Backpackers traditionally to head to South East Asia, South America – life there is often cheaper anyway, letting you eke out your travel budget for a month or two. But what if your budget’s really low? You still need a plane ticket out there, & with the best will in the world it won’t cost less than £500. If that’s all you have to spare, perhaps you shouldn’t sneer at exploring a little closer to home. We think of Europe as expensive, but what if you’re doing it backpacker style? With a cheap rail pass or a little deft research with car hire comparison websites, you can explore some truly significant areas of Europe for much less than those fancy travel mags might have you believe.
You’ll no doubt have your own country-selection criteria, be it budget (Eastern Europe is still cheaper, on the whole, except where it meets the Adriatic) or personal interest in a certain area. You may be really into your ancient history; Italy, Greece & the Mediterranean coast of Turkey will yield hundreds of stunning ruins & a certain laid-back Bacchanalia to compliment them. For heart-breakingly beautiful countryside, head through Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Scotland, Sweden, or Switzerland. The best shores for water sports lie around Wales, Ireland, England & Portugal, while the Mediterranean & Adriatic are top notch for chilled out sun-seeking & parties.
Alternatively, plan your journey using the European rail map. Thomas Cook publish their European rail timetable every year, too. There’s something thrilling & romantic about rail maps – that could mean I’m a super-geek, but railways are growing increasingly popular as people seek alternatives to flying. You’re sitting down for significant periods of time, yes, but you would be on a long-haul flight, as well, & there’s not much to see out of the window at 30,000 feet – Europe’s railways take you through some seriously dramatic landscapes. As a means of traversing A to B, rail travel has to offer the optimum ratio of scenery to comfort to cost.
Various rail passes, including Eurail & the Balkan Flexipass, permit unlimited rail travel within select countries over several weeks. Some travellers do it even more cheaply without a pass, since local rail travel is often ridiculously cheap, particularly in Eastern Europe. Bus or even boat may also be preferable in some places (you can travel from Austria to Hungary in a spectacular couple of hours down the Danube) in which case rail passes may not be cost-effective. If you’re travelling in a group, hiring a car may well be more efficient, although you will need a confident driver – preferably more than one – especially if you intend to drive through the mountains.
The most common block to affordable Europe is its cities, particularly if you like to party. If you do, consider including one of the continent’s many excellent music festivals in your itinerary. There are superb events for every genre, from gorgeous Boom in Portugal for trance & dance, to Croatia’s Soundwave for breaks, beats & eclectic electronica, & legendary events like Glastonbury & the Isle of Wight festival in England. You’ll need to commit a fair wedge of your budget to your chosen event, but it will give you better memories, vastly superior entertainment & a far deeper experience than wasting your fun-fund in those expensive – & forgettable – city bars.