Europe is generally known as a very expensive travel destination. For many Filipino travelers, countries like France, Italy, Greece and Iceland are places on their bucketlist that they would love to visit if only they had the cash to spare.
While the cost of living and travel is admittedly higher than in Southeast Asian countries, some Pinoy travelers have proven that it is possible to go backpacking around Europe even on a budget.
Yosh Dimen, who runs the award-winning Philippine-based travel blog The Poor Traveler along with Vins Carlos, has gone on three multi-country backpacking trips around Europe and visited 28 countries there.
With Pinoys finally planning their vacations again for the first time in two years, the content creator talks to PhilSTAR L!fe about the cheapest countries in Europe to visit, budget travel tips, and the challenges of preparing for a multi-country backpacking journey.
Consider the timing and season
According to Yosh, the most important factors to consider when you want to stick to a budget while traveling to Europe is the timing and season.
“Some seasons are way more expensive than others. So far, I have been to Europe in summer, autumn, and winter. And the difference in prices between seasons is considerable. Unsurprisingly, summer is the peak of the high season, so everything — from airfare to hotels to tours — is expensive. But costs go down significantly when autumn kicks in,” shared Yosh.
He recounted a recent trip that happened in September to November, when they went on a group tour in Croatia’s Dalmatian region on September 30.
View this post on Instagram
“We were so shocked to find out that had we booked that same tour on October 1, we would’ve paid half of the September 30 price.”
For those who can stand colder temperatures, winter travel comes out cheaper, but the downside is that days are shorter and some establishments close earlier.
“Some destinations are not as alive as they would’ve been in other seasons. For example, it was winter when we visited Santorini and we stayed in Oia. Problem was, only a few restaurants and stores were open,” he added.
Pick underrated or lesser-known European destinations
Not all countries in Europe have the same cost of living and travel. While most people immediately think of France and Italy when planning a European vacation, Europe actually has 44 countries according to the the United Nations. The Shengen Visa allows Filipino travelers to visit 26 countries in Europe.
“Europe is incredibly diverse. For example, Iceland and Poland are worlds apart in terms of costs. Switzerland and Czechia, too. Nordic countries like Norway and Sweden are generally more expensive than Central and Eastern European countries,” said Yosh.
Yosh does admit that their team hasn’t had a chance to explore much of Eastern Europe yet, which is known for being “significantly more budget-friendly.” Their team was set to travel there in 2020 but the pandemic forced them to cancel their trip, so the tips they share cover mostly the western and central parts of Europe.
“But out of all the countries we did set foot in, I’d say pinaka-sulit ang Portugal, Czechia (also known as the Czech Republic), Poland, Greece, and Hungary. These are not the cheapest, but the cost of travel is low enough and we still got to see a lot of amazing attractions with the budget that we had,” said Yosh.
Stay in hostels and limit dining out
Seasoned travelers know enough to veer away from luxury hotels and opt for lower cost accommodations.
“For accommodations, we usually stay at hostels and budget hotels which are abundant in most European cities. Free walking tours are also available,” said Yosh.
However, a huge chunk of one’s budget is usually spent on food, which literally eats into one’s travel budget.
“For that, try to limit dining out at restaurants. Choose accommodations that have a kitchen or at least a refrigerator and microwave, so you could hit the grocery and cook your own meals most days. Most European servings are also huge — bigger than what I would normally eat at one seating so when I grab takeouts, I just keep the leftover in the fridge and reheat them another day,” said Yosh.
However, Yosh stressed that it’s important for travelers to experience the restaurant scene and dig into local cuisine too every once in a while, as it’s an important aspect of travel.
“But if you have to eat out, pick lunch. Lunches are generally less expensive than dinners,” he added.
Be flexible enough to accept mishaps
Even before the pandemic happened, it was challenging enough to prepare for a multi-country trip. Aside from the visa restrictions and costs, travelers now have to keep in mind the ever-changing health and entry guiddelines of each country they want to visit. Yosh recommends being flexible with one’s itinerary and always having room for adjustments.
“I know that for many Filipinos, Europe is a once-in-a-lifetime dream. Pinag-iipunan natin ‘yan. Most of us have a list of countries that we must visit when we’re in Europe. There’s always that tendency to plan every little detail and make it perfect. But I have found over the years that the more you make things rigid, the more they tend to break and fall apart,” said Yosh.
He suggests travelers keen an open mind and adjust their travel plans accordingly when the inevitable travel mishaps happen.
“Unexpected events happen every now and then — we had missed hotel check-in cut-off, we had miscalculated train arrival times, we had lost belongings along the way, there’s even this one time that the airline we booked closed down and filed for bankruptcy the day before our flight. To lessen the impact, your plan should be flexible enough to accommodate mishaps. That should reflect on most aspects of your trip — Book accommodation and transportation options with FREE cancellation or rebooking policy. And most importantly, choose reliable/appropriate insurance plans!,” said Yosh.
According to Yosh, enjoying the journey, including all the unexpected parts of it, all boils down to one’s travel mindset.
“Don’t think this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip because that only adds pressure to see everything within a short time. Instead, think as though you plan on returning someday, so if you miss one country on your list, you won’t feel too bad about it. Just think you’ll be able to visit next time. It makes planning less challenging and the actual traveling more fun,” he said.
Weigh the pros and cons of going DIY vs. availing of package tours
Traveling DIY-style and availing of package tours appeal to two very different markets, both of which offer good value depending on your travel style, according to Yosh.
“DIY offers freedom, flexibility, and lower cost. DIY means you have total control of your time and schedule. If you change your mind at any point, you may do so. If you wish to stay longer somewhere and totally skip another, you could. However, that doesn’t mean that DIY is better than package tours across the board. It’s just a completely different travel style," he said.
With the ongoing pandemic and ever-shifting travel requirements, package tours can help eliminate some of the unknowns of "new normal" travel.
“There’s value in it (package tours), especially for those who don’t have the time or energy to deal with every single aspect of the trip on their own. In fact, there are moments in certain destinations when we wished we booked a packaged tour instead. These days, I’d be more confident traveling when there’s another party checking to see if I meet all the requirements,” said Yosh.
Be open to other possibilities and entry points in Europe
With all the ongoing seat sales, and promos being offered left and right, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when making travel plans. The Poor Traveler recommends staying open to other options and entry points, even if they may not the be at the top of your travel list.
“Even when you’re dead set on one thing but you find a great deal on another, consider! I’ve met fellow travelers in Europe who were able to travel because of promos they found at travel expos. One of them dreamt of touring France but the cheapest deal he found was for Barcelona. He grabbed it, flew to Barcelona, and was still able to tour France from there,” said Yosh.
“We also met another backpacker who didn’t think she would enjoy Austria and the Czech Republic but that’s the best deal they found and they totally fell in love with these two destinations,” he added
Take your time and travel at your own pace
A lot of Pinoys have been travel-deprived the past two years and are hell-bent on revenge travel, aiming to visit as many destinations as possible to make up for all the lost time spent indoors during various stages of lockdowns.
Yosh recommends that people travel, not just for the sake of traveling and going somewhere, but only when they’re ready with the resources — both time and money included.
“I always believe that there’s a right time for everything, even travel, especially travel. There are far more important things to prioritize. The pandemic hit all of us hard. Most of us lost a lot of savings, some lost their jobs, some lost loved ones. (Most of) these places are not going anywhere. The last thing you want is force a trip and not enjoy it. This is not a race. Take your time, travel at your own pace, and go when you’re ready,” said Yosh.
But for Filipino travelers who feel like they’re ready, Europe can offer a life-changing destination.
“If you think you’re ready for it, then go for it! Travel is a great healer and teacher. But I can’t say whether Europe would be worth it for you. Only you can determine what’s worth your time and money. I adore Paris and Florence, but some of my friends disagree and think they’re absolutely overrated. Some sing high praises for Athens and Barcelona, but others don’t find them too compelling. The good news is, Europe is diverse so you’ll probably find something for you. It’s just a matter of building a route that you think is for you.”
Even if you can't travel immediately, working now to save up for future trips and being thrifty is always a good idea.
“For me, while our 2020 Euro trip was cancelled because of the pandemic, I don’t have the means yet to return this soon, as my funds have been reappropriated for more pressing matters over the past two years. But I’m getting there!” he added.
Want more practical travel tips? Check out The Poor Traveler’s comprehensive list of budget tips for backpackers for Europe on their website here.