Browsing Posts tagged Cheap Europe Travel

Travel in Romania

I write fairly often on here about how even seasoned travelers sometimes have very warped perceptions of potential travel destinations. The other day I saw someone spewing out all kinds of vile, derogatory comments on Romania on someone’s travel story, which I’m sure the person writing had never visited. It was one of those “I’ll never set foot in that sh&thole” rants from an ignoramus.

Living in a foreign country that has its share of bashers, I hear this from my own seldom-traveled friends and relatives in the states sometimes. I’m always surprised though when it comes from people who should know better. So let me go on record to say Romania can be a really lovely place.

Brasov Romania

That shot at the very top is from the countryside, which is quite beautiful, with high mountains and a lot of historic towns. The second one is from Brasov, which I wouldn’t mind living in for at least a few months. There’s good skiing nearby too. Yes, you can ski in Romania, and for about 1/3 of what you would spend a country or two over.

Romanian wineYou can also drink good wine here. This was an Iron Curtain country for a few decades, so as in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, great wine makers were forced to go into quantity over quality mode for a depressing period. Freed from the shackles of communism, they now have an incentive to return to quality again and have come roaring back. This Rhein Cellars winery I visited in Azuga, Romania makes sparkling wine with the labor intensive Champagne method. Since labor is pretty cheap here though, a really good bottle will set you back $15 or so.

Borders in this part of the world have been very fluid over the past couple centuries, so people are often surprised that Romania contains a lot of gorgeous medieval towns like they would expect to see in Germany. This one below is Sighisoara, which has changed hands multiple times after various wars. It’s a great place to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, especially if you can hang out a couple days and take a stroll after all the tour buses are gone. You can get here on an overnight train from Budapest, so it’s a good place to start your Romanian journey.

Sighisoara Transylvania

The shot below is from Sibiu, which would be a relaxing place to hang out for a few days, doing nothing but strolling the plazas, dining on hearty food at outdoor cafes, and drinking good wine for cheap at night.

Sibiu Transylvania

And this photo below, is it from one of those super-popular European capitals that are mobbed with hundreds of thousands of tourists in the summer? No, it’s much-maligned Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Yes, the famous last dictator ripped down much of the historic center to build his giant ugly “Palace of the People,” but there are still some nice neighborhoods with some interesting walks and good cafes.

bucharest-romania

If you like intricately carved wooden doors that are a few hundred years old, here are some great photos of interesting doors I saw in Romania. Next time I go back, I want to check out some of these cool castles in the countryside.

 

cheapest places to travel americas  cheapest travel destinations in Asia  cheap travel Europe

Are you going on a long trip that’s just to Central and South America?

Traveling to Asia only for a few months?

Want to know details just on the cheapest places to travel in Europe?

No, you’re not seeing triple at the top. In a couple days you’ll see shorter e-book versions on Amazon excerpted from the full edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, priced at $3.98 (or the in other currencies). So if you were hesitating on buying the full book because you weren’t taking some epic round-the-world journey, you can lay out less than a spruced-up Starbucks drink in a paper cup and get the scoop on where your money will stretch the most.

Sure, the Asia and Americas ones are longer than the Europe one, but I like to keep things simple, so they’re all under four bucks. But in the places featured in all of these, four bucks will really get you something—far more than a cup of coffee.

Amazon took less than a day to get these posted, so here are the links (also in the book covers above):

Americas edition

Europe Edition

Asia Edition

This a Kindle-only release, but you can use the Kindle app to read them on your iPad, phone (Apple or Android), and many other devices.

Oh, and here’s what some other people have to say about what’s in the full edition:

“Want to know where it’s cheap to travel and how do it for less than $100 a day? Then The World’s Cheapest Destinations is the book for you! Tim Leffel makes me want to pack up my bags because in most of these places it’s cheaper than staying home.”
- Johnny Jet DiScala, editor of Johnnyjet.com

“There are two ways to travel overseas: You can visit overpriced countries, or you can go to equally exciting destinations on the cheap. Tim Leffel is a master storyteller who graciously informs us on how to maximize our travel experience the inexpensive way. This latest edition updates the best locations worldwide where you can stretch your travel budget to the fullest!”
- Brad Olsen, author of World Stompers and Future Esoteric

“In Tim’s 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, he scoured the world again to help travelers make the most of their travel dollars. Even though I’ve been studying travel writing and guides for 15+ years, I always learn something new with each edition of Tim’s book.
- Sean Keener, CEO of Bootsnall.com

“Tim Leffel has long been a guru of balancing the practicalities of cheap travel with a keen sense of judgment about the aesthetic value offered by varied countries around the world. In this newly researched and expanded edition, Tim’s easy conversational style turns the book into a page-turner, leaving you hungry to set off on the many paths he opens up to the traveler’s imagination.”
- Gregory Hubbs, editor-in-chief, TransitionsAbroad.com

“As dollars get ever tighter, this book becomes all the more precious. But what’s most brilliant about it is that Leffel really doesn’t just think ‘cheap’-he thinks ‘smart.’ As valuable a travel book as you’ll find today, in ways too numerous to even count, no matter what your budget.”
- Chris Epting, author of Led Zeppelin Crashed Here and Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here

“Tim manages to use his considerable knowledge of travel to put to rest the myth that travel has to be expensive by highlighting 21 destinations in the world where your money goes far. His tips and suggestions will prove invaluable for someone who desires to travel but has a limited budget.”
- Nomadic Matthew Kepnes, author of How to Travel the World on $50 Per Day

“Take it from a travel editor who has spent many years reading about destinations and talking to writers who have traveled everywhere. This book is full of great advice and steers you with practical and useful tips to the cheapest places on earth. So many travel books are full of generalizations; this one stands out for specific tips, specific places, and the kinds of details that can help you make a vacation even if you’re close to broke.”
- Max Hartshorne, editor of GoNOMAD.com

Lisbon travel

It’s hard to get around the fact that Europe is more expensive than the U.S. and can be even pricier than Canada is these days. However, the exchange rate of dollars to euros seems to have settled around 128 to 135 in this European crisis period, so at least that’s not as volatile as it has been in years before.

I’ve taken a few trips to Europe in the past couple years and you can see my recent article on a bike tour in Portugal in the latest issue of Perceptive Travel. I get quoted a lot in the media as a budget travel expert on how to travel in Europe more cheaply (always a popular topic with editors) so I thought it would be a good idea to pack a collection of these tips in one place. Use a few of these next time you’re trying to ease the budget pain.

Pick a Cheap(er) Destination
This tip is first because it has the most impact. No matter where you stay and how frugally you watch your funds, a week in Hungary is going to cost you far less than a week in Norway. Eastern Europe is less than west, especially the four countries and the honorable mention one I have in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Portugal was a seriously good value when I was there in May though and tough times mean better deals in some parts of Greece, Ireland, and Spain right now.

Slow Down and Stay Awhile
Transportation costs are a big expense in Europe, whether you’re flying with actual luggage, taking a train, or hopping buses. In Western Europe fuel costs are high, taxes are high, labor costs are high. The more you move around trying to check things off your list, the more your budget is going to rise. Exploring one area on a short trip or one country/region over several weeks is going to cost you less and also allow you to absorb more instead of it all flashing before your eyes outside a window.

green travel Bulgaria

Get Out of the Capitals (and Venice)
Cities cost more than rural areas. Popular capital cities cost more than normal ones. Sure, go spend some time in Paris and London. Catch a few museums, see the sites. Then head out. Don’t spend your whole vacation or backpacking trip in capital cities unless you’re willing to spend like the rich tourists in a big hurry do. Besides, Kosice is more interesting than Bratislava. Veiliko Turnovo (pictured above) is a more interesting place to hang out than Sofia—and easier to get to by train from many other countries. is Madrid really where you want to spend most of your time in Spain?

Make the Most of Freebies
If you are in a big city, figure out what’s free and take advantage of it. Some museums are free all the time, some have specific days, and nearly any city is going to have festivals and music performances going on constantly, especially in warm months. Check the official tourism site, any good non-official city site, and a guidebook for recurring ones.

Get a Transportation Pass
In most European cities, if there’s a viable public transportation system, you can buy a pass for one or more days that will give you unlimited rides. Get one and pack all your city travel into that time. Note that if you have one of these, it opens up your lodging options too—you can be on the branch of a subway or bus line instead of paying a premium to be right in the center of the tourist zone. Sometimes the full-on city passes are a good deal too. See this post: Are those city cards really worth the money?

Look Deeper for Hotel Deals
In most of Europe outside Scandinavia and Switzerland, two or three of you traveling together can stay in a real hotel for less than you would spend in a hostel. Unless you’re just looking for partying mates to blow more money with, independent small hotels and value chains like Ibis and NH Hotels can give you more comfort at a good price. Go beyond the U.S. booking sites though as they’ll have more inventory elsewhere. Use a metasearch engine like HotelsCombined or Trivago but then also search TripAdvisor (beyond the first page), a good guidebook, or an authoritative local resource guide online.

local market Europe

Live Like a Local
If you rent an apartment or home for a couple weeks in one place, you can live a local life instead of a tourist life and spend far less in the process. When you’re in a real neighborhood instead of a tourist one, you pay what the locals—who probably aren’t rich—pay for groceries, pubs, coffee shops, and restaurants. You’ll also meet people who don’t get paid to serve you and experience more of the local culture.

Get on a Bike
You can take a real tour with a company like Bike Tours Direct and spend the same or less as you would on a vacation you booked yourself, while seeing more of the countryside. Or you can just hop on a bike to explore a city. Many have public bike share systems. Some hotels rent out bikes to guests for free or cheap (as mine in Budapest did). Otherwise, look around for a rental kiosk like I found in Sofia—where it came with a free guided city tour. If you’re in a smaller bike-friendly area, you can probably rent one for a whole week and get a big discount.

Splurge for Lunch, Not Dinner
If you’re going to go out for a nice meal now and then, you’re better off doing it during the daytime. Sure, it’s not quite as romantic as dining by candlelight, but many restaurants offer a prix fixe option, a set meal, or a “meal of the day” that makes even the gourmet hotspots less of a strain on the wallet.

Party Where It’s Cheap, Not Where It’s Not
It makes sense to drink up and have a blast if you’re in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, or Hungary. Or in an Italian village where they sell wine by the jug. Not when you’re in Oslo and alcohol is taxed worse than cigarettes. Dry out for a bit or switch to narcotics—which are cheaper than the legal stuff.

Don’t Go in the Summer
Why do people go to Europe in the summer? Because school is out. Honestly, that’s the main reason airfares go up, hotels are full, and the attractions are packed. If you don’t have to go between June and August because of your school schedule or that of your kids, then don’t. It’s less pleasant and more expensive.

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Monserraz Castle Town Portugal

Portugal is part of Western Europe and uses the euro, so it’s never going to be dirt cheap, but compared to any country to the north of it, this destination is a real bargain for travelers. It makes a great value alternative to Spain, France, or Italy.

I just spent 11 gorgeous days in Portugal, first in Lisbon and then biking around the Alentejo region in the central south of the country. This is a rural farming region (think olive groves, vineyards, and cork trees) dotted with small cities often defined by glorious castles on a hill. It’s a fantastic area for cycling because there’s very little traffic and plenty of farm roads where you may go an hour or two without seeing a vehicle. The scenery is stupendous and the picture-perfect towns are inviting, nearly everything painted white with blue accents. Burial sites from a few thousand years ago lead to Roman ruins and castles built by a variety of invaders and reclaimers. Evora Alentejo

There’s not the huge gulf in prices though from Lisbon to the countryside as you find in some countries. Sure, it’s cheaper when you get out of the city, but for lodging anyway you have fewer choices so there’s not as much competition. It’s also harder to find cheap eats like street food in the countryside. Plan on doing a lot of self-catering if you’re on a budget because the locals don’t really seem to eat out that much. They may hang out at a cafe all day nursing an espresso or a tiny beer (25 CL), but restaurant choices get pretty slim outside of tourist towns like Evora.

Bring a phrase book or good language app! English is not widespread outside of the cities and resort areas on the coast. If you speak Spanish it helps when reading a menu and some people can speak Spanish. While many words are the same, however, the pronunciation of Portuguese is completely different. I was lost trying to comprehend much of anything.

Usually I do these prices in dollars, but this time I’m putting them in euros as that’s what all my notes are in. The exchange rate has long been in a range between $1.29 and $1.35 dollars to the euro. As in if something in here is €10, that’s around $13.50.

traveling in Portugal

Food & Drink Prices in Portugal

I was thrilled when it was time to order a drink in Portugal. I found the proverbial $1 beer in one cafe, a 2-euro large carafe of house wine, and many places where your drink order with a set meal was “water, soda, or wine.” Nice, especially since what you get in Portugal is uniformly good.

One oddity here is that nothing placed on your table is complimentary. If you don’t want to be charged for bread, butter, soft cheese, or olives, you have to ask the waiter to take them back or push them over to the side so you won’t get charged. We rarely did that though as it was generally €0.50 to €1 for local olives or a big basket of freshly made bread.

Restaurant/cafe set meal prices: €5 – 10 with several courses and a drink
Typical main dishes, basic restaurant: €2.50 – 10
Typical main dishes, nice restaurant: €5 – 18
Pastry and an espresso: €1.50 – 3
Coffee: €0.50 – 1.50
House wine: €1 – 2.50 per glass
Better wine: €2 – 5 per glass, €5 – 15 per bottle in a restaurant
Wine in a store: €1 (really!) – 12 for most, “Reserve” brands €12 and up
Beer in a store/restaurant: o.50-0.75 each in store, .75 – €2 in restaurants (liter draft €3-4)
200 grams of cheese: 0.79 – €3
200 grams of dry sausage/pepperoni: €0.89 – 3.50
Baguettes: €0.30 – 0.60
Can of tuna or pate: €0.59 – 1.50
Seasonal fruit and vegetables: €1 – 2 per kilo for most, €3 berries
Oranges in season: €0.50 – 0.80 per kilo

market shopping prices

Hotel and Hostel Prices in Portugal

Pousada price Alvito

Stay here for 120 euros a night.

Outside of the capital, in this country you’re often better off getting a hotel room than staying in a hostel if you’re traveling with someone else. Prices for hotels are a deal and the higher up you go, the better value they are compared to the rest of Western Europe. We stayed in two palaces—literally—that were included in our package but would be €108 and €145 respectively with breakfast if you booked direct. See the Pousadas of Portugal site to check out these interesting historic lodging options.

Hostel bed in small city: €14 – 25
Hostel bed Lisbon: €10 – 21
Pension (Pensão) in Lisbon: €20 – 50
3-star hotel: €22 – 60
4-star hotel: €59 – 99

Transportation Costs in Portugal

I saw all of three inter-city buses in a week’s time when I got into the countryside and two of those were parked, without a soul around. I only saw one person ever waiting at a bus stop. I get the impression that people without cars don’t move around very much except between major junctions.

Fuel is expensive and highways have heavy tolls, so transportation will be one of the biggest expenses. Don’t try to do it all!

Tram in Lisbon: €2.85 one ride, €6 all day unlimited
Subway in Lisbon: €1.40 one ride, €6 all day unlimited
1.5 hour bus ride (Lisbon-Evora): €12.50 one-way
2.5 hour bus ride (Lisbon-Western Algarve towns): €20 one-way
3-hour train (Porto-Lisbon): €35 – 42 1st class, €24 – 30 2nd class
Taxi in Lisbon, 2 people: €2.25 start, €1.60 per km
Taxi in Evora, 2 people: €3.25 start, €0.80 per km
Rental car booked from home: 210 to 350 dollars per week

Lisbon tram

Museum and Attraction Prices in Portugal

We didn’t actually spend very much on sightseeing. Many small museums are free, as are nearly all of the castles and churches dotted throughout the country. Popular Lisbon is a different story, however. We paid €7.50 to visit the castle there and €4 to go up into the dome and walk on the roof of the Basilica.

In general, you can figure on paying somewhere between one and eight euros for most attractions and museums. By European standards or even compared to Turkey, that’s quite reasonable.

Alentejo traveler prices

Other Prices for Travelers

You can see the listing here for the Bike Tours direct tour I did (with Turaventur handling the local logistics). It’s 750 euros per person including nice hotels with breakfast and luggage transfers each day to the next hotel. That’s quite a deal no matter how you look at it, but especially if you compare it to similar tours they run in Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Tuscany.

Souvenirs to bring back home are affordable, the best being cork items, nice pottery (visit the town of São Pedro de Corval if you’re in Alentejo), jewelry, olive oil, and wine. At a local market in Estremoz we bought a wheel of cheese (enough for two) for €2 and a bottle of olive oil for €3 – both from local farmers.

cycling alentejo

I just finished up a week of biking around the Alentejo region of Portugal, on a tour with Bike Tours Direct of the USA and Turaventur of Portugal. (Watch for a story later in Perceptive Travel.)

Sometimes you can’t hit a country at the exact right time because of school or work schedules, but when you do, it’s a glorious thing. I’ll let the photos do the talking, but to say I saw a few million flowers would be a gross underestimate. This was an especially rainy winter in Portugal and that translated to plenty of wildflowers in the spring. As in a record number of them.

So not only was I biking along country roads at the perfect time weather wise (pleasant warm weather, not too hot, no rain), but I got a big floral bonus on top. Clean air perfumed by roses. And orange blossoms. And dozens of different fragrant flowers.

In the Alentejo region of Portugal, there’s not much traffic either, especially mid-week in the spring. So much of the time the only sounds were chirping birds. When a rare car was coming, I heard it well in advance.

Later I’ll do a post on prices in Portugal. It’s a good deal all around for mid-range travelers, especially compared to the rest of Western Europe. Backpackers have a lot of advantages here, but have to work at it a bit on finding cheap places to eat out.

We were on the Castles and Wine tour in Alentejo, so I can tell you the wine here is a real steal. One of the best values I’ve seen anywhere in the world. And a lot of the castles are free. More on that later…