A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a series of articles about how to travel Europe on a budget. But never have I mentioned what I consider “budget”. Accidentally, a couple of days after finished the last article in the series, I’ve stumbled upon a post on the topic. It turns out there is this book, an old book, called Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. Its a guide book, the very first published by Frommer, back in 1957. Apparently, it is a very influential book, and people still try to follow the routes around Europe proposed by Frommer, getting all worked up about how expensive everything’s become (like a room at the Ritz in Paris).
So what’s the score – can you, indeed, still travel Europe on 5$ a day, and if you can’t – how much do you need? In the first part of this post, I’ll deal with the 5$ issue, and in the second part, give my personal, unbiased and statistically validated opinion on what is the budget that you’ll need to travel in Europe anno 2014.
Part 1 – can I travel Europe on 5$ a day?
Well, if you only hitchhike or walk, sleep on people’s couches, sneak into museums and steal food, you can. But that is an answer to the question “can I live as a bum in Europe?” not “can I travel Europe?”.
There are, in fact, 2 issues with the “can I travel Europe on $5 a day?” question. Since its $5 from back in 1957, there is 1 – the inflation that has to be taken into account, and 2 – the exchange rates. Estimates of inflation vary, depending on the way of measuring it and what you are actually buying. The variation is rather extreme, as $5 in 1957 is worth between $31.50 to $171.00 today. If you’re interested in the details, you can check http://www.measuringworth.com/.
Comparing exchange rates over half a century is even more difficult, as many currencies have been devaluated, merged into the Euro or disappeared all together, sometimes with the issuing country, like the Czechoslovak Koruna. The Swiss Frank is a rare example of a European currency which has not been subject to all these perturbations. In 1957 you’d get 4 Swiss Franks for 1 dollar, and today you get just one. Comparing exchange rates with the Euro is more challenging. Taking the German Mark (DM) as an example, we’ll see that $1 would buy 4.2 DM in 1957 and today $1 buys 0.75 Euro (or 1.5 DM) – about 3 times less!
So taking the exchange rates into account, to get what you’d have for $5 in Europe in 1957, you’ll need $100 to $500 today! I don’t think that counts as “budget travelling” anymore. Another issue with attempting to travel the same routes as proposed by Frommer in 1957, is that most places mentioned in Europe on 5 Dollars a Day have been closed and the ones that survived became hugely popular with $-rolling American tourists thanks to that very book! This popularity has driven prices beyond general inflation rate and, in fact, beyond any reason. So, no, you can’t travel Europe on $5 a day. Well, perhaps if you only visit Moldova.
Part 2 – What is the minimal budget to travel Europe?
Not $5. That was made clear in Part 1. And in fact, since I live in the Eurozone, and most travellers in Europe spend at least part of their travels in Euro countries, I’ll stick to Euros if you don’t mind. The exchange rate you can find yourself at Oanda.
Back to the budget – can I travel Europe on 25 Euro a day? Yes, you can! It will take some effort – booking tickets in advance and avoiding expensive cities (Paris), countries (Switzerland) and regions (Scandinavia). Also, to stay within this tight budget you’ll probably have to do a lot of Couchsurfing and cook most of your own meals.
Spending an average of 50 Euros a day you’ll have a bit more comfort and choice. It will still require planning and self-control, but on 50 Euros a day you can buy yourself an ice-cream if you want to, go to a museum even outside the free hours and there is no reason why you’d have to avoid whole regions – just don’t buy alcohol anywhere in Scandinavia, as it will butcher your budget right away.
Conclusion – no, you can’t travel Europe on $5 a day. But you don’t need $500, either. Depending on your luxury standards and destinations, between $25 and $100 will probably do just fine.