Europe on a Budget: 4 Countries without Breaking the Bank

August 13, 2015
Europe on a Budget: 4 Countries without Breaking the Bank

It was Spring Break of 2013 and I was on my way to an all-expense paid trip to Europe. I had been waiting for as long as I could remember to make it across the Atlantic Ocean. France, England, Germany, and Switzerland never seemed so close. And to make things even more exciting, my boyfriend of one year was making the trip, too. This mini vacation included transportation (buses and trains), hotels, air fare, food, and entertainment all for a $3,000 price tag. With that fee already paid, I knew I needed to figure out a way to explore Europe on a budget.

Other costs I needed to keep in mind were paying for my passport and luggage, and converting dollars into Euros (€), Francs (CHF), and Pounds (£). One Euro is currently equal to 1.09 American dollars, about 1.37 at the time of my trip.

Travel Tip: The exchange rate of the Euro, Franc, and Pound is in constant fluctuation. If you are traveling to a country where any of these three are the primary currency, make sure to use a currency convertor to get the exact conversion rate at the time of your travel.

So how did I make it ten days without completely breaking the bank?

Before making the trip, our tour group made up of students, parents, and other chaperones, discussed these tips for seeing Europe on a budget:

1. If you’re a budget traveler, don’t pay $25-$50 on top of your plane ticket for your giant luggage. Take a carry-on instead.

A carry-on? You’ve got to be kidding, right? Nope.

All I took on this 10 day, 4 country trip was one carry-on luggage that measured around 22×17 inches, small enough to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane, as well as a backpack. It allowed for quick travel, saved me money, and kept me from buying too many souvenirs.

2. Choose which landmarks you really want to visit before stepping foot on another continent. This way you know exactly what you are paying for and get the tickets ahead of time.

The Eye

Travel Tip: Be aware of cultural practices. When I visited the Louvre in Paris, France, I got yelled at by a security officer for sitting on the floor. Did I mention that there were no benches to sit on? But his reasoning was simple – show respect.

3. Get a calling card instead of renting an international cell phone.

Trust me, whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, you’ll be so busy you won’t even have time to call home and chat with your friends. I got a minute card just to call my parents and I did that about three times total. However, not all hotels will allow you to use them.

4. Before the trip, split your money evenly into envelopes–one for each day.

I converted a total of 375 American dollars – 175 into Euros, 100 into Pounds, and 100 into Francs. The Euros were to be split between four days and two countries – France and Germany. That meant I would only have about €40 per day compared to CHF49 per day in Switzerland and £32 in England. I did not include envelopes for the days when I’d be flying.


Each day I only opened one envelope. If I had any leftover money, I would move it to the next day’s envelope while also making sure I saved one of each bill for a scrapbook (unless I needed it for an emergency of course). Don’t want to save for a scrapbook? You don’t need to!

I started out with bills only, but as I spent money I made sure to keep the change. When I was in France I had to pay in coins in order to use the bathroom. Some other places offered one-time vouchers with a purchase of some sort – this happened at a MacDonald’s in Switzerland. Have you ever heard of an $11 Big Mac meal? Yeah, me neither. I waited to pee somewhere else.

5. Give yourself enough time to get a passport.

Getting a passport can take months to get because each one has to be approved. I got my passport at my local post office and one thing a lot of people don’t know is that you have to get your photo taken separately. I got my picture taken at my neighborhood Walgreens and believe me when I say that it was the most expensive part of the passport process. We paid $25 for one 2×2 photo.  (Yikes!)

The cost of your passport will depend on the type of passport you request and how quickly you need it. In total, my passport was $165–photo included.

Fun Fact: If you were 16 years or older when your passport was issued, your passport is valid for 10 years. If you were 15 years or younger when your passport was issued, your passport is valid for 5 years

Germany 002

Planning a vacation is a long and stressful process, but when you plan accordingly, not only will you enjoy it more, but you’ll also be saving some big bucks. I plan to return to Europe, hopefully to Italy this time, for Spring Break of 2018! I’ll be using these hacks all over again and with confidence. Try them out and let me know if you have other tips that work!

Top Photo By Dennis_Jarvis

About Aleixka Macfie

Aleixka Macfie is a rising junior at James Madison University perusing a major in Journalism and Spanish minor. Some of her interests and hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, food, and photography. She has lived in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Virginia. Aleixka has also had the opportunity to travel to Nebraska, New York, Georgia, Washington D.C., France, England, Germany, and Switzerland.

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