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How To Backpack Europe For 2 Months On $5k or Less

How To Backpack Europe For 2 Months On $5k or less

In lieu of a Goals Report for December 2016 and January 2017, here is a full recap of how I backpacked through 8 European countries over 52 days. My goal with this post is to give you the tools, motivation or proof needed to encourage you to pack up a bag and travel.

For easy reading, you’ll find the experience divided up into six sections below:

  1. Introduction
  2. Packing, Preparation & Flights
  3. Cities and Experiences
  4. Cost-Effective Traveling
  5. Business: The Good, Bad, and How I’d Do It If I Did It Again
  6. Reflection and Total Cost

Each section contains a handful of resources in hopes that you can learn from my experience and be inspired to travel on your own.

Introduction

Like many people, I have had a desire to travel for several years. After quitting my job in the winter of 2015, I decided that the first real adventure during my transition into entrepreneurship would be an extended backpacking trip.

The initial itinerary was to spend 4.5 months abroad, but things changed during the trip. In the months leading up to travel, I took care of all the necessary things to ensure that this would be possible, including buying tickets, acquiring the necessary gear, and putting systems in place for my work that would allow me to run my business effectively while I traveled.

After a month in Europe, I found that at least right now, 4+ months living out of a backpack wasn’t right for me or my goals. Getting the flu in Poland was the final nail in the coffin that led to me putting a credit card down for a return flight home. I spent an extra 3 weeks traveling around Europe and then returned back to America.


packing, Preparation & flights

Overall, packing and preparation ranked about a 9/10. There was never a time where I didn’t have access to something I needed.

Packing

Purchases for the trip:

  • REI Backpack- $199
  • 3 travel Van Heusen shirts , 2 pairs of jeans- $150
  • Shoes- $60
  • Mini-backpack- $20
  • Padlock- $8
  • 3 Vacuum bags- $20
  • Backpack light- $9

Total- $466

Flights

Flights I took during the trip:

  1. Boston to Reykjavik to London (Gatwick) $297
  2. Venice to Frankfurt- $51
  3. Amsterdam to Prague- $114 (holiday flight)
  4. Stuttgart to Manchester- $57
  5. London (Gatwick) to Boston $228

Total- $747

Resources:

  • Norwegian Air: Incredibly cheap airline for overseas travel. I flew London to Boston for under $250.
  • IcelandAir: Cheap and relatively comfortable for overseas travel. Flys through Reykjavic, so not usually direct.
  • Ryanair: Very affordable airline service for going to different countries in Europe. They will nickel and dime you with other things if you aren’t careful with bag sizes and check-in process, but you won’t find cheaper flights.
  • Easyjet: Slightly more expensive than Ryanair, also a great airline for affordable flights.
  • Hopper: An app for finding the cheapest flights to popular destinations. I was using this before Europe and still use it now. It keeps track of your favorite routes and tells you when prices are getting low.

 

Flight and Gear Total- $1,193


Cities and Experiences

I traveled through 15 cities in 52 days. Here’s a list of the cities I visited in Europe:

London, Paris, Marseille, Nice, Milan, Venice, Frankfurt, Kaiserslautern, Amsterdam, Prague, Krakow, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Munich, Stuttgart, Manchester

Drawing from my experiences in each city, each city was categorized into a tier below.

  1. Tier 1 means that the city or my experience of it was a highlight of the trip and I’d definitely go back.
  2. Tier 2 means that the city was enjoyable but I probably won’t rush to go back.
  3. Tier 3 means the city or my experience of it was less than enjoyable.
  4. Other means I either stopped through or did not see enough of the city to give it a good evaluation.

Tier 1

London, England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first and favorite stop of the trip, London has become a special place for me. In fact, there’s a good chance that I will live there at some point in my life. From getting to visit the stadium of my boyhood club Chelsea FC, to riding the tube all over the city, to bar hopping in Fulham, to getting to visit Warner Bros. Studio Harry Potter world on the final day, London was fast-paced and enjoyable the entire time.

My only regret about London was not being there longer. It’s a huge city with a ton to see, so I’d recommend going into it with a list of 10-12 places you want to see. Next time I’m in the UK, I would like to explore more of the British countryside and places outside of London.

Nice, France

 

Having never even seen a picture of Nice before going there, my reasoning for buying a bus ticket was the good weather and rich history. The weather did not disappoint, as it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of December during the 4 days I was there.

I sat on the beach and read, walked along the promenade, and drank beers with friends I met in Marseille the previous weekend on the beach during an epic sunset. The hostel I stayed in was more like a hotel, which allowed for productivity with my work. An immediate goal of mine is to visit Nice again in the summertime.

Kaiserslautern, Germany

 

 

 

 

 

I stayed with a friend of a friend in Kaiserslautern (“K-Town” to locals) over the Christmas holiday. K-Town is home to the U.S. Air Force base and more than 50,000 U.S. residents, which gave it a very modern-American feel. Although I probably wouldn’t have visited this small town if I didn’t know someone there, I had a ton of fun hanging out with new friends while there.

The nightlife was pretty wild for a small town and the people were very friendly.

Prague, Czech Republic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to feel like you live in medieval times, go to Prague. The city itself is picturesque and is made to look like a literal fairy-tale. The only city that came close to matching Prague’s aesthetic qualities was Paris.

I spent New Year’s Eve in Prague and bought a ticket to a club that had at least 1,600 people in it. Memories of that night include watching strangers shoot fireworks at buildings, walking home in 10-degree snowy weather with no coat, and witnessing a bouncer spray a drunk guy with mace and then kick him in the head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krakow, Poland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poland is an underrated country in general, but Krakow in particular was really pretty and laid out well. With the USD exchange rate, it’s also incredibly cheap. I ate out almost every night and never spent more than $12 for an exorbitant amount of food (pierogis anyone?). The markets were large and the people were, generally speaking, the nicest of anywhere I went in Europe.

36 pierogis for less than $15 USD

Schnitzel. It came with a free beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was freezing cold (single digit temperatures) but that’s what you get for going to Poland in January. I also hit the low point of my trip here when I got the stomach flu.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe strange to put this in tier 1, but seeing the Auschwitz concentration camp was a life-changing experience. I would recommend anyone that ever has the opportunity go to it. It only cost $39 to get an English speaking tour guide, and she was a direct relative (as all guides are) to a victim of the holocaust. It was a chilling but solemnly mesmerizing experience.

 

Munich, Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vibe in Munich was exactly what I expected. A lot of people, beer halls, good food and fun times. One of the highlights was visiting the English Garden (“Englischer Garten”), as seen above. A really quiet park in the middle of the city with nice walking trails that I can see being a lot of fun in the summer months with a pint of beer in your hand.

My final night in Munich I was upgraded to a single dorm and went to sleep around 5pm, not waking up until 8:30am the next morning. The hostel I stayed at, Wombats Hostel Munich, are located all throughout Europe. I would recommend checking them out.


Tier 2

Marseille, France

 

 

 

 

My favorite part about Marseille was the hostel I stayed in. If I could go back and do my trip again, I’d have stayed in more rag-tag backpacker hostels simply to meet people like the ones I met in Marseille. We ate dinner together as a group, had a few drinks and all went out to the bars together. I only spent 2 nights in Marseille but have fond memories of the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marseille as a city is your typical port city, full of boats and the hub of attention surrounding the Port Vieux. The nightlife was fun and a lot of people were out. And because it’s France, the food was also really enjoyable.

Milan, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milan is a city with a large financial district and many working people. A week before Christmas the city was decked out in lights and trees, so that was a positive.

The metro was kind of dirty and I had a sketchy encounter when I first arrived with some guy following me for money. Though this happened in a few cities, this particular encounter lasted longer than it should have.

We did go to an amazing wine bar in Milan that was one of the highlights of my trip and I had the best meal of my life in Milan for under $50. The food alone is reason enough to go back to Italy, but I’d like to see some place other than Milan next time.

 

Frankfurt, Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankfurt is a very industrial city that didn’t seem like it had a ton to do. There was one larger strip of bars, but it was pretty dead while we were there other than the Christmas markets. The gluhwein and food at the markets was, however, worth the effort of making it to Germany during the holidays.

It didn’t help that we had a rather strange hostel experience while in Frankfurt either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a little disappointed with Amsterdam, quite honestly. It was always a place on my list that I felt like I had to go based on what I’d heard about it. The city itself has a funky vibe to it and plenty to see. The weather was awfully foggy while we were there which may have had something to do with a mediocre experience.

We went on a boat festival light show and checked out the only 3D virtual reality movie theater in Europe, which was cool. The red light district was worth walking through just to say we did it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tier 3

Paris, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris? In tier 3!? This must be some kind of mistake! At least for my experience, it’s not. I was really excited about going to Paris, but my time there did not go how I expected it to.

While Paris is a beautiful city- like something out of a painting, honestly- the truth is it it’s also pretty sketchy. That can be said of any city, but I really saw that side of it during my 5 day stay. Between almost getting robbed and constantly being approached by strangers for money, it wasn’t an ideal place to be wandering around alone in.

My negative experience of Paris has encouraged me to learn French so that my second experience is better.

Something I didn’t know about Paris is that they often make the metro free during the winter months so less people will drive to work and decrease pollution. It was free during my entire stay, so I really played tourist my last two days there, taking the train all over the city to see hotspots like L’Arc De Triomphe and The Louvre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester, England

This may not be fair to do, but my experience of Manchester was ruined by the hostel I stayed in. It was by far the most disgusting and uncomfortable setting that I’ve ever called home. England is not known for being cheap by any means, but the fact that this cesspool of a hostel cost more than almost all the others that I stayed in didn’t sit well with me.

The nightlife in the Northern Quarter seemed to be popping, but I had 4 days left in Europe at this point and was not with friends, so I opted to not go crazy.


Other

Venice, Italy

Set the scene- you and I are going to take a train from Milan to Venice and arrive at 5pm on a Sunday night. No one is around? Okay, not a big deal I guess. Now, we’re going to take an hour boat ride to get to the hostel. It’s dark out and freezing cold? Okay, this is a little weird- but whatever. Wait, why is there no one outside?

Enter the Generator Venice hostel and rejoice. ~20 people from all over the world looking to party. Drink all night. Wake up at 7am and rush to catch a 10:30am flight to Germany. See NONE of Venice, and look like this on your boat ride to the bus station:

Derp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice, I’m sorry. Poor planning and lots of partying led to me seeing none of you. I will be back.

Stuttgart, Germany

I walked around Stuttgart for a night waiting for a flight to Manchester. It’s a small city with a German feel to it- industrial, people out and about, etc. I’m pretty sure I ate dinner at the grocery store near my hostel and went to bed at 10pm.


Budgeting and Cost-Effective traveling

This guide is from first-hand experience and is built with low budget traveling in mind. If you have the money to spend, you can stay more comfortably and eat differently than I did anywhere in Europe. In general, the further west you are, the more you should expect to spend. For example, eastern European countries like Czech Republic and Poland had a lot of the same things I found in Germany and France for a fraction of the price.

Accommodations

If you are on a budget, hostels are going to be your best friend.

I used the Hostelworld app my entire trip and never had any issues. You have the option of putting a 10% deposit down on the room you are booking to reserve a bed, and then can pay an extra euro to protect your deposit in case you cancel your reservation.

Be sure to read the reviews of the hostels before you book. The only hostel I stayed in that was gross and that I would not recommend was Hatters on Newton Street in Manchester, England.

As far as price goes, I paid anywhere from $7.47 per night in Krakow to $60 per night in Amsterdam right after Christmas. The median average of my hostel accommodation was about $22 per night. Some rooms were cheaper because of winter.

Read this twice: you’ll get what you pay for. If you need a luxurious sleeping environment, you’ll have to pay for it. Budget accordingly.

Estimated accommodation total: $22 per night by 43 nights = $946


Meals

The way I ate in Europe probably saved me more money than anything else I did.

I spent less than $30 per day on food most days other than the occasional (1-2 per week) splurge on a high-end meal. Knowing full well that I eat more food than most people, I tried to approach my travels with a plan for meals. I encourage you to do the same based on your needs. My general approach each day went like this:

For breakfast, I would either:

  1. Eat breakfast and get coffee at the hostel- ranging from free to 8 euro per morning.
  2. Eat something leftover from the night before or a bar/fruit on the go.
  3. Skip breakfast.

I then would only eat 1 of my remaining meals for the day out. My other meal would be a combination of cheap goods from a grocery story that I tried to stockpile in my bag. In general, you will save more money if you prepare your own food. Dinner tends to cost more than lunch.

Grocery store staples included:

  • Baguettes ($.25-.50 for a whole loaf of bread)
  • Salami, ham, or prosciutto
  • Hard cheeses in assorted packs
  • Canned sardines
  • Apples and oranges
  • Pre-packaged salads
  • Chocolate bars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got used to my combination of bread, cheese, and meat with a salad and fruit and probably ate this for 20-25 meals. I’m someone that doesn’t need a ton of variety for my meals, so this worked for me and may not for you. Just keep in mind that all of that food would cost me between 6-7 euro as opposed to a 15 dollar meal at a restaurant.

Estimated Food Total: $30 by 52 nights in Europe = $1,560


Getting Money out of ATMs

This is something people told me about constantly before I left, yet I didn’t fully listen or comprehend it until I got over there. Every time you take money out of an ATM, you are going to be charged a service fee. These fees add up, and some banks will charge even more to convert the amount you’re taking out into the currency of the country you are in.

It’s probably a good idea to look at how long you’ll be in the country/countries that accept the currency you are withdrawing. For example, if you are going to spend 5 days in London, you don’t want to take out so much money in pounds that you’ll have to get it converted to euros on your way out. That’s more money out of your pocket.

Look at your rough budget (ex. $50 a day) and multiple it by the number of days in that area. That’s probably a good baseline number to withdraw to limit your ATM transactions.

Ex. $50 per day for the next 5 days + a little extra = Between $250-300.

I never walked around with more than the equivalent of $300 to play it safe. I needed to take out money probably ever 5 days. This will cost you more in the long run, but if something happens and you lose a lot of money, that will also be a problem.

Pro tip: avoid exchanging money in the airport if you can, even though it’s convenient. The exchange rates are lower and you’ll pay more in service fees to get less cash.

Estimated ATM Fees- $75


Getting Around Europe

Busses

While trains are probably more convenient (and quicker), if you’re on a budget, take a bus. If you have some flexibility, consider taking a bus for anything under a 5 hour journey, and booking a train or flight for anything else.

You will save a lot of money by using the bus. For example, a 3-hour train from Nice to Milan would’ve cost me 80 euros, but I found a bus ticket for less than 10. All of the bus companies I used had free wifi, though some had a limit for how long you could use them.

These are the companies I would recommend using and/or downloading apps for:

I took 11 busses (and missed only 1) during my travels. Grand total?

11 bus rides = $213

Trains

I expected to take more trains than I did while traveling, but found busses to be just as convenient and much cheaper. When I did take the train, I found it to be far more comfortable than a long distance bus ride.

I booked all of my tickets through Go-Euro. I highly, highly encourage you favorite this page for all of your travels.

4 Train Rides = $124

Bla Bla Car

Bla Bla Car is like the European version of Uber for traveling longer distances. I used it once, catching a ride with a German named Alexei from Frankfurt to Kaiserslautern. To ensure your safety, you have to confirm your passport through the service and sometimes speak with the driver on the phone first.

My 90-minute ride only cost me 7 euro. The only American of 4 passengers, I sat quietly as the driver played techno music and whipped it down the autobahn.

1 Bla Bla Car Ride = $7

Splurges

Don’t go into Europe thinking you will live off a robotic daily budget. Things will happen, you’ll see stuff you want to do, and you’ll get sick of eating the same food over and over again. The good news is that travel tends to ebb and flow naturally, so you’ll probably spend like $100 in one night and then take it easy for the next day or two. A daily budget is useful but will become a hindrance if you try to inhibit yourself too much.

In fact, I’d recommend you set aside something like $500 (depends on how long you plan to travel) solely for splurging on meals and fun experiences. You’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well budget for it.

Here were my biggest unaccounted for purchases:

  1. 1 ticket for Warner Bros Studio Harry Potter World in London-$45
  2. Fish and chips dinner and alcohol in Hammersmith- $22
  3. Pizza and drinks in Paris- $25
  4. Wine bar and all-you-can-eat buffet in Milan-$35
  5. Giant 4 course meal in Milan- $30
  6. Partying in Kaiserslautern- ~$100
  7. Ticket to nightclub in Prague- $42
  8. Light show in Amsterdam- $25
  9. 3D virtual movie theater in Amsterdam- $12
  10. Eating out in Krakow- $50
  11. Tour of Auschwitz concentration camps- $39
  12. A new winter coat and 2 new pairs of clothes in Munich- $130 total

Total: $555


Other Purchases

Things like new shampoo and soap, medicine, water bottles once you lose your Nalgene bottle, etc. $3 here and there adds up after a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which leads me to another inexpensive-yet-frequent purchase: coffee. Lots of it. Coffee in Europe is outstanding almost anywhere you go. If you don’t want to go outside of what’s comfortable, there wasn’t a city I went to that didn’t have a Starbucks. A French man joked with me that while all of Europe hates that we “gave” them McDonald’s, no one complains about Starbucks.

I was in a coffee shop probably 5 out of 7 days each week either working or using their wifi. Sometimes twice in a day. It’s a cheaper alternative to using your data and also a good way to explore little corners of cities you wouldn’t otherwise.

You may find that Starbucks (and Costa in the UK) are the main places that feature filtered drip coffee as the primary product like we do in America. In France and Italy especially, espresso was the primary option. The closest you’ll get some places is an Americano, which is 2 shots of espresso mixed with hot water and cream/sugar if you so choose.

Personally, I love espresso- a very small cup of it got me going just fine. But it’s something to know.

 

Estimated “Other” Purchases Total: $300


Business: The Good, Bad, and How I’d Do It If I Did It Again

I coach a group of high-performing business owners, athletes, and others looking to achieve goals. Part of my goal with this trip was to successfully bring my work with me overseas and to continue running my show while I traveled. The results were generally pretty positive, but some areas could have gone better.

The Good

  1. Pushing all calls into 2 days- I highly recommend condensing your “working” hours into a few days each week so that you are not forced to work a few hours each day. It’s much easier to know you aren’t going to be doing/seeing anything on Tuesday or Wednesday night each week (my call days), so that you can plan your travels and experiences around those time chunks. Luckily my clients were pretty flexible, so the one or two times I had to change things around, they were able to accommodate.
  2. Documenting the trip- A lot happens when you travel. You will change as a business owner and as a person. For me, having a notebook and my HD video camera with me to take notes was a great tool for self-discovery and personal growth in both my business and personal life.
  3. Using AirBnB- Going into my trip, I received advice from Alexis Teichmiller on how to use my online platform to stay at Airbnbs for free all through Europe. I used it to stay for free in London for 2 nights and had offers from all 5 different European cities.

The Bad

  1. Environment for calls– on two separate occasions, the hostels I stayed in were not good for calls. Whether it was people in the background drinking or screaming, it didn’t feel professional and was not something that helped me settle into my normal coaching routine. I could’ve done a better job planning where I would be staying to ensure they had a quieter common room.
  2. Time Zones- On more than one occasion, I was up past midnight doing coaching calls. Phone calls to the west coast from GMT +1 require you to get creative so that you can accommodate paying customers.

How I’d Do It If I Did It Again

  • Pay to stay in a better space for work days
  • Explore the AirBnB option further

Reflection

Backpacking Europe was a life changing experience that is difficult to put a price tag on. In hindsight, it was a journey I needed to help launch me into a new phase of life and to remind me why it’s worth it to work hard and serve others.

That said, it’s going to cost you if you want to do it. Broken down by category, here is my total output for my preparation, transportation, and exploration of 52 days in Europe:

  • Flights- $747
  • Gear- $466
  • Accomodations- $946
  • Meals- $1,560
  • Transportation in Europe- $344
  • ATM Fees- $75
  • “Splurges”- $555
  • “Other” Purchases- $300

 

Total: $4,993

My hope is that this experience gives you the tools, motivation or proof you need to put on a backpack and go. If I learned anything during my travels, it’s that everyone’s approach to travel is going to be a little bit different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and, above all, the journey is the destination. The moments where you question what you’re doing, if you’re doing it right, and why you’re doing it in the first place are what change you the most and create the sweetest memories.

So if I could leave you with one piece of advice above all, it’s this: set sail now. Take off as soon as you can, and don’t think about it too much, becaue everything will work out like it’s supposed to. There’s a big world out there waiting for you. Bon voyage!

The results of living out of a backpack for 2 months. Results may vary.


Resources

All Resources:

  • Hostelworld: Fantastic app for finding and booking hostels right from your computer or phone. The app is a little janky and tends to shut off a lot, but the website works great. Be sure to read reviews before you book.
  • Polskibus: Cheap and comfortable bus service found more in Eastern Europe- Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, etc.
  • CityMapper: My #1 recommended app for European travel. The best app you will find for walking your way around Europe. Detailed directions that usually work offline when you’re in a pinch.
  • Flixbus: My #1 recommended bus company. Incredibly cheap tickets, free wifi, reliable, and relatively comfortable. Both day and overnight busses available.
  • Go-Euro: My #1 recommended travel website for Europe. I booked 90% of my accomodations (flights, busses, and trains) through this website.
  • Bla Bla Car: Think of it as long-distance European Uber. Safe and secure as you have to confirm your passport and phone number to register for rides.
  • Helloe: Cheap bus service I used in Germany.
  • National Express: UK-Based bus and train service to get to and from airports and through the country.
  • Tube Map App: A reliable and offline app for London’s tube. Download to give you easy access for which station you should ride to.
  • Norwegian Air: Incredibly cheap airline for overseas travel. I flew London to boston for under $250.
  • IcelandAir: Cheap and relatively comfortable for overseas travel. Flys through Reykjavic, so not usually direct.
  • Ryanair: Very affordable airline service for going to different countries in Europe. They will nickel and dime you with other things if you aren’t careful with bag sizes and check-in process, but you won’t find cheaper flights.
  • Easyjet: Slightly more expensive than Ryanair, also a great airline for affordable flights.
  • Hopper: An app for finding the cheapest flights to popular destinations. I was using this before Europe and still use it now. It keeps track of your favorite routes and tells you when prices are getting low.
  • Wombats Hostel: clean, affordable hostel chain that you’ll find all throughout Europe.
  • Hatters on Newton Street: Located in Manchester, England. I would not recommend you stay here.
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