How I Went to Europe for Less than $1,000

by Melanie Lockert · 3 comments

walking on beach
I got back from a life-changing a 2-week adventure across Spain and Portugal a little over a month ago.

I explored Madrid, where my love of traveling first hit me. I met up with my friend who is teaching abroad in Nerja and ended my trip in the oh-so-charming Lisbon.

It was perfect and exactly what I needed. I was working all the time for months prior, so this vacation was my much needed break and a restart button on my life and debt repayment goals.

Whenever I tell people about traveling though, most people instantly ask me, “But isn’t traveling expensive?” Yes, it is. But it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. I managed to travel abroad for 2 weeks and spend just under $1,000.

Here’s how I did it.

I Travel Hacked the Flight

Airfare is often the biggest budget buster in anyone’s vacation. My flight would have cost $1,400 round trip, but instead it was $63. I signed up for an airline rewards credit card, got the sign-on bonus, and soon enough I had miles to go abroad.

Fun fact: you only need 40,000 American Airline miles to go abroad off-season, which is October 15 – May 15. I just had to pay taxes and fees, but I won’t complain about $63. This obviously cut out a huge portion of my budget and freed up a lot of money. If you are a responsible credit user — meaning you pay your balances in full every month and keep your balances low — travel hacking may be a sweet option.

If it’s not your thing, or you don’t want to be tempted by credit cards, I recommend sites like Travelzoo to find good deals.

Accommodations on the Cheap

I stayed in hostels for the majority of my time in Spain and Portugal. Hostels can get a bad rap, but I don’t mind them. Some of them are actually quite nice and wonderful, like the one I stayed at in Lisbon. It was a space that was inside a train station overlooking the city center.

I spent on average $20 per night to share a room with 4-6 other females. This even included breakfast in some cases. I am the type of traveler that likes to explore and be out, so I just wanted a place to rest my head and put down my stuff. The hostel was perfect for me. Most hostels even have private rooms, if you want some privacy or if you are traveling with a partner. If you are looking for free accommodations, you can CouchSurf, or volunteer at a hostel. I met many volunteers who worked fairly easy jobs a few hours a week for free food and accommodation.

In addition to staying in hostels, I also stayed with my friend for free. It was great to experience her town and stay with her.

Frugal Food

One of the hardest things about traveling is the prospect of eating out three times a day. That, plus traveling all day can easily lead to spending too much money. I know that one of my spending triggers is when I’m tired and hungry, so I packed up several granola bars and oatmeal packs for the road. I had no idea how much these little snacks would save me from easily spending $10 at a Starbucks for an easy and quick meal.

For example, I got to the airport at 5 am — a time I am generally never awake — and I was starving. Instead of heading to Starbucks, I ate my granola bar. And the best part? I got free Starbucks coffee as soon as I boarded the plane. Bringing my own snacks and breakfast really helped keep costs low. I get lured into spending money on anything in sight when I’m hungry and tired — and when you are traveling, it’s usually quite expensive.

I kept my lunches frugal and generally had cheap sandwiches from the local shops. Dinner was my splurge.

Low-Cost Entertainment

You don’t have to spend a lot of money when traveling abroad to have fun. For me, walking around and getting lost is half the fun. I just like seeing things with new eyes and exploring new streets.

I went to many museums during their free hours for my culture fix. I saw live music in the park as part of their free programming. I went to festivals celebrating Saints. All of these activities were free and remarkably fun.

I still think my favorite activity is just walking for a very long time and finding myself in a cute cafe. Once there, I like to read or journal.

Traveling doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Sure, your situation may be different depending on your family situation, goals, and travel preferences. But there are always ways you can save money on travel.

In my opinion, travel is always worth the expense.

How do you save money on travel?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Stella Chiu says:

    Hi, Melanie

    Your budget plan covered expenses on airfare, sleeping arrangement, eating and entertainment. I love travel. Next time, I will follow your tips to save money.


  • John says:

    My wife and I just got back from Europe. The cost of our airfare was $11.20 to Paris on United (MileagePlus card), and about $$103.00 back from Munich, using the CapitalOne travel eraser.

  • Sam Jones says:

    Great post, Melanie.
    The tip about travel hacking is very useful. Flights are so expensive these days.
    Following your advice might make the whole trip so much more affordable.

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