I had two equally important advantages on my side: extraordinary friends and disposable time.
The strategy was to hold off a few years before I traveled through Western Europe.
At least until I saw less developed parts of the world first. Backpacking through much cheaper countries, like the bulk of Southeast Asia for example, awarded me the experience I needed and more importantly the lasting friendships I made with fellow travelers I met mostly in hostels.
Most of the travelers I met were European (or Australian) which as an American, was in my favor. These European backpackers I met became natural companions of mine who I keep in touch with to this day. Social media works wonders for keeping the world connected. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t travel, I more than likely wouldn’t have a Facebook account. It was travelers I met in Costa Rica that suggested that I make one to keep in touch with them. I reluctantly created an account right in front of them. My very first profile picture is a photo of me buried underneath the sand at the beach in San Miguel, Costa Rica.
Backpacking isn’t the only way I met all of these Europeans. Most of the ones I met have come through volunteering.
Myself, along with most of those other backpackers and volunteers possess what some in the globetrotting fold call a travel mentality. We are all used to meeting all sorts of people from all over the world in the strangest of places. It’s fairly common that if any of those people popped up in each other’s neck of the woods, we would more than likely offer a hand to show them around and even invite them into our world without question.
When I felt the time was right to backpack Western Europe for three months, I let many of them know I was coming and most, if not all of them gladly welcomed me into their abode, hence I got a variety of authentic European lifestyles outside of the world of hostels, hotels, and tour packages. There were some who were so busy with real life, but still made an effort to meet up for a bit to reminisce and share stories.
During that three month trip, I’ve visited Iceland, The Netherlands, Ireland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria and I only stayed in two hostels, for one night each during that entire stint! One was in Amsterdam when a Dutch friend of mine and I decided to explore Amsterdam for a day or two off the whim. The other was in Belgium when my buddies in Groningen (northern Holland) wanted to show me a little of Antwerpen.
It was especially convenient during Oktoberfest. I just so happened to have two friends who lived within walking distance of the festivities. One of them even had an extra Lederhosen for me to wear. If I’d done what traditional tourists do, staying in hotels/Airbnb’s and renting/buying the costumes, it would have cost me a fortune!
As for me of course, I pay it forward when foreign friends decide to visit and stay with me at my home. I always look forward to showing them Detroit’s legendary eateries, some hot spots here and there, and time permitting, a trip to Cedar Point amusement park, the roller coaster capital of the world that I’m lucky enough to live near. Plus, my friends back home LOVE meeting my foreign friends. They dig the accents.
So the accommodation was practically pennies, but what about actually traveling around Europe? Doesn’t that put a dent in the budget?
Traveling, especially flying, can be costly and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I had the luxury of time on my side.
I gave myself three months to travel around Western Europe, but I also kept my agenda open. I only knew where I would begin, The Netherlands, based on prior arrangements I made with friends who lived in a small town there called Ede. From there, I didn’t really know who I would see next or where I would go next. Since I had the time, I found Flixbus and Ryanair Airlines to be my go-to’s for getting around. Ryanair is stupidly cheap and often post last minute deals which I took fair advantage of. The buses generally take longer to get to places but they are also an affordable means of getting around if you have the time, in which I did.
Because I gave myself plenty of time, I bused all over Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, and England with no stress.
In addition to the buses, Germany is where I discovered something called Blablacar. It’s basically a carpooling service handled online. It goes like this. If I were driving from New York to Chicago on a certain date, and had extra room in my car, I would post my upcoming trip on the Blablacar website and offer a ride for anyone it would convenience, for a fee of course. The fee is usually much cheaper than trains or buses in some cases. It’s like a premium version of hitchhiking! Unfortunately, its only available in Europe as of now. I used that a few times in Austria and Germany as well.
I flew cheap tickets to Ireland and back to Germany. If I was on a clocked limit, certainly I would have flown more often to save time, which equates to more money spent.
How much did I spend?
For three months, without a solid plan, lots of time, and an abundance of incredible European friends, I spent just under $4000 USD. I would say most of it was spent on booze and food. Everyone I visited wanted to go out and celebrate our reunion, which was always fine by me. Plus, I did everything I wanted to do. I wasn’t on a complete shoestring, but I was mindful. I splurged every now and then on stupid (but fun!) things. I also didn’t buy any souvenirs.
Hmm, what else?
That euro trip I took was three years ago (2014). I’ve learned quite a bit since then, which in turn would have saved me even more dough if I traveled with the credit and atm cards I have now (travel perks, air miles, no foreign transaction fees and less atm transaction costs!). And now with services like Uber more available than ever, I could have saved on those ridiculous taxi fares in certain cities. Another thing–I did not book a single one of those ridiculously expensive packaged tours where you go to a city for one or two days before you have to move on and zip through the rest of Europe without soaking it all in with a large group. My friends there were the best tour guides I could have asked for.
To sum it all up!
Get your feet wet and travel around much cheaper (and more adventurous) places first like Southeast Asia and Central America (they are stupid cheap), gain some useful travel experience, make some awesome friends (I guarantee you’ll meet a ton of European and Australian travelers), create the time, don’t plan too much ahead, and bada bing bada boom, your western European galavanting has suddenly become that much more of a reality, as opposed to some farfetched dream!
-Any questions? Feel free to ask me- 🙂
-Daniel Adventure Born-