How Much Does Backpacking in Eastern Europe Cost?

This is the second installment in our series of posts in which we share our cost of living as we experiment with different FIRE adventures and travel to destinations around the world. The first leg of our trip, our three-month road trip around the western U.S., came in at $90/day.

It feels like ages ago that we boarded our flight to Istanbul and began our summer travels. After much debate about whether we felt safe traveling to Turkey, June’s horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando reminded us that there can be danger everywhere. In spite of the country’s less-than-stable summer, I have no regrets that we went. The culture, scenery, and history were unforgettable.

The following months took us to Hungary, Zagreb, and Slovenia; the stunning Adriatic coastline of Croatia; two recently war-torn cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina; underrated and undersized Montenegro; bizarre but fascinating Albania; and the appropriately legendary Peloponnese peninsula of Greece. Even after three months of relatively fast-paced travel, we found ourselves asking, “Do we really have to go home?”

How Much Does Backpacking in Eastern Europe Cost?

By the Numbers

  • Trip length: 86 nights
    • Airbnb: 53 nights
    • Hotels: 31 nights
    • Hostels: 1 night
    • Red-eye flights: 1 night
  • Countries visited: 8 (technically 9; we walked into Italy for about 30 seconds)
  • Foreign languages butchered: 8 (technically 9; an Italian driver asked us for directions)
  • Points used: 
    • Citi ThankYou: 44,760
    • Starwood Preferred Guest: 8,000 (2 nights)
    • IHG Rewards Club: 20,000 (1 night)
  • Flights: 11
  • Trains: 7
  • Buses: 15
  • Ferries: 7
  • Rental cars: 6
  • Total distance walked: 628 mi (1,011 km)
  • Daily distance walked: 7.3 mi (11.7 km)
  • Roman ruins gazed upon: 31,289
  • Gyros and burek eaten: Too many to count
  • Friend and family meetups: 6
  • Blog meetups: 1

Even with the whole summer at our disposal, we hardly scratched the surface of places we would love to visit someday. “If only we had a little more time…,” we found ourselves saying continually, wishing we could have visited Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and northern Greece, among other places. It’s a slippery slope!

That said, we loved being able to see more than one destination in each country and occasionally getting off the beaten path. Based on this first experience with long-term international travel, our goal in the future will be to slow down, not to speed up.

Map of our destinations. Look at all that blank space!

Map of our destinations. Look at all that blank space!

How much did it all cost?

Back in March, we set an approximate budget of $100/day for our FIRE adventures, based on a spending level with which we were comfortable.

Here’s how this leg of our trip broke down in average daily expenses:

Average variable expenses were $123 per day

For our three months in the Balkans, daily variable expenses were $123 per day. With our minimal fixed expenses included, our all-in total was $129 per day.

There are a couple ways we could choose to look at these figures. From the perspective of our arbitrary $100/day budget, we’ve gone 20-30% over target. Budget: busted! I guess it’s time to go home and go back to work, because full-time international travel ain’t cheap.

"C'mon, European travels under budget, aaand stop!"

“C’mon, European travels under budget, aaand stop!”

But from a more positive point of view (and if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you probably knew this was coming):

We just spent an entire summer living a life of luxury in some of the most beautiful places in the world, and it cost us around $5,500 per person.

Even better, we knew that this portion of our travels would likely be more expensive than road-tripping in the U.S. or traveling in lower-cost destinations like parts of Central America or Southeast Asia. Rather than being a big surprise, these expenses were just about in line with expectations.

Tracking expenses while traveling internationally was a pain in the butt, by the way! We made 90% of our transactions in cash, meaning no automatic record-keeping or categorization – plus we used six different currencies and had a bunch of shared expenses while traveling with friends. But it’s well worth the trouble to know where our money is going.

For the other number nerds out there, here’s the more detailed breakdown. As usual, numbers may not total perfectly due to rounding.

CategoryTrip TotalMonthlyDaily
– Air Travel (Round Trip from U.S.)$1,230$435$14
– Air Travel (Within Europe)$880$311$10
– Rental Cars, Fuel, and Parking$898$318$10
– Public Transit, Uber, and Lyft (affiliates)$790$279$9
– Airbnb$2,140$757$25
– Hotels and Hostels$893$316$10
Food and Dining
– Restaurants$1,950$690$23
– Groceries$293$104$3
– Alcohol and Bars$169$60$2
Other Variable Expenses
– Attractions$1,000$354$12
– Lost Wallet 😣$195$69$2
– Sunscreen and Pharmacy$64$23< $1
– Visas$62$22< $1
Fixed Expenses
– Health Insurance, Phone, and HSA Fees$187$60$2
– Van Registration and Insurance$104$37$1
Non-Travel Expenses
– Clothing$153$57$2
– Gifts$56$21< $1
Total, Variable Travel Expenses$10,566$3,737$123
Total, All Expenses$11,065$3,912$129


Transportation was our biggest line item, accounting for around a third of total expenses. We saved $560 on our round trip from Seattle to Istanbul by using Citi ThankYou points, though the flights still cost us over $1,200 out of pocket. We keep an eye out for deals on flights, but they’re hard to come by during peak summer travel season.

Once we arrived, transportation was relatively cheap. Our flights from Istanbul to Kayseri (central Turkey), for example, were less than $20 each – and they even served coffee and sandwiches. Changing locations every few days, though, meant lots of buses, trains, and a few extra flights. We generally traveled on the cheap with international trains and buses, but we did splurge on a flight from Albania to Greece rather than sit on a 17-hour overnight bus. I’d happily make that decision again.


At an average of $35 per night, we were pleasantly surprised by how affordable lodging was during this trip – especially considering that we were there during peak season. We used reward points for just three nights and otherwise paid cash (why burn 10,000 Starpoints when hotels are so cheap?). Some of the more insane deals included a beautiful cave hotel in Goreme, Turkey ($17/night, including breakfast), and an awesome four-room Airbnb apartment in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina ($15/night).

Airbnb ended up being the most affordable lodging option in most places we stayed, and having a kitchen enabled us to cook some of our own meals. Airbnb offers $40 off your first stay (and we’ll get twenty bucks off, too). Our willingness to walk also helped, with lodging 20-30 minutes outside the city centers of Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Athens costing us just a fraction of centrally located hotel rooms.

Cave hotel room in Göreme, Turkey

Cave hotel room in Göreme, Turkey

Our host in Berat, Albania, got up at 5 AM to make fresh jam for breakfast (included in the $25/night rate)

Our host in Berat, Albania, got up at 5 AM to make fresh jam for breakfast (included in the $25/night rate)

Food and Dining

We made a conscious effort throughout our trip to cook when possible and to find grocery stores and bakeries for cheap lunches. Groceries are crazy cheap in the Balkans, so that $293 figure actually represents dozens of trips to the store.

That said, dining out is our number-one favorite splurge, and we didn’t hesitate to try as much local cuisine as we could find. In cheaper countries, especially, we often gorged at the highest-rated restaurants in town – at a fraction of what they would cost at home.

Seafood dinner in Monemvasia, Greece

Seafood dinner in Monemvasia, Greece

Trout prepared five ways at the highest-rated restaurant in Mostar (~$20 US)

Trout prepared five ways at the highest-rated restaurant in Mostar (~$20 US)

Other Expenses

The thousand dollars we spent on attractions covered everything from the ancient Roman ruins at Ephesus and Butrint to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest to the Parthenon in Greece. Best-spent money of the trip.

We had several dumb financial mishaps in Turkey, including getting my tourist visa for the wrong date ($21 wasted), losing my wallet in the Kayseri airport ($150 in cash lost, plus the cost to replace my driver’s license and the wallet itself), and having to rebook two flights to meet up with a friend ($80 down the drain).

Other expenses were minimal. With the counsel of our physician friend, I picked up a few prescription pharmaceuticals at a Turkish pharmacy, expecting to shell out a couple hundred dollars (about what they would cost in the U.S.). Actual cost: $7.

My favorite expense of the trip, though, was for the haircuts we got at a barbershop in Tirana, Albania: 300 lek ($2.49 US) each. We haven’t yet taken the frugal leap into cutting our own hair, and if we lived in Albania, I never would!

We’re back on the road in the states now, making a giant loop from the Pacific Northwest to Michigan, then down to New Orleans and the Southwest before heading home again. If we’re coming through your ‘hood, let us know!

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  1. Look at the blank space? Look at all those stars! This recap is fantastic. Fresh jam for breakfast and all these food photos are giving me such wanderlust. And yes, food is probably the biggest motivator in my life. 🙂

    • You’re right, not bad for international adventure #1! We couldn’t believe the hospitality of our Berat host; they welcomed us with espresso and then cooked that enormous breakfast. Travel wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the food.

  2. Tourist attractions may sound cheesy but they’re SO COOL. I wish I could fit in your suitcase and go with you on your trips. They sound epic! Feel free to drop by mi casa next time you’re in the area and I’m home! 😛

    • The Hagia Sophia and Parthenon are definitely a few classes above the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot or the Mars Cheese Castle, that’s for sure. Join us somewhere in 2017!

  3. I love it! I just gave a presentation of the benefits of long, slow, close to culture travel vs. spending $5500 for one luxury week in Paris. The difference is night and day. I think in our future trips will will try to spend twice as long in each place. It will be more relaxing, and we can see more of what an area has to offer, but it will also lower the transportation cost per day. =)

    • That’s what’s so crazy to me — we spent less than many people would in a one-week trip to an expensive city. I know firsthand; I’ve done the insane overpriced short trip before. We definitely want to drop that daily transit expense even more with our next trip.

    • ExploreMountainsOnSkiFoot&Bike

      November 3, 2016 at 7:48 am

      It is eye opening to see how the travel costs compare between different travel approaches. This cost disparity is most highlighted for international trips where one is not reliant on guides. One of the key factors of this is that the single most expensive item, international airfare, is averaged over more days, lowering the average daily cost.

      An example that highlights this is one of the discussions in our household this year was for an international ski trip: 2 weeks in Japan or 4 weeks in Argentina/Chile. I estimated the cost to be about the same, $5,000. They are different kinds of trips, but one cannot escape the difference in daily costs.

      Thanks TRG for sharing the financial details.

      • Having the flexibility to spend more time in each place also means we’re less likely to want a guide, as we don’t feel like we need to rush around seeing every “essential” sight before flying out again. Thanks for your comment!

  4. It’s always fun to see other people’s numbers on travel! Thank you for sharing. 😀

    All your food and attraction photos are definitely making me hope I can continue on abroad after I feel like I’ve sufficiently explored America. I have the air miles for the long haul flight, it’s really just a question of how much $$$ I’m willing to part with before I pursue full time employment again. :-/

    • I highly recommend it! It’s really not much more expensive than road tripping, especially traveling solo. Hostels would have been a good deal for just one person, but Airbnb ended up being cheaper for two of us.

  5. Well done (sorry about the lost wallet!). It looks like an incredible adventure. How’s your relationship after all this traveling? I would love to know how you’ve grown since tacking such amazing things full-time together!

    • I actually know where the lost wallet is, and it even still has the cash in it. But they won’t send it to me; I have to pick it up in person! So, if we make it back to central Turkey sometime in the next 5 years, maybe I’ll get it back 🙂

      Our relationship is really good! It’s different being together practically 100% of the time (versus when we were working and I was traveling several times a month), but we don’t get on each other’s nerves much. We took the opportunity to spend a week apart with our respective families after returning to the states, just to get some alone time in 2016! We’re pretty much on the same page about money, which helps a lot.

  6. Nicely done! I think at $129 per day that’s very reasonable still! You had an incredible adventure in Europe and got to soak in all that experience. It certainly beats going to the office 5 days a week IMO.

  7. What an amazing trip! And $129/day is completely reasonable. I went to Ireland 2 years ago and shelled out close to $2k for only a week!

    Did you come through Minnesota and I missed you?? October was a bit of a blur for me…

    • We thought it was pretty reasonable, too. I’m sorry we missed you in MN; we ended up flying through really quickly because of some commitments we made in WI and Chicago. Next time!

  8. I was wondering how much a trip like that would cost. I think even though you went over you budget you guys made out pretty well! I love a good haircut from a real barber. I have yet to find one near where I live in the Midwest. I miss my Russian barbershop down the street from my old apartment in Manhattan 🙁

    • Yeah, a dreadful $18 haircut from a chain place is even harder to swallow now. We’re pretty happy with how close to budget we ended up. Lodging, especially, definitely could have been a lot more expensive.

  9. I may have got two haircuts at that price 😉

    • Haha! That would mean double the fun of trying to communicate “Please cut it like your hair” to the Albanian barber with just hand gestures.

  10. Thx for sharing…
    The Croation pictures you posted are actrually the trigger for us to look into going there on holiday with the kids in the 2017 summer. One of the things I doubt about: rent RV or car and hotels/AirBnB?

    It will be great to figure this out on a cold winter evening….

  11. Sounds like a very cheap part of the world to visit! We’re booked on a 9 week trip through Europe and will overlap with where you visited a bit – Slovenia and Hungary mostly (also hitting Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czech, Austria, Germany and Netherlands). I don’t think we can get down to $35/nt on airbnbs but we can probably come close in some of the places we’re visiting. Southern Spain was surprisingly cheap for example.

    • Sounds like an awesome trip you have coming up! I would love to make it to some of those other destinations. The lodging cost varies country to country, but also a lot depending on specific destination. In Croatia, as one example, we had a few nights in one city that ended up being only $23/night — but then in Dubrovnik, the cheapest option in the whole city was pushing $100.

      • Ouch! I’m hoping we don’t encounter any surprises with accommodation pricing. We’re pretty flexible to some extent so might skip a particular city if it’s $200/nt or more (or at least stay in a nearby smaller suburb and commute in).

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