Europe on the cheap doesn’t have to be a drag. This photo is of Prague, by our associate editor, Sam Wu.

Few destinations hold the timeless appeal of a classic Western European excursion. From young backpackers to jaunty seniors taking the trip of the lifetime, many women have dreamed of this destination for years, yet struggle to find the balance between a strict budget, comfort, security, and enjoyment. Believe it or not, Europe can still be a budget destination and there are plenty of ways to save money and have a shoestring adventure.

Myth #1 – I’ll Have to Stay in a Hostel!

Hostels are only one form of budget accommodations. University dorms (at some of the finest institutions in the world), monasteries, convents, bed and breakfasts, house sitting, house swaps, and “glamping” are some of the clean, well priced, and safe options that balance humble amenities with 5 star locations, historic buildings, and welcoming staff. If you really crave anonymity, try one of the new modular or pod hotels, such as EasyHotel. Brought to you by the same people behind EasyJet discount airline, EasyHotel offers rooms that are very clean, secure, comfortable, and affordable. They are also microscopic in size, sterile in decor, and you pay extra for such “treats” as a second towel, housekeeping, or a window. But for some women, this is the perfect solution. And a word about hostels – no two are alike. I’ve stayed in converted schools, mountain cottages, and historic homes, each with a different character and clientele. Read some reviews to find a hostel style, size, and setting that appeals to you – and take the plunge!

Paris. Photo by Daphne Wu,
Paris. Photo by Daphne Wu,

Myth #2 –I’ll Be Eating Stale Baguette.

Absolutely not! Europe is filled with budget friendly, belly busting restaurants that you’ll love. Bespoke bakeries, charming farmer’s markets, and tiny bistros are calling your name! You’ll also find great deals in neighbourhoods filled with new immigrants, with legendary curries in London and North African food in Paris. Looking for an amazing meal? You won’t have to go far! Reputable travel guidebooks can help point you in the right direction of a hidden gem. For a bit more of a spontaneous recommendation, ask the person who cleans your hotel or supervises the neighbourhood laundromat. I guarantee they’ll be able to point you in the direction of the best cannelloni/roasted duck/cream tea in town.

Myth #3 – All the Museums Cost a Fortune.

Not even close! The national capitals of Europe are teeming with enough free museums, galleries, and attractions to keep you busy for a year. Even the most expensive attractions, such as the Louvre, offer monthly free days and reduced evening prices. If you’re a true history and art aficionado, coupons abound and comprehensive museum passes can offer you tremendous savings if that’s the focus on your trip. Remember – gorgeous, historic houses of worship, government buildings, and parks are almost always free.

Myth 4 — I’ll Stay In Every Night, Drinking Tea!

It’s true – you will pay a fortune for a pina colada in Madrid or a mai tai in Prague. But a gorgeous Spanish red or a Czech beer will be as inexpensive as a soft drink – in their own hometowns. Choose a local wine or beer and you will always get great value – and a great experience. Take a few minutes to sift through the local entertainment papers to grab coupons and take advantage of free early admission to nightclubs and bars. Take the same approach for the theatre, ballet, or music hall. Look at newspapers for weeknight and matinee specials, consider attending dress rehearsal performances, and be open minded at the half-price ticket booth. Other value priced night time activities include walking tours, ghost walks, pub crawls, charitable benefits, cooking clubs, gallery openings, and public concerts.

Myth 5 — Tiny Expenses and Bad Exchange Rates Will Ruin Me!

How many times have we returned from a trip to realize we spent hundreds of dollars more than intended, all due to little incidental expenses? Those one-to-five Euro and Pound expenses can really take a toll on your budget – how can you keep on track?

  • Pack lightly. Save your checked baggage fees for a bottle of wine!
  • Remember to budget how you will get to and from the airport – early morning flights are great deals, but you have to include safe transportation expenses in your final costs.
  • Have a balance between walking only and transportation heavy days. A one day subway or bus pass is much more economical than a few tickets spread out over each day.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle and USE IT! Bottled water can easily cost $10 a day or more! In restaurants, clearly communicate that you want to drink tap water only, if it’s safe.
  • Some of the oldest rules are still the best: drink your coffee at the counter and save. Lunch offers a more economical value than dinner. Split appetizers and desserts with a friend to help keep costs down.
  • Invest in a quality guidebook. You will earn your investment back several times over.

It’s not always easy to land in Europe and breeze through without busting your budget. But with a little planning and research, you can still have a world class, unforgettable experience without sacrificing your safety, comfort, enjoyment, or your wallet.