My Tips for Surviving Europe on a Budget

So I may not be Rick Steves or a writer for Lonely Planet but I have definitely picked up some handy tricks and tips along the way in order to explore Europe with a limited amount of cash. Thanks to both friends at home and abroad for their help and inspiration for this post. Oh and Tyler Cowen.

Find yourself a free walking tour

For those who have never done a free walking tour, the basic concept involves a guide who doesn’t work for a wage and is rewarded for his/her work with the tips of the tour participants i.e. you. I find walking tours an excellent way to find out a load of info about a city in a short space of time. The guides are normally locals or people who have lived in the city for an extended period of time and so they know their bit. Tours are also a great way for solo travellers to meet people (more often than not you meet fellow travellers staying in the same place as you making meet ups super easy post tour). If you really did enjoy the tour, don’t be a stinge and tip the guide please (and write them a fabulous review on Tripadvisor)

Find a supermarket

Not a mini market, but a supermarket where you would normally do a full grocery shop. This will become your new favourite place for breakfast, snack purposes and bottled water (if tap water is not potable). If you’re paying a euro for a bottle of water, you’re paying too much. Some good supermarkets that I recall visiting include Lidl, Tesco, Biedroska (Poland) and basically anything German.

Eating out

So you’re in the beautiful city of Nice (for argument’s sake). A good way to figure out a well priced restaurant is to set yourself up a “price index”. Basically, you pick a dish or two that is served at basically every French restaurant in Nice (for this example I will use Niçoise salad). For this to work and you to keep things as simple as possible, you need to assume the salads are exactly the same. Oh and look around you, if you are in the middle of the Old Town Square then yes, prices will be double so branch out into the side streets or less populated areas to avoid the tourist price gouge.

Never settle for the first offer

This could be anything from souvenirs to pretzels. It is always highly likely the place around the corner has it for a euro or two cheaper (with that difference being able to buy you some gelato or something). Also in some countries, it is perfectly acceptable to negotiate a better price. I found this a lot in Turkey and in any kind of market or bazaar with stalls as opposed to structured shops.

Find where the locals eat

A good way to find these places is via these few pointers

a) The menu at the front of the restaurant is not in English

b)  The words “Tourist Menu” are not mentioned at all

c) They specialise in one form of cuisine and are not catering for the masses

Basically, these places are cheaper, more authentic and the quality of the food is much better. Finding these places may involve some wandering around but hey you’re in a beautiful city so it’s the best of both worlds.

Where should I snooze?

As a solo female traveller, I opted not to utilise the site “Couchsurfing.com”. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, but for me personally, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to use it. This would be the ultimate budget accommodation as it’s free. However, to give myself (and my parents) peace of mind, I went with hostels. Two apps you need in your life – Hostelworld AND Hostelbookers. Not everyone out there is aware that each booking site gets allocated a certain number of beds and so you may have heard of an amazing hostel however it may not be showing on one app. However, if you check the other you might just be lucky enough to score a bed. As for choosing your pad for the night, big things I look at are location, security and facilities such as kitchens.

  • Location – if you can walk to every awesome place that you want to see, then you are in a great location. I personally hate trying to figure out public transport in foreign cities and so I always make sure my hostel is located in the centre of all the important things.
  • Security – getting things stolen is not fun for anybody so make sure you pick a place with a super high security rating. Bonus if your room has lockers AND locks are provided. Most hostels have safety deposit boxes free of charge at reception too.
  • Kitchens – so as much as I would have loved to have gone out every night indulging in restaurant food, I knew I had a limit on funds and so if you score a good hostel with a kitchen, you will be able to whip yourself up nutritious meals on those nights when you don’t feel like foraging for food (or those mornings when all you want is bacon and eggs).

Make friends with people in your room

Because…

a) Friends are awesome and make for fun adventures whilst travelling

b) They have most likely been there slightly longer than you and may have interesting info about the city

c) With friends, come friends who may potentially know a local in that city which means access to a whole new realm of possibilities like underground bars and secret hideaways.

Raid your hostel reception area

They normally have a stack of free maps and guide books with some offering discounts at partnering restaurants. They also have an array of things to entertain yourself with if you decide to have a quiet afternoon to yourself (oh and if you’re lucky they have free unlimited tea and coffee! Win!)

Choose your transport wisely

So majority of backpackers travelling Europe will be venturing to more than one city. So to find your way of getting from A to B there are a few options for you. As a solo female traveller, I decided not to use car sharing services however, I would if I was travelling with another person. Second best priced alternative I found were buses. There are hundreds of companies around Europe and a handy place to find a decent portion of them is through an app called “Go Euro”. Through this app, you can do point to point trips and it will show the prices for bus, train and plane (save yourself the hassle and don’t fly between cities unless you’re travelling from west to far east for example). This app also provides the nifty feature of letting you book your transport directly through the app! So much time and money saved. Also, two birds one stone idea is if you’re travelling a long distance (in transit for about 7 hours plus) then opt for an overnight bus. You will arrive in the city early, give yourself another full day and also save on a night’s accommodation.

So there you have it, this is some of what I’ve learnt whilst being on the road so hopefully when you decide to jet off abroad you will be able to use some of these tips to better plan your trip. No time like the present.


Featured Image: Appropriately chosen photo of Nice, Côte D’Azur from Europe 2014 where I did my first ever walking tour and also where I first utilised the price index concept. 

Economics and Food Unite

As an almost Economist (will be official after this semester), I have a keen interest in seeing what professional economists have to say about things. When I found one who encompasses both my passion for food and economics, I was ecstatic! Introducing Tyler Cowen, an American Economist and author of my most recent read ‘An Economist Gets Lunch’.

Cowen’s book serves as a guide for everyday foodies and emphasises the importance of minimising costs but still maximising utility. In English, how to get good food cheap.

I was completely engaged throughout the entire duration of reading this book. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Cowen’s one month shopping experience at an Asian supermarket (absolute goldmines in my eyes). Cowen also has the travel bug (like me) and so he ventures off to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. One of the main comments made by Cowen which has received a fair bit of criticism from external sources:

Unless you are spending a lot of money, Paris is the worst place to eat in all of France

As someone who has ventured to Paris, I agreed that the food was very expensive. However, I stayed in the Latin quarter of Paris and found unique, almost boutique style restaurants which served up traditional French at a very reasonable price. Cowen emphasises that if you are to find good food in cities overpopulated with tourists, you are best to venture to the outskirts. His economic justification for this is that the rents on the more suburban restaurants are cheaper therefore more money can be spent on investing in quality produce. I am in complete agreement with this.

I also especially enjoyed his discussion about methods of eating to help out the environment. One special mention is that he proposes that individuals give up refined sugar! For obvious reasons including that it isn’t exactly healthy but also due to the extensive costs involved in producing it. Markets shift in order to cater for supply and demand. The changing attitudes of individuals have a huge impact on the market as a whole and also contributing to this is the surge in food promotion via social media (particularly the preaching of natural, wholesome foods).In summary, processed foods = costly so try avoid it as much as possible to reap all the benefits. Yay!

So this was just a snippet from the book as I don’t want to give it all away. Cowen has successfully encompassed my two passions and has inspired me for my future travels later this year to delve into the unknown and discover the hidden gems that Europe has to offer. Even though before I choose a restaurant, I will have to perform a full economic analysis in terms of location, menu selection and the ambience before I make a decision, the long run investment will be worth it as I continue my food mission of finding cheap, good quality food.

Just one more memorable quote from Cowen in relation to restaurant dining:

If it sounds bad, it probably tastes especially good

Let’s be honest, majority of us are turned off by weird and wacky sounding dishes. I am becoming more accustomed to the philosophy of ‘not knowing until I try it’ both in the food world and life in general. If anything, Cowen has now inspired me to further explore the unknown and continue on my inspiring food journey.

Thanks Tyler.