Where to go on a budget in Europe?
March 7, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

One of my best girlfriends is living in Rome. I'd like to go and visit her. That's where the simple part ends.

I have about two weeks available for a trip to Europe centering on Rome this spring.

While Rome is a fantastic city and Italy is an amazing country, this will be my third trip to Rome, Naples, and/or southern Italy. Meanwhile, I've never been anywhere else in continental Europe.

I am on an extreme budget (hoping to spend around $2000 on the entire trip).

My ideal trip would be to fly into another city in Europe, preferably somewhere cheap yet central, spend a week or so, then travel to Rome to spend 3-4 nights on my friend's couch.

I've always wanted to visit Berlin, but it doesn't seem too convenient to travel between Berlin and Rome. France, Spain, Belgium, and Ireland seem like better bets travel wise, though I'm worried about the potential for blowing my budget. I'm pretty interested in most European countries, though it seems like Scandinavia and most of Eastern Europe would make little or no sense on this trip. Kayak Explore shows great fares for St. Petersburg at that time, and I've always wanted to visit Russia, but that seems to hit the trifecta of expensive, inconvenient, AND a pain in the ass regarding visas and red tape and such. What about Vienna, Trieste, or somewhere in Croatia? Maybe Greece? Amsterdam?

I would also be open to flying directly to Italy, spending the bulk of the trip seeing parts of the country that I haven't been to (most of the north and Sicily), and then spending those same 3-4 days in Rome with my friend. Obviously Italy is a wonderful travel destination, and I agree that I'm being a bit of a travel snob looking this unbelievable gift horse in the mouth because I happen to have already been there.

I would be fine with taking a shorter trip - maybe it's better to just enjoy a 3-4 days in Rome (or perhaps adding a day trip or two and calling it a week). This seems like it would be both the cheapest and the simplest option, but my passport cries for more stamps!

What's the best bang for my travel buck, here? Should I bother to try to fold another destination into what was originally supposed to be a trip to visit a friend? If so, what should that destination be? Is it even possible to spend two weeks in Europe for $2K?

Last year I spent a month in Peru for quite a bit less than my budget for this trip, so I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how far my money will really go in Europe.

Facts that may be important - I'm flying from New York, traveling alone. English speaker with some ability in French and Spanish but very limited Italian and no German. My travel dates are a flexible, but I know I'm coming up on high season in Western Europe. I am a very experienced budget traveler, potentially open to WWOOFing or Couchsurfing. I am really not looking for luxury on this trip - if I didn't have a friend in Rome I'd be looking to blow this financial windfall in Central America or Turkey.
posted by Sara C. to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
What makes Berlin to Rome inconvenient? Because Berlin is amazing, and summer's definitely the time to go. (She says, remembering how cold it was in March.)
posted by cyndigo at 12:42 PM on March 7, 2011

If I were you, I would consider going to Venice, Florence, and/or Siena in addition to Rome. I haven't been to Florence, but I've been to Venice and Siena, and they're distinctly different from Rome (and Naples). Yes, it's still Italy, but those are worthy trips in their own right, and they're small enough to cover in the short time you have.

I'm not informed enough to say whether this is the best plan within your limitations; just a suggestion.

Though I haven't been to all the other countries you mentioned, I can at least say that I'd much rather go the Italian cities I've mentioned than to Brussels.
posted by John Cohen at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: If Vienna is a cheap flight, then yes, do that if you want to see Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia.

Here is my ask question from five years ago

Then check out the Veneto, and Venice (if you can deal) and then train it down to rome.

MeMail me if you want more info. I have notes and what not. That part of Italy is also pretty amazing if you are into hipster wines.
posted by JPD at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: I don't think you're looking a gift horse in the mouth. If anything you're being penny-wise and pound-foolish: the expensive part of this trip is the flight, not the accommodations. Your friend's offer is nice, but it essentially comes with the burden of a $1,000 flight to a city you could do without. Hostel accommodations in nice locations in Europe simply aren't very expensive.

Why not offer to meet your friend in a mutually agreeable third location, like Berlin or Istanbul?
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:50 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Morocco? I had a great time there a few years ago, in a week you can hit Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh. Most of the other tourists will be on bus tours, though, there was not a big backpacker contingent.

You could fly roundtrip to Morocco + roundtrip to Rome for ~$1200.
posted by momus_window at 12:52 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: Could you do your Northern Italy plan and visit Austria or Switzerland? I know Switzerland is a bit of a budget-buster, but if you find a reasonably-priced flight that could make up for the added in-country expenses. And it's so gorgeous. (I've never been to Austria but I assume it has some of the same excellent qualities.)

Or, could you fly Icelandair and layover in Iceland for a while? Accomodations in Iceland are not outrageously expensive anymore (OK, actually I've only ever been there during the off-season, so I don't know what prices are like in summer), though food prices are kind of crazy. And it is also gorgeous, albeit in a completely different way from Switzerland.

I like 2bucksplus's suggestion of meeting up somewhere, too!
posted by mskyle at 12:54 PM on March 7, 2011

You can fly between Amsterdam and Rome for about €100-€150 (round-trip), depending on how soon you will be buying your tickets. The flight is only two hours, and the airport is 20 minutes from the city center.

There are tons of hostels in Amsterdam (for obvious reasons), but you can also save money and enjoy nicer accommodations by staying in a hotel in a nearby city such as Haarlem or Amstelveen. There are tons of towns that are less than 20 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal by train.
posted by neushoorn at 12:59 PM on March 7, 2011

Response by poster: What makes Berlin to Rome inconvenient?

The cheapest direct flight between the two cities is $150. I tried looking into the train, and not only is it expensive, it would add two travel days in each direction, drastically cutting my time in Berlin. It seems possible, but maybe not the best use of my time and money.

Why not offer to meet your friend in a mutually agreeable third location, like Berlin or Istanbul?

My friend works a lot and doesn't have any vacation days (or however they do it in Italy). This might work out if I could schedule my trip to include Easter weekend, though.
posted by Sara C. at 1:05 PM on March 7, 2011

Couple tips:

*Buses - http://www.eurolines.com/ (very cheap)

* ryanair/easyjet/transavia/flybe.com - right now lufthansa has a special 49 pds/euro pt to pt throughout europe

*airbnb/crashpad/vrbo for places to stay

Good luck!
posted by zia at 1:07 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: I think Austria would be perfect for you as the links down to Italy are pretty good. I live in Graz, but know Vienna very well. I don't want to completely derail this thread, so MeMail me if you want me to give you some specifics about Austria in terms of things to do/see and information about links to Italy. If you're worried about your lack of German, don't be. Most (younger) people in Germany/Austria/Switzerland speak pretty good English and are delighted to get a chance to practice on a native speaker.

$2k should be plenty to have a good time here.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 1:12 PM on March 7, 2011

Response by poster: Loving all the ideas so far!

So far I'm leaning toward flying into Vienna and doing an Austria/Italy combined trip, getting my friend to meet me in a third city (probably Berlin, Istanbul, or somewhere Benelux-ish), or just sticking to Italy but mixing it up with parts of the country I haven't seen yet.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 PM on March 7, 2011

I think you'd love Vienna, a great contrast to Rome.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:26 PM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: I love Sicily -- love love love -- and it's quite affordable compared to many northern European destinations. Any Italian you meet who has been there will tell you how warm and kind the people are, and it's true. It's generally pretty cheap to get a flight from Rome to Palermo, and it takes under a couple of hours.
BUT -- and this is a big but -- I don't think I'd go there alone, especially not as a woman, and even more especially not speaking Italian well. I went with my parents and sister several years ago; I am intermediate to fluent in Italian (depending on how long I've been away -- at the time we were there I was more fluent than I am now). Palermo was much harder than Rome. Harder to get around, to find things in, to not stick out as obviously foreign, to communicate with people. Just harder. Challenging. Not relaxing at all. (As opposed to Rome, which was relaxing and comfortable). Beautiful and worthwhile, but not relaxing.
On the other hand, from your blog it looks like you're a very experienced traveler and you could probably handle it better than most. From what I've heard, if you liked the chaos of India, you'll probably like Sicily.
posted by katemonster at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2011

There is a great and cheap ferry system in the western Med. Fly into Athens, Istanbul, Dubrovnik or Cairo (I bet that's cheap right now) spend some time island hopping or touring then take a ferry to Italy and the train to Rome.
posted by fshgrl at 1:43 PM on March 7, 2011

I've put together really good vacations on the cheap side using european destinations. They put you up in 4 diamond rooms for really cheap as they get special rates in packaging trips. If you don't see an exact trip on their site you can call/email them. If you want to save some more bucks on accommodations I've had good experiences with couch surfing and it's always nice to meet locals.
posted by blueyellow at 2:00 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about overland from Vienna to Split and then a ferry across to Italy?
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 2:00 PM on March 7, 2011

Just chiming in for another vote for Vienna -- fascinating city and not inconvenient to travel on to Italy.
posted by scody at 2:56 PM on March 7, 2011

Sara C.: " I'm pretty interested in most European countries, though it seems like Scandinavia and most of Eastern Europe would make little or no sense on this trip"

On the contrary - Eastern Europe makes the most sense. What little extra you might pay on flights (not even convinced this is true, see below)will be made up in a couple of days. Budapest, Prague, Istanbul and Bratislava are all gorgeous and still reasonably cheap. Don't rule out Serbia or Croatia either. You can fly directly from Rome/Naples to Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia, Bucharest and many more places. Berlin is your best bet for culture and fun on a budget in Western Europe.

mskyle: "Could you do your Northern Italy plan and visit Austria or Switzerland?"

This will murder your budget and, most people would agree that there are far more interesting places to see if you haven't been round much of Europe.

Sara C.: "So far I'm leaning toward flying into Vienna and doing an Austria/Italy combined trip, getting my friend to meet me in a third city (probably Berlin, Istanbul, or somewhere Benelux-ish), or just sticking to Italy but mixing it up with parts of the country I haven't seen yet."

Do not go to Benelux until you've seen pretty much everywhere else in Europe. Vienna is lovely but not necessarily the most economical option you have.

Sara C.: "The cheapest direct flight between the two cities is $150. "

I'm sure you already know this, but skyscanner does not cover the European budget airlines (easyjet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, etc.) There are definitely flights from Rome to Berlin available for as low as $55. Same for most other destinations. Don't rule out using London or similar as a hub either.

I definitely think it would be a shame to spend more time in Italy (or in France and Spain which aren't massively massively different) when there are so many amazing experiences to be had elsewhere in Europe.
posted by turkeyphant at 3:05 PM on March 7, 2011

I fly to see my family in the Veneto region regularly and I fly to Venice. Most flights to Venice are routed through other European major cities. I have traveled:


As you can see, on the same ticket there is the possibility to stop and visit other major cities. My cheapest yet has been London and then by train to Venice, going through Paris and Switzerland.
posted by francesca too at 3:39 PM on March 7, 2011

Response by poster: OK, so...

I've been reading all of your suggestions, doing searches, running numbers, etc, and this is what I have:

Option 1

I found a great price on an IcelandAir flight to Amsterdam with a two day stopover in Reykjavik. In this scenario, I'd either spend two days in Reykjavik, a couple or three days in Amsterdam, and then splurge on a flight to Rome for four nights, or my friend would come and meet me in Amsterdam and I would spend the remaining time in Belgium or Germany (or maybe just stick around in the Netherlands). If my math is correct, after factoring in transit and hostels in Reykjavik and Amsterdam, I'd have about $60 a day left over for food, museum admissions, and the like. The main worry here is that according to the hostel website I usually use, Amsterdam hotels are pretty booked already for Easter weekend. I would almost certainly need to Couchsurf for at least part of the time.

Option 2

Fly into either Rome or Vienna and travel overland between the two cities with a two day stopover in Venice. Flying into Vienna is particularly attractive because the itinerary I found would include a 10 hour layover in St. Petersburg (would have to look into the visa situation to leave the airport, I suppose). The costs break down a little differently, but ultimately they are equivalent in terms of the money I would actually have day to day to have fun with.

Option 3

Similar to Option 1, but without the Iceland part. Probably with a base city of either Berlin or Istanbul, depending on which worked better for my friend. In this scenario I would not be traveling onward to Italy - it's only a backup plan in case Friend says, "sounds great, but I hate Amsterdam/already been/the hostels are booked solid", or any other contingency. Since I don't know where my friend would like to go, I can't run the numbers on this possibility yet.

Again, thanks everyone, and keep the ideas coming! I'll probably book my flights early next week, so yay!
posted by Sara C. at 3:41 PM on March 7, 2011

Nthing European budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and others mentioned upthread. Honestly, I'd just see what's cheap, and use THAT to decide where to go.

E.g., using random summer dates, from the Ryanair website:
Barcelona <> Rome roundtrip 49 euros
Paris <> Rome roundtrip 51 euros
Brussles <> Rome roundtrip 60 euros

Have fun!!
posted by kestrel251 at 3:47 PM on March 7, 2011

Should have previewed. Iceland sounds fantastic.
posted by kestrel251 at 3:48 PM on March 7, 2011

I think your Option 2 sounds great, because I love Rome and Vienna--and have always wanted to visit Venice, even for a couple of days. If you do it, take along a Donna Leon novel, very sophisticated detective fiction about a Venice policeman and his lefty radical wife.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 3:58 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plenty to do in Italy for a week. Sicily is extraordinary, but do not go out carrying a handbag (I was with someone in Palermo when hers was snatched - not fun to be dragged along the ground by a speeding motorbike). But $150 for excursion to Berlin doesn't seem like too big a hole in $2k budget, especially as Berlin is a cheapo city.
posted by londongeezer at 4:44 PM on March 7, 2011

In a similar situation, I did what kestrel251 suggests: I scoured EasyJet and RyanAir, and let price dictate when and (to a lesser extent) where I traveled. You can get some ridiculous deals with them. Of course, the flipside is that you get one little carry on, and it had better not be too big, plus you have to be vigilant and do everything right (like print out your boarding pass yourself and not check luggage) to avoid big fees. They are kind of sketchy, but, man, they're so cheap sometimes!

I think that the options you've thought up so far look great, and would encourage you to look into the super-budget airlines for getting around if you think you can pack lightly enough to make them work for you.
posted by mandanza at 6:14 PM on March 7, 2011

Re option 2, Russian visas are expensive and pain-in-the-ass, and in some cases, airlines may not let people fly to Russia without the requisite visa (although this is mostly round trip, i.e. NYC-MOW-NYC).

My general rule of thumb on expenses is that a hostel night costs about the same as a day of self catering/street food, public transit, incidentals and ordinary museum visiting in that city.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:41 PM on March 7, 2011

Regarding Amsterdam: it may be cheaper to find a hotel in Haarlem. The train from Amsterdam takes 15 minutes, the bus from Schipol takes 30-40 minutes.

If you want to visit Berlin, consider Air Berlin or Germanwings.
posted by iviken at 1:39 AM on March 8, 2011

Having just spent some time in that part of Europe - I would say option 2 or 3 sounds the best. If you wanted to visit Germany, but Berlin is too far away, you might consider Munich, it is cheap, and very easy to get around (and about the same distance from Venice as Vienna). I'd say my budget for that part of my trip ended up at about $50/day, including hostel accomodation. But if you can get to Berlin, do so by all means. It is fantastic.

I was personally a bit underwhelmed by Vienna, I found Salzburg much more beautiful and other cities in that region much more interesting. Amsterdam is a great city - but hostels double their rates and are often booked solid on the weekend. Standard museum entrance fees are 10 euro, and overall it isn't a cheap city to visit. I was there in winter, and I'd imagine summer would be much worse! Budapest is a fantastic and super cheap city, with incredible night life- but I'm not sure abotu flights to/from there.

If you're flying budget airlines, try doing carry-on only as they charge you ridiculous fees to check bags, and even more if you're as little as 0.5 kg over. But make sure those carry ons aren't a gram over the allowed weight!
posted by cholly at 10:06 PM on March 8, 2011

Oh, and one thing about Iceland, if you end up doing that (do it! do it!) - you may be able to find a hotel room with breakfast for only a little more than the price of a hostel without breakfast. And breakfast is expensive. In December, I paid $40 a night to stay in a perfectly nice if rather impersonal hotel a short walk from the city center. Sadly, I slept through breakfast every day (jet lag + 10:30 sunrise), so I didn't get my money's worth out of that.
posted by mskyle at 7:28 AM on March 9, 2011

Response by poster: Update! Update! Trying not to squee update!

I'm flying to Milan on April 12! I haven't set anything else in stone yet, though I'm hoping to make northern Italy a home base with visits to Vienna and Rome. (I chose to fly into Milan because it was over $100 cheaper than a flight into Rome, Venice, or Vienna, and the distances are nothing in this part of the world.)

I'd love any more northern Italy and Vienna advice that folks have, and fully plan to check out previous questions about those regions. Stay tuned for more updates as my itinerary takes shape.
posted by Sara C. at 2:46 PM on March 14, 2011

FYI, depending on the timing of your flight into Milan, it might be a bit of a pain in the ass because the Malpensa Express doesn't run at all hours of the night. I spend 30 Euro in a cab by myself with a non-english speaking driver getting to and from the airport.
posted by santojulieta at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: Hey everybody! I just got back from my trip!

I ended up staying in Italy with a four day side trip to Slovenia (in which we were able to see most of the country). A friend of mine who has family in Postojna ended up jumping onto the trip, which turned out to be amazing. It was fascinating to spend time in a country I'd barely heard of, which was surprisingly beautiful and friendly and pretty much everything you want in a random European destination (alps, seaside, castles, great food and wine, and the sweet little mini-Prague that is Ljubljana). Not to mention the fact that we were able to stay with family in a small village and have a lot of experiences in Slovenia that few if any tourists ever get to have.

As for Italy we stayed mainly in the northeast - Venice, Trieste, Verona, and a wander through rural Friuli-Venezia-Giulia - until it was time to head down to Rome. Easter weekend in Rome was intense, but we were able to see and do everything we wanted (except, randomly enough, for the church which houses Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which had some kind of service going on every time we stopped by).

I realize this trip bears little resemblance to any of the ideas I originally had, or any of the answers here, but I just thought I'd check in and thank everyone for their help. I had a great time and highly recommend both Slovenia and the less touristed parts of northeastern Italy that we visited.
posted by Sara C. at 5:59 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The caves there were pretty cool.

I hope you brought back some wine and distilled spirits from that part of the world as well.
posted by JPD at 7:14 AM on April 27, 2011

Response by poster: Our Slovenian hosts sent us on our way with a bottle each of their homemade plum schnapps. Score! I think we also drank our body weight(s) in wine, over the course of our four days.

We got a free personal tour of the caves from some cousin's friend-of-a-friend who works at Postojnska Jama. It was pretty badass.
posted by Sara C. at 7:23 AM on April 27, 2011

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