Your eyes wide and bulging, darting left and right, you attempt to take in the magnificence of the ancient architecture and the tingling sensation as your palate comes alive from unknown and exotic flavors. You see sunsets in hues you’ve only ever seen in boxes of crayons and your heart is full, bursting from adventure and intrigue.
What better way to stir all of these emotions than to escape on that summer European getaway you’ve been dreaming about? But traveling to Europe during peak tourism season can be a daunting, if not outright scary idea. Hotel rates are at an all time seasonal high and around every corner, scammers and tourist traps are eagerly awaiting your arrival, ready to burn gaping holes in your wallet in exchange for watered down cultural experiences.
We’re going to show you how we managed to travel to Europe without breaking the bank, because being a part of the Travel Noire team means that we tend to believe that nothing is impossible. Still don’t think we can pull it off?
1. Get Mobile, Get Moving
Stunning cities like Lisbon, Portugal are pretty easy to explore by foot, as are a lot of European cities. So choosing a walkable city is key. And if there’s one thing we know about Europe, it’s that there are an endless number of quaint, cobble-stoned, everything-is-within-a-1-km-radius cities.
With only a few days to truly explore, we also decided to rent scooters. If you plan on venturing out for a day trip or a long scenic ride, opt for a scooter rental. In doing so, you get the freedom of the open road and avoid the damage that any summer car rental can do to your wallet.
Because we chose scooters, we were able to park in the narrow crevices of alley ways and in between cars, avoiding those nasty parking fees. As a result, we got to check out tons of historical and cultural sites, hopping from one place to the next.
2. Live Like a Local
Imagine waking up in the center of town to the sound of local chatter right outside your window and couple that with the sweet enticing aroma of baked goods. You roll over to check your phone and in the Airbnb app, you find five curated recommendations of things to do sent over by your host, an individual who’s spent their entire life living in the destination you’re visiting.
This isn’t a daydream, this was our Airbnb experience. Our host not only opened her home to us but made sure she unlocked the door to the rich and fulfilling Portuguese experience that Lisbon is known for — food, music and sun!
With contagious enthusiasm, she immediately showed us some of her favorite local spots to eat, shop, hang out and relax, ensuring that we had an amazingly authentic experience. She gave us a ton of recommendations to the hidden gems of Lisbon, like the LxFactory, an old factory-turned-art-district full of whimsical local shops & quaint restaurants.
She also let us in on some of the best local bakeries in town and eagerly pointed us in the right direction whenever we wound up in a part of Lisbon that we didn’t recognize. Every evening before bed, she would check in with us to see if we needed any recommendations for the following day; we could tell that she was really passionate about Lisbon. We wouldn’t have been able to truly explore the city authentically had it not been for her showing us just how amazing her city was.
She encouraged us to get lost, to follow the roads ahead and truly soak up the beauty and vibrant neighborhoods in Portugal.
One of the greatest things about this experience was the opportunity to connect with locals and see a destination with new eyes. Because we were centrally located, with easy access to the metro and a brisk walk away from the most happenin’ parts of the city, we were never too far away from an epic drum circle, outdoor play or live Fado performance.
Wait! Did we forget to mention that every almost every Airbnb listing we inquired about came in at under $100/night? We can already hear your bank accounts thanking you!
3. Discover Hidden Gems
A quick Google search of ‘free activities’ in any major European city will immediately grant you access to loads of fun and interesting ‘penny saving’ things to do while on vacation. We managed to take a free walking tour of Lisbon that helped us uncover many other free attractions, like people watching on the Rua Augusta or perusing trinkets at one of the many marketplaces. Additionally, many of the top museums offer free entrance at least once a week.
We were even able to visit the cultural center of Belem to pick up the national Pasterie De Portugal at Pasteis de Belem, featuring the world famous Pastel de Nata.
4. Eat like a Local
With our handy recommendations in tow, we set off in search of the cheapest and most authentic cuisine 10 Euro could buy, and boy were we successful. Avoiding main streets and crowded sites at all cost, we were able to dine on some of the freshest and most organic food we’ve had in a long time.
With simple ingredients and very little manipulation, we were able to get a true taste of Portugal. And how incredibly pocket friendly it is to eat in Lisbon! To discover cheap eats in your European destination of choice, follow these simple tricks:
Find Lunch Specials
Restaurants are always competing for new business and lunch time is no different. Normally, you’ll be able to spot starters, mains and deserts for a bundled price.
Eat Before you’re Hungry
By the time you’re hungry, you’re more likely to head to the first restaurant you see, which may be much more expensive than you’ve bargained for.
Ask for Tap Water
If you ask for water, they’ll typically bring you bottled water (still or sparkling). Opting for tap water means that you pay $0.00 and yes, it’s safe to drink the water.
Eating Outside Comes at a Premium
Feel the breeze? Ahhhh, yes. Who doesn’t want to cozy up with a hearty plate of food to people watch and sun soak? Sometimes you have to pay a little extra for this experience.
Head to your Farmers Market
If you’re looking to cook on your European escape, heading to a Farmers Market is a really good idea. Not only will you find some amazing local herbs, fruits & veggies, you’ll also get local prices. Win, win.
And there you have it, how to explore Europe for cheap. Now tell us, how have you used some of these tips to explore your dream destinations? Tell us in the comments below! And until next time, ciao!