Nothing quite says ‘coming of age adventure’ like your first-time backpacking through Europe. I remember being four months into my first solo trip and gazing into one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen; hues of pink, yellow and orange illuminated the sky while the air was heavy and fresh with the smell of salt. I was in Zadar, a small town on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, and falling more in love with the country by the second. It’s moments like these which make it easy to romanticise travel. Throw in visiting some of the world’s most breathtaking cities and monuments, eating incredible food, making life-long friends and partying until the sun comes up and a European adventure seems like a dream. The reality is this fun part comes after the hard, and sometimes frustrating process of coordinating logistics and budgeting the exact backpacking through Europe cost. The good news is we’ve done the hard work for you, with this guide you’ll know exactly what pre-trip expenses you need, how to avoid tourist traps and get the most bang for your buck which will see you living like a local in no time.
The most obvious and important item. Without this, you won’t even make it past the departures gate. Remember to check your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you plan to travel until.
If you’re in the market for a new one, it will set you back about $282AUD. For Australians, this magical ticket to the wonderful world of Europe will take three weeks to arrive and is valid for 10 years. If you’re in a rush you can organise priority processing for an extra fee.
For UK citizens, a new passport costs £75.50 if you apply online, or £85 at the post office. Allow three weeks for it to arrive.
Americans can expect to fork out $110USD and may face a further fee of $35USD depending where the application is lodged. You can expect to wait up to six weeks for the document, three if it’s expedited.
No one wants to go through the struggle of lugging a heavy suitcase across Prague’s haphazard cobblestoned streets or wrenching it up long, narrow staircases because let’s face it, lifts aren’t exactly a common feature in Europe.
Invest in a quality backpack with waist and shoulder straps. Some even come with wheels that can be zipped out when necessary. These can be purchased at any outdoor adventure store and will set you back between $135 – $450USD.
Opt for a bag between 60-70 litres. It should fit all the essentials whether you’re travelling for one month or 12. Steer clear of anything larger – less is more and if there’s a souvenir nobody wants, it’s crippling back issues.
An organised traveller is a happy traveller.
Packing cells are your best friend. They’re a cheap, easy way to separate your shirts from your underwear, your toiletries from your chargers. You can find these at most outdoor stores for about $12USD depending on the size.
Next up is keeping your passport, cash and cards safe. Lose these and the backpacking Europe cost gets a whole lot steeper. Opt for a document holder or passport belt. The latter is more discrete and comes in handy on overnight trains and buses. Again, hit up any outdoor store for these.
Whether you’re a photographer, social media lover or just can’t get enough of your Kindle, you’ll need a travel adaptor to charge those beloved electronics. They average around the $12USD mark and can be purchased at most electronic stores and airports. We recommend travelling with two to cover all bases and ensure you’re not totally off the grid if one is lost.
If there’s one thing not to skimp on, travel insurance is it.
Murphy’s law says that without it, you’re bound to miss a flight, suffer a medical mishap or have valuables lost or stolen.
Travel insurance can be organised via travel agents or with a little extra research yourself. Costs will vary depending on the length of your trip and what activities you plan on partaking in. Most policies cover the essentials – emergency evacuations, trip cancellation, medical emergencies and lost/damaged belongings. All of this for six+ months comes in at about $380USD.
Without your plane ticket, you’re going nowhere.
Airfares vary depending on the time of year. Obviously travelling in peak season will cost more than it does in the quieter months. Booking early or being sale savvy will get you the best prices.
Australians face the biggest setback with return flights to London costing $1,500AUD upwards in peak season. If you travel in off season, you’ll pay around $1,200AUD for a return ticket.
American’s travelling to London from either the East or West coast will pay around $600USD for a return ticket.
You English folks have the best deal with Europe right on your doorstep! This means one-way flights from London to major capital cities fall around the £50 mark, cheaper if you snap up a sale price.
Day-to-day travel expenses
Now the pre-trip expenses are sorted, it’s time to plan and save for the fun part.
The exact backpacking through Europe costs varies depending on your location. Eastern Europe is significantly cheaper than Western Europe, especially in summer, and small towns are generally cheaper than big cities.
Depending on where you travel, the currency will vary.
Euros are the most widely accepted in the mainland. Some EU countries like Croatia, Hungary and the Czech Republic still operate in their own local currency, but some places will accept Euros. Non-EU countries have their own currency. The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland deal in pounds.
Hostels don’t just provide a bed to sleep in. They’re a place to make friends, relax, enjoy a home cooked dinner and staff are always on hand to recommend activities and the best places to eat and drink.
Hostels in London fall around the £15 – £25 per night mark. The fewer beds in the room, the more expensive.
In Barcelona, you can pay anywhere between €19 – €44 per night in peak season.
As a rule, the further east you travel the cheaper accommodation, with a hostel in Budapest costing between €8 – €19 a night.
Food and drink
One of the best parts about travel is the food. Wherever you go in Europe, there is no shortage of local, mouth-watering delicacies.
Many hostels include breakfast or offer it for as little as €2.50. Our advice is to load up on this and treat yourself to lunch and dinner.
Local, fresh markets are your best friend. Food is delicious, healthy, cheap and it’s a great way to taste local delicacies.
For larger meals and dinner, it pays to eat away from the main drag. Restaurants close to tourist attractions tend to be overpriced and inauthentic compared to those the locals frequent. If in doubt, ask your hostel for recommendations or jump on TripAdvisor or Google Reviews.
Tipping is generally expected in restaurants so be prepared to throw in a few extra euros in cash when you pay the bill.
Sightseeing and attractions
You may be on a budget but when in Europe, there are some things you just have to do whether it be visiting museums, exploring historical sites, or day tripping. Depending on the activity, costs start at a few euros and can go into the €20 and upwards range.
Most museums across London are free or operate on a donation basis. The bad news is, you have to pay in mainland Europe. Admission to the Louvre in Paris costs €9 while the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam costs €17.50. The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb costs €3.50. It’s cheaper if you’re travelling with a valid student card.
The good news is that no matter where you go, some of the best experiences are free, or you can find a cheap alternative.
Join a free walking tour to get your bearings around a city. Your guide will tell you everything you need to know, which attractions are an absolute must and they’ll even recommend authentic, cheap places to eat and drink.
Instead of paying to climb St Paul’s Cathedral in London, head to the top of the Tate Modern to enjoy similar panoramic views of the city with a drink. When in Paris, head to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a spectacular view of the city – Eiffel Tower and all.
Organise day trips yourself, instead of booking through a tour company. Most destinations around Western and Central Europe can be easily reached via train or bus. Eastern Europe isn’t as well connected, and you may find yourself having to hire a car. Obviously, this is cheapest in a group.
Most European countries have a comprehensive public transport network that runs to the majority of places you’ll want to go.
Some cities like Lisbon and London operate on pre-loaded transport cards. In other cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin you can buy single-use tickets for around €1.50 per ride.
There’ll inevitably come a day when you wake up and wonder where your cash is disappearing to. As cheap as alcohol is, especially in Eastern Europe, the big nights out add up.
In London, cocktails can cost anywhere from £7 to £22 so you may want to seek out happy hours or stretch your pounds at the hostel bar.
Prague has some of the cheapest beer in Europe with a pint costing as little as €0.80! The Balkans are incredibly cheap for everything including nights out. However, bars and clubs in tourism hubs like Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik will charge a bit more.
Many hostels offer pub crawls for around €10-15 which includes club entry, a drink or two on arrival and sometimes discounted drinks.
If you choose to go it alone, you can generally budget around €20 for a night out in Western and Central Europe. But make sure to pick up some cheap pre-drinks from the supermarket with your travel buddies.
There inevitably comes a time when you’ll miss a train, need to splurge on a private room or a once-in-a-lifetime activity like skydiving over the Swiss Alps or hot air ballooning in Turkey. Or you may realise you really haven’t been sticking to your budget.
How much cash you keep aside all comes down to the discretion of the individual traveller, but I recommend upwards of €500/$600USD to cover all bases.
Transportation within Europe
Before purchasing an Interrail pass, do some research. Which countries do you want to visit? How long are you planning to travel for? Is there a cheaper option?
The cost of Interrail passes vary on where you’re headed, charge a booking fee and have an expiry date. If you’re under 28-years-old prices start at €200, or €267 if you’re older.
If your plans aren’t set in stone or you think you’ll catch a handful of trains, book them individually. Costs can vary from €15 upwards if you book online, tickets are more expensive when purchased at a station.
Europe is so well connected by rail and bus that flights are only necessary if you’re travelling long distances or are time poor.
Try to fly into larger airport hubs like Rome, Budapest or Frankfurt rather than flying out of smaller cities, especially those in Eastern Europe. If you keep an eye out for flight deals, you could be paying as little as €40.
This is the least glamorous but cheapest option. Companies like Flixbus or GoEuro travel across Europe for as little as €5. You can also travel from mainland Europe to London via bus which is significantly cheaper than train or plane.
If you’re travelling long distances, overnight buses are the savviest option, that way you’ll save on a night’s accommodation and wake up ready to explore a new destination!