How I Spent Less Than

If you think you need to be rich to travel, think again. For my two-week European solo adventure, I saved up $1,100 — and still came under budget.

How did I keep it so cheap? First of all I travel hacked my flights. My main flight was close to $63 and my other two smaller flights were paid for completely with points. This is noteworthy as the value of my flight was $1400.


I stayed in hostels most of the time, with the exception of staying with my friend for a few days, and splurging on a hotel my last night in Madrid to avoid sleeping in the airport for 12 hours (best $73 I spent).

It also helps that the dollar is strong right now and that Spain and Portugal are ridiculously cheap. Did you know that you can get a small glass of beer for fifty cents? Or a delicious bottle of red wine for $2?

In Madrid, my frugal go-to meal was this $2.77 ham sandwich and beer. I couldn’t believe it. I was continually aghast with how cheap the prices were. I also enjoyed free museum hours at the Prado, which I believe are every night from 6pm-8pm. It was so nice to be back in Madrid — the very place I got my travel bug nine years ago when I studied abroad. It all felt so different, yet so familiar. I was surprised how much Madrid felt like New York City. Now that I’ve lived there, I had a different frame of reference. Madrid has great public transportation, there is art everywhere, and people are cosmopolitan. There is a hustle and bustle about the city, but with a signature Spanish vibe.




I completely fell in love. After Madrid, I went to visit my friend in Southern Spain. We enjoyed drinks for dirt cheap prices, with free amazing tapas. The first night I arrived in Nerja she took me on a tapas tour. Four places, good drinks, even better food. I think we spent about $16 that night.

The next day we enjoyed lounging on the beach and enjoying more tapas. We chatted and laughed, shared stories and talked about how different our lives were when we first met three years ago.



After leaving Nerja, I had a brief stay in Malaga and spent the day in Gibraltar. To be honest, I could’ve passed on both and stayed longer with my friend, but I thought I’d check it out. They were both nice enough, but I didn’t love it.

Then I went to Lisbon and my heart was completely pierced. Lisbon is so damn charming. It looks like the Paris I imagine in my mind (I’ve never been though). Cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, musicians in alleys, rivers, oceans, and street art. I was surprised that people in Lisbon spoke a lot more English than in Spain. I was impressed. In Spain, I did my best to always speak in Spanish, but even so I found myself a bit rusty seeing as I no longer speak the language every day (fun fact: in nearly all of my jobs before this, speaking Spanish was a daily part of my life).



During my stay in Lisbon, I stayed at the best hostel ever. If you go to Lisbon, stay in one of the Lisbon Destination Hostels. They have three hostels and all of them have their unique charms. I stayed at one that was inside a train station and it was awesome. The free breakfast was more than just cereal and the whole vibe was great. I loved that you could freely hang out at all the hostels — especially after I found out that the other hostel had a rooftop terrace with a pool overlooking the river. I spent nearly every night watching the sunset there.


While in Lisbon, I checked out the town of Sintra, spent time on the beach, went to a FREE music festival, enjoyed a rooftop brunch and ate to my heart’s content. I’m very epicurean and love to eat and drink my way through a culture. Spain and Portugal were such great, yet affordable choices for that.


I have so many stories, so many moments, so many memories I could share. But the pictures will have to do. I want to hold them close so I can cherish this energy that I got from this trip.

I’ve already said I don’t regret traveling one bit, even though I’m in debt. It’s because of this trip I feel ready to commit to such an audacious goal of getting out of debt in a year.

I am a different (better) person because of this trip. And it was worth every penny. Now, on to the numbers.

Flight: $62.80 (the other two flights were paid for in full with points)

Hostels: $184.22 (I stayed in hostels for 10 nights and spent 3 nights with a friend)

Hotel: $73 (because of my last-minute, haphazard planning I ended up having a 12-hour layover. I thought about sleeping in the airport, but decided against it)

Transportation: $157.18 (this includes the train from Madrid to Malaga and the bus to Nerja to see my friend. I kind of failed and booked the train last-minute, so it was about $100, which makes up the majority of this price. The rest includes buses from airports to hostels and intra-city buses. I never once took a taxi)

Gibraltar Tour: $49.76 (I took a day trip to Gibraltar. It was fun, but I honestly would have rather spent this money on a massage and stayed in Spain. I already knew this, but I am so not a tour bus person. I thought I could hang for just a day, but I was annoyed that I spent more time on a bus, than actually seeing Gibraltar)

Cash: $419 (ok, don’t throw stones at me, but I did not track every single penny of my spending money. I wanted a break and didn’t want to analyze everything. I just knew what I took out in cash and had in spending money. I know that this included $8 for the Picasso Museum, $10 for a gift, cafes, churros, wine, dinner, jazz, and a walking tour. I pretty much ate and drank very well and this spending money comes out to about $30 per day)

The grand total for a two-week, life-changing trip? $945.96

Could I have done it for cheaper? Sure. I made a few rookie mistakes that cost me and I did not hold back on food or drink, even though it was generally very cheap.

If you are interested in traveling and keeping it really cheap and getting a more immersive experience, consider volunteering at a hostel. I met a lovely American who volunteered at the hostel and in exchange received free accommodation and food. Through travel hacking and volunteering, you could have your main expenses covered.

So, what are you waiting for?


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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43 responses to “How I Spent Less Than $1,000 on a 2-Week Trip To Europe”

  1. Kalie says:

    Great tips! Sounds like you had a fun trip and saved a ton especially on the flight and hotels. Beautiful pictures, too. We spent way too much in Europe when we were first married. Though I’ve never really regretted spending that money, I hope to make it back there and do it cheaper, especially on the flights.
    Kalie recently posted…Inflate Your Usefulness With GardeningMy Profile

  2. Wow for two weeks in Europe that’s great! It’s funny you had a totally different perspective on Lisbon than my dad and stepmom. They are a little snotty about travel and said it was dumpy. I’d probably side with you. 🙂 That pool is awesome!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Money & Memorial Day WeekendMy Profile

  3. Mrs. FI says:

    Hi – I absolutely loved this post. Also, I too studied abroad in Spain during college AND that’s where I picked MY travel bug. And I’m a foodie…so I’m pretty sure we would make great friends. Just saying 😉

    Mr. FI and I plan to travel to Europe in the next couple of years. We are waiting on saving up a little more money and starting/finishing a kitchen remodel. But let me tell you…I seriously considered putting off the remodel in hopes to travel sooner. I’m itching to get back out there and loved seeing how affordable it was for you. I will be showing this to the Mr. to prove it’ll not only be worth it for our mental health, but also won’t break the bank. Thanks for your insight!
    Mrs. FI recently posted…Rich People ProblemsMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      You’re welcome! 🙂 Are you going to FinCon? I can already see we would make great friends, too 🙂 To me, traveling is so worth it and changed my mental health.

  4. Niomi says:

    Wow! What a great and inspiring post! I had no idea that Spain and Portugal could be so affordable; your post really opened my eyes. I’m in debt as well, but heck, even I could afford $1000 for a European trip! Now I just need to get started on racking up some airline miles/points…
    Niomi recently posted…How to Be Financially ConfidentMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Seriously! And now that I think I could be flushing 1-2 European trips per month down the drain, I’m extra motivated to get out of debt!

  5. Those photos are so beautiful, Melanie. I have never been to Spain, but I hope to walk the Camino trail some day. Unbelievable how cheaply you managed to do it!
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted…Debt-Stress & Rebel Teen (Part 2)My Profile

  6. NZ Muse says:

    Great tips! I know those two are definitely meant to be on the affordable side (for Western Europe) and really hope to make it there some day.
    NZ Muse recently posted…Is it time to start planning for kids?My Profile

  7. Michelle says:

    I’ve consistently heard wonderful things about Lisbon and I can’t wait to go there. You ROCKED your budget. Thank you for sharing your trip with us 🙂
    Michelle recently posted…Wishing You Peace On This Memorial DayMy Profile

  8. Joe says:

    Thanks for sharing! Your trip sounds amazing! Spain is pretty awesome. My favorite was Grenada and Sevilla. We wanted to go to Lisbon, but didn’t make it last time. Someday…
    Great job keeping it affordable.
    Joe recently posted…Early Retirement Bloggers I AdmireMy Profile

  9. That sounds like an amazing trip!
    Financial Conversation recently posted…The 3 Legged Stool: A Retirement TheoryMy Profile

  10. Catherine says:

    The flight hacking you Americans can do blows my mind. It simply doesnt exist to the same degree here so unfortunately we’d never get to Europe for the cheap but living in Halifax, on the coast and beside an international airport we have a lot of flight options just have yo wait for a good sale 🙂
    Catherine recently posted…Chances Are Good That I’ll Judge You If You Throw a Ridiculous Kids PartyMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I wonder why that is. Probably because Americans are the worst with debt (I don’t have stats on this btw). There are good sales, so keep on looking!

  11. That does it. I’m going to Spain in the fall. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to figure out how to make that trip work, this recap with discussion of great prices sealed the deal!! Glad you had a fun and frugal trip 🙂 Thanks for sharing it with us!
    Kali @ XY Planning Network recently posted…You Should Invest in Experiences and Relationships, Not StuffMy Profile

  12. My mom uses hostels when she travels to NYC and when she went to England. If a 67-year-old can do it, most younger people can.

    My husband and I have various health problems, so we’d probably bite the bullet and get a hotel. Still, I know we’d probably actually miss out on some experiences that way.
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…Achievement unlocked: Sleepyhead!My Profile

  13. I am so envious of this trip. It sounds like it was absolutely amazing and it looks like it too!! I am one of those people who thinks you should travel while paying off debt and your story totally proves my point. Sometimes you need to spend a little money to regroup and gain perspective so that you can go back and tackle the debt you have ahead of you.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays – Dear Future HusbandMy Profile

  14. Fantastic job traveling to Europe for under $1000! I’ve just started playing with travel hacking myself. Although I was not able to get a free trip to Europe for my wife and I, our airfare is definitely cheaper than it would have been. Glad you had an enjoyable, life-changing experience. My first time in Europe was great – although I never made it to Spain or Portugal. One of these years… Keep up the great writing and traveling!
    Rob @ MoneyNomad recently posted…All Business Ideas Are Not Created Equal: How to Know if Your Startup Will SucceedMy Profile

  15. Great job on your trip! I loved seeing your updates on Facebook.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Our Frugal Theme Park GetawayMy Profile

  16. This is truly impressive. I love the details you provide. And really, I didn’t know you could take a trip like this for so cheap. Way to go.
    Natalie @ Financegirl recently posted…The Ultimate Side Hustle Guide: 28+ Side Hustle Blog PostsMy Profile

  17. Love this! We went to Spain last year and spent about $2,000 each (sadly I had not learned about travel hacking then). We only spent about $4,000 on the honeymoon partly due to getting flights for almost nothing.

    Congrats on your recent vacation and good luck with your goal!
    Zina at Debt Free After Three recently posted…What to look for in AirbnbMy Profile

  18. So jealous but happy that you had such a great experience. I can’t wait to be able to travel and see what’s going on in Europe. I have never had the pleasure of visiting any parts of it and I can’t wait. Very impressed with the budget. I am so spoiled and not sure if I could do it so cheap.
    Petrish @ Debt Free Martini recently posted…Hazards of Not Having a Hiatus Emergency PlanMy Profile

  19. Lisa says:

    Your pictures are making me so jealous!
    Lisa recently posted…May 2015 Net Worth UpdateMy Profile

  20. Sounds like an amazing trip! I’m looking to head to Europe sometime next year or the year after. While I typically churn credit cards for cash back style rewards, I may have to finally look into travel hacking.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…A Roadmap to Happiness, Success, and Financial HealthMy Profile

  21. Mrs. Budgets says:

    So nice to read about your Spain trip. My husband and I are planning a 3 week trip for Spain next year. I feel you on the tour bus trips, I have no idea how some people find sitting a bus the majority of the day fun.

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