EUROPE on a Budget: How to Plan Your Dream Euro Tour

I’m writing this at four in the morning. Wrapped in a thick blanket and sipping a cup of tea, I have given up on catching some sleep tonight. I seem to have left my mind in Europe, unable to adjust. Every time I close my eyes, I am bombarded with an endless succession of wonderful memories from our Euro trip. I still can’t believe two months went by that quickly. It feels like it was just yesterday. It’s been a week but I still look at prices and count in euro. It’s been a week but it’s like I could still sense the sweet scent of truffle and waffles. Water tastes like beer. Or wine.

It’s been a week since we wrapped up our two-month backpacking journey around Europe, the first of three Euro trips that we’ve been planning for the next couple of years in an effort to visit all countries in Europe. On this leg, we visited 16 countries. It took careful, meticulous planning because we wanted to do as much as we could within the short time the embassy allowed.

As soon as we announced we were in Europe, our inbox was flooded with inquiries asking for more details. We promised to share our full itinerary and cost in a blog post. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this post is NOT it. Not yet. We’ll share the details of our entire two months in another post soon. In the meantime, we’ll tell you HOW we planned our trip and HOW you can plan yours, instead of simply posting our itinerary. Here are the reasons for that:

  • We all have different dreams and tastes. There are items in our bucket list that may not be in yours. There are experiences we would love to try but you wouldn’t even dare.
  • We all have different budget and time restrictions. We were allowed to stay in Europe by the German embassy for 60 days. Initially, we wanted to stay longer —- our original plan is 3 months! —- but our budget forced us to trim it down to just 2. All in all, we spent around P250,000 for our 2-month stay (including airfare, tours, visa fees).
  • If you have a bigger or smaller budget and your dream destinations vary greatly from ours, there really is no point in simply sharing our itinerary. Besides, planning a trip to Europe goes beyond simply building an itinerary. There are a lot of things to consider. The cost of living, climate, language, and the culture in general vary from country to country, which will all affect your preparation.

Anyway, here’s the method we took in order to successfully fulfill our dream European adventure, presented as a step-by-step guide!

 

1. Determine your budget.

First things first: How much is your budget?

Your budget will dictate how long you can stay in Europe, where you will be staying, and what places you can visit.

Let’s assume that you have a P125,000 budget for this trip.

 
Immediately, let’s subtract P30,000 from your budget for your airfare. Trust me, you can find roundtrip fares for many major cities in Europe for less than P30,000.

 

2. Determine WHEN you want to go.

The summer months of June-August are considered high season (peak season) in most parts of Europe. Because of the sunshiny skies, it is the most touristy time of the year. Hence, prices go up! If you’re on a budget, you might want to avoid this and consider the shoulder months of September-November instead.

But the weather isn’t the only thing you need to take into account. Is there any event you would like to experience but can only be enjoyed at certain times of the year? If you would like to experience Oktoberfest, go to Munich in mid-September (but expect the hotel and tour rates to skyrocket)! If you want to see the Northern Lights in the Nordic countries, visit between mid-September to mid-March but consider the moon’s brightness too for greater chances of seeing the aurora.

If you have events you MUST MUST MUST experience, use it as your starting point and work from there.

If you don’t have any, then you can be much more flexible.

3. List down all your must-visits!

Are there any destinations you’ve always dreamed of visiting? Is Paris something you can’t miss? Did you make a vow to attend the papal mass at the Vatican? Are you a big fan of the Sound of Music and you just NEED to see the locations in person?

For this exercise, let’s call them “must-visits.” These are your non-negotiables. Meaning, whatever happens, you HAVE TO make a stop at these cities. These are the reasons you’re traveling to Europe in the first place.

europe-key-cities

List them all down. Don’t edit it yet. It’s easy to travel within Europe, so just write them down and we’ll figure it out later.

For example, let’s say that here are your must-visits:

  • PRAGUE
  • FLORENCE
  • PARIS

 

4. Find out lodging costs.

Cost of accommodations varies greatly from one city to another. For example, hotels in Prague are unbelievably cheap while Reykjavik seems like it wants your soul with your money. There are A LOT of cheap lodging options in Europe. It doesn’t always have to be a full-service hotel. There are no-frills hotels, hostels, dorms, and AirBnB options!

At this point, you should already know if you’re traveling alone or part of a group. This will affect your expenses and accommodation choices significantly.

  • If you’re traveling alone and you’re concerned about the budget, consider booking dorm beds. It’s waaay cheaper than booking a private room. (Even single rooms can be pricey.) It’s also a great way to meet other travelers and make new friends.
  • If you’re a pair, you may consider booking two dorm beds or a private room, depends on the situation. If you’re a duo wanting to meet people, the dorm is still a good choice. If you’re a couple on a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, my god, please get a private room (haha!). Note, though, that in many hostels, the bedrooms may be private but the toilet and bath are sometimes shared. Check the arrangement before booking.
  • If you’re a group of three, know that Triple Rooms are not uncommon in Europe. You may also check their policy on extra person on Double/Twin rooms. It’s a great way to save!

Since by now you have an idea of your travel dates, it’s best to go to Booking.com and check hotel rates per night for your must-visit’s. (Why Booking.com? I’ll explain later below.)

DON’T BOOK YET. Just check the rates first. We’re only budgeting at this point and figuring out the allocations.

But to give you an idea, here are the price ranges for some key cities in Europe for a September-December stay.

 

CITYDORM (EUR Per Bed)DOUBLE/TWIN (EUR Per Room)
Amsterdam16-5540+
Barcelona10-4544+
Copenhagen25-3056+
Florence10-3030+
Munich14-3051+
Paris20-2545+
Prague5-1018+
Reykjavik30-6079+
Rome9-2520+
Zurich40-6075+

 

Decide on how long you would want to stay at each of these stops. Let’s assume you’re staying at each of your must-visits for 5 days and 4 nights and you’re traveling with a friend. That means staying for a total of 12 nights in your must-visit cities, and dividing the room cost by 2.

Using our example above, the following will be your accommodations expenses:

 

 

CITYCOST PER NIGHT (EUR)NO. OF NIGHTSTOTAL COST (EUR)
Paris554220
Florence504200
Prague304120
TOTALEUR 540
TOTAL PER PERSONEUR 270

 

That’s PHP 15,000 per person for 12 nights!

Again, these are just for the purpose of budgeting. You can find more affordable options. (AirBnB provides cheaper options!)

Okay, let’s do a recap:

Airfare: P30,000
Hotels so far: P15,000

Total so far: P45,000

 

4. Plot your route.

It’s time to build our itinerary!

First, get a map of Europe and mark all your must-visits. In our case, we have marked Paris, Prague and Florence.

Then, look at the nearby areas. Are there any other places that you would want to see? Let’s call these “nice-to-have’s.” They’re not really your must-visit places, but it would be great if you get to see them too if your time and budget allow. If not, it’s okay too. Not the end of the world for you.

I highly recommend considering cities that are along the route connecting your must-visits. For example, if Amsterdam and Paris are in your must-visit list, you’ll find that Brussels (in Belgium) sits comfortably in between! If Copenhagen and Prague are your must-visits, know that Berlin is smack in the middle!

You may also consider going on a day tour to another city. If Vienna is a must-visit for you, it wouldn’t hurt to also check out Bratislava, Slovakia, or Budapest, Hungary. The beauty of this is that you don’t have your bulky, heavy luggage with you.

Let’s use our Paris-Prague-Florence example. To get to Florence from Prague by train, you might want to stop in Vienna, Munich or Zurich! Let’s stay that you spend 3 nights each in Munich and Zurich. And since you’re already in Florence, why not end the trip in Rome? Flights to Manila are cheaper from Rome because it’s a major hub.

Here’s our lodging cost so far:

 

CITYCOST PER ROOM (EUR)NO. OF NIGHTSTOTAL COST (EUR)
Paris554220
Prague304120
Munich603180
Zurich753225
Florence504200
Rome354140
TOTALEUR 1085
TOTAL PER PERSONEUR 542.5

 

That’s P29,000 per person!

Time for another recap:

Airfare: P30,000
Hotels so far: P29,000

Total cost so far: P59,000

 

5. Reserve hotel/hostel rooms.

If you’re happy with your itinerary, it’s time to reserve the rooms. RESERVE, don’t book yet.

This is why I highly recommend BOOKING.COM. They let you reserve rooms for a long time without charging you a cent. (Just choose properties that are marked with FREE CANCELLATION.) Remember, you don’t have a visa yet. This gives you the flexibility to cancel in case your application get denied or in case you change your mind.

During our trip, we made a number of changes to our itinerary and we were able to modify our bookings without additional cost.

When choosing accommodations, always check the location. You’ll be surprised that there are A LOT of affordable options that are in the city center! Of our 12 hotels on our Euro Trip, only one was far from all the action and that’s because we booked too late (Hello, Zurich!). It’s also wise to pick hotels near the train station.

 

6. Apply for a visa.

Okay, the hard part: getting a visa.

If you’re traveling within the Schengen Area, you will need a visa.

The Schengen Visa itself is a complicated animal. Let me explain: The Schengen Visa is a travel document that allows the holder to enter any of the 26 states that are part of the Schengen agreement. Think of it as an almost all-access pass to many countries in Europe, eliminating the immigration borders within the Schengen zone and the hassle of having to apply for a visa for each individual country. These are the countries who are part of the Schengen Zone:

Austria
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

But hold your horses. You can’t apply just anywhere. You need to figure out which embassy to lodge your application, and it will depend on the purpose of your trip or your overall European itinerary. The rule is, you should apply at the embassy of the country where you will stay the longest.

In our sample itinerary so far, we will be staying in Italy the longest. This requires you to apply at the Italian Embassy.

All good? Good.

But here’s the thing. The Italian Embassy, along with the Spanish Embassy, is notorious for being extra strict. In my travel circles, the French, Dutch, and German Embassies are widely regarded as the most forgiving and most considerate.

Many applicants would deliberately modify their itineraries in order to stay longer in France or Germany. Do I recommend that? Sure! France and Germany are beautiful countries! It’s up to you if you will follow the itinerary you submitted to the embassy or not, should it get approved. But my personal recommendation is to be honest to avoid any complications. If you’re applying at the French Embassy, stay the longest in France. Bear in mind that you will be interviewed during the application and they will know if you’re lying. Still, if you change your mind after you get the visa, no one’s stopping you from deviating from your itinerary a little bit.

More info about applying for a Schengen Visa below:
via French Embassy
via German Embassy

If you’re visiting countries outside Schengen zone, make sure you have the corresponding visa. Some countries will accept your Schengen visa as long as it allows you multiple entry. Always check with the embassy of that country.

If we stick to our sample itinerary and apply at the Italian Embassy, here are additional fees we need to take into account:

Visa fee: EUR 60 (PHP 3200)
Service fee: EUR 26 (PHP 1400)
Travel Insurance: EUR (PHP 1500)

Sub-total of all Visa Fees: P6,100

Time for another recap:

Airfare: P30,000
Hotels so far: P29,000
Visa fees: P6,100

Total so far: 65,100

 

7. Book flights, trains, and hotels.

Once your visa is approved, book the flights and hotels that you had reserved!

You might also need to book additional flights. Traveling by air within Europe is cheaper than you think. You’ll find Paris-Rome flights for only P1000 (via Ryan Air), Paris-Barcelona for P1700 (via RyanAir), and Paris-Prague for only P3000 (Czech Airlines). You just need to book in advance.

Consider trains and buses too! In Europe, I prefer the train to the plane for many reasons. First, I don’t need to show up at least an hour before. Second, I don’t need to check in baggage and wait for pickup. Lastly, most main train stations are located at the heart of the city. All these saves me time, effort, and money.

In our sample itinerary, let’s assume that we’re flying from Paris to Prague and then take the train all the way to Rome, making stops along the way.

 

ROUTEMODECOST (EUR)
Paris to PraguePlane57
Prague to MunichTrain15
Munich to ZurichTrain39
Zurich to FlorenceTrain28
Florence to RomeTrain19

 

Subtotal of additional transportation expenses: 158 Euro or P8320

It’s also time to book some attractions and tours. I say SOME because you don’t need to book everything. Book only those that require advance booking like the Eiffel Tower, Vatican tickets, and food tours. For the others, you’ll most likely find cheaper tours when you get to that destination.

Time for another recap:

Airfare: P30,000
Hotels so far: P29,000
Visa fees: P6,100
Transportation Expenses: P8320

Total so far: 65,100

 

8. Allocate money for food and tours.

Food and tours will take the biggest fraction of your budget. To keep our expenses low, what I do is follow this rule:

Keep daily FOOD expenses below EUR 20, and tour expenses below EUR 20.

That’s actually way above our actual cost per day, but it’s better to have a good allowance for possible overspending than to run short.

One of the first things we do when we arrive in the city is hit the supermarket and shop for food: bread, biscuits, fruits, and drinks. It’s so much cheaper than eating out. Your EUR10 here can last for days, even in expensive cities like Zurich, Copenhagen, and Reykjavik. In Paris, there are places where you can buy a whole chicken for EUR5! Yet, we still want to try traditional food! So here’s how we do it:

If you decide to splurge on dinner one day and spend more than EUR20, avoid eating out the next day.

The same applies to activities. The EUR20 per day budget should already include transportation (if any) and miscellaneous expenses (bottle of water, snacks, etc). If you really want to save up, you can skip the guided tours and just do it on your own. There are several city apps that have self-guided walking trails. You may also join FREE walking tours so you only have to worry about the tip.

BUT we like guided tours! It’s the best way to appreciate the sites we visit. We love hearing anecdotes and funny stories about places and important people that we would never have read online or in textbooks. So we follow the same rule:

If you decide to take a guided tour that costs more than EUR 20 one day, do a self-guided walking tour the next day.

This rule has kept us afloat during our stay while still enjoying the best of what the city has to offer.

Again, that’s EUR 20 (PHP1100) per day on food and EUR20 on tours.

So if you’re staying in Europe for 23 days, here’s how it looks:

Airfare: P30,000
Hotels so far: P29,000
Visa fees: P6,100
Transportation Expenses: P8320
Food Expenses: P24,200
Tour Expenses: P24,200

TOTAL: P121,820

That gives you an additional P3180 allowance.

So here’s our final sample itinerary:

 

 

DAYSTOPACTIVITY
0En RouteManila to Paris
1ParisLe Marais to Latin Quarter, Eiffel Tower
2ParisLouvre
3ParisVersailles (Self guided)
4ParisChamps Elysees (Self-guided)
5PragueEn Route, Check in, Free Time
6PragueWalking Tour (Self-guided) and River Cruise
7PragueWorld War II & Communism Tour
8PragueChoose another Tour
9MunichEn Route, Check in, Free Time
10MunichNeuschwanstein Castle (Self-guided)
11MunichDachau Tour
12ZurichEn Route, Check In, Free time
13ZurichOld Town Walking Tour (Self-guided)
14ZurichChoose another tour
15FlorenceEn Route, Check in, Free Time
16FlorenceWalking Tour (Self-guided), Museums
17FlorenceVenice Day Tour
18FlorenceChoose another tour
19RomeEn Route, Check in, Free Time
20RomeVatican Tours
21RomeAncient Rome + Colosseum Walking Tour
22RomePasalubong! (If you have leftover cash)
23En RouteBack to Manila

This is just a sample itinerary to demonstrate the process I detailed above. You can use the same process to come up with your own itinerary based on your own requirements, needs, and restrictions.

 

More Tips for the Poor Traveler

You can still reduce the cost significantly by pulling a DIY (self-guided) for tours and spending much less on food. But again, we love trying local food and learning from our guides and that’s what we recommend.

Visit cheaper destinations. In general, Northern Europe is the most expensive while Eastern Europe is the cheapest. If you have a much smaller budget, head to the eastern side of the sub-continent!

Download city apps. Like I said above, most key cities in Europe have an app that will help you explore the city more efficiently. These may be subway apps or walking trail apps.

Hit the grocery at least once per stop. Eating out in Europe is expensive. The cheapest is to shop for supplies on your first day to cover breakfast and another meal. Eat out only once per day, at most.

Get a credit card. You’ll be surprised that most transactions in many European cities are done via credit card, although cash is still accepted. Having a credit card not only allows you to do online transactions, it also gives you a backup in case you run short on cash.

Avoid money changers. In our 2 months in Europe, we found that the best way to get local currency is by withdrawing from ATMs.


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  • deisolive

    Great tips! Planning a trip to Europe on a budget is doable, but you will have to plan much more. Even though, that’s the only way I could afford all the trips. 😉