Backpacking Europe: How much does it cost?
October 20, 2022 11 min read
If you’re planning to backpack Europe, you’ve likely got an amazing trip ahead of you. You might see the Northern Lights in Finland. Hear live music in Prague. Spend a rainy day in London. With some of the world’s great sights and cities within reach, you’ll want to go as far as your imagination—and your budget—can take you.
Is it expensive to backpack in Europe? It doesn't have to be. With a little preparation and flexibility, saving money while taking the trip of a lifetime can be doable.
- It’s possible to have a great time backpacking Europe—and to do it economically.
- There’s no average cost for backpacking through Europe, because prices for things like airfare, hotels and food can vary widely.
- Where you go and what you see can affect your budget, too. For example, you could appreciate the Matterhorn from a distance for free—or pay to see it up close in a helicopter.
- In addition to practical tips and money-saving strategies, there are websites and apps that can help with planning your trip and keeping it on budget.
Average cost of backpacking Europe
How much does it cost to backpack through Europe? Because lots of variables can impact the trip from a financial perspective, there's no easy answer. For example, there’s the cost of air travel and other transportation. Plus, you’ll need to pay for lodging, food, attractions and other incidentals along the way.
There are also timing aspects: A trip that takes 2 months is going to cost more than a trip that lasts 2 weeks.
The bottom line is that it can be easy to spend a lot of money while backpacking Europe. But it’s also possible to spend less money and still have a great time.
Cost of airfare
It’s generally accepted that a plane ticket to Europe will be one of your biggest expenses. It’s also a general rule that the earlier you book your ticket, the better your chances of saving money. In fact, some travel experts suggest starting your search for an international flight at least 4 to 6 months in advance.
The timing of your visit to Europe could also affect your airfare. Prices may be higher in spring, summer and fall. But off-season travel—November through March in particular—could mean a lower price.
You might want to consider using an online service to help you find more affordable airfare. It’s possible that doing some research on one of these sites—and there are lots to choose from—could be time well spent.
Accommodations in Europe
Like airfare, you can expect that lodging will be a fairly major expense. The good news is that you can expect a wide range of options in Europe—everything from luxury hotels to economical hostels to flexible vacation rentals.
Where you choose to stay largely depends on your budget and the timing of your getaway.
Hotels in Europe
Hotels in Europe span a wide range of prices and amenities. You’ll find everything from luxury accommodations where two people can spend close to $2,000 a night or more—sometimes much more—to budget hotels where two people can pay about $100-$300 per night.
Hostels in Europe
Hostels tend to be a popular choice with backpackers. Affordability is one reason. True, services in hostels are usually more basic than what you’ll find at a hotel—but that means you can expect to pay less. Typically, hostel prices range from $20-$40 per night.
One of the downsides of staying in a hostel? Potentially sleeping in a dorm-style room with people you don’t know and sharing a kitchen and bathroom. But that’s also one of the upsides: the sense of community created by sharing close quarters with fellow travelers from around the world.
Rental apartments in Europe
Staying in a fully furnished rental apartment or home while you’re backpacking in Europe—at least for some of your stay—is another idea. You can start your search on an online vacation rental website.
One of the bonuses of staying in an apartment or house is that you’ll most likely have a kitchen, which means saving on food costs. And if most of your trip will be spent sleeping in a campground or hostel, you might enjoy treating yourself to a more comfortable and private option for a few days.
Alternative lodging in Europe
Choosing a non-hotel form of lodging could help you save money and get even more out of your stay. For example, agritourism—which is popular in countries like Italy—allows you to stay on a working farm at a rate that’s typically cheaper than many hotels. Spain and France have similar options for countryside lodging.
Campgrounds in Europe
Europe offers plentiful chances to camp. Options range from luxury campgrounds with swimming pools to campsites with cabins, cottages and yurts.
RVs in Europe
Renting an RV—a recreational vehicle—in Europe generally won’t be cheap. But the bonus is that it cuts down on lodging costs. Even if your goal is to walk as much of Europe as possible, renting an RV for a few days can help you cover more ground and see more sights.
Backpacking is great, right? But when you’d like to cover large distances in Europe quickly—or give yourself time off your feet to recharge—you’ve got plenty of other options. They include planes, trains, subways, buses, rental cars, taxis, ferries, cruise boats and bikes.
Rental cars in Europe
Renting a car in Europe can be a great way to get around. Imagine being behind the wheel on a scenic country road or zipping down Germany’s famous Autobahn.
The process of booking a rental car in Europe is generally similar to the U.S. But in Europe, rental car costs can change between companies—and also between countries. The time of year when you’re traveling could also impact the cost.
Keep in mind that the car itself is just one of the costs associated with renting a vehicle. You’ll also need to pay for incidentals like gas and—if you choose—rental car insurance.
Public transportation in Europe
Many European cities have public transportation networks that can make getting around fairly easy. Subways and trains can get you where you want to go quickly—and buses and trams can give you a more scenic view of a city or town.
Keep in mind that there are apps available to help with using public transportation in Europe. They can give you information about things like fares, schedules and more.
Railway in Europe
Trains are widely considered a highly efficient way to get around Europe. That’s because most of the continent is connected by a rail network. Options for travel by rail include high-speed trains, local and international trains, and trains designed for sightseeing.
Eurail Passes are generally popular with backpackers. Think of them as all-in-one tickets that give travelers access to most trains across the continent. According to Eurail, its global pass is its bestselling option. It allows an adult who’s 28 or older to have 10 days of unlimited train travel over 2 months for $409. Plus, travelers under 27 or over 60 get a discount on their passes.
Regional flights in Europe
When you’re interested in hopping from place to place efficiently, you might also consider regional flights. If you’re hoping to economize, you might try flying out of one of Europe’s hub cities, such as Frankfurt, Paris, London or Rome.
Online booking sites may be helpful for finding tickets and good deals. If possible, use one with a focus on airlines that serve Europe. And try to be sure before you book; that’s because some budget tickets can’t be refunded or changed.
Other cost considerations
Transportation and lodging will almost certainly be your major costs while you’re backpacking in Europe—but you’ll have lots of other expenses, too. You’ll be buying meals, of course. You may want to take an excursion here and there. And there’s a chance you’ll buy a few souvenirs for special people back home.
These types of expenditures will impact the total cost of your trip. But how much—or how little—you spend on them will typically depend on your priorities and budget.
Food and drink
Europe is world renowned for its amazing food—and its pricey restaurants. Eating out during your stay could add up in a hurry. But it’s possible to eat well in Europe—very well, in fact—on a budget. Here are some ideas:
- Bakeries and pastry shops: You’ll generally find that Europe’s bakeries and pastry shops are a reasonably priced dining choice. Prices can be much lower than, for instance, starting your day with crepes and café au lait on site at your hotel.
- Fresh produce stands: At Europe’s produce markets, you’ll find farm-fresh vegetables for sale—and often other staples like cheese, olives and homemade bread.
- Grocery stores: Grocery stores can offer lots of convenience and low prices. You can buy food in small quantities and make some of your own meals—maybe sandwiches for a picnic or appetizers for watching the sun set over the ocean.
- Rural restaurants: Venturing away from major cities and their higher prices can help keep dining costs reasonable. Try restaurants in the European countryside for authentic fare at more modest prices—and a chance to mingle with the locals.
- Street food: Speaking of authentic, food sold by street vendors can be deliciously real. Plus, it’s usually fast and reasonably priced. What’s not to love?
Excursions and attractions
Europe offers all kinds of options for day trips or longer excursions when you’re backpacking—so take your pick based on your interests and schedule. You could bike for a week through France’s wine country or spend a day at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland. Take a catamaran cruise to Santorini or a car trip from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher.
So make a list of the sights you’d love to see and build them into your travel plans. Here are a few more from all across Europe to consider:
- Colosseum: The Colosseum, Italy’s storied 50,000-seat amphitheater, is nearly 2,000 years old. To visit this Italian landmark is to experience the history of the arena, its gladiators and the ancient city of Rome.
- Vatican Museums: The Vatican Museums in Rome were conceived in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II. They display what’s considered one of the world’s major collections of art—plus, they’re home to the breathtaking Sistine Chapel.
- Eiffel Tower: From its esplanade to its summit, the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris gives visitors stunning views of the city. The tower, which was completed in 1889, is considered one of the world’s most iconic structures.
- Matterhorn: The majestic Matterhorn spans the border between Switzerland and Italy but it’s generally agreed that the best views are on the Italian side. It’s one of the most famous mountains in all of Europe, both for its height—it rises nearly 15,000 feet in the air—and its striking pyramid shape.
- Mystras: A spectacular example of medieval ruins, Mystras is the former Byzantine capital located in Greece near Sparta. There, visitors can see the ruins of palaces, churches and monasteries, most built between 1200 and 1400.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park: Located in central Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park is the country’s largest national park. It’s a major natural attraction where tourists can enjoy dense forests, crystalline lakes and hundreds of waterfalls—plus 11 miles of walking paths and footbridges.
- Van Gogh Museum: The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam houses the world’s largest collection of the work of Vincent van Gogh. Over 200 paintings and 500 drawings explore the artist’s journey, from his early works in the Netherlands to those near the end of his career in France.
- Windsor Castle: Windsor Castle in England has been the royal residence of the British monarchy for more than 1,000 years. Highlights include St George’s Chapel and the popular Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Souvenirs and unexpected costs
While you’re backpacking Europe, you might want to buy souvenirs for family and friends. As with most things on your trip, you can spend a little or a lot—the choice is essentially yours.
Unexpected expenses may come up, too. You may need more warm clothing than you packed, for example. And there may be times when you want to splurge on yourself. So build money into your budget for things like an amazing bottle of wine from France or artisanal chocolate from Austria.
How to save money backpacking Europe
Getting to see Europe on foot can be amazing. So can saving money while you’re doing it.
Here are a few money-saving tips to consider:
- Book your trip with a service like Capital One Travel. When you’re trying to economize, it may help to use a service like Capital One Travel. For example, Capital One Travel can help you make the most of your credit card rewards.
- Avoid peak travel season. Summer, fall and spring can be more expensive than winter. So if you’re a fan of cooler weather, consider traveling then. Be sure to avoid holidays, too, when prices will almost certainly be higher.
- Sign up for alerts about low-fare plane tickets. You can get emails, for example, about fare reductions and related information. They can come from both airfare search sites and official airline sites.
- Stay in modest accommodations. You’ll generally save money by staying in a hostel versus a hotel, for instance. So keep your lodging low-key and you may have extra money for splurging on something fun—like dinner at one of the Eiffel Tower’s restaurants.
- Focus on activities that are free. Sure, it can be fun to spend time at Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. But they often come with an admission fee and other expenses. So when you’re planning your vacation, research inexpensive activities. Spend an afternoon in a free public park, for example—or spend a morning at a sidewalk cafe sipping espresso and watching the world go by.
- Try using a travel budget calculator. You can plug in information like the number of people traveling, the number of nights you’ll be away and how much you’re prepared to spend on food per day. It’s far from an exact science, of course—but it can give you a rough estimate of the cost of your trip.
Backpacking Europe in a nutshell
Backpacking Europe can be a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll likely see places, meet people and learn things that could change the way you see the world.
Bring along your budget and your sense of adventure—and you could have the trip of your dreams while keeping expenses under control.
While you’re thinking about budgeting and finances, you may want to compare Capital One travel and miles rewards credit cards. From hotels and car rentals to flights and more, you’ll get rewarded for the way you travel—and earn unlimited miles on every purchase you make.