Travel costs money. That’s unavoidable. How much it costs is up to you. You can see Europe on the proverbial shoestring or you can hop between boutique hotels and drop some serious coin at the best restaurants. Executed well, either option can have the same result: A lifetime of memories, expanded horizons, and stories to share.
So how much does it reasonably cost to travel to and around Europe in the summer of ’17? Again, that depends on you. But, thinking it costs a fortune is the wrong attitude to have. It can be affordable — especially in the age of long haul budget airlines like Norwegian and WOWair and access to great accommodation on sites like Hostelworld. Summer in Europe is within your grasp, so reach out and embrace the wanderlust.
Here’s some sample flights, trains, food, and hotels built around a five city tour. Pick your price point and hit that road!
Picking a starting point for your much-deserved vacation should be as easy as checking where the best deals are. Kayak’s Explore option allows you to set your home city and then scroll around a map with prices on various destinations. It’s easy to use and extremely useful for the budget traveler. For instance, in the above screenshot, you’ll find a great deal from Chicago to Bristol (UK) for only $350 roundtrip. That’s cheaper than many domestic flights from the Windy City.
The only rule and tip when it comes to finding flights is to shop hard online. Check WOWair, Norwegian, Delta, Kayak, Expedia. Set price alerts for your dream destinations. Do the work then — when it feels like you’ve found the best possible deal — take that leap!
Let’s say you’re going to Europe for two weeks in August. You can easily rent a car for around $200 — assuming you’re picking up and dropping off in the same city. That price comes with a lot of caveats. First, there’s the gas situation. The average price for gas is around €1.40 per liter. That translates to $6.37, per gallon of gas. Next, there are tolls on a lot of the major motorways across Europe. Driving across, say, France can easily add another $100 in tolls to your travel. Lastly, there’s the time factor. Driving everywhere is exhausting, especially in a the hot summer months.
That’s why the train is the way to go. You can relax in a comfy seat. Catch up on that YA series you’ve been neglecting. Nosh on some great train food. Share a beer and travel tips with a fellow traveler. Take a nap. And you’ll arrive in the center of a major city refreshed and not stressing about where you’re going to park your car. You’re on vacation after all — live like it.
RailEurope has several options for your travels. Their Global Pass is the most comprehensive. For $549 ($359 if you haven’t reached your 29th birthday, holla!) you can take five train rides over the course of 15 days. You can also find passes that cover specific countries and regions at varying costs. Or you can go longer — a month long rail pass with 15 days of travel will set you back $1,081. One caveat with the rail pass is that sometimes you’re going to have to go online and make a seat reservation. This can cost anywhere from $5-$50 per seat. So do a little planning ahead.
To show you how easy this can be, we’ve laid out a baller train journey across western Europe. It’s a sample, a possibility, a shot in the dark… but it looks pretty awesome.
Landing in Amsterdam is the most convenient spot to start if you’re looking to maximize that rail pass. From the airport you can access the center of Amsterdam in about 15 minutes by commuter train. Then you’ll be in the thick of it. If you only have one night in the city, you should probably hit a coffee shop. Follow your nose until you find a shop that digs your vibe (or whose vibe you dig). Then order some cannabis in whatever form floats your boat and let the day take its course. If you do get the munchies, head over the Foodhallen for an array of tasty Dutch treats and drinks.
Expect to pay $60 and up for an Airbnb room and $100 for an entire place. If you’re down for the hostel life, you can snag a dorm bed for $30 and up all over town. And if money isn’t an issue, check out one of these mint boutique hotels around the city. Expect to pay in the hundreds per night.
The first leg of the train journey is a three hour jaunt down to Brussels — the land of beer.
Brussels is known for their pommes frites (veal fat fried large cut french fries) drowned in delicious mayonnaise, waffles dusted with sugar and all sorts of sweet treats, and a bounty of beer. Hitting the bars around the Delirium Cafe is the best entry point into the world of Belgian beers. From there you can wander the streets from beer bar to beer bar, until the hunger kicks in and the only cure is a cone of fries drenched in samurai sauce (that’s a really spicy mayo).
You’ll be able to find Airbnb rooms starting at $21 and entire apartments at $69 a night. One of the best options in Brussels is the hostel. Meininger City Center will cost you $20 a night for a dorm bed and has more of a boutique hotel feel to it than a hostel. The kicker at Meininger is that it’s in a refitted brewery — so you’ll be staying #onbrand if you’re touring Brussels for beer. Across town check out the wonderfully quirky Vintage Hotel (which has a pretty solid beer bar) or the classy Le Châtelain. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $150 per night at each.
The next leg on this hypothetical journey is a bullet train ride for about 80 minutes that takes you to the heart of Paris.
Paris is a massive city with different wonders in every arrondissement (neighborhood). Hit the Louvre early or book a skip-the-line-tour with City Wonders — otherwise plan to wait upwards (and beyond) two hours on line just to get in. But going to Paris and not browsing through one of the largest repositories of art in the world is crazy talk. For dinner, follow your nose — and the Parisians — in the neighborhood you’re staying in. If the restaurant is packed with locals, it is good. One can’t miss spot is the iconic Robert et Louise. The steaks are grilled over the fireplace in the dining room and are some of the best in France.
Okay, Paris isn’t anywhere near as cheap as Brussels or even Amsterdam. But you can still find some deals. If you’re willing to stay a little out of center, you can find Airbnb rooms starting around $30 with whole apartments starting at $50. Hostels are peppered all over Paris and generally start at $30 a night for a dorm bed. There are a lot of hotels to choose from. If you want to go straight up baller, then hit up Le Hotel Bristol. It’ll set you back a cool $1,000 a night but Midnight In Paris was filmed there, so it’s got some serious glamour.
A short three hours and twenty minutes from Paris is Cologne — home to the deliciously light kölsch beer and one of the largest cathedrals on the planet.
The beer halls around Cologne really are one of the city’s main highlights. Lommerzheim is a straight up classic beer hall/garden with a deep list of local dishes and a non stop flow of kölsch. The beer is served in very small glasses (about eight or nine fluid ounces) and costs less than $2 per glass. Brauerei Päffgen is another must stop, with a shady beer garden and the beer brewed in-house. It’s like the original version of a craft beer bar.
A room or an entire place on Airbnb start around $40 per night. A dorm bed in a hostel generally runs around $20 per night. One of the cooler hotels in Cologne is tucked away on the shady grounds of a church. The Qvest is inside a gothic monastery and offers some seriously lux digs after a day for kölsch drinking. Expect to spend upwards of a grand a night.
Six hours south of Cologne, you’ll find the Swiss Alpine city of Zürich. It’s an extradorinary place that’s safe, clean, beautiful, and expensive — there’s no getting around that last part.
Zürich gives you the option of lazing around a lake soaking in the sun or strapping on some hiking boots and heading up a mountain to find a hidden away beer garden all within minutes of the city center. Hit up the Zeughauskeller and sample some seriously delicious Alpine eats — a special shout out to their hash browns. And don’t forget to try Raclette — that’s a huge chunk of cheese melted onto all sorts of delightful treats.
Airbnb rooms start at $50 a night and quickly jump up to $100 while entire apartments start around $130 a night. There aren’t a lot of hostel options for the budget-minded traveler. What there is starts at $50 a night for a dorm bed. Since this is the last stop on the trip, why not go all in and rent a chalet in the Alps for a night or two.
Finally, you have to get back to Amsterdam to catch your flight home and use that last train ride on your rail pass. It’s an eight hour train ride across Europe that’ll provide you with plenty of time for reflection on all the amazing places you just wandered through. Travel goals achievement: Unlocked.