Traveling on a budget - tips and tricks

Summer holidays don't have to be expensive: With our tips, you can travel cheaply and let your soul dangle!
13 min read
From your monthly gas bill to your weekly grocery shopping, there’s no denying it: Costs are rising. As of June 2023, inflation in Germany is at 6.1%, and food is 17.2% more expensive than it was in 2022. Even lending money has gotten more costly. The European Central Bank has been regularly raising interest rates since July 2022 to curb inflation, making bank loans a lot more expensive.  With conditions like these, a summer vacation might feel extra indulgent. However, there are tons of great ways to travel on a budget — you just need to be creative! In fact, with a little planning and an open mind, you can have a wonderful holiday this year, no matter what your financial situation looks like. To help you out, we’ve put together some inspiration and tips for how you can travel in Germany and Europe on the cheap. 

How to travel for less

Is budget travel possible these days? Of course! The first step is managing your vacation expectations. If you think “holiday” equals a hotel bar, pool, and room service, then you might suffer some sticker shock. The good news? Great vacations come in all shapes and sizes.For example, bike tours across Europe have become particularly popular. Many departure points are reachable by train, and you can seek out affordable lodging options along your route. Alternatively, you can spend your vacation camping — it’s a great way to enjoy the natural world while sticking to your budget.If you don’t want to miss out on income while you’re traveling, you could always take your work on the road. For freelancers, bringing your laptop with you and working at a beachside cafe is a great way to earn money while also enjoying a change of scenery. If you want to spend even more time away from home, consider paid gigs like a stint as an organic farm worker, waiter at an island restaurant, or even a hotel tester. Another way to maximize your savings on holiday is to organize free housing. How about setting up an apartment swap, or pet sitting for a friend while they’re out of town? Traveling with friends is another great way to share the bill for lodging expenses.

Cheap travel destinations 2023

One of the biggest costs on vacation is the travel itself. Depending on where you go, you’ll need to factor in plenty of money for flights, taxi rides, or rental cars. So, why not save yourself the hassle and travel within Germany instead? This country has plenty of beautiful vacation spots where you can get that much-needed R&R even if you’re on a budget. 

Cheap travel destinations in Germany

From the Baltic Sea to the Alps, Germany has its fair share of natural wonders. Plus, there are plenty of beautiful cities that are ideal for weekend trips or a longer stay. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

1. Brandenburger lakes

If you live in Berlin and want to escape the summer heat, we’ve got a tip for you. Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, has around 200 lakes where you can cool off and recharge, like Liepnitzsee and Werbellinsee in the Barnimer region. Quaint village churches and verdant forests make for a picture-perfect experience. And with the new €49 ticket from Deutsche Bahn, you can comfortably travel by bus and train for a super affordable price. To save on overnight costs, seek out a modest Pension or rent a camper van. 

2. The forests of Thuringia

Thuringia is known as the “green heart” of Germany, filled with countless UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can check out the Bauhaus University in Weimar, take a stroll along the Saale, or explore the lush forests. Old forts and baroque castles take you on a journey through time, and many of them have free entry. In more rural areas, public transport can be patchy, so it’s beneficial to travel here by car. Lodging can be more expensive in Erfurt and Weimar, and it may be cheaper to stay somewhere like Jena.   

3. Saarland

The smallest of the 16 German states, Saarland borders France and is known for its culinary delights. The list of noteworthy sights is long, from the famous Saarschleife and the Celtic Ring of the Huns in Otzenhausen to the old town of Saarbrücken. With the Saarland Card, you get access to nearly 100 destinations and bus and trains along the saarVV line. Plus, the Saarland Card is free if you book a minimum two-night stay at participating hotels

4. The Black Forest 

One of the most beloved travel destinations in Germany is the Black Forest. The evergreen trees, hidden pathways, and adorable cuckoo clocks make this mid-sized mountain range a mystical and magical place. Here, you can spend your summer vacation exploring the Triberg waterfalls, Titisee, the Feldberg, or Lichtentaler Allee. For your overnight stay, book a camping spot with the Hochschwarzwald Card — you’ll get unbeatable special discounts. 

5. The Moselle river

The Moselle runs along beautiful vineyards, monuments, and picturesque villages. If you’re on your bike, you can also enjoy the landscape on a minimal budget. For example, there are great package deals for cycling tours, including luggage transport, a three-star hotel, and breakfast, all tallying in at well under €1,000. If you book early enough, you’ll even receive an extra discount. And to make your trip even more affordable, you can also plan your bike tour yourself or choose a hiking tour with overnight stays in hostels.  

Cheap travel destinations in Europe

Longing to journey farther afield? No problem. Europe offers lots of opportunities for cheap travel. You may have to travel a bit further than the typical pricey tourist destinations, but you’ll save plenty on food and lodging. Here are five of our picks.

1. Estonia

Estonia, the northernmost of the three Baltic countries, is perfect if you want to enjoy mild temperatures on your summer vacation — and lower prices. In Tartu, the second-largest city in the country after Tallinn, you can also expect not only inexpensive hotels, but numerous cultural offerings and exciting nightlife. Just 16 kilometers from the university town is Lake Saadjärv, which you can easily reach by bus or train. 

2. Slovenia

Triglav National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful travel destinations in Europe. Here, you can swim in the emerald green waters of the Soča river, walk one of the 700-kilometer hiking trails, and go on mountain tours through the Julian Alps. There are serviced mountain huts available and many cozy, well-equipped campsites. It’s best to travel there with a car if you can!

3. Hungary

In case you haven’t heard, travel and living costs are 50% lower in Hungary compared to Germany. Plus, this eastern-European neighbor has a wealth of vacation-worthy destinations and sights, from the imposing Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest to Lake Balaton, the largest inland lake in Europe, to the wild horses on the Puszta. You can travel cheaply to Hungary with Flixbus, for example, and stay in affordable old hotels from the Soviet era. 

4. Greece

We all love the islands, but there’s so much more to Greece. The area around Kalamata on the Peloponnese peninsula has beautiful stretches of beaches, olive groves, and delicious food at a reasonable price. You can rent a bike and cycle along the coastline path through Kalamata, or use the local buses to travel to the coastal town of Nafplio. The best way to get here is to fly to Athens and take the intercity bus to Kalamata for around €25, as flight connections to the capital tend to be more affordable.

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina

After being ravaged by war a few decades ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina are now great travel destinations, full of breathtaking views and picturesque cities. Explore the beautiful old town in Mostar, refresh yourself at the Buna spring, or marvel at the colorful mosque in Travnik. You can even reach the Adriatic coast from the city of Neum. Since Bosnia was once part of the Ottoman Empire, you’ll find many Turkish influences here, from Bosnian coffee to burek. This is a place for a unique summer holiday — with great value for money too.Want even more ideas? Check out our roundup of affordable trips in Europe.

6 tips for an affordable summer vacation

Found a destination that sparks your interest? Then it’s time to plan your trip! Keep reading for more tips on how to plan a summer vacation on a budget. 

1. Save on flights and baggage 

If you’re planning to fly, it’s a good idea to book your plane tickets at specific times, as the prices sometimes vary significantly (more on this here). Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to book, so you can browse from any location and potentially benefit from cheaper ticket prices.If possible, try to go without checked baggage. If you need more packing space, book a second piece of hand baggage instead. You'll be amazed at what fits in a carry-on suitcase and a backpack — and in summer, you won’t need as many heavy clothes anyways. Make full use of the luggage dimensions the airlines allow, which you can find on their websites. Or, if you’re traveling with a friend or partner, you can share baggage space or split the cost of a checked bag.

2. Travel by bus, train, or car

Avoiding flights altogether is not only cheaper, but more sustainable, too. Some train connections take 12 hours or more, but you can often get to the train station more easily than the airport — not to mention the time you save by not going through security. What’s more, in the train you can walk around and stretch your legs, watch the scenery going by, drink a coffee, and enjoy the ride. Foreign train companies often have cheaper deals than here in Germany, as well. Bus trips are even more affordable. Many long-distance buses have free WiFi, air conditioning, and pretty comfortable seats. The price also includes your luggage (up to 20 kg with FlixBus), and some journeys are even faster than traveling by train. Depending on your destination, driving by car can also be worthwhile. If you don't have your own car and your insurance allows it, you could borrow a vehicle from friends or family. Rental cars can also be cheap, depending on the provider.

3. Take advantage of rebates and special offers

As the old saying goes, the early bird catches the worm! You can book “Sparpreise” tickets from €21.90 with Deutsche Bahn, and you’ll get additional discounts if you have a BahnCard 25 or 50. With Flixbus, you can reach more than 2,000 travel destinations in Europe, and with N26, you can get a 10% discount on your ticket! Or, why not book a rental car? With Rentalcars.com, you’ll benefit from a discount of up to 15% on the rental price as an N26 customer.And the savings don’t stop once you get to your destination. From free entry on “Museum Sundays” in Berlin to free bonus cards in the Alpine region, many places have special offers and discounts. Look for similar offers abroad and plan activities to take advantage of the best days and times. Are you currently studying? Be sure to take your student ID with you when you travel — you can save money on train tickets and public transport, in cinemas, theaters or museums, and sometimes even in bars and restaurants.

4. Explore by foot 

Why take a cab when you can walk? If good weather is on your side during your summer holiday, then pack comfortable shoes and explore on foot as much as possible. You’ll discover small alleys and hidden corners — and you can go at your own pace and connect with your surroundings. At the end of the day, you’re guaranteed to head to bed ready for a good night’s rest, too.

5. Use public transport 

For longer distances, it’s a great idea to travel via public transport. In Athens, for example, there’s a great metro network that will get you from A to B quickly and reliably. Depending on how long you stay in a city, weekly tickets are worthwhile. The five-day ticket in Athens costs only €8.20. If you stay longer, you can conveniently top up your paper ticket with contactless payment at the ticket machine.Many countries also have great bus connections between cities. You can travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow and back for just a few pounds, and in Cyprus you can reach Larnaca, Nicosia, Paphos, and Limassol for €4-7 per trip on the intercity bus. It’s a great way to explore the island and save some cash at the same time.

6. Prepare your meals yourself — or bring them with you!

Sure, on summer vacation you want to relax. But daily restaurant visits can eat a big hole in your holiday budget, and sometimes it can be stressful to even find a suitable place — for example, if you have a gluten-free or vegan diet.You stand to save a lot of money if you shop in the supermarket, prepare packed lunches, and cook for yourself in the evenings. When shopping, you’ll learn something about the country and can discover new products. Pack plastic containers, a water bottle, and simple camping cutlery in your luggage so that you’re always prepared on your excursions. This way, you’ll avoid impulse purchases — and probably make healthier food choices.Want to save even more? Check out this article for more tips for cheap travel.

Your money at N26

From camping in Slovenia to swimming in Brandenburg, there are many ways to enjoy your summer vacation without blowing your budget. Practical savings features from N26 can help. Set daily spending and withdrawal limits for card payments and stay on top of your finances with Insights, wherever you are. Avoid foreign currency fees and pay contactless with your digital Mastercard or smartphone. And if you do need cash, you can withdraw money anywhere in the eurozone at any time, free of charge — no matter what account you have.With N26 You and Metal, you’ll even enjoy free withdrawals worldwide and full travel insurance. Speaking of security: If you lose your N26 bank card on vacation, you can block it yourself in just three quick steps in the mobile app. Not on N26 yet? Use our free account switching service and enjoy secure, 100% mobile banking. And if you invite your holiday buddies to N26, you’ll receive a bonus of up to €1,500 straight to your bank account. 

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