At the beginning of 2017, I put together my Travel Bucket List. In total, I had chosen 11 top city destinations in Europe.
As I started travelling and ticking places off my bucket list, I met loads of other people out on their own adventures and I was captivated whilst listening to stories of their favourite destinations.
Very slowly, my bucket list was getting longer as I mentally started adding on more and more destinations.
Moving around Europe is very easy and relatively cheap. So when I was visiting Rome, I knew it was really easy to travel north for a few hours and visit Florence. And since I was in Florence, why not just catch a bus Venice? It just made more sense to visit another city that was just a few hours down the road whilst I was in the area.
And so, a small 4-day city break turned into an 18-day backpacking trip around Europe ticking off 6 destinations (only 2 of which were on my original bucket list).
Barcelona > Rome > Florence > Pisa > Venice > Zadar
Here’s my route (not including my flights to and from the UK)
From a budget perspective, I should have only visited 3, possibly 4 cities. But I’ve always been one to see how far I can push the boat and I love a good budget backpacking challenge.
After running my numbers, my entire trip – including flights, trains, buses, accommodation, food and sights – cost me less than €760 (£685).
If you spread the cost out over the 18 days, that’s an average cost of €42.22 per day (£38.06 per day).
…and here’s how I did it.
1) Fly from the UK to Barcelona
I am very lucky because I can fly from 3 airports in the UK relatively easily – Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. I live almost in the middle of all three and each airport is just a train ride away.
To use this to my advantage, I always use Skyscanner when searching for flights. Not only will Skyscanner search for the cheapest flight to my desired destination, but I can compare the flights from different airports and on different dates.
Even when comparing flights on other websites, I’ve never been able to find a cheaper flight elsewhere. I’ve always come back to Skyscanner.
Flight from Liverpool to Barcelona via RyanAir (with 15kg check-in allowance) – £55.07 / €60.94
2) Whilst in Barcelona
When searching for accommodation as a solo backpacker, I always prefer to stay in hostels over hotels or Airbnb’s. Not only do I love the opportunity of meeting other travellers, but I actually feel safer in a hostel.
Allow me to explain.
In a hostel, you are surrounded by other travellers, rather than isolated on your own. If something happened and I didn’t come back to the room one night, my other roommates may notice. They may also be able to give information such as what I was wearing and where I was planning on going that day – we may have even exchanged phone numbers or became Facebook friends.
Therefore, my preferred accommodation when travelling solo is a reputable and highly-reviewed hostel.
And where do I find these hostels?
HostelWorld – every single time!
Each hostel on their website has hundreds of customer reviews rating each one on cleanliness, location, security, facilities and staff friendliness. You are provided with loads of pictures and information to ensure that you make a good choice.
Barcelona Hostel (Equity Point Centric) 3 nights – £52.74 / €58.36
To keep my food spending down to a minimum I use a handy free app called Maps.me. Not only does it work offline, but I can search for local supermarkets and convenience stores. I usually buy my food from these shops rather than the touristy places simply because it is so much cheaper! …and I can cook and store them at the hostel.
Spending in Barcelona – £45.35 / €50.18
3) Barcelona to Rome (via ferry)
If I had to do this trip again, I may re-think my choice of travelling from Barcelona to Rome via a ferry. The crossing took about 20 hours, and because I was on a super-tight budget, I purchased a ‘deck-space only’ ticket.
Basically, this meant that I had no cabin and no bed to sleep in. I had, as the ticket stated, only deck space. Which resulted in me trying to sleep across three chairs and in the hallway of a corridor.
It did make my travels feel more adventurous, but if I did it all again, I would price up a cabin or a flight.
Ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia – £46.21 / €51.13
Train from Civitavecchia to Rome – £4.52 / €5.00
4) Whilst in Rome
Rome Hostel (Four Seasons Hostel) 3 nights – £68.58 / €75.89
Spending in Rome – £39.85 / €44.10
5) Rome to Florence (via bus)
The cheapest and easiest way to get around Europe, in my opinion, is by bus. Although trains can be quicker, I find it much more convenient to travel by bus.
I have always used Flixbus and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. All the coaches that I have got on have been clean and comfortable, they have free wi-fi on board and an allowance of 3 bags. They have a handy little app which shows you where all the bus stops are and you can also save your tickets to. I have taken 5 trips with Flixbus and have never been disappointed.
Flixbus from Rome to Florence – £10.90 / €12.06
6) Whilst in Florence (day-trip to Pisa)
Florence Hostel (Hostel 7 Santi) 3 nights – £59.52 / €65.86
This hostel puts on an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet every evening for just €7.00. Needless to say, I made the most of it and really stuffed myself every night. On my last morning, I also took advantage of their breakfast buffet for €5.00.
Hostel breakfast buffet £4.52 / €5.00
Hostel dinner buffet €7.00 x 3 – total £18.98 / €21.00
Additional spending in Florence – £2.51 / €2.78
Train to Pisa for the day – €8.40 each way – total £15.18 / €16.80
7) Florence to Venice (via bus)
Flixbus from Florence to Venice £12. 47 / €13.80
8) Whilst in Venice
Venice Hostel (AWA Venice Apartments San Marco) 3 nights – £117.60 / €113.13
At this point, I was getting very close to the end of my trip and I was starting to run out of money. Therefore, I had to cut my food and spending budget right down. But with a bit of clever supermarket shopping, it was still more than possible.
Venice Spending £9.04 / €10.00
9) Venice to Zadar (via bus)
Flixbus from Venice to Zadar – £41.39 / €45.80
10) Whilst in Zadar
Zadar Hostel (Hostel 4 You) 4 nights – £66.84 / €73.96
Zadar Spending £9.04 / €10.00
11) Flight from Zadar back to the UK
Getting flights from Zadar back to the UK was quite tricky – especially trying to get a cost effective flight back to a local airport. In the end, I had to fly back to London Stansted and persuade a friend to come and pick me up.
Again, I used Skyscanner.
Flight from Zadar to London Stansted via RyanAir (with 15kg check-in allowance) – £40.20 / €44.48
My Secret Weapon
I have a little secret tool that I use which is pretty much the same as getting free money.
Want to know what it is?
Ok, I’ll tell you.
As the name suggests, TopCashBack is a cashback website. This is an example of how it works…
If you are booking a hostel through HostelWorld, first visit TopCashBack and search for HostelWorld. Currently, they have a promotion which is 42% cash back on your booking deposits (For example, if your deposit is £10, you will get £4.20 cashback). Click the ‘Get Cashback Now’ link to go through to the HostelWorld website and make your booking as normal. Because you clicked through from TopCashBack first, your visit is recorded and shortly after, some cashback will appear in your account.
You were going to make that booking anyway, so it is literally like free money.
The only downside is that the cash isn’t available to spend straight away. You have to wait a few weeks (the time differs between each company) so that they can ensure that the purchase was legitimate. After that time has passed, you can get the money put straight into your bank account or exchanged into shopping vouchers or other goodies.
For this trip, I used TopCashBack for all my purchases with HostelWorld, FlixBus and Direct Ferries. This resulted in a total cashback amount of £35.66 / €39.43.
Not bad at all.
So before you purchase anything online, check TopCashBack first!
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive
In the same way as you have to live within your means at home, you can also travel within your means (or budget).
I could do the exact same trip again and spend 10x as much money on fancy hotels and restaurants, but would I have a better time? I’m not so sure.
For me, I enjoy budget backpacking. It makes it seem more of an adventure and forces me to get creative with my travels and activities.
Looking back, I had a great time and I wouldn’t change a single day of it.