A mini guide to traveling on spare change

**To help you through this guide, remember that 1 euro now equals approximately $1.10.

As a language assistant in Madrid, I make 1,000 euros a month–ballin! Maybe a little more if I give extra English lessons, but that’s neither here nor there.

After my paycheck arrives in my account, this is where it goes:

Rent: 250 euros

Clothes (gotta keep up with these stylish Spaniards): 50 euros

Phone:  20 euros

Internet: 16 euros

Groceries:  80 euros

That leaves approximately 580 euros for everything else.

I’ve lived in Madrid for almost five months and I’ve explored seven countries on this budget, with plans for more. People always ask me how I can afford these adventures through Europe, so here they are…  my secrets for traveling on spare change.

Booking flights:

To begin, open your Internet search in an incognito window (on Google Chrome– File/New Incognito Window). The booking websites track your history and will show higher prices based on your previous searches. With an incognito window, they don’t have access to your search history and you’ll probably see lower numbers on your screen. I’ve done a comparison and it really can make a difference.

I also believe in checking the prices daily. In early December, we had a four-day weekend that was begging for an adventure, and although we couldn’t find decent prices due to the holiday, we persistently checked anyway.  One glorious afternoon, we unexpectedly found a roundtrip deal to Paris for 30 euros. THIRTY EUROS–that’s $41! There was nothing to Paris below 150 euros in the previous days of searching.

As for booking, I’ve found these websites consistently deliver great deals:

www.skyscanner.com

I like Skyscanner because you can enter your destination as “anywhere.” It then brings up all of the cheapest destinations for the dates you have selected. For travel within Europe and Africa, I’ve never paid more than 110 euros for a roundtrip ticket from Madrid.

www.kayak.com

Sometimes Kayak finds more options or slightly better numbers than Skyscanner. After figuring out where I want to go by using the Skyscanner “anywhere” tool, I like to put the destination into Kayak to compare prices. Sometimes the results aren’t very different, but it never hurts to check.

www.momondo.com

I think this is a good site for long haul travel. It brings up many options and ranks the routes 1-10 based on price, number of layovers and layover duration.

We normally fly the infamous budget airline, RyanAir… but I’m pleased to report that I don’t have a single horror story to share with you. If you read the fine print, you’ll be fine. Plus, RyanAir allows you to bring two carry-ons now. EasyJet, on the other hand, does not.

**Note: I haven’t used these flight techniques for non-European travels. Thanks to a dad who made a great career choice, I fly for free on American Airlines. 

Lodging

www.Airbnb.com

Airbnb is my first choice when searching for lodging. I used Airbnb for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and it was outstanding. We have since used it in Paris (my best experience EVER), Brussels, Berlin and Marrakech.

For those unfamiliar with this trendy style of accommodation, Airbnb is a widely trusted site for travelers to rent either just a room or a whole apartment or house. I always book based on the reviews, and always stay away from pages that have none.  In Paris, we rented a room for FORTY euros per night (if you know Paris, you know that’s a steal), and we received five-star treatment. We ate homemade croissants for breakfast every morning, found chocolates on our pillows every night, had cookies and tea at our disposal and a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese for our final night. Plus, we were provided with advice and directions from locals and made great friends out of the deal!

**Her price has gone up a little, but it’s still an outstanding offer. If you want to stay in Paris with Nina, click here! I couldn’t recommend her Airbnb more.

www.hostelworld.com or www.hostelbookers.com

These sites seem to find the best prices for hostels. Hostels are never really my first choice for accommodation, but sometimes it’s a very cheap option and a great way to meet people. With most hostels, you have the option to book a shared or private room. I’ve always booked private rooms with community bathrooms. (I really don’t love community bathrooms, but sometimes it’s the only option, and when I remind myself how little I’m paying, I get over it pretty quickly.)  Although private rooms cost more than shared rooms, it’s common to find offers for less than 30 euros per night–maybe half that if you share. So far, my best hostel experiences were at Hostel Florenc in Prague and Isaac’s Hostel in Dublin.

www.hotwire.com

I have yet to use this, but I’m excited to and it’s another site I always check. This website gives you the option to view “secret hot rate deals,” which are extremely low prices listed without the hotel name. It tells you the amenities the hotel offers, whether or not it is on TripAdvisor, the area it is in and the type of well-known hotel it could be compared to.  After you book, you receive a confirmation with the hotel name and details. For doing this “blind booking process,” you can get a cheap stay in a nice hotel.

City transportation

Many cities offer transportation deals that can stretch over several days. It’s usually best to purchase those, as they are unlimited and a better deal than buying transportation every time you need it. The passes often include the buses, trams and metros. Some big cities have a really great metro system (Madrid, Paris, Prague), and it’s definitely worth buying a several day pass.

When looking for transportation from the airport, it tends to be cheaper to purchase a roundtrip bus ticket online before you travel. When you buy online, you also save time since you don’t have to wait in lines or try to find where to purchase tickets. But keep in mind, some airports (Madrid, Lisbon) are connected to the metro systems, and therefore, you shouldn’t have to worry about this!

If you bring your walking shoes, it’s possible to cover small cities, like Dublin, by foot. The only transportation expense could be to and from the airport.

Food

When we travel, we typically only eat our dinners in restaurants. For lunch, we try to buy sandwich supplies from a market and make it last during our time there. This can be a delicious option because, well, it’s Europe, and the bread and cheese even from the supermarket can be divine.

For dinners, we utilize TripAdvisor to find reasonably priced and well recommended places.

We also keep it to maybe one or two drinks if we go out. Sometimes, drinks can be ridiculously priced and when you’re a couple in, you tend for forget about the experiences or souvenirs you could be spending that money on. Besides, I would always prefer to feel good and able to explore the following day.

Et cetera, Et cetera

During the week, Spencer and I never eat out. On the weekends, we only eat out once or maybe twice. This means more money for souvenirs or cool activities in a new country!

Walking tours are a great and FREE way to explore most big cities. If you google “free walking tours in ______,” you will find the times and meeting location. They typically last about three hours and are a fascinating way to get to know a city. My best walking tours were in Berlin and Prague, and afterwards, the cities didn’t even look the same to me. Both were the best history lessons I’ve ever received.

One of my favorite “travel hackers,” Nomadic Matt, has a blog and book full of ways to see the world on a budget. I highly recommend looking into his stuff, especially for information about taking advantage of credit card rewards for free travel.

So, do I travel like royalty?

No, obviously not–unless you consider royalty staying in a private room over a shared room at a hostel. Sometimes things are a little dirty, sometimes I find expenses I never calculated for, sometimes my feet hurt and sometimes I’m a little hungry, but I’m traveling and that’s all I really care about. If you are willing to put in the time and effort to find good deals, I can promise that they’re out there.

What budget travel tricks do you have up your sleeve? Do you use some of these websites, or are they new to you? Now it’s your turn to spill!

11 thoughts on “A mini guide to traveling on spare change

  1. heowen says:

    I have a nice secure job here in Texas, but I currently have the biggest travel itch. Thanks for all the tips. Specifically airlines. Jared and I want to travel to Europe (Germany mostly) for about a entire month sometime in the next couple of years. We planned to spend every night in a hostel! I am currently trying to improve my German so that we can move there in the distant future.

    I enjoy hearing about your tales and I am incredibly jealous! You are helping me decide where I want to go most in Europe, so thank you! I hope to venture over there in the next year…we will see if this can happen.

    Stay safe!
    Holly

    • Erica Connolly says:

      That’s so great, Holly! Hostels are really the BEST way to save money. And that’s so impressive that you speak German! It would have been really helpful to know when visiting haha.

      Thanks for following… I really enjoy your photographs!

      Let me know if you ever want help planning!

      Erica

  2. Megan McReynolds says:

    This will help us so much, Erica! I see you don’t have any trips listed in March or June. Come to Germany and stay with us for free!

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  4. Lauren says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m trying to plan trips for winter break, and it can get a bit overwhelming. I’m likely headed to Berlin and will definitely check out the free walking tours!

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