As someone who grew up in Europe, it was always really normal for me to travel to different countries in the summer. Bringing the tent to Italian lakes, experiencing French cuisine in France, or hiking in Austrian mountains.
Europe has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists from all over the world. However, having been affected by inflation over the last few years, traveling in Europe has become quite expensive, particularly if you are traveling alone and have no one to share the costs with. So here are 6 ways to travel Europe on a budget as a female solo traveler!
Tip 1: Take Interrail Across Europe
One of the big pros of traveling by train is the incredible views you get to see. Especially in more rural places, you’ll see a lot of different landscapes- varying from mountaintops to wide grass flats. When you buy an interrail ticket, trains are usually an affordable means of travel, as it allows you to travel unlimited for a certain amount of days. This way, there’s no stress over missing a train or wanting to visit a different location spontaneously.
The first blow is half the battle
Keep in mind that some trains require reserving a seat beforehand, especially in the high seasons. That’s mostly in July and August when Europe has summer vacation. Reserving a seat often costs extra money, but it’s definitely worth the extra euros if you’re guaranteed a seat and can choose a comfortable seat next to the window- allowing you to enjoy the views.
When you’re traveling through Europe with trains, always have a backup plan in case your train gets canceled or you miss a connection. When I was on my way to Copenhagen once, my train got canceled at the last minute and I couldn’t find another one that would bring me on time to my booked hostel. Luckily I found another way to get there and had two friends living close by, but it saves you a lot of stress to have a backup plan on how to get to your accommodation.
Finally, don’t underestimate the distances and travel times. A lot of people from outside Europe seem to think that all the countries are so close to each other and though they may be compared to countries in Asia or the Americas, don’t be fooled by their closeness on a map.
Before I decided to go to Copenhagen a second time, I wanted to travel from Oslo to Amsterdam in one piece. Big rookie mistake, as the train would take me at least 24 hours to get to my destination. That is, 24 hours if the trains ride their planned schedule. Nevertheless, interrail is a great option if you’re exploring more places.
Tip 2: Use a Flixbus
If you’re just looking for a way to get from A to B, traveling with Flixbus might be a more comfortable option. They offer many boarding places in Europe and you can travel from Oslo to Copenhagen for as little as 30 euros! (To compare, a plane ticket without luggage costs about 80–90 euros). During my work exchange in Norway, I went to Copenhagen twice and when my train got canceled both times, I could easily fall back onto this option.
What is Flixbus?
As some of you might not be familiar with the concept of Flixbus, I’ll quickly explain. Flixbus offers rather affordable bus rides to many places in the world. You can bring as much luggage as you want for little pay (I brought a heavy backpack and suitcase without having to pay anything extra) and they are equipped with sockets, night lights, and free (good) WiFi. There is not too much space for you to sit, but if you’re lucky, like me, you’ll have both seats as there’s no passenger next to you.
Most destinations are traveled to at least once a day, so there are plenty of options for you to take and you can change your departure time/location without a lot of effort after buying tickets.
I have traveled with Flixbus both during the day and night and I recommend you travel during the night as much as you can! This way, not only do you reach your destination more quickly, but the trip is also cheaper when you travel at odd times.
One downside of this though, is that you probably won’t be able to sleep very comfortably. The seats don’t have a lot of space and if you pack big like me you’ll need that space for your extra luggage. During my first trip to Copenhagen, I was lucky enough to sit alone, which means I could put my backpack on the seat next to me and use it as a pillow during the night. Needless to say, my neck hurt the next day and I was still tired from the day before as I woke up every time a passenger got out, but I was happy to feel safe and have reached my destination so easily.
Tip 3: Do a work exchange
So far we’ve talked about two ways to get to your destination, but what about accommodation? Depending on where you go in Europe, accommodation can become super expensive. To give an example, whereas accommodations in Poland, which is one of the cheapest Europe countries to visit, cost about 30–40 euros per night on average, in Amsterdam you pay at least 125 euros. You can imagine that if you travel to Europe for a couple of weeks this amount quickly adds up. Luckily there are some ways to save money on accommodation as well, like doing a work exchange.
How safe are work exchanges?
Work exchanges always sounded super sketchy and scary to me, I could already envision the headlines of the local newspapers the next morning after my arrival: “Teen girl gets kidnapped working on a farm”, or something like that.
Nevertheless, I tried it once and liked it so much that now it’s my go-to travel method. What does it entail? You get to travel anywhere, get accommodation, and often even food for free in exchange for a couple of hours of working per day, though usually, it doesn’t feel like work at all.
There are lots of different tasks that you can do: from working on a farm and helping harvest or planting vegetables to being an au pair or working in a hostel. The possibilities are endless. You can stay somewhere ranging from a couple of days to a couple of months and usually, hosts are very flexible with that as they love having you around as well.
So how does it work? You find a host, apply and if you get accepted that’s it: you just have to arrange how you are getting there. Often, travelers use this method to prolong their stay in an area they’re already in. Right now, I’m hoping to combine multiple exchanges in the summer to explore multiple areas at once.
Since we’re all women, some of you might have concerns for your safety and I totally understand! All I can say is: don’t give out too much personal information, check reviews, have a quick call with the hosts, and follow your gut. Personally, I noticed that my instinct knows when a work exchange is right and safe for me. I recommend messaging hosts to find out if there’s a connection or not. For every work exchange I have done so far and am planning for the future, I have video calls with the hosts before confirming my stay. Usually, my experience is that the host is just another friendly human being wanting to meet people from all over the world.
Tip 4: Stay in hostels
Hostels offer a lot of extra facilities! To be honest, I never knew this and actually used to think hostel experiences look something like this: sleeping in a bunk bed with random strangers, trying not to get your luggage stolen, and eating plane-like but free breakfast. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have seen even the simplest hostels offer swimming pools, bars, large kitchens, foosball tables, a game and/or movie hall, and even lots of live music. I think the live music is my favorite part, as you’ll meet lots of like-minded people and you get the chance to dance your socks off without knowing anyone there!
When staying at hostels, once again it’s important to look at reviews. When I was in Copenhagen, I was about to book a hostel that had horrible reviews. I’m not someone who needs too much comfort and I consider myself quite easygoing with these things, but one thing that I do appreciate is feeling clean and safe. Before booking a hostel, decide what kind of experience you’d like to have as they can differ greatly. Would you like to stay in a party hostel, near the city center or in a family-friendly place?
Tip 5: Car camping
If your Instagram or Tiktok ‘for-you-page’ looks anything like mine, you have probably seen lots of videos of van lifers who drive around the globe in a fancy converted car or van. Doesn’t it look romantic, how they wake up with a new, marvelous view every day? Well, let me tell you a little secret: you actually don’t need a new van or fancy equipment to get started.
It has been a dream of mine to convert a camper van for a couple of years now and every time my parents and I have a conversation about my dreams and goals, that’s exactly what comes up. Until now, I have made numerous lists of how I would want my van to look and calculations of how much money I would need. I have researched the best-used vans and spent hours studying the materials of other builders, only to find out that converting a van right now is too far out of my budget.
Of course, if I would start focusing on earning more money and saving everything, that’s something I could realize within a couple of months. But working more hours in addition to finishing off my studies, writing new materials, and exploring new hobbies is not very realistic for me at this moment. There had to be another way.
Transforming our Peugeot
As the title of this tip gives away, I found another way! One day I was looking at videos of someone who converted her regular car, which caused a little light-bulb moment thinking: “Wait! My parents have a car. Can’t I just use theirs?”. I spent the next two hours taking out all the car seats in the back and cleaning the entire car.
Then I put down a mattress that was just small enough to fit in the car without being rolled up and assembled anything that might come in handy during a night of camping: a lantern, a bucket, lots of blankets and a pillow, and some snacks. Looking at the car all packed up, I had never been happier to see that ordinary Peugout standing in our driveway.
Be sure to check each country’s rules for sleeping in your car, because some European countries don’t allow this! Unfortunately, the Netherlands being one of them, I had to find another solution as I was determined not to give up on my happiness. I spent the first two nights sleeping in our driveway until I found a very friendly farmer whose land I could rent to park the car.
Having achieved yet another small milestone, the next morning I woke up deeply happy with a beautiful pink sky and overlooking a field with horses. So dear readers, wherever in the world you may be and whatever your dreams may look like: Don’t wait around too long, hoping for the perfect thing, as it may never come. Just start small!
Tip 6: Work as a digital nomad
Why would you only spend money when you can also earn money during vacation? Digital nomads work online and earn money while traveling. This way you can earn back at least part of your travels. The only thing you really need to get started is having good internet and a smartphone and/or laptop. Of course, it can take a while to find yourself a job that brings in money, but there are lots of resources on the internet to tell you where to look. So far until now, I have worked online as a social media manager and content creator, but you can work as a tutor or coach as well for example.
As a digital nomad, you decide your workload, which means you can create your own travel routine and work around it. Lots of hostels accommodate digital nomads by offering very convenient flex working spots and good (free) internet, so you can work before or after exploring a new part of the city!
Something else that’s becoming more popular is the digital nomad visa. It’s a visa specifically designed for digital nomads, as digital nomads often experience difficulties with visas since they don’t know when they’ll leave a country. Keep in mind that before you can apply for such a visa, you’ll need to earn quite some money online. For me, being able to apply for a digital nomad visa in Costa Rica is my ultimate dream and I would love to be able to achieve this in the coming months.
What else do you need to think of?
Speaking of visas, always check your visa! I have seen people getting plucked from the bus for interrogation after not having the right visa, and that’s a situation you’d just rather avoid. In addition to this, covid measures as well as other regulations still differ greatly between European countries, so make sure to check which rules apply.
And above all, be sure to savor and enjoy every moment of it! Traveling to new places is super exciting, and Europe really has so much variety to offer. Feel free to send me a message in the NomadHer app when you are in Amsterdam during the summer! I will be your guide and make sure you see the best things!
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👩 Maron Theunis, NomadHer article contributor, is a female traveler from the Netherlands. She has a passion for writing and taking photos and hiking. A few months ago, she finally started her first solo trip to Norway to get out of her comfort zone. Since then she went to Copenhagen and Germany. Right now, her dream destination to travel to is Sri Lanka.