Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

Hitchhiking, wild camping and food – Our budget tips for backpacking in Europe!

People wonder if we have pockets full of money to go on a world journey like this. Euhm, no we don’t. What we do have are pockets full of experience on how to travel economically. We have a small budget so we have to be more creative, step more out of our comfort zone, create our own travel tour and therefore have more adventures than if we would just travel from hotel to hotel. Yes, sometimes it’s uncomfortable but this is the way we learn the most about the cultures and the countries we go to, about life and about ourselves. If there wouldn’t be a challenge, we wouldn’t learn anything.

 

The biggest expenses while traveling are transport, accommodation and food. With this article we’ll tell you our personal story on how we managed to cross 5500 km through Europe during three months on a very small budget!

Our route through Europe
Our route through Europe

 

* * We will start with one big general tip: if you travel outside the tourist season, you’ll save a lot of money on transport, accommodation, entrance fees,… Everything is cheaper and on top of that, you’ll get a more genuine feeling of a place without being surrounded by hundreds of other tourists!

Our visit to Plitvice Jezera National Park in Croatia is a great example.

 

Plitive Jezera - Croatia - Journal of Nomads

 

 

TRANSPORT
 
By sea

We only have one rule during our journey around the world: no matter what we do or how challenging it may be, we’re not taking any airplane. This means we have to cross seas and oceans by boat. The ferry from Cork (Ireland) to Roscoff (France) turned out to be cheaper than taking an airplane. Traveling by sea gave us a better feeling of transition and distance between the countries instead of flying from one airport to another. It gave us time to really appreciate the journey we were on. We didn’t have to sit with our knees jammed up around our chin in a little airplane seat. Instead we were able to walk around, enjoy the fresh air and meet other travelers. You can watch our journey on the ferry in this vlog.

 

** Bring your own picnic! Meals and drinks on board are expensive!

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

We also took the ferry from the mainland of Greece to Crete and from Crete to Turkey. Piraeus is the largest port in Athens where you can take a cheap ferry to the many Greek islands. It was a slow way of traveling to the islands but we were not in a hurry and it was very enjoyable! The view over the Aegean sea was beautiful, there was a chance to see some wildlife (ever seen a dolphin on an airplane, no I didn’t think so) and the sunsets on the open sea were just gorgeous! There was so much space on the boat that it was easy to get away from people and find a bench or even a soft piece of floor in a quiet place to spread out and sleep comfortably. Never saw myself doing this on an airplane without hearing my neighbour complaining about my limbs getting in his way…

 

We take you on a ferry cruise over the Aegean sea in this vlog.

** Buy your ticket for the ferry in the port of Piraeus. There are plenty of travel agencies near the metro station and it will be cheaper than booking online.

 

*A little trick to save money while buying your ticket: the ferries in Greece have a lot of stops, you can compare it with a train or bus. So buy a ticket to the first port on the ferry route. Instead of getting off upon arrival you stay on the ferry and cross the sea as far as the ferry goes. Which means you get off on the island of your choice. It saves you a lot of money and nobody checks your ticket once you’re on the boat. Just research the ferry route in advance. But sshht, don’t mention I told you this trick …

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

By land

Hitchhiking

We hitchhiked most of our trip through Europe. It’s a free way of traveling but this isn’t the main reason why we wanted to hitchhike. It is much more adventurous than taking a bus or train from one fixed destination to another. We never really knew who we would meet, where our driver would take us and what would happen along the way. Very often we had interesting conversations with our drivers and we learned more about their culture and lifestyle. For us traveling is about meeting and connecting with people.

 

Hitchhiking in Europe was rather easy. In Ireland or France we had an average waiting time of 15 – 20 minutes, which is very fast! Sometimes we didn’t even have to put our thumbs out, people stopped spontaneously to ask if we needed a ride ( read more about it in ‘Le vin, le pain et l’autostop’). Irish and French people are still very open towards hitchhikers.

I think that spoiled us a bit because when we arrived in Italy, we had a lot more trouble to hitchhike (read the story here). We knew it was forbidden in most countries to hitchhike on the highway but what we didn’t know was that it’s also illegal in Italy to hitch for a ride in gas stations. We even had a little meeting with the police where we eventually got away with a warning. Italy was the only country where we had to wait for hours to get a lift.

 

Hitchhiking in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece went smoothly. It’s just about having patience while you wait for the next ride. We also learned that hitchhiking as a couple is more inviting for people to take us along. Somehow the drivers have more trust a couple than in a man by himself or two guys (a girl alone or two girls also get rides very quickly). You might not find this fair but eventually, it’s the driver who invites strangers in his car. But as hitchhikers we also have to trust our drivers. We always followed our instincts so we haven’t had any bad experiences, only one very eventful ride to the Albanian border.

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

Alternative cheap transport

If you don’t feel comfortable with hitchhiking, there are other ways of cheap transportation. The buses of Eurolines and Megabus drive to most European cities for very cheap prices. Buses are usually cheaper than trains, except in Italy. After some failed hitchhiking attempts, we took a local train (Interregionale, Regionale, Diretto) to the next town and we were very surprised how cheap that turned out to be!

In Croatia we met people who traveled from city to city by bus. Apparently the buses are the cheapest option of traveling in Croatia, just be aware that you have to pay a small luggage fee for your backpack. In Albania you can take a furgon (mini bus). The only challenge is finding where they leave from but ask the locals and they will help you. The furgons are incredibly cheap (like everything in Albania) but they won’t leave until they’re fully loaded with people. The positive side of being squeezed between people is that you easily make new friends!

 

Greece also has good, reliable and cheap buses that quickly bring you from one big city to another.

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

ACCOMMODATION
Camping in the wild

Our friends in Lyon jokingly call us ‘les petits escargots’ (a less flattering name in English: the little snails). That’s because we literally have a house on our back: our tent. Campsites are cheap but we never stay on one. Most campsites are closed outside the tourist season. They don’t expect travelers who are crazy enough to camp in the cold. We always pitched our tent somewhere beside the road or in a forest. Wild camping is not allowed everywhere but in most countries no one will mind if you camp far enough from the road. Sometimes we didn’t have any other option then to camp close to the highway. We always found a field surrounded by trees and packed up early in the morning so it looked like we had never been there. Occasionally we camped near a gas station if there was a little isolated area.

** One very important rule if you camp in the wild: always take your garbage (yes, even the toilet paper you used) with you!!

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

If you want to camp in the wild in the Balkans be aware that there are still a lot of undetected landmines since the Balkan wars. 509 people have already been killed and 1466 injured by undiscovered landmines in Croatia. So if you want to pitch your tent in the dark, be very aware in what area you are! We only heard about this after we had camped on a few abandoned sites and were very happy it wasn’t on any of the areas marked on this map:

Areas in Croatia with undetected mines
Areas in Croatia where mines still can be found

 

It’s good to do some research before you wander off in the forests! Also be aware of wild animals! There are certain areas in Greece where there’s a big population of brown bears. Highways are fenced to protect the bears from crossing the road and the cars from driving into them. The fences are also there to prevent happy wanderers like us from camping and ending up as dinner for those big buddies. Inform yourself well before you go into the wild.

** Safety tip: Don’t bring food with you because that will attract animals to come and sniff around your tent.

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

 

If camping in the wild wouldn’t appeal to you but you don’t feel like staying on a public camping ground, then there is an alternative option: Camp in my garden. On this website people from around the world offer you a space in their private garden to pitch up your tent. We haven’t tried it out yet, but Bert and Martina Franzl from Franzls On Tour camped with their kids in the garden of many people in Poland.

 

 

Staying with local people

Camping in a city isn’t convenient. There we relied on the internet to find local people who could accommodate us through couchsurfing. The hosts provide you with a bed or couch to sleep on. It’s free and it’s a great way of meeting people.

 

Sometimes we got invited by our drivers or local people we just met to stay in their house for a few nights. Every time this happened, we felt so grateful! Not a lot of people like to invite strangers in their homes and share their meals and privacy with them. Those moments are the ones we treasure the most!

Staying with local people is connecting with the country you’re in. We learned more about the culture, the daily lives and who the people are. In Albania we were invited by an Albanian family and it gave us a different perspective on the country and the culture! 

 

Albania - Journal of Nomads

 

 

If you don’t feel like camping or staying with local people

There might be moments when you don’t want to sleep outside, when you really are in need of a shower and when you just don’t feel like being social. On Hostelworld or Booking.com you’ll find a list of hostels and hotels in the area you’re in. The prices range between very cheap to very expensive. Or you could walk around in the town or city and ask local people where to go.

 

In the bigger cities in Croatia several old people approached us to ask if we wanted to rent a room in their houses. Out of curiosity, we asked for the price and it turned out to be cheaper than a hostel (if you are with two people). So if you ever find yourself in Croatia and you get approached by people asking you if you need accommodation, don’t be scared that they want to rip you off. Instead bargain with them for a good price and not only will you have a cheap place to sleep, you’ll help them too! Croatian people are in the process of developing their economy.

 

Albania is probably one of the cheapest countries in Europe. For less than €10 you find a room for two to spend the night!

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

 

FOOD

 

Food can be expensive when you wine and dine every night in a restaurant. Except for Albania, where we could buy a big meal for € 2 a person, we never went out for dinner. Instead we bought our food in little supermarkets. If you go shopping just before closing time, you’ll find a lot of discounts on food that needs to be sold. Even in Monaco we could buy ourselves a big healthy meal for only € 3 a person! Meat is expensive so we ate lots of bread, cheese, fruit and raw veggies. We didn’t want to carry a portable gas cooker, more an issue of weight than safety,  and making a campfire while we camp in the wild wasn’t such a good idea if we wanted to stay unnoticed. Sometimes we had a cheap warm meal from a local food stand on the side of the road.

What we also did, was asking in gas station restaurants for leftover food. A lot of those restaurants have a big amount of warm leftover food by the end of the day. In the beginning I was very shy to ask for it and sometimes I still am, but then I think of all that food that goes to waste and rather have it in my belly than in a dumpster behind the restaurant! And there is eventually nothing to be shy about. The managers were always very friendly and gave us big plates of food and bottles of water!

You can also save a lot of money on water! Instead of buying a new bottle every day, we filled up our own bottles with tap water. In certain countries we might have to buy bottled water if we don’t want to get sick, but in Europe the tap water is drinkable in most places. Just ask the local people about it.

A few times people who gave us a ride invited us for a meal or coffee. They bought us a sandwich, invited us in their homes for a warm meal and we even had a woman in France who took us to a supermarket and paid for our shopping!! I couldn’t believe it and felt at first a bit awkward about it. But she kept insisting to pay because she loved our project and this was her way of helping and supporting us. I could only feel pure gratitude with this gesture! It made me feel happy, humble and gave me more trust in humanity. We’ve noticed that there are still a lot of people in the world who are very kind and generous to strangers. Simple gestures of helpfulness and kindness can make such a huge difference!!

 

Budget traveling in Europe - Journal of Nomads

With a couple of generous drivers!

 

 

With this I would like to thank all the people we’ve met during our journey through Europe for offering us a ride, a bed, a shower, a coffee, a meal and the occasional laundry machine. Thank you, you are the reason we travel the world with a big smile on our faces and why we will succeed in our goals!!

So this is how we managed to save our budget while traveling in Europe. If you have any questions, thoughts or other suggestions on how to save money while traveling, please let us know in the comments!

Hitchhiking, Wild Camping & Money Saving Hacks in Europe - Journal of Nomads
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Watch our hitchhiking journey through Europe here

 

Follow Cynthia - Journal of Nomads:

Writer, travel photographer, Panasonic Lumix Ambassador and co-founder of Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 8 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

22 Responses

  1. Mustafa Djellouli
    | Reply

    Please tell me, when you camp in the midlle of nowhere how do you deal with the nature call ?

  2. Morgan
    | Reply

    Hi guys!
    Yes, one month and a half ago, I picked two hitchhickers while I was coming back from Belgium. An other nice moment. And in a few days, I’ll drive to Lyon: perhaps I may glimpse one or two persons raising their thumbs at the exit of Fontainebleau… 🙂
    I hope everything’s right for you. I’m ok, thanks: still standing in my deep Balthazar’s monomania… Rings a bell? 🙂
    Take care!

    Morgan

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Hi Morgan!
      It definitely rings a bell! I knew you were the driver with the Balthazar music!! Niko didn’t remember (he’s not familiar with the music) and he made me doubt for a second so that’s why I didn’t mention it in my previous message, just in case… 😀 Just make sure the people standing near the exit of Fontainebleau are hitchhikers…Remember that Niko thought the women at the side of that road were there because they wanted a lift but in reality they are there with different intentions 😉 Good memories 🙂 All the best to you and please keep in touch!

  3. Archana Kapoor
    | Reply

    Very interesting and useful information here. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. Katie Featherstone
    | Reply

    Wow, great resource- I’ll definitely share it. 🙂

  5. Morgan
    | Reply

    Hi Cynthia, hi Niko!

    Meeting you in Fontainebleau and having this nice moment with you for a few hours, while driving through the beautiful autumn coloured trees: that was pretty amazing! Since that day, I almost daily visit your website in order to follow your trip. That’s really pleasant, thanks for videos and all those stories!

    I hope that your journey will continue on this way. Take care!

    Morgan

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Hi Morgan,
      So nice to hear from you! How are you? It makes us very happy to hear you’ve followed our journey so far! Waw, it feels like so long ago since we were in the car with you! The autumn colors have now changed into spring blossoms 🙂 Our ride with you was fun! And thank you again for being a part of our journey! Please keep in touch with us!
      Warm wishes,
      Cynthia & Niko
      PS: Have you picked up more hitchhikers since? 🙂

  6. Voyager
    | Reply

    Great information and tips about cutting your travel costs, really useful, thanks for sharing.

  7. Shelly
    | Reply

    Beautiful post. We’ve hitchhiked some but certainly not as extensively as you guys. Sounds like you met a ton of interesting people. Love the ferry trick – very sneaky but highly economical. 🙂

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Thanks Shelly! We’ve met indeed a lot of very interesting people, a few of them were quite some characters 😉 It makes the whole journey even more interesting! It were local people who told us about the ferry trick and is traveling not about acting like a local? 😉

  8. Rob Taylor
    | Reply

    Such awesome stories and tips. I feel like I’m at a place in life where I’d not venture most of these options with our kids, but touring Europe via motorcoach definitely sounds like a doable, cost effective option. And we do camp everywhere anyways. We’ve previously only camped in Italy when in Europe, but why not everywhere else?

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Thank you Rob! Yeah, we wouldn’t advise this way of traveling with small kids but touring around with your family in a camper van would definitely be very fun! There are great camping places all over Europe! I have a few friends who’ve done some road trips and their stories and photos are amazing!

  9. Ami
    | Reply

    Those are some interesting trips. Have never tried Hitch hiking. I guess, I would like to once at least! in this lifetime!

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      You should definitely try it Ami, it is a fun way of traveling: you never know who you’ll meet, where you’ll end up,… It can make traveling even more adventurous and fun! 🙂

  10. Jamie Italiane
    | Reply

    Wow, What an adventure. You are brave souls with quite a story in the end.

  11. Martina
    | Reply

    Hi Cynthia and Nico! Oh no, I’ve just been writing a really long comment and now it’s gone! Well, once again: First of all great article with a lot of useful information! And then I was wondering if you ever get fed up with not being able to cook? If I don’t get at least one warm meal a day I get really grumpy 😉
    Another thing I wanted to ask you – did you ever feel unsafe when wild camping? We’ve only tried it in the Baltics so far (where wild camping is allowed) and never in a tent – I’m not quite sure how I would feel about that!
    And finally I have a great camping tipp for everybody! If you ever go to Estonia, there are quite a few beautiful, idyllic (quite basic) campsites set up by the government. There are fireplaces, picnic tables and benches, shelters and firewood – and everything is for FREE. Mostly the locals use these campsites (they are usually away from roads and busy places – maily in forests and at lakes – at really cool locations). We loved them!!! You kind of feel like camping in the wild but you are not totally on your own! Some more info you can find here: http://www.rmk.ee/subject-headings/for-hikers/accommodation-facilities. There doesn’t seem to be a list of the campsites on the internet but I’m sure you can get it here: rmk@rmk.ee. At all RMK-sites there is a map of the other campsites, so once you’ve found one you are set 😉
    Hope I can help someone with that info – we really had a great time in the Baltics!
    Lots of love,
    Martina
    PS: Thanks for mentioning our blog post <3

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Hi Martina!
      Your first comment came through but thanks to put the effort of rewriting it, wow 🙂

      To answer your questions:
      Sometimes we miss a warm meal but we also made the choice of not having a cooker with us so we accepted it that we couldn’t eat a warm meal everyday. We got used to it and found other lovely things to eat raw. We’re flexi-tarians 🙂 And whenever we were able to cook or have a warm meal, we enjoyed it to the fullest 🙂
      There was never a moment where we felt unsafe while wild camping. Only one night I was more aware when Niko told me there were still bears and wolves in Croatia. Right after that moment we heard branches breaking around the tent… 😀 The thought of being alone in the woods in a little tent might sound scary but it is eventually one of the safest places! Nobody will bother you there because there is no one around!
      Thank you for that great tip, it’s very useful information! We didn’t know about this either and we probably would have cooked on those fireplaces if we would have known there were free camping places like that around 🙂
      Your blog post about Camp in our garden came in perfect, thank you for letting me use it!!
      Lots of love!
      Cynthia

  12. Martina
    | Reply

    Hi Cynthia and Nico! Wow, lots of useful information again – I’m sure I will be able to use some of them in the future!
    I have two questions for you:
    Do you ever get fed up of not being able to cook? I have to say that I LOVE to have at least one warm meal a day. I understand that it’s not practical for you to take a camping cooker with you – but I would get very grumpy without 😉 Probably in cheaper countries that will be less of an issue for you and you can buy some warm meals more often! (Good idea and very couragous to ask for food though!)
    Did you ever feel unsafe while wild camping? We did some wild camping in our campervan, but so far only in the Baltics where it is officially allowed and not in the tent yet. No idea how I would feel about that…!?
    Concerning the Baltics I also have a great camping tipp – in Estonia there are lots of really beautiful and idyllic (quite basic) campsites on lakes and in forests that were set up by the government. They are for FREE. Mostly locals come here for a short trip – there is always a fireplace and a table with benches for each camper – and even firewood is provided. We loved those places – you kind of feel like camping in the wild but are most of the time not totally on your own if you feel uncomfortable with that! Some more informations you can get here: http://www.rmk.ee/subject-headings/for-hikers/accommodation-facilities. I didn’t find a list with all campsites on the internet but I’m sure you can request one at rmk@rmk.ee. At the campsites there are maps of all other RMK sites so once you’ve found one you’re set for the rest of your trip!
    Hope that helps, Martina
    PS: Thanks for mentioning our article <3

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