I decided to start a new series this week called “Europe on $__ a Day.” For those that don’t know, I’ve been traveling around Europe for the past 3 months and have noticed a huge variability in people’s daily budgets. I’ve been in the Ukraine where a hostel is $5 a night and I’ve been in Munich during Oktoberfest where a hotel room was $300. I think if you asked the average 20 something American worker right out of college if they could afford to wander the world, they might say no. Hence, I thought it would be useful to show you, the reader , different standards of living while on the road so you can decide if your dream trip to Europe is within reach. Today we’ll look at a normal but quite luxurious budget of Europe on 150 a day, Wednesday we’ll check out my own budget and what that looks like, and Friday we’ll examine the budget of a true frugal traveler.
If you have a three digit daily budget, you aren’t going to be staying in hostels for the most part. Maybe you are splitting hotels with friends or maybe you just get single beds in hotels to yourself. Regardless, you are sleeping on a nice mattress with comfortable pillows each night. A moderate hotel outside of the more expensive cities in Western Europe for a single person might run you $50-$60 a night if you plan well. Granted, that would not be for the Holiday Inn Express, but it would be a clean, private space of your own.
I noticed people my age in this budget stratum while I was at Oktoberfest. I was chilling in a hotel lobby for the internet and I noticed a bunch of American young professional types in their late 20’s come down getting ready to go to the festival. They were more interested in the party atmosphere of Oktoberfest than trying to save money. So they were the perfect tourists, aka those that are not cost conscious. Essentially that is the definition of this budget strata. They often shop for hotels based on ratings and not on price.
Clothing and Souvenirs
Those folks from the hotel came down from their rooms wearing authentic Leiderhosen, the official drinking outfit of Bavaria.
This outfit is going to run you around $160 new. While it is a super fun feeling to wear as my friend let me borrow his while I was there, that’s a ton to pay for an outfit for one event. A big part of a $150 a day budget while traveling is the desire to buy new outfits and have tokens to remember each place by. Clothing is more expensive in Europe than the US because of the Value Added Tax, which is like a 20-30% sales tax. You might be able to claim this as a credit on your taxes, but not many people do that.
So if you assume you’re spending $50 a night for your hotel, and perhaps $10 a night on average for clothing and extras, perhaps you drop around $40 a day on average for transportation. The luxury way to travel in Europe is by train. They almost always leave from the city center, depart and arrive on time, and offer very pleasant accommodation. That’s why you look around and most people on trains are either wealthy looking or old. Even better, usually they are both.
There are some deals you can get with train passes if you’re traveling for a longer period of time, but in general a train will run you between $20-$50, and more for a night train. So say our traveler moves around quite frequently. They will use a train and pay on the higher end for not booking ahead.
I’ll assume that even people with a high end budget eat cheap breakfasts. You can usually get a meal for under $7 from your hotel or local cafe. Lunch will run you more, perhaps under $10 if you go to your average lunch place and don’t seek out fancy meals. Most people on vacation will eat out at nice places for dinner but will save money on lunch I think.
So for dinner let’s say it’s $15 or so. All in just to keep it easy, let’s say there’s $30 a day to spend for food and drink (a really conservative estimate with alcohol included in there). You won’t be eating at Subway with this budget but no Michelin 5 star restaurants either.
Attractions and Museums
It’s hard to do everything even if you have unlimited money because time is a constraint while traveling. So let’s say the rest of the budget gets spent on one off visits to tourist attractions. Most museums will run you between $4-10, so you could change it up and say two museums and a guided tour one day, or a cheaper ticket to a concert the next. Perhaps you go on one of those Hop On, Hop Off bus rides for a sightseeing tour.
$20 a day for this category certainly has its limitations, but you will spend less than that and more than that depending on the day. I think most people with this budget level do not have as much time to visit museums and go on tours because they are more interested in the cultural, food, and shopping aspects of a city than a low budget traveler.
The Pressurized “Show Me What You Did in Europe on 150 a Day” Budget
I haven’t included the cost of a plane ticket, and for this traveler who is not very cost conscious I expect that would run another $1,000-$1,500. If we tally it up, we have a daily budget of $150 and since the average American worker’s European vacation might be two work weeks, we’ll say they are gone for 15 days. That’s $2,250 plus that $1,500 plane ride (let’s assume they aren’t leaving out of a hub and booked last minute) for a total of $3,750. That’s quite a chunk of change for a two week trip.
If you consider that most people are going to have expenses that they can’t turn off while they’re away like cable, internet, utilities, rent, car payments, credit card bills, that’s a tough expenditure. That $3,750 on a pre-tax basis means you need to earn $5,000 from a paycheck. That’s probably 5-10% of a person’s budget since most people don’t pull down over $100,000 a year. I think this is a typical European budget though for young professionals in their 20’s who don’t have unlimited vacation days and really want to enjoy the ones that they have. When you have such a short time to see everything that extra $10 for dinner doesn’t matter that much “because you’re on vacation.”
If you used this budget, you will not be able to take too many trips abroad. Perhaps you could get away with two a year if your job has ample time off but most people will not be able to do this trip more than once a year. When your time is limited, that puts pressure on you to spend more money because a trip to Europe is such an infrequent occurrence. This pressure is the kind of external force that conspires against you in all aspects of life to keep you chained to your corporate existence. If you love your job and want to work for a traditional 30+ year career and have the money to make a trip like this, I say go for it! There’s nothing wrong with being self aware about your spending, knowing that you can afford it, and having your trip fit in to your list of financial goals. However, I think most 20 somethings that go to Oktoberfest don’t particularly care that the beer is $11 or that an appetizer tray is $25 or that a ride on the Ferris wheel is $15. They have come for a “once in a lifetime experience.” The funny thing is this mindset of spending without a budget ensures it’s going to be a once in a lifetime experience because you won’t be able to afford to go twice or have the time to get away because you’ll be working too much to pay for all the bills.
Bonus Section: What You Get in Ukraine For $150 a Day
Just for fun, let’s see what you can get in Ukraine, my favorite European country I traveled to, for $150 a day right now.
- 5 Star Hotel with massage therapy, sauna, and room service
- All the liquor, beer, and wine you can drink
- 5 Star meals three times a day with multiple courses each meal
- Guided tours with private car service to each site
- A personal shopping assistant to walk with you and hold all your purchases
- Pretty much anything else you can think of