How I traveled in Europe for 1 month under 2000 USD

Thursday, October 08, 2015

"Oh! My! GAWD!" That was my reaction when I realized I had left my debit card at home. 

I wasn’t headed out for the day. I was at Mumbai International Airport and shortly boarding the flight for my month long trip to Europe. I have always been clumsy and prone to disaster, but not carrying the international debit card was one of the worst screw-up I have ever done, or at least I thought so at that moment. Of course, I had a currency card and some euros. But that amounted to just 2000 USD or 1.3 Lacs as per the conversion rate at that time. The idea was to backpack, but I guess even backpacking needs some back-up. I had left my back-up at home!

As the flight took off I drew up a budget plan. I had €1000 cash and the rest on a Thomas Cook Borderless Prepaid card. I decided to keep the card for hotels and other payments where swiping a card is more feasible. I divided the €1000 into €250/week for cash expenses. It was not an easy target, as I was traveling unplanned. And yet, at the end of one month, I flew out of Europe not only basking in glory of achieving the target, but also with a bag full of souvenirs and a bottle of Absinthe. ;)

Here is how I did it – 

1. Accommodation - Out of my 30 days travel, I stayed in –

a) Hotels for 9 nights. 

b) Hostels for 3 nights. 

c) Apartment for 3 nights. 

d) And for the rest of the days, I couchsurfed.

Couchsurfing at a palatial bungalow at Salzburg

Couchsurfing saved me a large chunk of money. Of course, I bought gifts for my hosts but the amount spent was nothing compared to what I would have spent if I had booked a paid accommodation. When I did not get Couchsurfing hosts, I stayed at hostels. Only when I felt I needed some personal space, I went for private rooms in hotelsIn Budapest, I ended up renting an apartment when a friend who was in Europe joined me for few days. We shared the costs and also saved a lot on food as we utilized the kitchen in our apartment. 

The biggest blow came during the first week of my travel when I missed a connection train and got stranded at Salzburg for the night. That night every hotels/homestays/hostels in my budget were full owing to the date coinciding with a carnival. At 10pm, the only option I had was a 4 star hotel that had quoted 140 euros/night, which was way beyond my budget. I guess we Indians have excellent negotiating skills in our genes. I managed to get the tariff down to 85 Euros, though it still was a big blow on my already stringent budget. 

Total spent - €577

2. TransportationFor the one month I was in Europe, I travelled across 6 countries – Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, mostly by trains or buses. 

Deutsche Bahn

Twice I rideshared with people who have put up their driving route on Once with a French guy who was driving from Ljubljana to Budapest in his Citroen Jumpy and then with an Iranian guy driving from Vienna to Prague in his BMW. The amount I paid was way lesser than what I would have paid for train or bus and I also got to interact with the locals and enjoy a long drive on scenic European routes.

As for intercity travels, I mostly bought day cards, wherever available. In smaller towns like Hallstatt and Cesky Krumlov, I preferred to walk – it’s the best way of exploring, after all. By sheer luck, at Rothenburg ob der tauber and Salzburg, my couchsurfing hosts were gracious enough to drive me around the town. 

Total spent - €400 (approx.)

3. Food and Drinks – 

a. FoodI am a foodie and more than that, I have a penchant for restaurants with a view, which as a matter of fact, are quite expensive too. I have dined at the castle restaurant at Salzburg, at restaurant Bella Vista which overlooks Prague and at Comme Chez Soi at Budapest (Best in the city as per Tripadvisor and moi). 

Freshly caught trout grilled with almond butter sauce, Hallstatt

Though I saved on food while staying at the Budapest apartment and through complimentary breakfasts and take-away places, I ended up spending almost an equivalent of what I spent on accommodations. 

b. Drinks – Partying in Europe can definitely be heavy on the pocket even if you are ordering those cheap Czech beer that cost less than an euro per pint. And for a solo woman traveller, getting sloshed is never a good idea. Considering these two reasons, I hardly ever went on a drinking spree. I did get high on 3 nights when I had some excellent company, but that did not break my budget. 

Prague Beer Museum, Prague
Though the highest I have paid was €31 at Hard Rock Café (Budapest), my average expenditure for food and drink stands at €18/day. 

Total spent - €550 (approx.)

4. MiscellaneousMy travel style saved me a lot of money. I am not a museum person and I hate it when entry to a place of worship is charged. So I anyways skipped the museums and those paid churches and synagogues. I like to merge with the city by getting to know the locals and through them, its culture. I like to explore around rather than rushing to tick off those must-see places. So I only paid for entering the places of ‘interest’ (no pun intended), like the baths in Budapest or the medieval European castles.   

Szechenyi thermal bath, Budapest
The miscellaneous cost also includes activities like the night cruise on the Danube at Budapest, gifts for couchsurfing hosts, chance shopping at Ljubljana and Budapest and so on. As funny as it may sound, but based on the balance €8 I had on me when I flew out of Prague at the end of my trip, I can safely assume that the total miscellaneous spend was close to €265. And yes! That includes the bottle of Absinthe too ;)

So, there you go - 30 days in Europe in 1.3 Lacs! 

Europe is anything but cheap, but it is absolutely possible to cut down costs. Couchsurfing helps, and so does ridesharing to travel. Cooking your food helps, and so does eating at places where the locals go. Happy hour helps, and so does buying your booze at the supermarket.

Being a vast continent, the cost of traveling in Northern Europe (Scandinavia), Western Europe, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe vary by a big margin. For the first 12 days when I was traveling in Germany and Austria, my average budget was €75/day. The average dropped to €45/day the moment I left Western Europe and entered Slovenia. Jointly that averages out to €60/day which is a tough target to achieve.

In the end forgetting the debit card felt like a blessing in disguise. Of course there are ways to get money through Western Union for emergency situations. Luckily, I didn't face any and instead, took upon the challenge to travel in Europe for one month under 2000 USD. I succeeded!

A big thanks to Lufthansa who sponsored my round trip flight to Europe.

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