Traveling around Europe is the dream gap year for many of us, but the dream can often remain that way when it comes to having enough money to travel and experience Europe to it’s fullest. Having spent some time scrimping, saving and backpacking around Europe there is one tip I offer everyone who wants to get out there on a budget…head East.
Eastern Europe has somehow remained a hidden secret, yet having spent time traveling around Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, I can honestly say this is a great region to travel due to low costs and being rich in history and character.
I have put together a few tips I have picked up from traveling around the region.
Move locally. Travel Cheap.
Like most of the rest of the world Eastern Europe sees it’s share of budget airlines flying in and out. Surprisingly there are actually more budget flights coming in and out of Eastern Europe than in the West, try WizzAir as a cheap alternative.
When considering flights and accommodation it is worth avoiding national and religious holidays as well as peak tourist times as prices are generally inflated.
I would always recommend researching the travel system in the city you are visiting. Train travel in Eastern Europe is much cheaper than in the West. Some cities have schemes to help you travel cheaply, in Slovakia I purchased a Bratislava City Card which gave me free travel, plus discounts and benefits across the city.
Free Accommodation? If you’re willing to work for it !
Finding cheap accommodation is actually easier than you might think in Eastern Europe. Along with the usual ways to save on accommodation such as staying at cheap travel hostels and Couchsurfing, there are more novel ideas that can be used to stay for almost free.
Another offbeat way to get free accommodation and meals in Eastern Europe is volunteering via Workaway. For example this recreation and conference centre 30 minutes outside of Warsaw offers a free hotel room, 3 free meals a day and discounted use of spa and sports facilities in exchange for 5 hours gardening work a day. Great if you’ve got a green thumb.
Cook it. Eat it. Save it.
Your accommodation can have an impact on your ability to eat cheaply. While staying at a hostel that has cooking facilities it is much easier to buy cheap groceries and create your own meals rather than eating out. It usually paid off to do my own cost research, before going to Poland for example I knew already what the general prices in Krakow were.
Another option that worked for me in Bratislava was supporting the hostel staff in exchange for food. I ran a BBQ for the guests one evening, the hostel paid for the food and I was allowed to have my fill of anything from the BBQ.
Eating on a budget that is specific to Poland are local milk bars. These were originally created as government subsidized cafeterias in the communist days. They still exist offering simple budget meals to those in need, but also to students and any other hungry soul.
Be a Pirate. Save Money.
The thing I enjoyed the most about Eastern Europe is the fact that it is rich in diverse history from Middle Ages to communism era. This means it contains a history rich list of free attractions to visit.
In Prague I found out loads about the city’s medieval castle with a free Prague castle tour. Using sites such as freetour.com is a great way to experience and learn about the cities in Eastern Europe. Do expect to pay a tip at the end of the tour though.
There are also a whole range of free festivals and events throughout the year. When I stayed in Krakow it was useful to find an up-to-date events database, which helped us find the incredibly fun Shanties festival. During the festival we also met some students disguised as pirates, who pointed out that staying out of the main square means cheaper drinks. That’s how I started to follow the locals.
In the Czech Republic you can also use a really handy website called use-it.travel, personally I used the guide for Prague and they had lots of tips and tricks from locals, in my opinion that is the best way to explore.
Heading East in Europe opens up a whole new area to explore with the ability to get a lot done on a tight budget. Being smart about where you stay, where you eat and what you do not only will save you money but will also mean experiencing the cities like a local. To all unfulfilled wannabe travelers I can recommend: live your dreams on a budget by heading East.