Extreme budget travel. It’s just what it sounds like. It’s definitely not for everyone, or even most people for that matter. Before you decide to set out to travel as a true vagabond, know what you’re getting yourself into. You’ll be sleeping under bridges, you may go quite a while without eating, and you may miss out on some fun things to do during your travels. You also may be doing some things that aren’t quite legal. I can’t stress enough how much you need to prepare and dedicate yourself to this type of travel before you try it. It’s not for most people, but it can be extremely rewarding in its own ways.
- Hitchhiking – You may have read my guide to Hitchhiking in Europe a couple weeks ago. This is hands down the best way to travel long distance through Europe on the cheap. You will meet tons of interesting people and you usually don’t have to worry about getting trouble with the police. The only downfall to hitchhiking is that you may find yourself stranded at a gas station as we had happen a few times.
- Train-Hopping- This works well in some countries and is nearly impossible in others. In Germany it is relatively easy to jump on any train without having to worry about someone asking for a ticket, and in Italy it’s incredibly easy. I’ve went all over Italy without buying a single train ticket. Countries that are harder for train-hopping would be Spain and France. Switzerland would be slightly risky, but most of the time I wasn’t asked for a ticket.
UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments below, I may have just had bad luck in Spain and France. Always look for the government-ran lines for train-hopping. They are much less-likely to check for tickets than the privately-owned lines.
- Bus and Tram Hopping – Buses/Trams are the same situation as trains, but much easier. These are useful for travel throughout cities, and not really feasible for inter-city travel. I have a general rule of thumb: If I see two sets of doors on the bus; where people getting on don’t have to pay up-front, then I’ll be fine grabbing a free ride. I have ridden an astonishing amount of buses and trams without paying for a single one and haven’t been caught yet. (Knock on wood!)
- Walking – Get used to it. Pack light. You’re going to do more walking than you’ve probably ever done. Alongside highways, through forests to find camping, everywhere.
- Camping– You’ll do a lot of this while traveling on an extreme budget in Europe. I’ve slept under quite a few bridges, in a culvert one night, on park benches, you name it. Get used to getting out of your comfort zone when it comes to sleeping. Get very used to noise. Many nights during long stretches of hitchhiking you will be sleeping in very close proximity to highways. I packed a lightweight hammock with a built-in mosquito net the last time I was budget-traveling Europe. They worked very well for comfortability, although there have been many times during which I had nowhere to set them up. I go into this and other options a little more on my Extreme Budget Travel Packing List.
- Couchsurfing – This is by far the best option for travel accommodations. It’s free, a lot of times your host will feed you, and most of the time you’ll have your own personal tour guide. This does require a little more planning however, so it works much better if you have a general idea of where you’ll be and when you’ll be there. Make a very personal and happy Couchsurfing profile, have a few of your friends add you and leave some good reviews, and you’ll be set! When sending someone a request, make sure you make it very personalized towards them. (i.e. “Hello Mikael, I noticed you’re into snowboarding. I snowboard a lot back home! etc., etc.”)
- Networking – It surprises me that no one really mentions this option. I have had great luck with talking to people I Couchsurf or stay in hostels with, and if they’re from a country I know I’ll be visiting, I just ask them if they know anyone I could stay with. I’ve had our best host from my traveling life to date from doing this, and it was much easier than sending out a dozen Couchsurfing requests. Never underestimate the power of good people skills!!
- Hostels – These are your last resort, so-to-speak. There will come a time that you haven’t showered in over a week. Your clothes are disgusting. You haven’t slept. You haven’t had any replies from your Couchsurfing requests. It’s time to cave and spend a little money. Depending on the area, hostels can be very cheap. I’ve gotten them as cheap as 6 euro, and as expensive as 30! Just because one is more expensive does not by any means suggest that it’s better, even in cleanliness. The two best hostels I’ve stayed at in Europe were the INOUT Hostel in Barcelona, Spain and the Hostel Happy Days, in Rome, Italy both of which were around 10-15 euro per person.
- Sleeping On The Street – I’ve done more of this than I’d care to admit. My friend Leif over at The Runaway Guide has a couple of great articles on it which helped me out a lot. You can check them out here: How To Sleep On The Street and How To Go Urban Camping.
- Supermarkets– this is going to be a short list, because this is the only place you should be getting food unless someone gives it to you. Restaurants are just too expensive if you’re on an extreme budget. This is what I struggle with more than anything. It’s so tantalizing to watch all the tourists sitting down at restaurants eating their meals, but you have to resist. The only time I will get food from a restaurant is if I can’t find a supermarket, haven’t eaten in quite some time, and it’s cheap. The good news is that Europe’s supermarkets offer much higher quality food than America, so you’ll actually be eating very good. I recommend a lot of rice, pasta, tuna, peanut butter, and fruit. You’ll be needing lots of carbs, proteins and vitamins to keep up with all the backpacking you’re doing.
4.What To Pack
- One word: weight. That’s all you should have running through your mind when you’re tempted to throw in all of these useless little comfort items for your pack. This is a problem for me, because I have to carry all the equipment to run a music and photography website, along with camping gear. I’ve listed a complete list of items to take along with you in my Extreme Budget Travel Packing List, mentioned above.
- It wouldn’t be a budget article if I didn’t mention it. Make sure you have plenty saved up. In Europe, even with budget travel I would recommend at least 1,000 euro per month of travel just in case. It shouldn’t cost nearly this much if you follow this guide to a “T” but it is nice to have extra cash to maybe have drinks with new friends, or treat yourself to something. If you don’t have the money, then stick to the rules I’ve listed.
- Do you have a talent, such as playing music? Play on the streets! This is called “busking” and is very common in Europe. You can make around 10-40 euro per hour or two of playing music. That can be a huge deal when the only thing you’re spending money on is food and the occasional hostel.
- The only set travel costs you will have as a vagabond are food and maybe a hostel here or there. Food bought at supermarkets will generally cost you about 5-8 euro per day.
The number one thing to keep in mind when you’re setting out to do this type of traveling is that you’re going to be going far out of your comfort zone. You will probably feel homeless at many times. You will be sleeping in places that will probably make you feel very uncomfortable. You will be hungry. You will be tired. I know this is rather redundant, but I can’t stress it enough. Know what you’re getting yourself into. It will be hard, very hard at times, but there are definitely upsides to this type of travel. You will meet tons of amazing local people and hear their stories, share laughs with them, and learn their customs. You will see things that no regular tourist knows about. You’ll have amazing stories to tell from your experiences, and it will make you a better person. It’s a very humbling experience to be given rides (and sometimes even dinner!) from a complete stranger; to see compassion and selflessness in action. Not to mention you’ll be able to travel much longer without spending very much money.
Have you ever traveled like this? Do you have any tips for readers? Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments below or visit me on Facebook!
Peace and Happy Travels,