How to travel Western Europe for $30 / day

We’ve been taught to love the idea of traveling while believing it needs to wait until retirement – until we’ve contributed our share of time to the workforce, and until we’ve saved enough money to do it securely. I disagree with this approach, because we put such a strong emphasis on money when it is such a minute part of actually experiencing the world. During my 90 day trek through 7 countries in Western Europe with my best friend out of college, we spent less than $30 per day, each.

Here is how we cut corners:

camping everywhere1. We camped often, in the outskirts of vineyards, the sides of roads, near train stations, in a dog park, on the beach. When we didn’t camp, we found people to host us through CouchSurfing – a global, free network of like-minded individuals committed to making the world more accessible through sharing. In the rare chance we either didn’t feel safe camping or couldn’t find someone able to take us in, we would stay in hostels.

fruit merangue cake for 5 euros

2. We ate erratically: This is where the $1,000 discrepancy between our spending habits happened — I chose to experience places through stuffing myself with local foods and am a sucker for desserts, while Brenna could eat bread, Nutella and a block of cheese for an entire week straight. Along the way, we received food from strangers – restaurants, gas stations and random passers-by. The best night of my life to this day was when a fancy restaurant owner allowed us to sleep in his lawn (we were lured in by the lushness of the grass, and actually approached him). This turned into a night of feasting on true Italian fare, house wine made on site, and many stories shared.

Sleeping on the beach in Corneglia, Italy
Sleeping on the beach in Corneglia, Italy

3. We didn’t have a set agenda: By keeping vague plans, we were able to decide on a whim if we wanted to stay somewhere for a few more nights, or continue riding in a car with someone for a longer distance than expected. We saved hundreds on lodging by timing the trip based on good sleeping situations. In Barcelona, for example, we made an agreement with a hostel that we’d clean for a couple hours per day for free lodging. They ended up putting us in a brand new, immaculate hostel to help with making the beds. We ended up staying for at least a week (a city we were planning to stay in for 3 or so days).

A scene along the hitchhiking path
A scene along the hitchhiking path

4. We hitchhiked nearly everywhere: This is where the magic happened – where random acts of kindness were so common we began to realize they weren’t random at all. Two trucker brothers in Spain took us from Valencia to Barcelona, and when we arrived in the middle of the night, they gave us a place to sleep in one of the cars they were towing on their trailer. One woman, her dog and her child were heading on vacation in Italy — the car completely full — and they pulled over for three of us, insisting we could fit in a car the size of a Honda Fit. We did. Right before crossing the English channel by Ferry in Dunkerque, we were told we couldn’t walk onto the boat — that we had to be in a vehicle. Without asking anyone, we were approached by two people who had an RV, who said they’d take us over – they bought us a meal, and in Dover, they ensured we had a place to stay — and even negotiated on behalf of us for a low rate at a B&B. When we were caught soaked head to toe in a downpour in Western Ireland, an elderly woman pulled over and offered us a ride, despite our drenched states of existence. Pure magic, all of it.

If you have a drive to see the world, save a little. Take out a loan in college – the interest is never going to be lower than the interest on student loans. It is possible to experience the world around us without inheriting a small fortune, or driving ourselves into bankruptcy. We just have to do it, and we can, for less than $30 / day.

What are some of your creative shoestring travel ideas?

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