You are a student going abroad for a semester and travelling afterwards? Or you just finished school and you are excited about your gap year? Or maybe you quit your last job in order to take a couple of months off and discover the world.
There are many situations which might require you to travel on a low budget and to always look for the cheapest options possible. Here’s the good news: Those circumstances might even make your experience way better than travelling with all the money in and luxury in the world.
I have done some travelling myself, mainly in Europe, Australia and North America. Always on a tight budget myself I found out about some basics how to save money while travelling and, at the same time, experiencing the country I am currently visiting even more. So here is how to travel on a low budget:
Have you ever heard of Couchsurfing? It is a platform where strangers offer strangers a place on their couch or often even a separate room with your own bed. And the best thing about it is: It is completely for free. With over 10 million members the chance is quite high that you’ll find a free couch somewhere.
I even dare to say that Couchsurfing enriches your travelling experience enormously. In the end, you stay with a local who might have some time to show you around, show you their favourite spots in the city and take you for a night out with their friends.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But especially the ladies here might wonder if this is really safe. I can only answer with my own experience: A woman myself I trust on Couchsurfing ratings and only stay with five star hosts. And I rely a lot on my gut feeling – so if you ever feel unsafe or that something is off, don’t be afraid to get out of the situation. There is always a hotel or hostel room free in case you really need it. But in my experience, if you look for the ratings and your gut feeling, you are completely fine.
So, forget about the luxury hotels and dive into the culture exploring the city with a real local!
Airbnb or Hostels?
I don’t think I have to explain here what Airbnb is. I have found that Airbnb is, especially in some more expensive countries and/or if you are a whole group travelling together, a cheaper and nicer option than hotels or hostels.
In Mexico however, Hostels were often cheaper than Airbnbs. And as a solo traveler I appreciated the opportunity to have some drinks with fellow travelers at the hostel bar or in the common areas.
In the end it depends what you prefer: Do you mind sleeping in a room with five or even up to eleven other people? Would you prefer your own balcony with a glass of wine by yourself or the typical hostel conviviality? In any case, it Is always worth it to compare prices for Airbnb and Hostels.
If you don’t know Blablacar yet, I would strongly recommend you to subscribe. On this platform, strangers offer specific rides. You can mostly join with only one click. You meet the driver at the point you agreed on and you ride together. You pay a fee to the driver which is just a little bit more than sharing gasoline would be.
Blablacar is usually cheaper than other means of transport and you can meet some locals again. I had really nice conversations in Blablacars in Mexico, France and Germany. Most drivers are super friendly and you can usually ask them to stop in case natural needs come up. Many of the drivers I joined even drove me to my front door instead of the central place in the city, whereas the central bus station might be at the other end of the city.
The security aspect is mainly the same as for Couchsurfing. I usually only join top rated drivers although I make exceptions if the driver has some lower ratings for impunctuality (that can happen to anyone, traffic is a b****). Read the ratings and you get a pretty good impression of the driver. And again, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to back out of the situation if necessary. Although I never had to, just trusting the ratings.
Bus, trains and flights
If Blablacar is not an option because anyway you feel unsafe, you cannot find a suitable ride or the car is not the right mean of transportation, at least in Europe there are three alternatives: The bus, the train and flights.
In Europe, low cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet make flying not only affordable, but also often cheaper than going by bus or train! Especially if you travel only with carry-on luggage, flying might be the better option.
If you have time, then the bus is usually the cheapest option. The biggest company in Europe is Flixbus. They take you for as cheap as 10 € through Europe. Just be sure not to store anything valuable in your big suitcase – there have been cases of people stealing suitcases at the bus stops.
If you know in advance that you will likely take a lot of trains during your trip through France or Germany you should have a look at discount (cards). In Germany for instance you can buy a “Bahncard 25” or “Bahncard 50” which cost 62 €, respectively 255 €. For this price you get a reduction on every train ticket you buy, namely 25% or 50% for every ticket. So, in case you take the “Bahncard 25”, amortization will only take two tickets. Other options are current promotions. Therefore, check the local train companies, for example the German train company or the French one. Also, for Europe there are European tickets bringing you to many countries within a certain period of time. The most famous company would be Interrail.
Overall, it is usually worth it comparing different means of transport considering time and price.
Easy one: Google free entries for the respective city. In Paris for example, some museums are for free or have a large discount for EU citizens under 26 years. In some museums in Germany there is one day per month when the museums grant free entries for everyone. In the Louvre, European Citizens between 18 and 25 years old can enter for free!
Also, I always recommend the travel guide Lonely Planet. Sometimes you can find really valuable advice what to do for free or with a low budget. For instance, in Australia I went sailing for free thanks to the Lonely Planet. Turns out that a local sailing club takes “tourists” for a ride into the sunset on their boats every Monday evening. The dinner afterwards (with the sailing boats owners and of course not free of charge) was lovely and more than interesting.
If you feel like some drinks in company, hiking with others or any other activities with other people, I highly recommend you to join Couchsurfing and Meetup. In both apps, you will find people coming together for various activities. Usually, those groups coming together are very international and open for everyone.
Travelling to Europe? Read here about how to enter and travel Europe.