Backpacking through Europe on a budget

Hello, all! My name is Anna and I am Jane’s younger sister. I just graduated college this past May and am currently backpacking through Europe for a month.

Greetings from Barcelona!

I have been backpacking solo for 2 weeks now and I have learned, amongst many other things, how affordable traveling can be! My trip started in Lisbon, Portugal, and I have already made my way through Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, and Valencia, Spain. After a few more days in Barcelona, I’ll be flying to the U.K. where I’ll explore London, Brighton, Birmingham, Southampton, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

I know… sounds expensive right? Well, surprisingly not as much as you’d think.

Travel Costs on a Budget

The biggest expense has been the plane ticket, which cost me a hefty $800, even when booked several months in advance. Additional plane or train tickets in between cities may add up to another several hundred. The key is to do your research! Find out whether it is better to use mileage or just to book it yourself. Round trips are generally cheaper, but, if you are backpacking like me, not efficient. Mobile apps such as Skyscanner will search through all flight (and hotel) combinations to give you the cheapest options.

In Europe, there is a very affordable and efficient train system that will take you virtually anywhere in the EU at any budget. High-speed trains are popular options, but they come at a cost. Fortunately, because time was not a constraint for me, I booked my tickets in advance on regional trains when possible. Although the ride was much longer in between cities, it cost me significantly less.

What I paid  Buying a high-speed train ticket day of, at the station
Madrid to Valencia $30 $80
Valencia to Barcelona $32 $50


Housing on a Budget

Once you are in your desired country of travel, everything becomes pretty reasonable. I have been staying in hostels every night, which ranges from $15 to 40, depending on the city. In case you are unfamiliar, hostels are essentially dorm-style hotels. You stay in a twin sized bed, sometimes bunk bed, with several other random travelers. Although it may seem daunting, it is actually my favorite way to travel, especially solo. Why spend over $100 per night for a fancy hotel when all you will do there is sleep? Hostels are a great way to minimize costs.

Also, all the hostels I have stayed at so far offer tip-based walking tours nearly every day, which is a great way to get to know the city from locals.

I recommend booking in advance if you can to secure the best hostels. Read online reviews thoroughly to see which ones match your needs. Websites such as or are great resources.

City What I paid/night
(In advance)
Booking day of –Same Hostel price /night Booking day of –Lower end of Hotel price/night
Lisbon, Portugal $22 $34 $168 (~150€)
Madrid, Spain $24 $42 $168
Barcelona, Spain $50 $62 $190
London, U.K. $38 $42 $124
Edinburgh, Scotland $18 $18 $112

The hostel names are Lisbon Destination Hostel, Mola Hostel, Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel, Pickwick Hall, and Castle Rock Hostel, respectively by listed city. All of these hostels had at least an 8.8 rating on

Column 4 prices were determined by examining The hotels determined on TripAdvisor had average ratings and were the lowest price available.

Airbnb is also a great option if you have at least 2 people, and are staying in one location for several days.

Food on a Budget

For food, I usually budget about $25 a day. Some days it is significantly less, especially if the hostel I am staying at provides free breakfast, and other days I may splurge on a fancier meal. The beauty of traveling alone is that you have the flexibility to eat when and what you want all within your budget! One of my favorite things to do in new cities is to find a local farmers market where I can get some cheap, fresh fruits and vegetables. As a vegetarian, I find that my options drastically differ in each city. So to satisfy my veggie craving, I will occasionally buy boxed meals and other healthy goodies from the nearest supermarket and make a meal out of it! In Spain, it is easy to dine on a budget because the culture is to eat Tapas, small appetizers, all throughout the day.

Try to avoid tourist traps as well (restaurants near museums or tourist “hot spots”; these menus will have a lot of pictures; usually there is a waiter trying to entice you to come inside), which don’t give you an authentic eating experience and are generally overpriced.

Rewarding Site-seeing

When it comes to museums, always do your research! Most museums offer student discounts (you may need an international student id) or have special hours during the week that they are free to the public. In Madrid, I visited the renowned Museo del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia at no cost by checking when they had free admission. Every dollar adds up so take advantage of all the free opportunities!

Food for thought

Even with the occasional splurging, I expect my total cost for this trip to be about $3,000, including flights. Keep in mind that I am traveling for a whole month! The value of my solo backpacking experience, however, is absolutely priceless. Staying in hostels makes it easy to make friends and join in on group adventures. Take advantage of hostels’ walking tours, social dinners, and pub crawls.

Although it may sound cliché, you really “find yourself” when traveling abroad alone. I know that I will for sure remember these experiences for the rest of my life.

Thanks for reading! I hope this entices you to embrace your own wanderlust. If international trips seem too far-fetched right now, don’t write-off domestic trips. Any type of travel allows you to become more cultured, grateful, mindful and well-rounded. Safe travels everyone!

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