Backpacking Through Europe as an Exchange Student: A Complete Guide

How I Backpacked Through Europe in 20 Days as an Exchange Student

Find out how I visited five countries without breaking the bank!

Years ago when I was trekking through Western Europe, I was just outside Barcelona… 

Nah, this guide isn’t about Joey Tribbiani’s pick-up story from the popular show, Friends. It will, however, be my guide on how to pick up great experiences while backpacking through Europe.

I began my trip in February 2022 while on a university exchange program in Germany. Instead of simply remaining there, I challenged myself to visit as many countries as I could without breaking the bank. That said, this guide to backpacking in Europe will give you all you need to plan your very own trip! 

Have a good sense of direction

Know where you want to go

An unplanned Europe backpacking trip is a recipe for disaster, as you might find yourself short on funds and time. I wanted some flexibility in my trip, so I identified the countries I wanted to visit and kept my itinerary free and easy.

europe backpacking

(L-R): Heidelberg Castle; My first meal in Germany

As a history buff and an avid football fan, I knew exactly what I wanted to see and planned accordingly. As such, my trip followed this route: Germany > Austria > Spain > Portugal > England. I was aware that Germany and England were going to be more costly, so I had to plan my trip thoroughly.

Also read: Top 10 Things to Do in Munich on Your Next Vacation

Travelling around Europe

While a Europe backpacking trip might suggest travelling by foot, it is much more convenient to use their transport network. The continent has an extensive road, rail, and flight network that makes inter-country travel relatively cheap. 

Unless you manage to rent a car, most backpackers choose trains or planes as their main mode of transport. I recommend opting for large railway companies such as Deutsche Bahn, Renfe, and Eurostar, as they operate numerous affordable services. You can save even more by using Ryanair. Their flight tickets are often cheaper than train tickets.

europe backpacking

(L-R): The view on the train from Germany to Austria; Vienna Opera House

Where to stay

Backpacking through Europe can be tough when you consider that you have to pay for multiple accommodations. While braving Mother Nature and camping outdoors can help you save significantly, only expert backpackers should consider this.

For travellers on a budget, your best bets are hostels, budget hotels, and small apartments. There are plenty of sites offering deals on accommodations, but I recommend Hostelworld and for affordable and reliable choices.

Also read: Here Are All the Countries With Zero Travel Restrictions

Packing tips for backpacking 

backpacking tips

Most of my clothes were dark colours, so the pieces worked well with one another.

Packing for this type of travel differs greatly from your usual holiday experience. For instance, you can’t bring massive suitcases to store your entire wardrobe. Here are my tips to pack efficiently and ways to ease your heavy load:

  • Pack light. Having multiple OOTDs is a luxury we cannot afford.
  • Prioritise high-quality clothes that have features such as moisture-wicking and fast-drying.
  • Pick versatile clothes such as dark colours as they go well with each other.
  • Roll your clothes or use a compression bag to save space in your backpack.
  • Book hostels with laundry rooms and showers so you can reuse your clothes.
  • Use local laundromats to bulk wash and dry your clothes so you don’t have to pack additional items.

Also read: 13 Tips for Packing Light for Winter Trips

backpacking tips

Consistently washing my clothes allowed me to enjoy different seasons while wearing the same outfits.

Enjoy your experience

frankfurt food

A delicious American breakfast in Frankfurt.

While thorough planning is important, don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labour backpacking through Europe! My trip brought me to five amazing countries that have plenty to offer for any type of traveller. 

Note: Keep reading for a cost breakdown of backpacking in Europe.

Germany: A rich and vibrant history


(L-R): Cologne Cathedral; Brandenburg Gate

Nothing screams architecture and history like a medieval castle sitting atop a hill and overlooking an old town. Germany boasts splendid scenery, marvellous architecture, and cheap beer (sorry mum). When I return, I am definitely spending more weeks exploring the various castles, palaces, and cathedrals!

frankfurt food

(L-R): Currywurst in Berlin; Enjoying a meal in Frankfurt with the lads

Apart from being a history lover’s paradise, Germany has amazing food to tantalise your taste buds. With over hundreds of types of sausages, bread, and beers, you can be assured that every meal is perfect.

Fun fact: There are over 20,000 castles in Germany, the most famous being Neuschwanstein in the Bavarian Alps.

Austria: A classical experience


(L-R): Belvedere Palace; Musikverein

Home to one of the music capitals of the world, Austria offers a symphony to your wanderlust. Classical music thrived in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Vienna attracted famous classical composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. 

Despite never attending a classical performance, I was drawn to its association with high society and the finer things in life. I ended up sipping on some whiskey while listening to Vivaldi: Spring at a symphony orchestra. While my knowledge of classical music did not change, it was still fun pretending to be a Crazy Rich Asian!


A view of Hallstatt from the boat I was on

I knew that Austria was also home to the mesmerising Hallstatt, which looks straight out of a fantasy novel. I explored this quaint village at the base of the Austrian Alps and took many pictures of the gorgeous snow-capped mountains.

Also read: 19 Lakeside Towns In Europe You Have To See In This Lifetime!

Spain: A culture unlike any other


(L-R): Seafood paella in Barcelona; Casa Milà

A guide to backpacking in Europe is not complete without visiting what I consider the best country: Spain. From delicious cuisine and intricate architecture to its historic football culture, this country has it all. 

The cities of Barcelona and Madrid best exemplify Spanish culture and architecture. For instance, the intricate works of Gaudí, scattered across Barcelona, are some of the best architectural marvels in Europe. On the other hand, Madrid boasts a variety of renaissance and contemporary art museums which you can explore for days! 

spain stadium

(L-R): Camp Nou; Champions League match at Santiago Bernabéu

As a football fan, I was absolutely delighted to visit both Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. In a spontaneous decision that set me back €110 (~S$158), I watched a champions league match between Real Madrid and Chelsea. The atmosphere of 60,000 fans screaming is one that you just have to experience in person.

Pro tip: Although Spain is one of the warmer countries in Europe, nights can get pretty chilly so bring a jacket. (Unfortunately, I did not.)

Portugal: A gastronomic delight


(L-R): Eating a Francesinha in Sintra; Pena Palace

Often overshadowed by the cuisines of larger European countries, the food in Portugal should not be slept on. Portuguese dishes are impeccably prepared and the rich flavours will leave you wanting. I lost count of the number of francesinha sandwiches, porco pretos (cured ham), and pastel de natas (egg custard tarts) that I ate.  

Also read: 10 Airbnbs Homes & Vacation Rentals in Lisbon Close to the Capital’s Sights

England: It’s coming home  

emirates stadium

Image credit: WILLSIE via Canva Pro

Any fan of the beautiful game of football dreams of going to England and visiting the iconic stadiums scattered across the country. The Emirates, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, and Old Trafford are some of the best stadiums to have ever been built. While I am a biased Arsenal fan, I can honestly say these four stadiums are world-class (move aside, Tottenham).

How to budget your trip


(L-R): Watching a concert in Stuttgart; Eating pastéis de natas in Lisbon

Backpacking through Europe is a great way to experience vibrant cities and rustic villages in secluded regions. However, you might be wondering how it is possible to cover such an extensive region with a limited budget.

Well, as Benjamin Franklin said — if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Undoubtedly the most boring (but most important) aspect of backpacking is planning your budget. In a worst-case scenario, the lack of planning could leave you cashless in a foreign country. That said, here are my Europe backpacking tips to help you plan your spending and save on costs where you can.

1. Costs and income

Before purchasing gear, booking accommodations, or even buying transport tickets, there are four questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the duration of your entire trip?
  • Which places do you want to visit?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you want to have on your trip?
  • Are there any specific things you want to do that will cost a significant amount?

Thinking through these questions will give you a better understanding of what kind of budget to set aside for your trip. Though there is no way to be certain of your exact expenses, a little planning goes a long way.

Also read: Beyond Packing Light: How to Travel as a Minimalist!

2. Consider travelling in a group

saint michael viewpoint

Catching the sunset at Saint Michael Viewpoint with some friends.

Backpacking through Europe on your own is an enlightening experience that will teach you a lot about yourself. However, sometimes it is better to travel with a friend or a group as it saves significantly on costs (and it’s also a safer way to travel). 

Alternatively, you can travel solo and make friends along the way, especially in backpackers’ hostels. I met a diverse group of travellers from Portugal, Mexico, South Korea, and Chile, and we really hit it off. I followed this group to Portugal and Spain, and my newfound Portuguese friend guided me around his country.

Also read: Why Travelling With Friends is Better than Travelling Solo

3. Cash is king, but keep a card handy


Image credit: Baris Kaykusuz via Canva Pro

While numerous transactions have the convenience of being online, having euros while backpacking through Europe is still critical. Exchanging your currency beforehand can help to save on expensive exchange fees at airports and pesky administration fees. 

With proper planning, all your accommodation and transport would have already been booked. While your upfront costs will be high, you’ll only have to worry about daily expenses during your trip. Additionally, smaller European cafes and restaurants often prefer cash to cards as they have to pay commissions to credit-card companies.

Also read: 11 Money Tips If You’re Not Earning Well Enough to Build a Travel Fund

4. Google is your lifeline


(L-R): Using Google to find a local pitch where my German friend was playing football; the best Strammer Moritz in Vienna.

The information that Google provides is second to none. Apart from the obvious navigational benefits of Google Maps, it also provides weather updates and news on the region. This kind of information can make your backpacking through Europe experience all the more comfortable.

Pro tip: Research weather patterns for the exact dates of your travel. That way, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to bring and purchase for your trip.

toledo station

The remote Toledo train station

Decisions on what to wear, where to go, and the places to avoid can all be made with the assistance of Google. I found it particularly useful to download maps and train schedules of remote areas where cell coverage might be lacking. That way, I could still navigate and return to my hostel even in the absence of mobile data and WiFi. 

Pro tip: Google can help you sieve out restaurants and cafes to fit your budget while still offering delicious meals. 

5. Stick out your thumb and hitch a ride 

madrid station

Waiting at Estación Madrid to hitch a ride.

Take this tip with a generous pinch of salt, as hitchhiking does have a bad reputation in some countries. While it does help to reduce your backpacking in Europe cost, it does come at the price of safety and reliability. Only attempt this if you are in a group or if you can trust the person giving you a lift.

Pro tip: For solo travellers, hitchhiking should be a last resort as you need to prioritise your safety above all else.

Also read: Hitchhiking in New Zealand from Coast to Coast: Here’s How I Did It!

6. Blend in with the locals

spain food

Eating a hearty lunch in Spain just like the locals

Europe’s popularity as a tourist destination is a given. However, this does bring about people with malicious intent seeking to swindle tourists. Tourists are easy targets as they are less aware of local customs and neighbourhoods. Sporting an “I Love (Country)” is an invitation for con artists, pickpockets, and other scammers to acquire your money.

During my three weeks there, I saw multiple con artists crowding popular tourist destinations. Fortunately, I did not fall victim to their tricks as I was being wary of my surroundings. Blending in and keeping your head low will certainly help your budget and ensure your safety.

Pro tip: Talk to trustworthy locals to get a sense of the area and which neighbourhoods to avoid. You can also check out Reddit threads for further insight.

7. Supermarkets are your best friend

Knowing the discount supermarkets in the country you are visiting is by far my most effective tip. Instead of spending on expensive dinners at restaurants, buying ingredients and meals from supermarkets maximises your spending power. 

When I was in Germany, I frequented Netto for cheap ingredients to cook my own dinners. This saved me €40, which I later used to take a quick trip to Munich to visit the Allianz Arena

Also read: Travel Tips: How to Plan the Picture-Perfect Trip Abroad

Cost of backpacking in Europe

Würzburg Residence

Strolling through the gardens of Würzburg Residence

I used all these tips and more to make my trip in Europe comfortable and affordable (for a university student). While Europe is home to several expensive cities, it is absolutely affordable if you know where to go.

Look below for my expense breakdown per country. However, do note that I made this trip in the first half of 2022, so there might be price changes.


  • Daily expenses: €60–€80 (S$85–S$114)
  • Accommodation: €14–€20 (S$20–S$28)


  • Daily expenses: €50–€60 (S$71–S$85)
  • Accommodation: €14–€20 (S$20–S$28)


  • Daily expenses: €40–€50 (S$57–S$71)
  • Accommodation: €14–€18 (S$20–S$25)


  • Daily expenses: €35–€50 (S$50–S$71)
  • Accommodation: €14–€18 (S$20–S$25)


  • Daily expenses: €70–€110 (S$100–S$157)
  • Accommodation: €21–€28 (S$30–S$40)

Keep in mind that prices in Western Europe tend to be higher, with the exceptions of Spain and Portugal. Also, daily expenses can vary significantly depending on your needs, so budget accordingly.

Pro tip: Hostel prices can get as low as €10–€12 if you book them for multiple days as a single traveller.

Also read: 10 Best European Countries That Won’t Break the Bank

europe food

My last meal in Europe (for now)

Final thoughts on my experience

This trip was not my first rodeo, but it was the first time I backpacked through multiple countries. It was a challenge but the reward at the end felt so good and I cannot wait to go again.

I hope this guide to backpacking in Europe has been helpful! Who knows, perhaps we could cross paths in Europe sometime and exchange travel stories over a meal (and drinks).

Also read: Travelling to Europe in 2022: What It’s Like and What to Expect

If you have travel stories from your backpacking experience in Europe (or anywhere else), we want to hear about them. Reach out to us here, and you just might be our next Featured Traveller!

Images credited to Sarvaesh Mohan, unless indicated otherwise.

About Author

Sarvaesh Mohan

Sarvaesh is always on the lookout for the next adventure and loves to get his adrenaline pumping. When he's taking a break from travel, he loves to play video games and watch historical documentaries.