You’re ready to make the leap.
The travel bug has bitten and you have decided that now is the time in your life to put your life into a backpack and travel the world. You’re going to quit your job, move your stuff into your parents’ house, and fly to Europe to go see first hand all of the things you had read about in textbooks and seen in movies.
One big question looming over you is how much do you need to budget. How much does it cost to backpack through Europe? How long can I go with the amount of money that I have now? How much do I need to save?
Don’t worry. Backpacking through Europe is actually much cheaper than you think. There are many options out there to lower the costs of traveling. The main costs associated with backpacking are: travel, accommodation, food, and entertainment. For all of these costs, there is always an array of options from the budget backpacking option to the expensive package deals. There are many ways to save money in the cities and cheaper ways to travel, as we have written about before. If you commit to finding the budget backpacking option for everything, then your money can last a surprisingly last time.
That said, you will need a significant amount saved up and you will need to stick to a strict budget while traveling. This is especially true for those with an indefinite end, or those who try to travel for as long as possible before the money runs out. Every expense adds up overtime, especially without any source of income. You have to treat your budget like you’re on a strict diet: as good as that doughnut or expensive tour looks, you just have to say no. If you can stick to your budget, your money will last a lot longer than you think.
How much money did you save before traveling?
This is the most common question that we get from interested travelers. It is simply the most pressing question on every potential backpacker’s mind. While we dodged the question at first, we’ve decided it is best to help people out with an actual concrete number. We avoided answering the question because the answer contains too many variables. It depends on where you visit, what you eat, where you stay and if you want souvenirs. Remember, this number is for two people who backpacked Europe for 9 months, with another month in the United States, visited 16 countries, 2 states, and took over a dozen flights, numerous trains and buses, visited many museums, and drank their way through Europe.
So, the answer is: $15,000
Take a deep breath. If that number seems way too high for you, remember that that number was a budget for two people to travel indefinitely. That’s only $7,500 per person and that amount of money afforded A LOT of travel in Europe. Let’s break that number down even further.
We each traveled for a total of 305 days. That means that we spent, on average, $49.50 per diem. That’s only $25 per person per day! That number includes all airfare, every hostel, every meal, every beer, every museum, travel insurance and phone bills…everything.
We spent about $700 in the build up to the trip. We purchased new shoes, our backpacks, my passport, a few city passes, and some other odds and ends. We did this in the months leading up to leaving, which meant we purchased them sporadically and we still had jobs to cover the expenses.
Prior to embarking on our trip we really had no idea how long that money would last us. We started the trip on October 1 and we originally expected to be back by Christmas. After spending Christmas in Prague, we figured we would be back by February. By March we realized we still hadn’t made it to Spain, so maybe June or July would be more realistic. Our money lasted much longer than we expected. We had not necessarily been saving for a trip in the years leading up to leaving. Once we started to look into prices, though, we realized that our budget could afford us a lot of travel. While it couldn’t buy us that nice of a car or much of a house, it could buy us a lifetime of experiences in Europe.
How much do I need to backpack through Europe?
The way in which you travel will ultimately decide how much money you need. We chose to make our money last as long as possible. We wanted to figure out how long we could travel for with $15,000.
Remember that $15,000 is not necessarily the amount of money that YOU need to backpack through Europe. If you want to stay in a hotel every night, eat out for every meal, do not search for the cheapest flight, and you want to do every single sight no matter the price, then you will need more. However, you can easily travel for much less if you travel to cheaper countries, make your own meals, stay in the cheapest hostels or Couchsurf, and volunteer.
Our budget broke down to $25 per person per day. Now that is extreme budget backpacking and that number is much lower than other people’s numbers posted online. Most people suggest that Western Europe costs between $75-100 per day, and Eastern Europe costs around $40-75. However, we used Workaway while traveling and dramatically lowered that number. We stayed on 9 different Workaways while traveling, which lowered our costs to less than $10 a day many times and oftentimes we spent no money at all. It doesn’t get better than that for budget backpackers!
$25 per person per day is our average number. That’s important to note because there were many days that we spent more than that. While on the road we spent more than that every single day. However, we spent some much time at Workaways that we spent a lot of our trip spending nearly no money. If you don’t plan on using Workaway or HelpX, then your number will be much higher.
An appropriate budget then is $50 per diem, if you plan to use at least one Workaway or HelpX while traveling and commit to budget travel. If you want other advice on how to travel on $50 a day, then check out www.nomadicmatt.com for some great advice. He literally wrote the book on it! Also check out our page of budget travel tips for more advice too.
There will be days that you spend more than $50, especially if you spend time in the United Kingdom or Scandinavia. However, volunteering and spending time in cheaper countries will balance that number and $50 a day will be more than enough on average to backpack through Europe. You can easily book a hostel, eat three meals a day, and do a city tour in most Eastern European cities for under $50 a day. The same day, however, will cost you over $100 in the more expensive countries. It is all about balance. Think of the diet analogy. If you overindulge one day, then you need to restrict yourself for a few days after to stay in balance.
If you’re an American citizen on a travel visa, then you are given 90 days out of 180 days within the Schengen Area. For those of you who don’t know, the Schengen Area is an area of Western European countries who have open boarders, meaning you don’t need to show your passport at every border in order to get in. While the refugee issue in Europe has altered some of the agreement recently, American citizens still need to abide by the 90 in 180 rule. The Schengen Area happens to be most of Western Europe, excluding the United Kingdom, so following this rule is a good baseline for someone who wants to travel throughout Europe without every leaving continental Europe.
If you wanted to travel throughout Europe until your Schengen Visa ran out on $50 a day, then you would need to budget at least $4,500. Factoring in an emergency stash of at least $500, we suggest that you budget $5,000 for your 3 months in Europe.
A few disclaimers before you decide to quit your job. This number is a baseline for extremely savvy budget backpackers who still want to do and see all that Europe has to offer. It’s easier to spend less if you don’t drink, but for us that seemed boring. We could not go to Belgium and not drink Belgium beers. It’s easy to save money if you don’t go to any sights, but that’s why you came in the first place, right? And of course, if you choose not to move around much you can save even more money, since travel days are by far the most expensive days. However, if you are like us and you want to see as many places as possible while in Europe, you will probably jump around a good amount.
However, it is very easy to go over this number. If your not diligent at planning or if you let your guard down and spend too much money at numerous tourist traps, then you will quickly go over budget. This is especially true if you choose not to use Workaway or HelpX while traveling, since you will always have to pay for food and accommodation. We budgeted at everything we did in order to get to that number. We ate a lot of rice, pasta, and oats; we skipped a lot of places that we wanted to see because they charged admission; and we rarely went out clubbing, as we all know how quickly money disappears after a night at the bars.
We also traveled during the off-season, which made a tremendous difference. We flew out in October and did most of our extensive hostel time during the fall and winter. It made a big difference. When we visited Paris in October, it was $25 per person to stay for one night at a hostel. In May, it was $40 a night at the cheapest hostel in the city. Visiting in off-season can save you a lot of money and, thanks to global warming, it isn’t that cold in most places. We visited the Almalfi Coast in December, saved a lot of money, dealt with less crowds, and still got to hike the Sentiero Degli Dei in nice weather.
Of course, many people are going to dispute this number. Let’s be clear: This is not an absolute number! There are so many variables. $15,000 is, however, the actual amount of money that two people spent to travel Europe for 10 months. We actually did spend $25 per person per day. Many people have done it for more, and some have done it for less, but think of this as a baseline and adapt the number to your needs and wants.
How does that compare to other life choices?
Setting out on an adventure comes with a lot of doubt and a lot of questions. Not just from yourself, but from your family and friends too. Your parents will inevitably question your life choice of spending all of your hard earned money on travel. Your mom will ask when your returning to work and your dad will ask if you have considered your 401(k) recently. Family members will come out of the woodwork to comment on your Facebook posts to ask when it is you plan on returning. Be safe! Have fun! But come back and do something normal like working and buying a house!
So how does spending $5,000 on travel compare to other life choices? Let’s consider college. Attending university is supposed to be the safe, reasonable choice that will help you get a job and further your education. As a graduate, I’m going to question the whole “it will help land you a good job” logic, but overall going to college was a great life choice. It was, however, an extremely expensive one.
We both graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. According to CNN Money, the average cost for one year of college at CU Boulder is $28,720, which is slightly higher than when we graduated in 2013. We’ll use the current number for our purposes, though. A full school year is about 6 months, so let’s halve that number and call one-semester of college $14,360. That’s nearly 3 times the amount that we recommend for 3 months of backpacking Europe! We spent $15,000 on ONE SEMESTER of college, when including rent, fees, food, books, etc. We spent that same amount of money on 305 days of backpacking Europe.
Maybe CU Bolder is expensive (it is, trust us), so let’s use the average cost of college in the United States. According to the College Board, the average cost for a year of college with in-state tuition in the United States is $24,061. That’s $12,030 for 3 months of school. That’s still 2.5 times the amount we spent for the same amount of time traveling Europe.
Beyond just the immense amount of fun that we had, during our time in Europe we got the best education that we have ever received in our lives. We exposed ourselves to radically different cultures, we practiced several new languages, discussed politics and history, and we actually visited historical sights rather than simply reading about them. We learned how to budget, learned new culinary skills, and got hands on practice on actual life skills. We read dozens of novels that we never had the time for before, and actually had time to think and discuss world events. By using Workaway, we gained invaluable volunteer experience while learning new skills and trying our hands at things we never would have otherwise. And we started a blog, so we got to practice and hone in our writing skills (how are we doing?). Plus, we made friends all over the world and were actually offered several job opportunities while traveling had we wanted to obtain our work visa.
When compared to college, a year of travel is a much more rewarding experience and it is 1/3 of the price. I look back on college and sometimes wonder what I spent all that money and time on, but I have no doubt that backpacking Europe was the best choice of my life. It was more invigorating and engaging than college and I’m not carrying around an immense amount of “traveler loan debt” like I am with school. When your parents come asking about your life choices, feel free to use this blog as your defense for travel rather than the ‘normal’ life choices.
It was also cheaper to travel than it is to simply live in the United States. Rent prices in Colorado are rising astronomically, and we lived essentially rent free for an entire year of our lives. While we had no income while traveling, it was overall cheaper for us to travel than to return home and rent an apartment. Food costs are lower in Europe, as well as most living expenses. If you find a way to making money while traveling, you can actually save a lot of money by spending your time in Europe rather than the States.
Budget Backpacking is Affordable
Budget backpacking in Europe is more affordable than you think. It’s less than buying a car. It’s less than a year of college. It’s more than likely cheaper than living in your current situation. It’s possible!
Of course, any budget has numerous variables. Where you go, how you travel, and how much time you spend at each place makes tremendous differences. At the end of the day, $50 a day is a good barometer for what is possible. It’s very plausible for someone to backpack Europe for 3 months with $5,000. Be smart. Keep a savings account that you don’t touch. Have some money ready for when you get back. If $5,000 is all that you have to your name, then don’t go for a full 3 months. Go for one month, volunteer somewhere, and come back after living in Europe for a month having spent around $1,500, not including your flights there and back.We found discount flights and spent $700 round-trip for flights (using two different airlines booked at two different times).
If you are willing to live the budget backpack life, consider how long you can be away from home. That might be the determining factor on coming home, not your budget. Plan out cities and sites you want to see. We found that 4 days was a comfortable amount of time to spend in a city. Then book a Workaway in place you want to learn about, which will lower your spending costs and get you a chance to meet some locals. Calculate all the days together and multiply it by 50 for your beginning budget number. If you really put your head down and focus on saving, you can save more than that and use the extra money for creature comforts, more beer, nicer food, souvenirs, and more sights. Make the right choice based on how much you have saved or plan to save. If you’re lucky though, and have $5,000 to spend, then know that – if you are diligent – it can afford you a full travel visa’s worth of time in Europe!