Backpacking Across Western Europe

…and how we did it as 19 year old college students

During our junior year, my friends and I were planning to go abroad. With my required classes, I was going abroad in the fall while the others were going abroad in the spring. We weren’t going to see each other for 15 months!! Luckily, we were able to find time to see each other, but it took us going across the Atlantic to Europe to make it happen.

When we were planning our trip, we first had to decide where we wanted to go. Once we had a vague idea, we decided how to travel. Would it be by train, car, or plane? Considering we were all 19 and I was the only one with an international license, driving was out of the question almost immediately. With my recent experience in Europe for my study abroad semester, I knew that flying could be extremely cheap between European countries – even cheaper than flying between US states! We were also looking at train tickets. And, with the cost to get to and from the airport and the time we would spend in the airport, flying didn’t seem worth it. By taking the train, we were able to see much more of the continent even if we were watching it pass by out the window.

So, we had places to go and ways to get there! That was awesome. We were able to finalize plans and find (relatively) cheap flights just after Christmas. And, we booked most of our hostels using Hostelworld.com. With six of us traveling, we were able to book rooms for just us and we didn’t have to worry about other guests in our room.

I will breakdown the cost of the trip in this post and talk about all of the things we did. I will try to convert everything to Euros and USD at the end of the post. 1 Euro = 1.2 USD / 1 USD = 0.8 Euros. I will round up the nearest dollar or $5 interval for simplicity.

Price breakdown prior to trip:

  • Flights: $420
  • Eurail Pass: $484
  • Train reservations:
  • Amsterdam to Paris: $27
  • Paris to Zurich: $47
  • Zurich to Venice: $38
  • Venice to Prague: $50 (This was an overnight train with sleeper seats!)
  • Prague to Berlin: $16
  • Berlin to Amsterdam: $16

Total Price: $1098 / €879

Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2 days/2 nights

Our first stop was in Amsterdam, a city I have spent some time in prior to this trip. Amsterdam is a wonderful city for pedestrians. There are lots of sidewalks, but beware of the bicycles!! They totally have the right of way and will not hesitate to run you over. The city itself isn’t too big, but there are tons of things to do! Some of the highlights include the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum (though we didn’t go on this trip), the Ice Bar, the Jordaan neighborhood, a River Boat tour, the Anne Frank House (again, we didn’t get to go on this trip, but it really is an amazing place if you get to see it), a rooftop bar, and (sorry to any parents reading this) The Red Light District.

My favorite part of the city in the winter was the lights and decorations all along the canal. The River Boat tour is beautiful during the summer (something I did with my grandmother, a native to Amsterdam), but during the winter, it’s magical!

On a more food related note, there are tons of little cafes and shops that have great food. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the Netherlands are known for much aside from gouda cheese and pickled herring, so they have a lot of shops that are dedicated to the food of other countries. One of my favorite little areas is off of Zeedijk near the red light district. There are tons of food options!

Price breakdown:

  • Hostel: $98 / €83
  • Transportation: $16 / €13.50 for 2 day pass
  • Attractions: $53 / €45
  • Food: $12 / €10 per meal x 6 meals
  • Alcohol: $36 / €30
  • Other food/activities: $48 / €40

Total: $323 / €271.5

Paris, France – 2 days / 2 nights

No offense to any Parisians out there, but Paris wasn’t my favorite city when we visited. We happened to be there during the strikes, so traveling via the subway was difficult and required a lot of extra planning. We did book the Paris Pass, which gave us all sorts of access to attractions in Paris, which was a wonderful treat. It cost about €156 (approximately $185), but it covered things including but not limited to: 1 day on the Hop On Hop Off bus, free entry to the Louve Museum, Wine Tasting, the Palace of Versailles, a Paris Visite Pass (free transportation on subway, trams, and buses within the city).

Price breakdown:

  • Hostel: $80 / €65
  • Transportation & Attractions: $160 / €136
  • Food: $48 / €40
  • Alcohol: $18 / €15

Total: $306 / €256

Zurich, Switzerland – 2 days / 2 nights

In Zurich, we were planning to meet up with a friend’s family, but unfortunately they weren’t in town at the time. We ended up staying in an AirBNB and getting some recommendations from the host about places to go. We walked around in the city center, which was super adorable. There were large Christmas trees everywhere and twinkling, colorful lights strung over the streets in the town. We participated in a free walking tour with a man who was just out of the Army and we learned that there are over 12,000 clean drinking fountains around Zurich. We stopped at a small café where breakfast was $12 and hot chocolate was $10, but it was delicious. I wanted to splurge on chocolates, but they were $8 each!

We also stopped at the zoo to walk around, and it was surprisingly fun! At night, we walked down to one of the lakes and watched the swans swim and listened to a woman play her accordion. We then made a short trek via the trams to a small bar where we met other travelers who were basically doing our trip, but in reverse! At the end of our second night, it began to snow. We took photos and threw snowballs in the street and had an absolute blast!

Price Breakdown:

  • Hostel: (we found an Airbnb) $80 / CHF 80
  • Transportation: $20 / CHF 20
  • Attractions: $30 / CHF 30
  • Food: $120 / CHF 120
  • Alcohol: $15 / CHF 15

Total: $265 / CHF 265 / €235

Venice, Italy – 3 days / 2 nights

In Venice, we arrived at our hostel which was only a couple blocks from the train station. We stayed off the island, which helped us keep the price down for accommodations, and they had complementary breakfasts. We went out to eat when we first arrived and found cheap pizzas for less than $10 each. We took the train to the island of Venice and took another free walking tour. There are no cars or trains on the island, so we did A LOT of walking! We found a little buffet with a lunch special to eat, then continued walking around until dinner. We stopped in a little sandwich and gelato shop and ate, then explored the other shops. We bought cannolis and pasta and headed back to the hostel. The second day, we walked around Venice again in the morning, then headed back to the hostel for the afternoon. We had evening trains out, so we utilized the kitchen in the hostel to make 5 pounds of pasta with butter before dropping Jenna off at the train station for her trip to Norway and catching our own sleeper train to Prague.

Price Breakdown:

  • Hostel: $40 / €34
  • Transportation: $15 / €13
  • Attractions: $0 / €0
  • Food: $70 / €60
  • Alcohol: $20 / €17
  • Other: $10 / €9

Total: $155 / €133

Prague, Czech Republic – 2 days/2 nights

The train to Prague took about 10 hours! We left around 10pm from Venice and arrived in Vienna, Austria around 5am for a change in trains. We jumped on a smaller train that took us to a small town in the Czech Republic where they spoke no English! We ran to catch our train, which seemed to be more of a commuter train, into the city.

The hostel where we stayed was not only nice, but it had a lot of perks! It was very close to the city center, so we dropped our bags off and ran to the Christmas Market to get sausages and wine. Allie even got a potato pancake that was nearly 5 pounds! One of the best perks about the hostel was that some of the employees led free tours for people staying at the hostel. We participated in a bar crawl from the hostel around the city where we got cheap drinks and good food along the way. One of the nights that we were there, the hostel had one of the employees cook food for anyone at the hotel who wanted it FOR FREE! The employee/chef of the evening was an Irish woman who made a delicious Irish stew.

We also stopped and got meatloaf and potatoes for lunch one day, Vietnamese food for a late night snack (2 bowls of pho, 2 orders of spring rolls, a couple orders of noodles all for under $15 total!), and random stops for sausage along the way.

  • Hostel: $33 / €30
  • Transportation: $0 / €0
  • Attractions: $0 / €0
  • Food: $30 / €26
  • Alcohol: $30 / €26

Total: $93 / €82

Berlin, Germany – 1 day/1 night

We were only in Berlin for a short amount of time, but we were able to stop for dinner at a small restaurant to see two of our friends who had just arrived for their study abroad semester. I got to try schnitzel and spaetzle and more sausage. We saw the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Memorial for Murdered Jews in Europe. It was very powerful and very cool to see something that we had learned about in school.

The hostel where we stayed was in a decent location, but they put a random man in the room with us, which was a little odd. There were also lots of men who stood around and some who followed us as we walked. The hostel on the inside felt safe, but outside it was a bit sketchy. There were some good restaurants nearby (good beer and sausages – and if you couldn’t tell, good sausages are high praise!).

  • Hostel: $25 / €22
  • Transportation: $5 / €4.5
  • Attractions: $0 / €0
  • Food: $25 / €22
  • Alcohol: $25 / €22

Total: $80 / €70.5

Final Thoughts

This was one of the most fun trips I’ve had. It was the first BIG trip I had with friends and I think we did a very good job planning the important stuff. Finding free tours and hostels that had amenities and perks helped save us a lot of money and it was totally worth doing a little research!

Final Price Breakdown

  • Travel (Flights & Trains): $1098 / €879
  • Transportation (at destination – not including Paris Pass): $56 / €51
  • Hostels: $356 / €314
  • Attractions (not including Paris Pass): $83 / €75
  • Paris Pass: $160 / €136
  • Food: $365 / €328
  • Alcohol: $144 / €125
  • Other: $58 / €49

Total Price: $2320 / €1957

While about 50% of our costs were from travel and transportation, the rest of our expenses were relatively cheap. Our food and housing together cost about 30% of our total cost – this, for our group, was something we couldn’t pass up spending on. We chose places that were a little more expensive for their safety, and we chose good, authentic, local food to get to know the countries. The remaining 20% was more “for fun” items like going to the zoo or taking the Hop-On Hop-Off bus in Paris or buying souvenirs!

Good luck and have fun planning your next trip!

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