A few months ago I wrote a post detailing 5 places that I’d recommend visiting in Europe where you can have a city break on a budget, so I thought it was worth writing a post on HOW to book and go on a city break whilst not spending too much!
I’ve just come back from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and I spent £90.00 there which included my accommodation for 2 nights, meals for 1 and a half days, a taxi to and from the airport and museum entry. My flights were £40.00 from London so I spent £130.00 in total on a weekend away exploring a completely new city!
‘The less you spend, the more you see.’
This is how I look at it. From 2010 to 2016 my travels were ‘backpacking trips’ over an extended period of time so it makes sense that the less I spent the longer I could continue to travel. Since moving to London at the start of 2016 my travels have consisted of weekend city breaks and the occasional week long trip. I work full-time and I’m not as tight for money as I have been in the past but I’d still rather go on 3 trips where I watch what I spend than 1 trip where I spend big bucks and don’t watch what I spend.
If you sound like me, or this is how you want to travel, below are the ways I keep my travel costs low meaning I can travel more!
Choose dates & a destination based on flight price.
Skyscanner needs to become your best friend!
Of course you’ll probably have a city in mind that you want to visit a long with dates you want to go but you need to remain flexible. Head onto Skyscanner, pick your departing airport and type in ‘everywhere’ in the ‘to’ box. Then click onto ‘whole month’ in the dates section, pick the month you ideally want to go in and search flights!
The search results give you an indication of how much it will be to fly into each destination, if one of the search results near the top takes your interest (meaning it’s the cheapest) then click on it and have a better look into dates.
Tip: Be sure to have patience and spend a bit of time looking into different date and destination options. If you find a good price, date and destination combo then write down the details so you can look back at all your options later and assess which one is best!
Tip 2: Early morning and late night flights will more than likely be cheaper but keep in mind how much it will cost to get to and from the airport at that time if it’s too early or too late for public transport. E.g A cheap 6:00am flight out of London looks good but the tube and trains won’t be running at 4:00am when you’ll need to leave so you’ll need to get a taxi for most or part of the journey which is not budget friendly!
Know your European geography & use your common sense.
I’m now going to go back on what I said above. You need to make sure you use your common sense. Often there are a lot of cheap flights to places like Oslo, Basel, Stockholm from London, but all of these cities are in very expensive Countries and your accommodation, food etc will cost a lot once you’re there.
Generally, Scandinavian Countries are the most expensive in Europe, followed by Western European Countries, followed by Central European Countries and lastly Eastern European Countries are the cheapest to visit. Hence why I love Eastern European Countries and why I knew Belgrade in Serbia was going to be cheap. The flights were £40.00 which weren’t the cheapest flights I could have got but like I said, I spent £90.00 in 2 days whilst I was there which would not happen in Scandinavia where I could get flights for around £30.00 to.
Tip: If your European Geography isn’t that great, have a tab open on your screen with a map of Europe so you can gauge where the country is and therefore how expensive it will be once you get there.
Don’t stay as long
This may not sound that nice but if you want to start doing regular trips and therefore travel on a budget, consider visiting for 2 days instead of 3 or 3 instead of 4. It’s amazing what you can do in 2 days in a city and still get a good feel for the place. 1 night less means less accommodation, eating out etc, and remember that 1 night less in this destination means one night more in another destination.
Tip: Work out what your priority is, having a longer break or having more breaks??
Stay in a Hostel or Airbnb.
Hostels are always my go-to when I’m travelling as they suddenly make the trip soo much cheaper. These days, although I will stay in a dorm room I prefer a private room where I can as I sleep a lot better. Dorm rooms are of course going to be a lot cheaper but even a private room in a hostel can often be cheaper than a private room in a hotel, depending on the location. Sometimes if there’s 2 of you then a private room is just a bit more expensive than paying for 2 beds in a dorm too so look into your options. In Belgrade a private twin room with a shared bathroom was £30.00 per night in total so £15.00 each between 2 of us whereas a bed in a dorm room would have been about £7.00 each per night.
If hostels aren’t your thing, or you think they’re not your thing and you’re too stubborn to try them out then the launch of Airbnb has been a total game changer so be sure to look into the shared room option when searching for accommodation on there.
Tip: I always use Hostelworld to search for my hostels, I’ve used them since 2010. I love the app and website layout, I love that you can see all of the hostel information, photos, reviews and prices in one place. I also love that you can search by room type, e.g unless I have to I’ll never stay in a mixed dorm so I filter by female dorm and just look at those options.
Tip 2: If you use this link to book your Airbnb then we both get credit off our next stay meaning our next trip will be cheaper for both of us!
On that note you might find these posts useful!
On the trip:
Look into public transport options from the airport.
Before you depart, look into the options of getting to your accommodation from the airport. A taxi will be the most expensive way with public transport being the cheapest. Some cities have great train links between the airport and city, others rely on a bus. If you’ve booked a hostel on hostelworld they always give you information on how to get to the hostel from the airport by public transport and if they don’t then ask. Same if you’re staying in an Airbnb or Hotel.
Tip: If you’re set on getting a taxi or a taxi seems like the only option, research or ask your accommodation how much the taxi should be and then agree this charge before you get in to save getting ripped off! E.g In Lithuania we got a taxi from the airport to Vilnius city, it cost €25.00 which didn’t seem too bad but on the return the reception said it should have only been €7.00 and booked us a taxi back to the airport for this price!
Get your walking shoes on.
Say no to that tour bus that takes you to all the sights and instead walk to them! A lot of cities in Europe are very walkable and walking around them let’s you explore them a lot better anyway meaning you see a lot more.
In some cities public transport is quite cheap, Paris is a good example of this so if you need to use transport then use public transport over a tourist bus or taxis.
Tip: Be clued up on how much public transport costs per trip. E.g In London there is a capped price for the tube so if you used the tube twice in one day the cost will be about £6.00 off of your card but the capped limit for zone 1-2 is about £7.00 so you might as well continue to use it all day and make the most out of the £7.00, and then decide not to use it the next day.
Eat away from the tourist streets.
This is a no brainer and its a real cost saver! The main tourist streets or squares in cities are usually a lot more expensive than a restaurant a few streets away or a place that is more for locals. It can be hard sometimes to find the non-tourist places and sometimes you want to eat in the popular area as it means the menus are in English and the vibe is good and in that case I’d say to definitely eat there at least once but just don’t eat there for every meal on every day.
Tip: Do you research, the internet is a wonderful thing so use it to find a lesser known spot off of the tourist radar!
Have at least 1 meal a day that is from a supermarket or bakery etc.
On the note of food, I tend to only eat out for 2 out of 3 of my meals. If your accommodation includes breakfast then great, that’s one less meal to pay for. If it doesn’t then head to the supermarket or go into a bakery. Items from here will cost a lot less than eating out.
Tip: If its summer or just a nice day, have a picnic! Searching for food in a local supermarket and sitting in a park is not only cheap but a really good in sight into local life.
Re-fill your water bottle.
This is only a small cost saver but every little helps right? If you’re in a Country where the tap water is drinkable e.g generally Western Europe, be sure to fill up your water bottle before you head out. If you’re in a country where you can’t drink the tap water then see if there is a water dispenser anywhere. E.g In Belgrade I asked if we could drink the water, the receptionist said no but showed me where their water dispenser was. I definitely wouldn’t have found this had I not asked.
Tip: Buying water not only saves money but it’s so much better for the environment. I recently brought a Chilly’s Reusable Bottle, and I’m set on re-filling this as much as possible on my trips over buying bottled water!
Book tours once you’re there and shop around.
If you want to go on a day tour or a boat trip then make sure you do this, do not let being on a budget stop you (unless its super expensive), at the end of the day you may never go back to this place, however do not book online in advance! It’s always a lot more expensive. Instead, wait until you get there, ask the receptionist or have a look for tour agencies in the city and if there are a lot of companies selling a tour, shop around a bit first to make sure you are getting the best price!
And there you have it, my tips & Ideas on How to have a European City Break on a Budget!
If I think of any more ideas that are helpful I’ll be sure to add them and keep this post updated.
Some of the above may feel restrictive but you get used to it and it soon becomes a way of travelling. You may feel that your precious annual leave and memorable trips shouldn’t be spent thinking about money or cutting corners money wise but at the end of the day you need to decide what you want, do you want to spend X amount of money on 3-4 trips throughout the year or do you spend it on 1 trip..?
If you need some trip inspiration, here are some of the European City Break’s I’ve done whilst travelling on a budget!