Interrailing on a Budget: How to Save Money Travelling Europe
Let’s face the cold hard facts: Europe is expensive. For many people, interrailing is a far-flung dream but it can be done on the cheap if you’re willing to sacrifice some luxuries. It may not be as affordable or exotic as South East Asia but travelling around Europe is certainly possible on a student budget.
Whether you want to jet off on a three-month-long adventure or simply visit a few countries over a week’s period, this guide will help you prioritise what is most important to you and save money whilst interrailing.
Planning Your Trip Tips
Choose your destinations wisely
It will surprise no one that a couple of nights in Barcelona is going to set you back a hell of a lot more than a couple of nights in Bratislava. Where you choose to visit on your interrailing adventure will pretty much make or break how much you spend. Luckily, there are so many different interrail routes to choose from!
I would recommend choosing places which are less popular with tourists and instead head to ‘up and coming’ destinations like Lichtenstein, Romania, Poland, Serbia and Bulgaria. In general, eastern Europe is cheapest and northern Europe is the most expensive. Obviously, you can throw in a few pricier cities if you just can’t stay away from Paris but spending the bulk of your time in cheaper countries will save you a lot of money.
Similarly, avoiding peak season (aka July and August) will also go a long way. During peak season not only is everything more expensive but the cities are more crowded and all the locals are on holiday. Although the weather is generally better during these months, the amount of money you will save will make opting for slightly lower temperatures totally worth it.
Book your interrail pass in advance
Booking your transport before you head off will not only save you a heck of a lot of money but it will also help you budget/plan the rest of your trip. Side note: travellers aged 27 and younger get up to 25% off standard adult prices, so it’s wise to head on that big interrailing trip before your 27th birthday.
However, it’s always a good idea to check if buying an interrail pass will actually save you money. This will depend on how long you’re travelling for and where you plan on visiting. If you plan on doing a lot of travelling, especially long distance, a pass will save you money and a lot of hassle along the way. However, if you don’t plan on travelling across many countries, a pass may actually work out to be more expensive.
Similarly, if you’re planning to stay a bit longer in each city you visit, buying individual tickets might also work out cheaper. In summary, it’s important to know what your plan is before you head out ’cause otherwise, you’re going to be spending a lot of unnecessary money!
Take an overnight train
Taking a night train instead of travelling during the day is a great idea because it means you don’t have to pay for accommodation for a night and you’ll also maximise your time by travelling while you sleep. Be careful though as you do have to pay an additional fee to travel overnight (the amount depends on the type of sleeping accommodation you choose) but this is still almost always cheaper than staying in a hostel or hotel.
Hop on a bike
Renting a bike to travel around a city is a great decision for so many reasons. It saves money where you might otherwise be spending money on public transport and taxis, it’s great for your health and the environment, and it’s pretty freakin’ fun. Exploring a city on two wheels also lets you see a city from a unique, more local perspective and will help you discover different parts of a city that you might have missed if you were travelling on the metro, for example.
How much it costs to rent a bike in a European city will depend on where you hire a bike from. Donkey Republic is a cheap and convenient bike rental service that you can find in many cities across Europe. All you have to do is download the Donkey Republic app on your phone and then you can unlock your rental bike from various pick-up locations in the city you’re in. You don’t even need to make human contact, carry cash and ID cards, or bother with deposits! And their rental hours are 24/7. Could it be any easier? I don’t think so.
Renting a bike from Donkey Republic for one day will set you back an average of £11 which isn’t too bad considering you have unlimited use of them over a 24 hour period!
Accommodation can really eat into your budget, so like choosing your destinations wisely, you need to do the same with your accommodation. If you want a good deal on accommodation you’ll have to be flexible. This may mean:
- Staying out of city centres to get better accommodation for less: Public transport tends to be great in European cities, and it’ll also force you to explore a lesser-known neighbourhood.
- Paying more for a place that you’ll be happy spending time in, as you’ll be far more likely to eat in: If you get a super cheap place without a kitchen, odds are you’ll be paying extortionate restaurant prices for all your food. I know I’ve stayed in some hostels where I’ll do anything to not be in them so instead I spend a ton of money out. Definitely not a good thing!
Here are a few different accommodation types you may want to try out…
Camping is a very inexpensive and alternative way to experience Europe, amid some of the continent’s most spectacular scenery. However, I think you have to be a certain type of traveller to go down the camping route. Plus it depends on what you’re looking for in your interrailing travels: hustling city breaks or beautiful nature.
The negatives of camping include lugging a tent and other camping equipment around, and the fact that most campsites are located far from public transport. However, if you want to interrail on a budget, there really is no better way to keep costs down. Campsites are exceedingly cheap and, in a lot of places, free!
An obvious and very popular choice but definitely not one to ignore. If you want to save the pennies and you’re young enough (or at least have the mindset of a teenager/twenty-something) to bunk in a dorm room, do it! The best place to find amazing hostels to stay in is Hostelworld!
There are so many perks to staying in a hostel including meeting like-minded backpackers, complimentary breakfast, and free tours and events.
If you don’t think the hostel life is for you, you can always stay in a private room in a hostel, for only a little bit more money. You’ll have the best of both worlds: the luxury and privacy of a hotel combined with the price and atmosphere of a hostel. This is normally what my boyfriend and I do whilst travelling so we can retain a bit of privacy.
I am the biggest advocator of Airbnb ever. If you investigate properly you will find some right gems at stupidly cheap prices. Having your own little space to come back to at the end of a long day of sightseeing is the best feeling ever and it will force you to have much more of a local experience. Plus, if you’re travelling with friends why not share an apartment with them? It’ll keep the costs down even further.
Side note: here is £30 off your first Airbnb booking!
Don’t buy bottled water
You’ll save yourself a fair bit of money if you fill your bottle up with water from a tap, rather than buying bottled water. You’ll also be helping the environment! Tap water in most European countries is suitable for drinking, but make sure you double check with a local resident or your hostel/hotel first.
Go for a picnic or cook up a meal at “home”
If you’re lucky enough to be staying in an Airbnb or hostel with a kitchen, make the most of it! Buy food from a supermarket or local market and have a meal in or prepare a picnic to be enjoyed in the park. Ask your accommodation owner or receptionist where they shop, as they’ll know where the bargains are.
If you do decide to treat yourself to a meal out (and who can blame you?) be sure to eat away from the tourist areas as they are almost always more expensive and aren’t necessarily any better in quality either.
Make the most of free stuff
- Museums/Attractions: In some cities, you can visit a selection of museums and attractions for free. London, for example, has an amazing selection of museums and attractions to visit, completely free of charge.
- Tours: Be sure to only go on free city tours or DIY, instead of paying for them. Most European cities offer free walking tours – simply search for them online, or you’ll probably find your hostel/hotel offers one. These free walking tours are a great opportunity to meet other travellers as well.
- Entertainment: There is plenty of free entertainment to be found in Europe, from open-air concerts to pub bands. Go online when you get to a new city and check out any upcoming events: odds are you’ll find something free.
- WiFi: There is plenty of free WiFi in Europe, especially in restaurants/cafes, libraries, museums and your accommodation! There is no need to pay for something that you can get for free.
- Toilets: Do not underestimate the amount of change you will throw away just to use toilets in Europe. Whenever you’re at a hostel/restaurant/attraction that offers free use of toilets, make the most of it.
So have you got any other tips on how to interrail on a budget? Let me know in the comments below!
This post was sponsored by Donkey Republic but as always all opinions are my own.
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