Europe Trip Planning: How to Get Around Europe for Cheap

Europe Trip Planning: How to Book Affordable Transportation within Europe

Plane? Train? Automobile? A combination of all three? Planning a backpacking trip around Europe isn’t as easy as it used to be, because now there are more transportation options with a wider variety of prices. If you do your research, you’ll often be rewarded with some really great prices. But it’s a lot of work for a multi-destination trip, and it’s even trickier if you’ve never heard of the transit companies you’ll be booking with.

I recently planned out our spring Europe trip and discovered some helpful online tools that make booking transportation easier. We booked a combination of buses, trains, flights, and cars in advance, online, to get us around Europe on a budget. Now three weeks into our trip, our pre-booked transit tickets have kept us moving around Europe quickly and comfortably.

Want to get the most for your money but don’t know where to begin? Use my trusty transportation planning strategies to find your most cost-effective route around Europe!

German countryside is gorgeous in springtime! View from our @flixbus en route to Prague. #NTSEuroTrip2016

A photo posted by North To South • Diana + Ian (@dianasouth) on

Book your transportation first…

Day-to-day accommodation prices usually don’t vary as much as transportation prices can. Don’t lock yourself in to any specific destination dates without at least researching arrival and departure transportation first.

…but don’t forget about accommodations.

I like to book my accommodations and transportation hand in hand. Locking in transportation early is a good way to keep your Eurotrip costs as low as possible, but you don’t want to completely forget about accommodations. Prior to booking anything (including transportation), do a quick 2-minute search to gauge accommodation prices and availability. I run a quick search on Airbnb and to know what to expect. If prices look reasonable for my proposed dates, I’ll go ahead and lock in my transportation.

Visit well-connected cities.

Some cities in Europe are more well-connected than others, and you can find affordable transportation to many places from them. Paris and Munich fit into this category when we were searching transportation options for our current Europe trip.

It’s not always geographically obvious what will and won’t be a good deal, but generally speaking, distance is a good indication of how pricey a route will be. These centrally-located cities in Europe seem to regularly offer affordable routes to many destinations.

Plan a smart route.

Get a map of Europe handy and then use a transportation aggregator like to explore the transit options between a city on your must-see list and another major city in a neighboring country. Experiment with different cities and dates. This way you can get a feel for prices, add or remove cities from your must-see list, and start to plan your cheapest route. (See my sample route below for ideas.)

I learned that what’s cheapest for one inter-city route isn’t always cheap for another. And prices can vary by season and the amount of time you’re booking in advance, so experimentation is key. If you find a good price, complete your booking as soon as you possibly can so the price doesn’t go up!

Book as far in advance as you can.

Airline ticket prices obviously go up the closer you get to your trip, and this can happen with trains and buses within Europe, too. If you’re booking sort of last minute, you may still find good deals (we found some bus tickets for less than $10 just two weeks in advance), but you won’t have as many options. And if you’re traveling to Europe in summer, you’re less likely to find any good transportation deals on short notice.

Take the bus!

If you’re traveling a smart route, this is almost always the cheapest way to get from one city to another, and it doesn’t always take that much longer than the train. So far on our trip, we’ve traveled exclusively by bus, except for one train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin. We’ve traveled on Megabus and FlixBus so far, and Eurolines is another popular bus transit company throughout Europe.

I’ve found that I actually prefer the bus to the train because the level of comfort is about the same and you only have to get your ticket checked once on a bus (we had our DB ticket checked 4 times during the course of our Berlin to Prague journey). Plus I think it’s easier to keep your stuff safe on the bus since it’s not constantly stopping and offering thieves a quick hop-on-and-off opportunity.

Book stays with easy access to public transportation.

When you’re booking your accommodations, make sure you can get to them easily and cheaply from your arrival point by public transportation, Über, free hotel shuttle, etc. This should be an easy question for any hotel or potential Airbnb host to answer prior to booking.

Booking a place near a bus or subway station will make it easier for you to get around once you’re there, too.

Get Eurotrip route ideas!

If you’re just getting started planning your trip, take a look at our spring 2016 Europe trip itinerary, including how much we paid per person to get from Point A to Point B. I carefully planned our trip to keep our costs as low as possible, while keeping our travel schedules totally reasonable (i.e. no connections or layovers, day-time transportation coinciding with normal hotel check-in/check-out times).

We’re still booking stays and transportation for the end of our trip, but I’ve already researched our unbooked transportation and know these to be smart, affordable route choices.  I’ll fill in the blanks soon, but here’s our spring 2016 plan so far:

  • Los Angeles to Paris via Norwegian Air ($337*)

*We booked this flight less than 3 weeks in advance. If we’d booked even a month earlier, I’m sure we could have saved at least $100 per ticket!

  • Paris → Brussels via Megabus ($5)
  • Brussels → Amsterdam via Megabus ($6)
  • Amsterdam → Berlin via DB train ($38 — includes discount*)

*We purchased Bahn Cards @ $21.46 each to receive a 25% discount off train fares on DB. Buying Bahn Cards was an experiment that won’t be worth it unless we book more DB trains at the end of our trip. (I doubt we will, since the bus is usually more affordable!)

  • Berlin → Prague via Flixbus (‎$22)
  • Prague → Munich via Flixbus ($18)
  • Munich → Salzburg via Hertz rental car ($16/person/day + gas)***
  • Salzburg → Lake Halstatt via rental car ($16/person/day + gas)
  • Lake Halstatt → Munich via rental car ($16/person/day + gas)
  • Munich → Malaga via Brussels Airlines ($306*)

*Here we take a break from our trip to meet up with Ian’s family in Spain for two weeks. It’s an example of how expensive transportation in Europe can get when you don’t book the smartest route and/or book accommodations before transportation.

  • Malaga → Tenerife via Norwegian Air ($61)
  • Tenerife → Budapest via Wizz Air ($107)
  • Budapest → Ljubljana via Orangeways bus ($25)
  • Ljubljana → Zagreb via Flixbus ($10)
  • Zagreb → Dubrovnik via Croatia Airlines ($88)
  • Dubrovnik → Rome via Vueling Air ($116)
  • Rome → La Spezia via Flixbus ($10) → Cinque Terre via TrenItalia ($4)
  • Cinque Terre → La Spezia via TrenItalia ($4) → Milan via TrenItalia ($22)
  • Milan → Rekyavik via WOW Air ($139 — includes extra baggage fee for 1 person)
  • Reykyavik → Los Angeles via WOW Air ($248 — includes extra baggage fee for 1 person)

***If you rent a car in Europe, be sure to research regulations for driving your car across a country border. For instance, we were required to purchase a vignette (sticker for our windshield) at a gas station in order to legally drive our car to Austria.

You can also browse route ideas on (even if you’re not traveling by train).

Want more info on planning a budget trip to Europe? Get to Europe for cheap with our tips in How to Fly from the U.S. to Europe for Under $200, and find affordable accommodations with How to Find a Safe, Comfortable and Affordable Place to Stay on Airbnb.

P.S. Follow our Europe trip on Facebook or Instagram (hers/his) — we’re posting photos daily!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *