How to Decide Where to Travel in Europe
Before you can start planning any type of travel, you have to answer the hardest question of all. Where do you want to go? If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of places calling you to explore! When I’m trying to decide where to go next, it’s usually a combination of three things:
- how much I have to spend
- what types of things I want to see or do
- how much time I have to make it all happen.
This one is a long post and full of info, so stick with me. 🙂
Europe is what I know best, and there are so many iconic places we’ve grown up hearing about and seeing in the media (for my US-based readers) – textbooks to movies and everything in between! If you’re trying to decide where to travel in Europe, it can be tempting to try and see it all, or so much that you run yourself ragged on what you would like to be a semi-relaxing vacation. You’re not wrong, but there’s something to be said for slowing down a bit. Your best memories usually aren’t from your list of planned activities, it’s from the unexpected, surprise moments of awesomeness you’ll encounter when you give yourself some extra time in each place.
My goal is to help you see and enjoy as many international destinations as possible–part of that process is about taking some of the stress out of planning your travel. In this post, we’re going to take some of the stress out of choosing a European destination.
Narrowing Down Your Options
When I’m ready to start planning my next trip, I get out my ever-growing list of destinations and pick my top five. Even narrowing it down to five is tough so I ask myself, “If I only get to take one more trip in this lifetime, where would I most regret not seeing?” Morbid? Maybe, but it helps me put things into perspective.
Last summer my husband and I both did this exercise when we were trying to decide where in Europe to visit next. We made our lists and both had our top choices as Denmark and the Netherlands. That time was easy, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes it’s the right confluence of events that has you choosing somewhere that’s a little further down the list, and it just might be magic…
Be Open to the Opportunities
In 2017 we were already planning to visit Ireland with friends who were getting married there. Side note: We had SO much fun! If you get a chance to travel with a group of friends, do it! Anyway, we had the ability to add a couple of extra weeks to our trip and Europe was the obvious choice since we would be there anyway.
Our budgets were limited so we needed to go somewhere that our dollars would stretch. That knocked places like Denmark and the Netherlands out of the running for this particular adventure. We decided on Romania because we both had been wanting to visit certain areas and, through our research, discovered that it’s super affordable. It hadn’t made it to the top of the list yet (it should have been higher up, I know that now!), but this was the perfect opportunity to make it happen!
In Europe, it’s pretty easy to stay in the same budget range and see a number of different places because they’re usually clustered together. It tends to be this way because of their shared history, economic systems, infrastructure, etc. The borders of today weren’t always that way so there’s some overlap from country to country. I’m going to provide a break down of the different countries based on how much you can expect to spend. I hope this will make some of the harder decisions a little easier!
Here are the budget ranges per person:
Budget Travel: Less than $50 per day
Won’t Break the Bank: Between $50 and $100 per day
Bring Your Wallet!: $100+ per day
These categories are based on:
- simple, but comfortable accommodations ( B&B style or private rooms in a hostel )
- using public transportation
- eating only one meal out per day (two in super cheap places) and the rest is street food or grocery store.
- visiting one or two paid attractions per day, so you have more time to wander and explore.
Pro Tip: If you like to camp, you can turn nearly any European country into a Budget Travel destination! I love it, but I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂
List of Budget Travel Destinations
Here’s the list of European countries categorized by budget. I didn’t want to write you a novel about each, so I’ve only left comments on places I’ve visited or have done a fair amount of research about. I left off commentary on the major places most people visit, just because there’s SO much to see and, if they’re on your list, you probably already have some specific places in mind.
Good to Know: I’ve based these on High Season prices (June – August), when the most tourists are visiting. Some of the places that are currently in the “Won’t Break the Bank” zone, may drop into the Budget Travel grouping during other parts of the year.
Most Affordable European Travel Destinations
I’ve listed these in alphabetical order, just to keep things simple for you. There are some I super love, so I have to put my pitch in for those places. 🙂 Most of these countries are located in Central and Eastern Europe, so it’s easy to stay in the same budget from place to place.
- Albania – this one is the next on my list for the Balkans. I’ve heard such wonderful things and all the photos have me ready to buy some plane tickets!
- Bosnia & Herzegovina – I’m going to strongly encourage you to visit! If you’ve been reading the blogs even, you know how much I love Sarajevo. I think I’m going to put some information together to help you see how awesome this place is and get you excited to visit! Stay tuned…
- Estonia – Ah, the Baltic countries! I haven’t visited yet, but I’ll get there sooner rather than later and this one is at the top of my list.
- Moldova – I read somewhere recently this is the least visited country in Europe, so if you want to get off the beaten path, this sounds like the place.
- North Macedonia
- Romania – beautiful nature from the Black Sea coast to the Carpathian Mountains, amazing food, wonderful people, cute little towns, and such a memorable experience!
- Russia – one of two countries that straddles East and West. Very affordable, from my research, but you do need a visa and arrangements to visit.
- Slovenia – wins all of the nature things (for places I’ve been) in this category. Slovenia is GORGEOUS!!!
- Slovakia – another beautiful country. I loved the High and Low Tatra Mountain, but didn’t make it to Bratislava. My husband did though and came home with rave reviews!
- Turkey – technically the country has a foot in both Europe and Asia, which makes it extra interesting! It’s way up my list of places I want to visit!
There are a few places that have some overlap, even within the country. In certain areas, you can totally live the Budget Travel life, but major cities might have you closer to Won’t Break the Bank.
- Andorra – a tiny little country on the border between Spain and France.
- Austria – Salzburg has a special place in my heart, and the entire country is gorgeous!
- Czechia – I absolutely LOVE Prague – it’s one of my favorite European cities. You can do it Budget Travel style, if you’re careful. Once outside the city though, prices drop pretty dramatically.
- Croatia – this is probably the most expensive country in the Balkans because it’s so popular for its coastline and islands.
- Hungary – very similar to Czechia with prices. Budapest can be more expensive, but once outside the city, it’s super affordable.
- Greece – Outside of Athens and the major island destinations, things hit the Budget Travel zone quickly!
- Italy – the major cities and regions like Tuscany are more expensive, but the countryside can be Budget Travel for sure!
- Poland – I’ve only visited border towns, which were very inexpensive but the cities with major attractions, like Krakow, see prices jump a bit.
- Portugal – same story. You can do Lisbon on the cheap, but once you get outside the city then it’s much more budget friendly.
- Spain – again, outside of Barcelona and Madrid, you can make it Budget Travel style
Won’t Break The Bank
These are probably the places you typically think of when it comes to Europe and how much it will cost to visit. Most of the major cities can be done in this zone, if you don’t go too crazy with your splurges. Certain cities or activities might push you into the Bring Your Wallet! category, depending on your preferences. Other areas can totally fall into the Budget Travel zone, so do your research.
Because these countries have such a variety of things to see and do, they’re difficult to categorize. I’d have to write a novel for comments, so I’ve skipped it for this group! Basically all the things you want to see here are awesome and you should totally go! I’ll refer back to my post about Affordable Destinations in Europe and say anywhere CAN be affordable, but that’s up to you. 🙂
- United Kingdom
Bring Your Wallet!
These are the places that, even if you’re super careful, are just more expensive. It’s primarily Scandinavian countries, which do their economics and politics a little differently than the rest of Europe. It’s more expensive to visit, but you’ll see that the locals live really well. They’re some of my favorite countries to visit with absolutely breathtaking scenery, great food, and friendly people!
Helpful hint: buy your booze at the duty free shop in the airport for Scandinavia! Bottle shops are SUPER expensive (a box of wine cost more than $50 when we were in Iceland! – yes, a box because I’m classy like that), open short hours, and not particularly easy to find.
- Denmark – a perfect mix of Scandinavian and continental attitudes. Beer and wine are much more accessible, and the people are wonderful! I can’t wait to go explore more of this place!
- Finland – this is the one I haven’t visited yet, but my understand it that prices are similar
- Iceland – MAGIC! It’s like landing on another planet! Because the majority of what’s great to see is nature based, camping makes it really doable on a tighter budget.
- Monaco – If you want luxury, this is the place!
- Norway – stay tuned, I’ll have a full report in just a few weeks!
- Sweden – my first love! This is where it all began (you can read that story here). It’s spendy, but Stockholm is a beautiful city and what I’ve seen of the countryside is gorgeous. The landscape around the southern part of the country totally reminds me of Minnesota!
I think I’ll make this into a series of posts for you and talk more about each category. There’s so much awesomeness that one blog post isn’t sufficient, but I hope it helps! 🙂
Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.