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Survival Guide to Traveling Cheap in Europe

By: Callie Schaden |

When I began my semester studying abroad in Spain as a classic broke college student, I put the idea of traveling out of my mind. Prancing around Europe was not something I thought I had the luxury of being able to afford, and quite honestly, I didn’t have much desire to travel. I have always been someone who prefers the comfort of familiarity over the draw of adventure or trying something new—especially when it comes to spending money that could be going towards my college bills. (Being goal-oriented is great. But I will admit that sometimes I have tunnel vision.) However, my roommates were considerably more adventurous than me, which proved to be just what I needed to avoid missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see new places. And luckily, they were just as money-conscious, so with the goal of cheap sight-seeing in mind, we were able to go on trips to Venice and Bologna, Italy, and London, England.

One of my roommates, Cora, is an excellent travel planner. Her brain functions in maps and Airbnb searches and cheap public transportation. Having not done much traveling prior to going to Spain, I felt completely overwhelmed with those details. How would we know where to stay? How would we get from where we were staying to where we were sightseeing? What kind of food would we eat? How could we possibly take a weekend trip to Italy without draining our entire bank accounts? Cora—the map girl, as she was affectionally called—found the answer to every question. After these past adventures, I would even dare to crown her the Queen of Traveling on a Budget.

Callie Schaden, “Tourist Jump”, 2022

Something I didn’t realize about Europe is that traveling around the continent is SO cheap (especially if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort!). In fact, I think the cheapest part of our trips were the actual plane tickets. Survival Guide to Traveling Cheap in Europe tip number 1: fly Ryanair. Flying from Valencia to Treviso and then from Bologna back to Valencia cost us a total of $65 per person. The flight to London and back was slightly more expensive, but still cost less than $100. However, there are some secrets to only paying the cost of the actual plane ticket and nothing else. Only bring a backpack! Carryons are an upcharge of 40 euros, and I’ve found that I can fit everything I need for four days into a mildly stuffed backpack with only minimal time spent fighting the zipper. Secret number 2: don’t choose a seat unless it’s worth an extra 15-25 euros to you to sit next to your travel buddy. And lastly, check in on the app because an in person check in fee could add another 30 to 55 euros to your bill. In conclusion, this is really two tips in one—fly Ryanair and be friends with an excellent planner that knows how to do her research!

When we arrived in Treviso, we bought a one-day bus pass from a local tobacco shop, so all it took was a quick walk to the bus stop and about 3 euros per person to get us to and from the city of Venice, where we spent the day sightseeing. We also bought 13-euro train tickets to get us the 2-hour trip from Treviso to Bologna where we spent our last day before flying back to Valencia. In London, call us crazy, but we chose to walk from our Airbnb into the city rather than spend money on the bus because the costs were significantly higher there than in Italy. From the time we arrived in London to the time we left three days later, we clocked over 50 miles of walking. A very cheap (although very tiring!) mode of transportation. Of course there are other options as far as getting places, but tour buses and taxis are much more expensive!

Callie Schaden, “Venice Views”, 2022

As far as Airbnbs go, that seems to come down to a lot of good digging. During our time in Italy, four of us stayed together in two different Airbnbs over three nights. The total cost per person was only $70 for all three of those nights. Again, I owe this one to Cora’s travel brain. According to her research, it tends to be cheaper to stay outside of the cities we were visiting and spend a little bit on transportation into those cities than it was to stay at an Airbnb within a short walking distance of the sights we wanted to see. London was quite a bit more expensive, and the cheapest Airbnb we could find was a room in someone’s apartment and an hour’s walk to the outer part of London… All I have to say about that is that it was definitely an adventure.

Callie Schaden, “Westminster Abbey”, 2022

Seeing famous sights like Big Ben and the Canals of Venice in real life was incredible. However, we did not enter Westminster Abbey or ride in a Gondola (if I’m missing out don’t tell me) because although you can do a lot more than you think you can do while traveling cheap, you do have to make choices about what’s worth it to you and what’s not. And unfortunately, I did not have 80 euros spend on a Gondola ride or 25 pounds to enter a cathedral, no matter how famous or historic—so we enjoyed them from the outside!

Callie Schaden, “A Taste of Venice”, 2022

Lastly, the food was a key part of our trips, especially in Italy. We went to relatively nice, sit-down restaurants for two dinners in Italy and one lunch in London. The rest of the time we bought sandwiches in the street or stopped in a bakery for tiramisu or scones. We did try to hit the classics, like Italian pasta or famous fish-n-chips, and we couldn’t make it a day without a cappuccino or two. The food in Italy, of course, was more of a priority than in England (I’m just being honest), so in London we bought a loaf of bread, a package of meat and cheese, a bunch of bananas, and a box of granola bars, and we lived on that for four and a half meals. Not incredibly filling, I’ll admit, but certainly incredibly cheap!

Callie Schaden, “River Thames”, 2022

Between the cost of airfare, bus passes, train tickets, Airbnb stays, meals, and the necessary cappuccinos, a Thursday-to-Sunday trip to two different cities in Italy cost me $266 and a Thursday-to-Sunday trip to London cost me $221. All that to say, if you ever find yourself in Europe for an extended period of time, take the opportunity to travel a little bit. Apparently, even a broke college student with “no desire” to travel or spend money can find herself enjoying the exploration. Necessary ingredients include: a travel-smart friend, a good pair of walking shoes, and the willingness to adventure!

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Callie Schaden is currently an English and Spanish student at Cedarville University. She grew up in a small town in Ohio and has expanded her horizons in El Salvador and Valencia, Spain, two places which have given her a love for the Spanish language and a desire to continue learning outside of her native tongue.

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