or a student), purchase a youth or student travel card. Many sites and transportation options have student discounts.


Saving Money For Your Trip

Our single strongest suggestion for saving up the money for your extended trip is this: have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposited into a savings account each pay period, and then don’t touch it. That’s it! You’ll be surprised at how little you’ll miss the money you’re setting aside, since you’re never really seeing it. Even if you don’t have the option of direct deposit through your employer or a bank, you can still apply this same principle by simply setting aside your earmarked trip savings money from each paycheck BEFORE you start spending the rest.

Other tips:

  • Pack your lunch: Do you spend $7 a day on lunch out? That’s $140 a month that you could be saving towards baklava on Santorini…
  • Love the coupon code: You’d be amazed at the money you can save with a few simple Google searches. Coupon codes for online shopping can be found for everything from travel gear to car parts. Some places to start: fatwallet, slickdeals, retailmenot
  • The latte factor: Financial advisers love this buzz phrase, and there’s a good reason. One month of daily Starbucks visits equals one pair of handmade Italian leather boots, directly from the source. Skip the Starbucks, and make the switch to the free sludge at work. Tastes like savings!


So how much does long-term travel cost anyway?

Traveling around Western Europe, we spent anywhere from $1200-$2000 per month per person, depending on our location and how much we hopped around. Keep in mind that your daily budget will vary wildly. Most people say you should aim for a daily budget of about 50 euros per person, per day. We averaged about 25 for each of us.


How to Save Money in…

Although the above fundamental tips for saving money will prove most helpful on your trip (and apply everywhere in the world), we thought we’d include a few country-specific budgeting tips as well:

   GREECE

  • Get your food to go or take away; they add a surcharge when you sit down in the restaurant.
  • Gyros! Street food in Greece is not very good (you’ll get sick of tiropita pretty quickly). However, fresh, homemade gyros are widespread and cheap! A gyro to go is 1.50-2.00 euros and an AWESOME dinner.

   ITALY (it will blow your budget)

  • To sit down in a restaurant or bar cost more money (they add a surcharge onto your bill). Order your snack or drinks to go or standing at the bar.
  • Avoid “ristorantes” and eat at “trattorias” – much cheaper and better food
  • Some Sundays and public holidays, many museums and historical sites will be free. Take advantage!
  • Spend time in the south: it’s significantly cheaper than the north, and less touristed to boot. Visit Naples for the best pizza in the world, and for day trips to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Mt. Vesuvius. We didn’t make it to Sicily, but it’s been highly recommended to us as well.

   FRANCE

  • Avoid Paris! OK, OK, you’re not really going to do that, and there’s no way you actually should. But don’t go to the City of Lights with any delusions – it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. Paris does throw the budget traveler one or two bones: many cultural sights are free on the first Sunday of every month, and the Louvre is free to anyone under 26 every Friday after 6:00pm. Every little bit helps!
  • Always check the TGV website (www.voyages-sncf.com) for last-minute bargains on train tickets. See the orange Promos link at the top of the page. France is pushing a new type of train called iDTGV, which is aimed at youth, and tends to have the cheapest prices. Look for the purple iDTGV symbol next to the fares.

   CZECH REPUBLIC

  • Drink lots of delicious Czech beer. Seriously: it’s cheaper than water in this country.
  • This is the only Eastern European country we visited, but it opened our eyes to an important truth: Eastern Europe is a beautiful, inexpensive, and totally overlooked travel destination. Western Europeans are beginning to realize its vacation potential, so get in on the action before all the prices skyrocket!

   SPAIN

  • Free tapas! Lots of bars in Spain give you FREE tapas if you buy alcoholic drinks. For the uninitiated, tapas are small plates of food designed to be ordered several at a time, and eaten family-style. Grab some friends, and eat up for the price of some beers you know you’d be drinking anyway.
  • Skip Madrid. It’s not 100% fair for us to say this, since we didn’t even go to Madrid ourselves! Instead, we took the advice of other travelers who said they found the city expensive and dull, and we spent our time in Barcelona and Andalucia. It’s a decision we don’t regret – southern Spain in particular is a beautiful AND budget-friendly destination.

   PORTUGAL

  • Cost-saving tips for Portugal? Going to Portugal IS a cost-saving tip. Portugal is to Spain what Spain is to the rest of Europe. I guess it’s worth noting that Lisbon is the most expensive city in Portugal, but that is NO reason to miss it. Being the most expensive city in Portugal is like being the ugliest Victoria’s Secret model. Have some perspective, my friend.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Backpackers’ Budget”

  1. WorldRamblerson 06 May 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Have to agree with you about Paris. My wife and I went there as backpackers and found it to be pretty expensive. We walked around for hours looking for a cheap place to stay for the night. We ended up coming back to the first one we’d found. Couldn’t believe the price and our room still had strange blood stains on the walls.

    Don’t miss Jim Morrison’s grave though. We sometimes wonder whether the nutmeg we left for him (only thing we had on us at the time) is still there.

    We found it’s sometimes possible to work at Hostels for food and board which is something my wife and I did whilst in Amsterdam. You just gotta ask as it’s not something openly advertised.

    http://worldramblers.com

  2. Paulon 15 Jul 2008 at 2:44 pm

    These are some great tips! I traveled around Europe when I was studying abroad in Italy and I could have never imagined how much everything costs! You really need to be prepared with some smart ways to save money. I would recommend checking out this site if you’re a student or faculty member to get some cheap airfare because that helps out a ton! http://www.studentuniverse.com/?utm_campaign=int2008&utm_medium=youtube&utm_source=comment+pj&utm_content=text

  3. Hostelioon 13 Oct 2009 at 8:29 pm

    When it comes to travel, there are two things you can count on: (1) you’ll always find a cheaper exchange rate after you’ve traded your money, and (2) you’ll always go over budget. I don’t mean to be negative, but these are the Murphy’s Laws of travel.

  4. Ian [EagerExistence]on 26 Mar 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Skip Madrid! Really? I lived there for 3 months, and didn’t find it dull at all. So many international people living there, most trying to get by and learn Spanish. So many friendships made. Not a lot of touristy stuff beyond the parks and museums; but the food is fantastic, the beers are cheap, and there’s something to do every night of the week.

  5. Jason Joneson 12 Oct 2012 at 10:01 am

    Thank you so much guys! This is a wonderful resource to see prices around the world. From experience, I fall one the cheaper side of these figures, but I know everyone travels a little bit different.

  6. Charlotteon 31 Oct 2012 at 6:17 am

    Thank you, such a helpful post!

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