It may sound crazy, but it is completely possible to go bicycle touring in Europe on €10 a day. In this post I will tell you how you can conduct your own budget-friendly bicycle tour in Europe. I will share stories from my own experience doing exactly that, as well as information I have gathered from other bicycle tourist along the way.
Wait… did you say “BICYCLE touring?” What is that?
Bicycle Touring, also known as ‘cycle touring’ and ‘bikepacking’, is very similar to backpacking. The only difference is that you are traveling on a bicycle. You have what are called “bicycle touring bags” that you can attach to your bike. These bags either strap on to different parts of your bike or you get the ones that attach to pannier racks, already connected to your bicycle frame.
I should note that most of the information here does not apply to bicycle touring in Europe in 2020. For obvious reasons, the pandemic has effected travel throughout Europe and most of the world. At the time of writing this article it looks likely that travel restrictions will remain in place during at least the first part of 2021. If this post is not updated with more details later on, take it upon yourself to check local and international travel restrictions before attempting to go bicycle touring in Europe.
Bicycle Touring in Europe on €10 a day:
For the purpose of this article I will assume that your flight ticket in and out of Europe has already been paid for. The €10 budget provided for in this article, includes all expenses paid DURING the trip. This is the time you actually spend cycling in Europe from the first moment you land in Europe till the moment you depart. Does that make sense? Cool, let us begin.
This could easily become your biggest expense if you are not careful. Accommodation in Europe can be expensive. Even the most run down hostels in the middle of nowhere with 10 bunker beds in a single room, can cost you €10-15 a night. That will take up our entire budget of €10 a day! If you spend that much on accommodation, how will you afford food and other expenses? The solution is very simple, you do not need to spend any money on accommodation while traveling in Europe. There are a number of free accommodation options you can take advantage of. The first one is especially for bikepackers, such as yourself.
Warmshowers is a free hosting site you can use while conducting your bicycle tour. The great thing about Warmshowers is that it is only available to bicycle tourist, no one else. A quick look on the Warmshowers website will show you that there are tens of thousands of people offering to host traveling cyclist, all around the world. The site is straight-forward and easy to navigate. All you have to do is go to the map on the site that shows the available hosts and exactly where they are located. Then you send them a message and wait for a reply. That is it! More often than not you will not hear back from a host. This is especially true in the big cities, where hosts are overwhelmed with request from bikepackers and can not get back to all of them. That is why it is important that you send a lot of messages. If you want to stay in a certain area for the night and you see there are 8 hosts available in that area, then send 8 messages.
Just like Warmshowers, Couchsurfing is a free hosting service you can use while traveling. The difference between the two is that Couchsurfing is open to everyone, not just bikepackers. I would strongly recommend that you attempt to find a place to stay on Warmshowers first and use Couchsurfing as a last resort. That is what I did during my bicycle tour in Europe. The reason for this is that I find Warmshowers hosts to be far more accommodating than the ones on Couchsurfing. That is not to say I did not have a good experience staying with people I found on Couchsurfing, it is just that in general I had far better experiences on Warmshowers.
Warmshowers hosts are in most cases also cyclist who have conducted their own bicycle touring trips in the past, so they understand the needs of bicycle tourist. For example, I remember when I was debating with a Couchsurfing host where to leave my bicycle for the night. He did not want me to bring it into the apartment and instead asked me to lock it up outside in an area only accessible to tenants at the apartment complex he was staying at. I was so scared that my bike would get stolen during the night. Bike theft is very common in certain parts of Europe, especially in the big city’s such as Léon, the one I was in. I did as he said and hoped for the best! Fortunately it was still there the next morning, but my point is that this type of thing would never have happened had I been staying with someone from the Warmshowers site.
3. Wild camping
If you are traveling with a tent a and sleeping bag, then wild camping could be an excellent idea. Wild camping is when you set up camp, anywhere in nature for free. There are laws in certain countries that prohibit wild camping, so I suggest you look up what the rules are in the country you are in, before you decide to go wild camping. Even if it is legal to wild camp where you are, it is still a good idea to take the necessary precautions. These include, only setting up camp in the early evening when no one is around and doing so a good distance away from the closest town or city. This will ensure that you have a good nights rest, without being bugged by any nosy neighbors.
Wild camping in Europe is truly amazing. It is very safe and there are a lot of good spots you can camp in almost any country in the continent. I would strongly recommend it.
It goes without saying that on a bicycle tour, you will be using your BICYCLE to get from point A to point B. However, it does not mean that you will only be using your bicycle. When I conducted my first bicycle tour in Europe there was a lot I wanted to see and I had very little time. Three months to be exact. Because of this I made use of a number of different transport methods, other than riding my bike.
Blablacar is a carpooling service that operates in Europe and the UK. I had no idea about this until I conducted my first bicycle tour. It is absolutely amazing! You pay to catch a ride with someone who is going to the same place as you are or who is driving past where you want them to drop you off. It is an extremely affordable way of getting around.
I remember being stuck in the town Bourg-Saint-Maurice in the French Alps. It was 8pm at night and I needed to get to Alpe d’Huez by 1pm the next day if I wanted to see the Tour de France finish up, what is perhaps the most iconic climb in all of cycling. The only problem was that Alpe d’Huez was over 200km away from where I was. I was staying at the local camp site in the town where the Tour de France finished that night. It was completely packed with people, most of them French people who were also following the Tour. I reached a point where I was going from person to person asking if anyone could give me a life the following day. Nobody could give me a lift, but someone did tell me about this amazing carpooling service known as Blablacar. Within 45 minutes I had booked a ride close to where the Alpe d’Huez climb was located and all for less than €10. I know I know, there goes my budget for the day! This was an exception. I very rarely used anything other than my bicycle to get around in Europe, but when I did, Blablacar was always the best option.
Be sure to check with the Blablacar driver if they can fit your bicycle in their car. Not everyone can. In my experience it is usually 50/50 whether or not a driver will be able or willing to transfer your bicycle.
Flixbus is one of the few bus company’s operating in Europe who are vocal about accepting bicycles as part of a passengers luggage. They do not require your bike to be in a box or even have a cover over it. This is why many bicycle tourist use Flixbus when they need to cover a long distance and taking 10 different blablacars is not a financially feasible option.
I took a Flixbus from Paris to Berlin and then again from Berlin to Kraków. Both trips were agonizingly long and extremely uncomfortable. I would not recommend it. I have long legs and the leg room was less than anything I have ever experienced, even compared to that offered by the cheapest, most budget friendly airlines I have flown with. I was crammed up next to people the whole trip and could only straighten my legs for a few second every few hours, when the bus stopped at bus stops along the way. A ticket with Flixbus is also not THAT cheap. If you are traveling with a bicycle it will be challenging to find a seat on a bus. Only a select few busses will allow you to travel with a bicycle and you have to book a seat well in advance.
3. Train travel
Again, I should note that using any method of transport other than your bicycle is going to drastically increase the amount of money you spend during your trip. If you are okay with that, then we can talk about train travel.
Train travel in Europe is amazing. Even the cheapest seats on a train offer plenty of leg room and you can take your bicycle with you for a small extra fee. This fee is usually around €5-10 a trip. I especially enjoyed the trains in France and Portugal. On most occasions I hung my bicycle up on the bike rack at the back of the train and I took a seat right next to where it was. If the train was empty, I would take up three seats and be able to lie with my legs stretched out, all the while keeping a watchful eye on my bike hanging a mere meter away from me. I only took the train on a handful of occasions, but each time I did I had a very good experience.
Before I forget! You are not allowed to take you bicycle on any of the high speed trains, unless it is in a bike bag or box. I made this mistake in Spain. What made matters worse is that the Spanish generally do not want to attempt to speak English to you. I was shouted down in Spanish as I was attempting to board the train and I spent a good 10 minutes explaining to a group of people that I do not understand what they are saying to me. I understood that they were not happy with my bicycle, but I did not know how we were going to rectify the situation. Eventually I was sent to a man behind the check-in counter who was able to speak English to me. He was friendly and booked me a new train ticket on a train that allowed passengers to transport bicycles. I had to wait at the train station for a good 4 hours for that train, but I learnt a valuable lesson. Never book a ticket on a high speed train if you are traveling with a fully assembled bicycle!
The price of train tickets vary from country to country. In France I paid €50 for a cross-country trip. In places like Poland and Portugal the price was a lot less. It really depends. You will have to google it up closer to when you are going on your trip and find out for yourself.
I eat a very minimalistic diet filled with cheap staples such as fruit, sugar, pasta, rice, cereal and bread. This is perfect for if you are traveling Europe on a budget! Actually, it is perfect if you are traveling anywhere in the world on a budget. Food really can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. When I was bicycle touring in Europe I ate a lot of bread. Most shops, especially in France, had baguettes for sale for €0.50. I think the most I ever paid for a full baguette was €1. This was a great source of fuel while on the road. I also consumed a lot of fruit. I travelled Europe during the summer and the fruit quality was very good. Most supermarkets, at least in Western Europe, sold 250g packs of fresh dates for as little as €2.50. I came across a lot of “overly ripe” bananas that were given away for next to nothing. “Overly ripe” is a subjective term. What is overly ripe for most people, is usually perfect for hungry cyclist ready to make a quick meal out of it.
I was traveling with one of those camper cookers. This was great for when I was camping. When I was cooking my own dinner out in nature and not staying with a host for the night, I would always cook something simple such as rice or pasta. Those are two staple foods in my diet, regardless of whether or not I am busy bicycle touring. I could never cook a fancy meal while camping because I only had a single pot to cook with, so rice or pasta was always my go-to option. I would alternate the toppings I used. Some days I would use soy sauce, other days ketchup. Whatever made the food go down easy! Pasta costs anything between €1-3 for a 500g packet. Rice is even cheaper than that.
The days I was staying with hosts were great, because more often than not they would insist on cooking me dinner! Not all hosts will cook for you, but I have found that most will. I am also a Warmshowers host and I always cook dinner for my guests. Most hosts I stayed with cooked me dinner, and showed me where the cereal was kept so that I could help myself to it the next morning.
Bike maintenance while bicycle touring in Europe
How much money you spend on bicycle maintenance is always going to depend on how skilled you are with fixing your own bike and how many tools you are willing to carry around with you while you are bicycle touring. I am not that skilled at fixing my own bike. I can do the basics, but that is about it. I would always carry the tools with me that you need to fix the most common bike problems. At the very least, these include an Allen key set, puncture repair kit, chain breaker and a master link. That is all I took with me during my first bicycle tour in Europe. Other than that I was at the mercy of the local bike shop of the town I found myself touring through.
I was very fortunate during my bicycle tour. The only “serious” problem I had was that I snapped my derailleur hanger off in Spain. It cost €40 to fix and really hurt my bank balance at the time, but besides for that I had nothing to complain about. You have to budget for these types of things. In my opinion it is okay to say “I’m going to spend €10 a day while bicycle touring in Europe”, but you need to have an emergency fund for if things like this happen. They do not always happen, but if they do you need to be prepared.
Europe Bicycle Tour Budget
This is what an average day of spending looked like for me while I was bicycle touring in Europe. As I have explained above, there were a few exceptions. For example, taking a Blablacar, Flixbus or train was definitely an exception. But generally, this is what I spent in a day:
- Accommodation – FREE (stay with Warmshowers, Couchsurfing or go camping).
- Transport – FREE (use bicycle to get around).
- Food – €5-10 (eat mostly fruit, bread, rice, pasta, sugar and drink tap water).
You may find it hard to believe, but that is how I toured through Europe for 3 months. I had no choice. I did not have much money to get around, but I was intent on bicycle touring through some of the most gorgeous places in the world. It definitely changed my outlook on travel forever. To me, the destination was the most important. I did not care how comfortable my bed was at night or how much fancy food I was eating. I saw the Eifel Tour, watched the Tour de France finish at the Champs-Élysées, did a track stand in front of the Reichstag Building, cycled through the Basque country and much more. It was a dream come true!