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How To Spend Three Weeks In Europe For Price of an iPhone

Our Challenge: Plan a three-week trip to Europe for the price on a new iPhone. Is it possible?

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about how people get more satisfaction from experiences than from “stuff”.

And this got me thinking as I was staring at the 256GB version of the iPhone XS Max in my online shopping basket — which rang up to a respectable $1,359.85 with tax.

Would a 6.5” Super Retina custom OLED display screen with 458 pixels per inch and dual 12MP rear cameras bring me $1,359.85 worth of happiness?

What if that $1,359.85 was used for travel? Surely I would get more happiness from that.

So I decided to put my savviest budget travel skills to the test by attempting to plan a three-week trip around Europe for the price of a new iPhone XS. And to make things even more challenging, my itinerary would include some of Europe’s most popular cities.

Of course, this will be a very frugal trip and there will be very few “luxuries” but I was certain it would still be a fulfilling adventure.

MY SELF-IMPOSED RULES:

  • No Free Accommodation. There will be no sleeping in parks, train stations, etc.
  • Must Eat Actual Food. We’ll stick to eating cheap food and making meals but there won’t be anything extreme like eating ramen noodles and plain pasta every day.
  • No Hitchhiking.
  • Solo Travel. People traveling together can often save by splitting accommodation but for this challenge, I’ll budget for solo travel.
  • Must Visit Popular Cities. Yes, we could save a lot of money by spending three weeks in the middle of Bulgaria but I want this to be more realistic.
  • Must Do Some Cultural Activities. You travel to Europe to experience the culture so I can’t save money by doing nothing all day. So I have to budget in a few paid cultural activities in each city.
  • Must Include Roundtrip Flights To Europe. To keep things interesting, we’ll include roundtrip flights from NYC to Europe.

THE ITINERARY:

TOTAL DAYS ABROAD: 21

  • NYC To Paris: May 7th.
  • Paris: May 8th to 14th
  • Rome: May 14th – 22nd
  • Barcelona: May 22nd to 28th
  • Barcelona to NYC: May 28th

$1,359.85 for 21 days equals about $65/day.


Picking The Travel Dates

Your travel dates will play into your travel costs — notably flights and accommodation.

For this itinerary, I chose to travel in May because it is a little before the height of the tourist season but the weather is nice. Mid-March and April are also nice travel months — especially in southern Europe.

Budget Tip: The absolute cheapest times to travel are historically November and January through early March.


Booking Flights To Europe

cheap flights to Europe

My Roundtrip Airfare: $313

  • NYC to Paris on May 7th: $126
  • Barcelona to NYC on May 29th: $187
    • TOTAL: $313 (including tax)

I initially found my crazy cheap flights from a cheap flight deals newsletter called Scott’s Cheap Flights — which sends daily flight deal email alerts.

A few of the recent deals from Scott’s Cheap Flights

The deals from Scott’s Cheap Flights usually only last for a day or two so you have to be flexible enough to jump on the tickets quickly.

I’m based in NYC so I get the luxury of having access to quite a few cheap transatlantic flights but I’ve seen a lot of cheap transatlantic flights from other cities as well.

That said, I realize not everyone can score as many cheap flights as I can but I still wanted to cover how I search for cheap flights in this section as you can use the same tactics I use.

How I Search For Cheap Airfare To Europe

These days, when I’m searching for my flights, I mainly turn to Google Flights.

Google Flights is nice because you can just put “Europe” as the destination and it will give you a ton of flight options (see the photo above).

We put out budget travel skills to the test to see if we can travel Europe for three weeks for the price of a new iPhone.
DEPARTURE FLIGHT: NYC to Paris
Cheap Flights | Barcelona to NYC
RETURN FLIGHT: Barcelona to NYC

I spent a lot of time in Google Flights trying various travel dates to see which gives the best/cheapest tickets. After about an hour I narrowed it down to a roundtrip flight for $313 — which is an excellent deal.

Budget Tip: Airfare can change drastically from one day to another so you might have to poke around to get the best price.

Budget Tip: You don’t have to fly in/out of the same airport. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly into one airport and out of a different one (which is what we did in this itinerary).

Budget Tip: Pay attention to to the flight times because some might have crazy long layovers or weird quirks.

Budget Tip: Many cheap flights are basic economy — which means carry-on luggage only. You can always pay for a checked bag but it will often cost $60 each way.

Budget Tip: After finding the flights in Google Flights, search the same dates in Momondo as sometimes they can find cheaper tickets.


Transportation Within Europe

On this trip, our destinations will be Paris, Rome, and Barcelona. I was able to find tickets for these two flights for a total of $40.

These three cities are fairly far away so it makes the most sense to fly. I could take a train but it would take a lot more time and it would be more expensive.

My Total Flight Costs: $40

  • Paris to Rome: $20
  • Rome to Barcelona: $20
FLIGHT: Paris to Rome for $20
Cheap Flight | Rome to Barcelona
FLIGHT: Rome to Barcelona for $20

Normally, I prefer traveling through Europe on the train and I’ll almost always take it if the journey takes less than about 5-6 hours. For more information about traveling by train, check out our Complete Guide To Train Travel In Europe.

Budget Tip: Use Google Flights, Momondo, and Skyscanner to look for airfare within Europe.

Budget Tip: Try booking early to get the best airfare deals.


Accommodation

Cheap hostels in Europe

Total Accommodation Costs: ~$470

  • Paris: $150 (6 nights)
  • Rome: $176 (8 nights)
  • Barcelona: $144 (6 nights)
    • TOTAL: $470

We tend to stick with hostels or Airbnb rentals when we travel. Since the budget is tight for this trip, my goal was to keep accommodation under $25/night.

Our low budget essentially ruled out renting an entire Airbnb apartment (unless we wanted to stay far outside the city). However, there are a good amount of well-rated hostels that cost under $25/night in each of the cities.

By the way, we only chose hostels that received at least an 8/10 rating on Hostelworld to ensure we weren’t staying in complete dumps.

We also found a handful of private rooms for rent on Airbnb that ran from about $22-$35/night.

Let’s take a look at what we found in each city.

Paris Accommodation Prices (6 Nights)

Travel Dates: May 8 – 14

Trendy Hostel – $25/night ($150 total)

Le Montclair Hostel – $29/Night ($174 total)

Paris is one of the most expensive cities in Europe — especially when it comes to accommodation so it’s hard to find anything very nice for a cheap price.

We found that the average price for a highly-rated hostel in Paris is around $32-$38/night via Hostelworld. The Trendy Hostel and Le Montclair hostels both received fairly good reviews and were priced around our $25/night goal. The Trendy Hostel is a little cheaper because it is located a bit outside central Paris.

I also looked at private rooms on Airbnb but nothing really fit the $25/night budget.

Rome Accommodation (8 Nights)

Travel Dates: May 14 – 22

Hostel Lodi – $22/night ($176 total)

Much like Paris, Rome’s accommodation isn’t cheap. However, hostels tend to be a lot nicer in Rome so at least your money gets you better quality options. The average price for a well-rated hostel in Rome is around $26-$32/night via Hostelworld but the Hostel Lodi was only $22/night (and they get great reviews).

If you’re looking to rent a private room in an Airbnb you should expect to pay $29-$40 the cheapest options.

Barcelona Accommodation (6 Nights)

Travel Dates: May 22 – 28

Urbany Hostel – $24/night ($144 total)

Now let’s take a look at the always popular Barcelona. First of all, Barcelona has a ton of excellent hostels (many of which have a. 9.5+/10 rating) and these highly-rated hostels average $28-$38/night via Hostelworld. We found the Urbany Hostel for $24/night but for a little more we could have stayed a the highly-rated Sant Jordi Hostels Sagrada Familia ($27/night).

If you’re looking for a little more privacy, you can find private rooms for rent on Airbnb for around $22-$35/night.


Food and Drink

Cheap Food in Europe

We ended up budgeting around $304 over the span of 21 days — which is about $14.50/day for food. But, let’s bump this up to $350 since food costs can be a little tricky to accurately nail down so our new budget is around $16.75/day.

Keep Reading To Get A Day-By-Day Cost Breakdown.

At this point, we’ve spent a total of $823 — which covers roundtrip flights, transportation within Europe, and accommodation. So, out of our total $1,359.85 budget, we have about $537 left. This leaves me with around $25/day for food, attractions, and other incidentals.

Obviously, with my budget, eating out is possible… but I’ll have to be very smart about how much I spend on food.

Budget Tip: Spend time researching quality but affordable places to eat since you can quickly blow your budget on bad food — especially if you’re hungry.

Budget Breakfast Tips:

In general, when I travel my breakfast tends to consist mostly of a free hostel breakfast (if available), basic grocery store/farmers market food (fruit, yogurt, granola, nuts, etc.), and the occasional espresso + pastry (which should rarely cost over $2.5 total). Therefore, a max daily breakfast budget is rarely over $3.

Budget Lunch & Dinner Tips:

Your cheapest lunch/dinner option will consist of meals bought at the grocery store. It’s pretty easy to throw a meal together for under $5 if you stick with bread, lunch meat, cheese, and a bit of fruit.

Tip: I recommend buying your fresh produce from either farmer’s markets or produce vendors because the stuff at grocery stores usually isn’t that great.

When it comes to prepared food, it’s not too difficult staying under $10/meal. For example, a filling kebab and fries will run you around $6, a nice ham & cheese sandwich on a quality baguette is around $5, takeaway pasta costs around $5, and falafel sandwiches cost around $7.

Many restaurants will have a fixed price lunch or dinner special which will cost anywhere from about $10-$15.

Coffee, Alcohol, & Other Beverages Budget Tips:

Caffeine junkies will want to stick with espresso. If you order at the bar, an espresso will rarely cost more than $1.20.

Not surprisingly, alcohol will destroy your budget so grocery store beer and wine is really the only way to drink without spending a fortune. That said, you can sometimes find a decent happy hour deal.

By the way, ordering soda in a restaurant is universally expensive in Europe so it’s not worth it.

Paris Food Prices

Average Daily Breakfast Prices:

  • Crossant: $1.15
  • Pain au Chocolat: $1.30
  • Espresso at the Bar: $1.15
  • Quiche or Savory Tart: $4-$6

Average Daily Lunch & Dinner Prices:

  • Kebab with Fries: $6
  • Ham and Cheese Crepe From Street Vendor: $5
  • Ham and Cheese Baguette Sandwich: $5.50-$7.50
  • Falafel Sandwich: $7.50
  • Savory Crepes (From a Restaurant): $8-$12.50
  • Neapolitan Style Pizza: $10-$12
  • Pho: $9-$11
  • Ramen: $9-$10
  • Affordable Traditional French Meal: $10-$16

Budget Friendly Paris Restaurant Examples:

  • L’As du Fallafel: The place for falafel in Paris. See On Google Maps.
  • Creperie des Arts: Excellent place to grab a crepe to-go. See On Google Maps.
  • Grenier au Pain: Amazing baguettes, sandwiches, and other baked goods with multiple locations. See On Google Maps.
  • Le Petit Vendôme: Famous for their takeaway sandwiches for around $9. See On Google Maps.
  • Urfa Dürüm: Fresh and tasty Kurdish sandwiches. See On Google Maps.
  • Bouillon Chartier: Old-School French restaurant founded in 1896 with very affordable prices and nice quality. Where else can you get a steak au poivre with pommes frites for about $13. See On Google Maps.
  • Café de l’Industrie: Neighborhood gem with affordable French food. See On Google Maps.
  • Burger & Fries: In-N-Out-esque burgers and fries for under $10. See On Google Maps.
  • Pizza Rossi: High-quality Neapolitan-style pizza for under $10. See On Google Maps.

Daily Food Costs Breakdown:

  • Day One
    • Croissant & espresso: $2.30
    • Ham and Cheese Baguette Sandwich: $6.0
    • Falafel Sandwich: $7.50
  • Day Two
    • Pan au chocolate & espresso: $2.60
    • Grocery store picnic: $4
    • Kebab with Fries: $6
  • Day Three
    • Grocery store breakfast of yogurt, fruit, etc: $3
    • Ham and Cheese Crepe From Street Vendor: $5
    • Grocery store picnic & bottle of beer: $6
  • Day Four
    • Random fruit and nuts from the market: $2
    • Ham and Cheese Baguette Sandwich, Eclair and Drink combo: $8.0
    • Baguette with cheese and fruit from the grocery store: $3.25
  • Day Five
    • Espresso: $1.20
    • Random grocery store stuff: $5
    • Confit de Canard: $18
  • Day Six
    • Random things from the grocery store: $4.75
    • Pizza: $9.50
  • TOTAL FOOD COSTS: $93.10 (~$15.50/day)

Rome Food Prices

Average Daily Breakfast Prices:

  • Cornetto: $1.20
  • Maritozzo: $2
  • Espresso: $1.15

Average Daily Lunch & Dinner Prices:

  • Panini: $5-$7
  • Cheap Takeaway Pasta: $4.50-$6.00
  • Two Slices of Pizza: $5-$6.50
  • Crispy Battered Cod Fillets: $6
  • Roman-Style pizza: $9-$11
  • Kebab with Fries: $6
  • Burger: $9-$10
  • Two Scoops of Gelato: $2.20-$3

Budget-Friendly Rome Restaurant Examples:

Daily Food Costs Breakdown:

  • Day One
    • Espresso: $1.15
    • Takeaway Pasta: $4.50
    • Random Grocery Store Food: $5
  • Day Two
    • Espresso: $1.15
    • Two Slices of Pizza: $5
    • Kebab: $4
    • Beer at Sidewalk Cafe: $5
  • Day Three
    • Espresso: $1.15
    • Panini: $5.15
    • Grocery Store Food: $4.25
  • Day Four
    • Maritozzo: $2
    • Takeaway Pasta: $4.50
    • Takeaway Pasta Again: $5
  • Day Five
    • Random Farmers Market Lunch: $6
    • Gelato: $2.50
    • Aperol Spritz: $3
    • Meat, cheese and bread picnic: $6
  • Day Six
    • Pizza Slices: $6
    • Gelato: $3
    • Kebab: $5
    • Random Grocery Store Stuff: $2.25
    • Grocery Store Beer: $1.5
  • Day Seven
    • Cornetto: $1.20
    • Takeaway Pasta: $4.50
    • Panini: $5
    • Fruit: $1
    • Grocery Store Beer: $1.5
  • Day Eight
    • Espresso: $1.20
    • Panini: $5
    • Grocery Store Picnic: $5
  • TOTAL FOOD COSTS: $107.50 (~$13.50/day)

Barcelona Food Prices

  • Café con Leche: $3-$3.50
  • Espresso: $1.80-$2.20
  • Ensaimadas (Breakfast Pastry): $2.20
  • Churros/Porras and Hot Chocolate: $3.50-$4.5

Average Daily Lunch & Dinner Prices:

  • Stirfry Takeaway: $9
  • Kebab: $4-$5
  • Slice of Pizza: $3.25-$4
  • Takeaway Burger: $6.50-$8
  • Sandwich: $4-$6.50
  • Hotdogs: $3-$6/each

Budget-Friendly Barcelona Restaurant Examples:

Our Daily Food Costs:

  • Day One:
    • Breakfast Pastry: $2.20
    • Takeaway Burger: $6.75
    • Grocery Store Picnic: $5
    • Grocery Store Beer: $1.5
  • Day Two:
    • Churros and Hot Chocolate: $4
    • Sandwich: $5.25
    • Dim Sum Tapas: $8.75
  • Day Three:
    • Stir-Fry Takeaway: $9
    • Random Grocery Store Food: $6
    • Tapas & Drink: $12
  • Day Four:
    • Farmers Market Picnic: $6.75
    • Pizza: $4.25
    • Grocery Store Beer: $1.5
  • Day Five:
    • Espresso: $1.20
    • Kebab: $4
    • Random Grocery Store Food: $5.75
  • Day Six:
    • Breakfast Pastry: $1.50
    • Sandwich: $5.25
    • Cheap Turkish: $5.25
    • Random Grocery Store Food: $4.75
  • TOTAL FOOD COSTS: $102 (~$17/day)

Sightseeing and Cultural

Cheap things to do in Europe

At this point, there is about $225 left in the budget for sightseeing and other cultural things. This is only about $10/day so it is only really possible to do a paid attraction about every other day.

My itinerary ended up costing around $120 for attractions and sightseeing — mainly because there are a few free museum days in Barcelona. Therefore, I could have added a few more things while still sticking to the budget.

See Below For A Price Breakdown:

Europe is full of amazing museums, sights, and other cultural attractions and most of them have an entry fee. That said, after accommodation, flights, and food, we don’t have that much cash left. Therefore, we’ll have to be choosy about what we do and seek out ways to find free things.

We’re also huge fans to free walking tours (we usually tip around $5 to the guide). Alternatively, we also love the Rick Steves Free Audio Self-Guided Walking Tours.

Paris Sightseeing Costs

Example Sightseeing Expenses in Paris:

  • Musée d’Orsay: $16
  • Louvre: $19
  • Free Walking Tour: $6
    • TOTAL: $41

Paris has a crazy number of museums and other paid attractions — they’re a little expensive so I chose to only visit a few things since the budget is tight. That said, Paris is a beautiful city so simply enjoying the streets, architecture, parks, and ambiance is enough to keep your days filled.

Budget Tip: All of the major museums are free on the first Sunday of every month.

Our Favorite Paid Attractions in Paris

  • Louvre: $19
  • Musée d’Orsay: $16
  • Centre Pompidou: $15.75
  • Eiffel Tower: $12-$29
  • Montparnasse Tower Observation Deck: $20.50
    • The Montparnasse Tower also has a fancy bar called the Le Ciel de Paris. Cocktails are around $19-$22.50 each but the view is virtually the same as the Observation Deck — and you get a drink. Snagging a window seat is easiest if you visit in the early afternoon.
  • Château de Versailles: $22.50

Our Favorite Free Attractions in Paris

  • Tuileries Garden
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Exploring Montmartre & The Sacre Coeur Church
  • Père Lachaise Cemetery
  • Canal Saint-Martin (lots of young people hanging out and drinking by the canal on summer nights)
  • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
  • Rue Mouffetard (famous food market street)
  • Bastille Farmers Market (biggest farmers market in Paris. Sunday mornings.)
  • Parc Monceau
  • St-Ouen Flea Market
  • Arab World Institute Rooftop (free entry and nice city views)

Rome Sightseeing Costs

Example Sightseeing Expenses in Rome:

  • Colosseum, Roman Forum And Palatine Hill: $16
  • Galleria Borghese: $17
  • Free Walking Tour: $6
    • TOTAL: $39

We’d be perfectly happy spending our entire trip to Rome strolling the streets and eating our weight in gelato and pasta.

Budget Tip: Vatican Museums, Borghese Gallery, the Roman Forum, Caracalla Baths, and the National Gallery of Modern Art are free the last Sunday of every month.

Our Favorite Paid Attractions in Rome

  • Colosseum, Roman Forum And Palatine Hill: $13.50-$16
  • Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel: $24
  • Galleria Borghese: $17

Our Favorite Free Attractions in Rome

  • St. Peter’s Basilica (but you can pay to visit the dome)
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Exploring the Trastevere and Testaccio Neighborhoods
  • Spanish Steps
  • Pantheon
  • Piazza Navona
  • St. Peter’s Square
  • Villa Borghese Gardens/Park
  • Janiculum Hill (romantic city views)

Barcelona Sightseeing Costs

Example Sightseeing Expenses in Barcelona:

  • Sagrada Família (a must-visit attraction): $19.50
  • Museu Picasso: $0 (Free every Thursday from 6 pm to 9.30pm)
  • Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya: $0 (Free every Saturday after 3 pm.)
  • Park Güell: $11.25
  • Free Walking Tour: $6
    • TOTAL: $37.25

Barcelona is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture (much of which was designed by Gaudi) so that’s a great free thing to check out. You can tour most of Gaudi’s buildings but entry is fairly expensive. But, if nothing else, you should 100% visit the Sagrada Família.

Our Favorite Paid Attractions in Barcelona

  • Sagrada Família (a must-visit attraction): $19.50
  • Park Güell: $11.25
  • Museu Picasso: $13.50 (Free every Thursday from 6 pm to 9.30 pm)
  • Fundació Joan Miró: $14.75
  • Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya: $13.50 (Free every Saturday from 3 pm to close)

Our Favorite Free Attractions in Barcelona

  • Las Ramblas Pedestrian Walk
  • Chill On One of Barcelona’s Excellent Beaches
  • Parc de la Ciutadella
  • La Boqueria Covered Market
  • Enjoy The Art Nouveau Facades Throughout The City
  • Poblenou Neighborhood Street Art

TOTAL TRIP COSTS: $1,293

Our goal budget was $1,359.85 and we ended up spending around $1,293 — which means we barely squeaked by with about $66 to spare.

  • Roundtrip Airfare: $313
  • Flight Costs Within Europe: $40
  • Accommodation Costs: $470
  • Food Costs: $350
  • Sightseeing Costs: $120
  • TOTAL COSTS: $1,293

Conclusion

I’ll be honest — traveling for three weeks on this budget is doable but it certainly isn’t easy and you’ll have to make some sacrifices. You’ll have to limit your cultural attractions and there will be plenty of times where you’ll want to spend a lot more on meals, desserts, and drinks.

I also recognize that I was able to find cheap airfare to Europe so your ticket might be closer to the $650-$900 range — which means this challenge won’t be possible for everyone.

I could have also picked cheaper destinations and that would have opened the budget up quite a bit. For example, visiting Eastern Europe (cities like Berlin, Prague, Krakow, etc.) would have dropped food and accommodation costs significantly.

Looking back, I also noticed that my diet wasn’t that great so you’ll want to add in a few more veggies and healthier food options into your diet because you’ll feel a lot better.

But, yes, with a little planning and sacrifice it is possible to spend three weeks in Europe for the price of an iPhone XS.

P.S. Yo Apple, wanna send me one of them fancy iPhones?

P.P.S. Hey Google, wanna send me one of them fancy Pixel phones?

No Funny Business

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