My Magic Formula for Comfortable Budget Accommodations in Europe

It’s the ever-present traveling conundrum: with a finite budget, the more you spend to lay your head, the less you can spend on everything else. Just like in a glass of wine, balance is crucial.

And you guys know I love my wine.

So how did I afford to travel in Europe for 4 weeks? I had the magic formula. (For me.) There are several things I took into consideration when I booked my lodging in Europe: budget, comfort, privacy, and interaction.

Hotels in Europe

I’m willing to pay a little bit more for a great guest experience. But when you’re traveling 27 days in a row between Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom… it can add up really fast.

I couldn’t afford 5-star accommodations every night, but that doesn’t mean I avoided hotels — I actually stayed in hotels 42 percent of the time! When you’re in desperate need of some privacy or a comfortable night’s sleep sans a snore-fest, it can be done for little more than you’d pay for a hostel. I’m not kidding. Let me tell you how.

The app: Since I didn’t have any loyalty to particular hotels while traveling abroad, Hotwire became my best friend.

How to use Hotwire

  1. Choose a neighborhood.
    The travel books come in handy here. I usually liked to stay within a 20-minute walk of the train station and around many of the sights I knew I was interested in seeing.
  2. Filter by star level/guest recommendation.
    Keep in mind star levels are relative. A European 4-star hotel is more like a U.S. 3-star hotel. I vacillated between 3 to 5 stars depending on the cost advertised and customer rating (I went with “80 or 90 percent recommend”).
  3. Consult your inbox.
    As an email subscriber, I checked my inbox for any promo codes (I got a few smokin’ deals that way) and voila!

Note: There are several sites/apps similar to what Hotwire offers, like Priceline, but I haven’t used them. Feel free to use whichever one you’re comfortable with!

You’re probably thinking, that’s great Julie. But what’s cheap for you might not be cheap for me. Well, riddle me this: is $715 cheap? That’s what I spent on accommodations for 26 nights in Europe. And yes, 11 of those nights were in hotels.

So what was the rest of it, you ask? A mix of hostels and Couchsurfing.

Hostels in Europe

Remember summer camp? My cabin mates and I would gab late into the night from our bunks. I never got any good sleep — whether that’s due to talking all night or the uncomfortable cots, I don’t know. 

Be forewarned —  a hostel dorm is like summer camp — bunk beds, lockers, the whole gamut. Again, there’s the opportunity for gabbing with other travelers, but now, as an adult, you’re putting up with annoying overnight interruptions, snoring, cramped living spaces, to name a few… in favor of free breakfast, interaction with others, and a cheaper rate.

For me, hostels were a good way to give my bank account a break. I would spend a few days in a hostel, then once I arrived in a new place, I would switch to a hotel to catch up on the sleep and privacy I had missed. This method worked out for me perfectly.

The app: I used HostelWorld. This way I only needed one login, and only needed to enter my payment info once, to book stays at a multitude of locations. Like other accommodation apps, you can see all location details, amenities, and ratings and reviews from other travelers when booking. Pro tip: Book in the currency of the country you’re staying in and use a credit card without foreign transaction fees.

La Maïoun Guesthouse, Nice, France

Note: The best hostel I stayed at during my Eurotrip was in Nice, France: La Maïoun Guesthouse. Clean, chic, and breakfast was superb.


Let me be transparent: My summer trip to Europe was my first experience with Couchsurfing. Before that, I had heard of it, but had been wary  — I mean, foreign person offers single woman couch to sleep on for free, no strings attached? Hellooooooo… stranger danger!

But, I had heard about others’ positive experiences with Couchsurfing, and I’m a big believer that most people have good intentions, so I was willing to give it a shot — with my eyes open. Just like any other sharing app (Airbnb and Uber, for example) people are required to submit proof of identity and are reviewed by their guests. I would be able to rely on descriptions and others’ experiences to make my decision.

The result? Incredible experiences with locals who wanted nothing more than to share a love of their culture and the history of their city with a visitor. Shoutout to Elise, who picked me up from the train station in the middle of the night when my train was 4 hours late and for the amazing personalized tour of Salzburg. Shoutout to Manfred, who threw an authentic Austrian house party for his friends and I and treated me like royalty. Their generosity knows no bounds — I love you guys!

The app: Couchsurfing. Read more about my experiences with Couchsurfing’s Hangouts.

The summary: My travel accommodations matrix

InteractionJulie’s experience*
Hotelshighhighlow11 of 26
Hostelsmediumlowvariable8 of 26
Couchsurfinglowvariablehigh6 of 26

*plus one night on an overnight bus

So that’s it — budget + comfort + privacy + interaction = my magic formula for overnight international accommodations. Of course, you may adjust my formula to taste based on your budget, sense of adventure, and flexibility. Happy travels!

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