9 useful ways to save money on a Europe Road Trip
Planning a Europe road trip can be fun. It can also be incredibly daunting. One of the things many people worry about is how best to save money on their road trip- and how to enjoy themselves without breaking the bank. Luckily, road-tripping is one of the cheapest ways to travel Europe!
To help, we’ve put together some simple tips to help you budget, plan, and save money every step of the way- whether you’re going for a weekend trip or a 3-month European road trip.
Set and stick to a budget
First step is to consider and plan out your budget and there are a few important things to think about. The most obvious is how long are you planning your road trip for? A few days will cost a lot less than a month tour.
Do you need to rent a vehicle, or will you be using your own? If you’re flying to a different country (such as from the USA to Europe), you’ll need to take hire costs into account, as well as the costs for international flights or ferries. Then there are local travel costs within the country you’re planning to visit- like the small ferries in Norway, which can add a huge amount to the overall cost of a road trip.
The last big expense is to consider the sort of accommodation you’ll be using. If you’re renting a motorhome or RV, you’ll need to pay for campsites or learn to stay places for free. If you’re travelling with a tent, where can you stay overnight and what sort of cost will that be? Or are you planning to use hotels, hostels or BnBs as you travel? The choice you make will affect your budget one way or another.
Those are your biggest initial expenses and it’s important that you check the prices out now, to give you an idea of what will cost.
Top Tips to cut the costs for your Europe Road Trip:
- travelling outside of peak season (avoid July and August in Europe)
- Shopping around for the best prices for insurance and travel cover
- buying flights or ferry travel as far in advance as possible
- using discount schemes or points for flights and even car hire
- going for less time (but where’s the fun in that!)
- staying at cheaper options for accommodation- more on that shortly
- renting a vehicle privately. There are several schemes that do this, all around the world. Just do your homework carefully and vet any booking before sending money, but you can save a lot of money that way. Just make sure you are insured!
- if you’re hiring your vehicle, be sure to account for the cost of the hire, plus any other expenses they might add, such as a mileage charge, extra equipment, costs for stocking or using their gear. It can all add up to a lot if you don’t keep track.
Additional Budget Items for your Europe Road Trip
Once you’ve done some research on your initial expenses, it’s time to consider the ‘extra’ expenses you need to add to the budget. Here are some things that you should consider for your budget:
- insurance (both for the vehicle, and for you!)
- fuel for the vehicle and for cooking/ heating in an RV
- tolls/ vignettes/ city congestion schemes
- travel into cities if you’re choosing to park outside, plus parking costs
- food- both main meals and snacks, plus drinks
- entrance fees for local attractions, national parks, festivals, or events- some of these can be expensive, especially if there is a group of you.
- activities, like skiing or kayaking, day trips, cooking classes, or tours
- any kit you may need to buy before you travel, like gear for your Europe road trip
All of these extra expenses add up and, as expected, the longer you travel for, the more expensive it will be. It’s important to have a clear estimate of your budget at this point. Obviously, some of the costs are fixed (visas and park entrance fees) and some will be flexible, like avoiding toll roads or buying cheaper food.
How to budget as a group
Travelling as a group of extended family or friends can be tougher than travelling just as your immediate family. You have other people’s budgets to consider, as well as what THEY want to do while on the road trip.
It’s important to have this conversation in advance. People can be very reluctant to talk about money, or things they want to do, but nothing can ruin a holiday faster than a fall-out about finances. It can help to rotate who pays for what meals, or divide the shopping list so everyone is contributing.
Also, set expectations on what you want to do and can afford to do from the outset, so everyone knows what’s happening. It’s totally fine to have days where people split up to do different activities- don’t feel like you need to spend money on something you don’t want to do.
The upsides to travelling as a group, if you’re all in one vehicle, is that expensive costs such as fuel, tolls, hire charges and overnight parking can all be shared- making the road trip much cheaper.
Another tip for road-tripping with friends is to have a ‘slush fund’. This is where everyone contributes an amount, such as $100 and it’s used for fuel, snacks, tolls etc as you need it. When it’s gone, everyone contributes the same amount again. This can make things much fairer, just be sure to agree on the amount beforehand so everyone is clear what’s expected.
Plan your Europe Road Trip Route
Planning a route is important. This allows you to find and book accommodation or campsites within your budget. It also allows you to research toll roads or back roads, as well as things to see along the way.
If you’re travelling by RV, motorhome route planning is even more important, as it allows you to avoid low bridges and narrow roads which the vehicle may get stuck down. You don’t want to waste fuel or risk damage to the vehicle by going down the wrong road!
Another good resource for route planning are travel review websites. If you read the reviews for an area or destination, you might be able to pick up tips on where to save money, like parking one street down where it’s free, or arriving early to take advantage of the best spots.
Where to stay
Where you choose to stay can have a huge impact on the costs of your trip. Luxury beachfront hotels with spa services cost a lot more than a hostel or vacation rental. It all depends on your budget and how you want to spend it.
Some of the most common accommodation options on a road trip are:
- Hotel with services
- Basic hotel/ motel (limited services)
- Campsite with facilities
- Basic Campsite with limited facilities
- Free camping/ parking areas/ sleeping in your own vehicle.
- Couch surfing/ staying with friends or friends of friends
Don’t forget, you don’t have to choose just one option and stick to it. You could use a hotel one night and a BnB the next. Or stay in a campsite with facilities (and a laundrette!) every two or three nights, and stay in cheaper or free places for the rest.
How to Save money on food/ drink
The easy answer to saving money on food and drink is to consume less! :) However, road trips are made for snacking, so being smart with your choices can save you a lot of money. Some tips to help are:
- Bring as many snacks or food as you can with you
- Get long-lasting snacks and buy lots when you shop- the less you have to visit a shop, the less you will spend
- Shop in cheaper stores, or even countries. In Europe, it’s common for Norwegians or Danes to travel into Germany to do a bulk shop and avoid the high taxes they pay on food.
- Cook in bulk so you can use leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day – saves cooking time and gas, and avoids leftovers
- Alcohol can be very expensive, so limiting your purchase of this will help your budget
Eating out is the biggest budget-buster there is. The less you do this, the better your budget will be. You might prefer to book accommodation with a kitchen/ microwave so you don’t need to eat out for every meal, or bring a camping stove so you can make your own coffee/ heat up tins.
Stopping at Starbucks or McDonalds every day is not going to help your budget (or your waistline!) so try to plan in advance. Bringing a thermos and filling it up each morning can save a lot of money over the course of a week’s road trip.
Having said that, it’s a shame to visit another country or area and not experience the local dishes. So try to find a happy balance between the two. There are several websites/ apps you can use to find good quality but budget friendly restaurants in an area. Another fun way to check out the local specialties is to go to the farmer’s market.
Another huge money-saving tip is to use discount stores, like Costco or Makro. You can save a lot of money for your budget by planning meals in advance and only buying what you need.
Redeem fuel points/ use discounts
Whilst we’re on the subject of discount cards, there are plenty of ways to use them on your trip.
You can get a reward card for a brand of fuel station and use them exclusively on your trip- you’ll be amazed at how quickly the points add up. Some even offer you a free tank of fuel with so many points, which can save a lot of money.
Don’t forget, fuel stations along the main routes are often the most expensive. To save money, you’ll want to visit supermarkets, which are usually the cheapest. Also, remote areas are often more expensive too, so try to fill up near bigger towns where there is more competition.
You can also build up more points by using online shopping through these reward networks- many have a portal for places like Amazon, Home Depot and even iTunes, which can help you buy your road trip or motorhome essentials in advance, and then save more money on the road.
If you’re using hotels, many chains offer discounts the more you book, so you might want to plan your road trip via one chain, or use an online service like Booking.com which offers you discounts the more you book, regardless of which chain or where it is.
Join a membership
Similarly, you can save a lot of money on National Park passes or entrance to historic homes if you buy a membership to that company.
If you plan on visiting three or more National Parks in a single year, there are some National Park schemes which will pay for themselves by avoiding you needing to pay multiple entrance fees. These are great for access, but often don’t include camping rights or overnight charges, so be sure to research that in advance.
If you’re planning a UK road trip, there are schemes such as a National Trust or English Heritage which maintain historic buildings, including castles and stately homes, as well as beautiful gardens and woodlands around the UK. By joining the scheme, you won’t need to pay an entrance fee- just 5 visits will cover the cost and you’re a member for a year. You can also get a shorter term ‘Touring Pass’ if you’re only in the country for a while.
Do your vehicle checks in advance
Nothing is more frustrating than breaking down on your road trip- and it can be expensive, even if you have breakdown cover. Not to mention the huge waste of time if it takes a few days to fix the problem.
If you’re road tripping with your own vehicle, take the time to make sure your vehicle is checked out and fully fit and you are carrying a supply of the common things to fail, like light bulbs.
Many garages or centres will offer free check-ups for oil, tyres, brakes, batteries and more. Also, if you’re travelling in winter, be sure to have the correct tyres fitted for the conditions- all-weather tyres might be a good idea if you’re not sure what to expect.
If you’re planning a motorhome or campervan holiday, be sure to check both the engine and the habitation area are serviced and good to go, especially if the vehicle has been stood for a while.
Use apps to save money
Nowadays, there’s an app for almost everything- and road tripping is no different. You can find apps for fuel and gas, which will tell you the cheapest places to visit in the area. You can find apps for hotels and BnBs, which share reviews as well as average prices.
There are camper apps which share cheap places to camp overnight, or the best campsites, or where to find LPG.
There are also route planning apps, which can tell you travel restrictions, accidents, traffic jams, road works and tolls. Some even tell you what services can be found at a rest station or in a town.
And, of course, there are apps to save you money on shopping, restaurants, services and many other things you’ll need throughout your road trip.
By using all the above tips (or at least the ones applicable to you) you’re sure to save money on your Europe road trip, no matter where in the world you’re travelling. Good luck!
Europe Road Trip: 9 Great Ways to Save Money was written by Kathryn Bird from Wandering Bird. She decided to quit her job as an air traffic controller and leave the rat race to explore Europe in a motorhome with her (bewildered) husband and over-excited puppy. In less than three years they’ve visited 19 countries and driven nearly 60,000 miles in their motorhome- not including the times they were lost (and not helped by global pandemics…)
She is passionate about inspiring others to have their own adventures and experience the freedom of life on the road, whether it’s a long weekend or a month away. You can read more about Kathryn’s adventures, tips and ‘How to’ guides on their award-winning travel blog www.wandering-bird.com