Do you wonder if it’s possible to travel around Europe for an entire month by train and without breaking the bank? I did so together with my wife and my baby boy who was almost 2 at that time. We had a lot of fun, we didn’t spend a fortune, but also did a lot of rookie mistakes that I’ll share here so that you don’t do the same things.
So read on about our one month of travel in Europe by train – with a toddler! I will share everything that you need to know – from the itinerary that we choose to the costs and everything in between.
The story behind our adventure
While I do have the spirit of a nomad, there’s one thing I wasn’t really sure of: can you be a digital nomad if you have a family? There was just one way to find the answer to this burning question – by starting this crazy adventure across Europe, with our son.
Chance or fate or God or whatever forces in the Universe gave us the opportunity to just jump head first and see what happens. Spoiler alert: it was really nice!
Ever since our son was born, we put travel and digital nomading on the back burner. However, we still wanted to travel the world and even though we weren’t feeling extremely comfortable about flying long distances across the globe, a train trip across Europe sounded more doable.
It all started suddenly, when my wife found that a very good online friend of hers was flying all the way from Australia to Europe. Munich, Germany to be precise.
And that’s how it all started:
“Let’s go to Germany and meet her,” we both said and set it in stone.
“Why don’t we take the train and make a stop or two along the way?” – the idea came a bit later and it was set in stone as well.
“Well, we can’t just return using the same route, can we?” – it seems that nothing we set in stone actually stays that way.
In the end, we came up with a month-long trip in Europe, where we were going to visit 9 cities in 6 countries. Mostly by train (yes, I said “mostly” – I will explain this later).
So let’s start checking out our travel plans, the cities we visited and what we thought about them and how much this entire adventure cost us.
One month in Europe by train: Itinerary
When planning the entire thing, we had two important rules that had to be followed:
1. We should not spend too much time getting from a city to another. We were traveling with a toddler and keeping him entertained for hours in a row is difficult, as all parents know.
They also have to eat, sleep, poop and they tend to get really frustrated when they’re bored…
This proved to be a really good approach because one of the train rides was longer (about 7 hours from Zagreb to Belgrade) and it was as much of a nightmare as it gets. But apart from that, we had shorter and much more enjoyable rides that both our son and us loved.
He also slept a bit in the train, making things a lot easier… (but we learned, over the years, that this is not a rule: never expect them to fall asleep during a train ride).
2. We were not going to allow ourselves to spend too much money on this. While we didn’t really know how much to budget per day since we had never done this type of fast travel across so many countries, with a kid, by train, we knew we were on a budget.
We don’t have a ton of money to spend and we didn’t want to get into our savings for this.
As a result, we tried to stay away from some cities that were considered more expensive and also tried to be less demanding in regards to our accommodation, which was done exclusively through AirBnb.
The fact that we traveled off-season (May 1st – June 1st) also helped us keep the costs under control. And we also learned a lot during this experience, making it easier to better plan ahead future trips. You will learn the same after reading this article!
With these in mind, here is the itinerary of our month-long European train adventure:
There are 9 foreign cities that we have visited and we’ve been extremely satisfied with how things went in most of them.
I will surely share experiences more in depth in future articles, but I’ll have some few words about each destination and a general impression below.
For now, it’s worth noting that we spent between 3 to 4 nights in each city in what we considered to be enough time to explore them and also squeeze in some work during breaks (yes, we were that naïve!)
It’s also worth noting that we did cheat a little bit and didn’t spend the entire time traveling by train.
We learned that it’s both cheaper and faster to travel by bus in Croatia, so Trieste – Pula, Pula – Rijeka and Rikeka – Zagreb were all (very short) bus rides. Indeed cheap, fast and offering some of the most scenic views we’ve ever seen!
The experience & what we’ve learned
I keep saying that this first month-long travel adventure together with my wife and son was indeed life changing.
I won’t lie: it was pretty difficult at times, but it was also enlightening. It showed me that, if you are ready to make a few concessions and change your approach to travel, being a digital nomad or world traveler or whatever you want to call it is possible even after you have a family.
And it was this experience that has taught us how to optimize costs and do it for much cheaper in the future (as well as smarter).
For all our stays, we booked apartments via AirBnb. If you don’t have an account, I strongly suggest you to create one here and you’ll also save up to $40 off your first stay!
It is the best way to travel the world, live like a local and keep costs extremely low.
Our initial plans were to book places with at least one bedroom and two separate beds: one for the wife and the baby, one for me.
I am an extremely light sleeper and it’s impossible for me to rest when there’s a twiddling Duracell battery-powered little man besides me, sending punches and kicks like there’s no tomorrow.
But prices were not always in our budget range for our demands.
Therefore, in three of the cities we’ve visited (Vienna, Munich and Trieste) we had to make concessions: in Vienna, for example, I slept on a narrow L-shaped sofa in the kitchen – the worst experience, by far and one I would never ever repeat.
In Trieste and Munich, we had separate beds but lived in studios. So it’s not all glitz and glamor when you travel on a budget like we did. But I sure had no reasons to complain*.
*except for Vienna. Sleeping on that sofa that was apparently made of concrete was horrible.
Lesson learned regarding accommodation:
Be flexible! And you can take this quite literally if you have to sleep on an L-shaped sofa!
Jokes aside, if you can lower your demands a bit and understand that it’s not all going to be Instagram-worthy accommodation, you can save a lot of money in this area.
I am not saying to go to the extremes (like me sleeping on that sofa in Vienna) but stick to your budget!
What cities did we visit during our trip?
As I said, I’ll definitely have more in depth guides to each of the cities we’ve visited, the stuff we did and what we learned. But until then, let’s talk a bit about each one!
Our adventure started flawlessly with this amazing city. Before getting there, I had a preconceived (and fortunately completely wrong) opinion about Budapest. I was sure it was going to be a dark, gritty city that has nothing to offer.
Instead, I was extremely surprised to see how vibrant, beautiful and full of life Budapest is. A bouquet of attractions: amazing things to see, to do, to experience.
Low cost of living, beautiful people, extremely friendly locals. I fell in love with the Cinderella on my list and I am extremely grateful that my wife insisted for us to stop in Budapest for a few days as well.
Since then, Budapest actually became one of my favorite cities in Europe. We returned again and again, sometimes for a month in Budapest, other times for fewer days… but always appreciating and loving it more and more.
It might be because of the amazing Budapest experience, it might be because we lived in a shadier neighborhood farther away from the city center, it might be the hard sofa I had to sleep on… but the truth is that Vienna wasn’t as impressive as I wanted it to be.
I had extremely high expectations from it, especially because I had visited it in the past and loved it, but this time it was a bit disappointing.
The weather was always bad during our stay: cold and cloudy, with bouts of rain throughout the days.
The prices were much higher than I had anticipated them, the people seemed colder and everything was grey and industrial… too much for my liking.
Even the central areas or the attractions lacked that particular “something” that makes my soul tingle, so all in all Vienna left me with a slightly bitter taste.
Read more about our 3 days in Vienna here.
My favorite city out of the nine. I loved it, but it’s pretty expensive to live there so we’ll just have to deal with the few days we got for now and maybe a few days in the future as well.
A ton of things to see and do, a ton of young people riding bikes… everybody is polite and the quality of services, no matter where you go or what you do is top notch.
Beautiful parks and green areas and, with a bit of luck, you can still keep prices to a minimum: we stayed in an University district, with many student-priced shops and restaurants around us. Great food at decent prices was unexpected.
Still, Munich was, overall, the most expensive on our list. It was fortunatelly worth it though!
We also felt extremely safe in Munich. I know that Germany is starting to get a bad reputation because of the unfortunate terrorist attacks (just like France does) but there wasn’t a single second that made us feel unsafe or worried.
You get a true taste of Italy when you visit the old city center, Juliet’s balcony and the surrounding area in Verona.
Sunny and packed with tourists – even though we got there in mid-May which is still a bit off season – but undoubtedly beautiful.
I was extremely surprised to see how laid back the locals were. I was expecting them to be noisy and hectic, powered by espressos and carbs, but that wasn’t the case.
Our AirBnb was in a residential area and we loved the relaxed feeling you got there: every evening, the small local bars were filled with people from the neighborhood who spent time chatting and enjoying a drink.
Never until too late, never until they were too drunk. A pleasant surprise for sure, even though on future occasions I would definitely choose something more central.
We chose it for the sea and because it was our only possible stop between Verona and Croatia (Venice excluded because of high price).
We didn’t have high expectations from Trieste and we knew almost nothing about it prior to arriving.
Windy and hilly, we learned that Trieste looks and feels more like a city in Croatia or nearby Slovenia than an actual Italian city. This is not a bad thing, but definitely not your go-to place for an authentic Italian experience.
It does offer some spectacular views and has a beautiful area by the sea, but there’s really not much to do there…
I came back home with mixed feelings about Pula and Croatia in general. One of the things that I wasn’t expecting was prices to be that high. Not Munich-level for sure, but still higher than what we had expected.
Pula is not extremely touristy either, so I can only imagine that more renowned places there – like Dubrovnik – are even more expensive.
The city itself is beautiful and charming and there’s even a nice beach nearby within walking distance. We went there in May and the weather wasn’t good enough for bathing, but we did spend one afternoon enjoying the sun and dipping our toes in water.
The main attraction – the Coliseum – is one of the best preserved in the world and a must visit as well! But otherwise, Pula is not really a city I would want to visit again.
Just like Trieste, Rijeka didn’t come with high expectations on our side and it was also a city we knew nothing about. We just looked at cities on the map, and it seemed to be conveniently placed.
Ah, the joy of being able to choose your next destination by simply pointing on the map!
Fortunately, unlike the Trieste, Rijeka managed to deliver a pleasant surprise thanks to a great central area and its beautiful sea. We also ate some of the most amazing food during our stay there, which also contributed a lot to my overall impression.
Although it doesn’t have many real attractions to speak of and it does keep you in great shape with stairs and hills to climb everywhere, it’s a really good city to visit.
For us, it was the city where we managed to take a break from the hustle and bustle and rest – and it was such a welcome resting period after so many days of running!
Much smaller than I thought it would be, Zagreb is a charming city without a doubt. It was, just like Budapest, a big and pleasant surprise for me.
We only spent two nights here so we basically only got one full day to explore, but we loved every second of the time spent there and we plan to return for more.
I also consider it a great place for a home base in Europe. Not as expensive as other European capitals and definitely not as touristy either. It has lots of connections to nearby countries, both by plane as well as train or bus.
Great green areas and a great attitude make it a perfect choice in my opinion!
We stayed right in the heart of the city, just steps away from the main pedestrian area and the famous fortress.
We loved everything there, from the really low cost of living to the delicious pastries that you could find everywhere, to the friendliness of the locals and everything in between.
Apart from the central area, though, much of Belgrade shows that the country has recently been through a war.
Abandoned buildings, houses in a very bad shape and even areas that don’t seem safe (although there was never any real danger for us and maybe those areas just seem dangerous because they’re so worn out) abound.
But the locals are happy and welcoming and the city, overall, is extremely enjoyable. Just be ready to be hit by the Cyrillic alphabet everywhere and little spoken English otherwise.
Top lessons learned from our month in Europe
1. Going on a marathon and spending just 3-4 days in large European cities, one after another, when you have the family with you, is not the easiest thing on earth.
You’ll always be racing against time to reach your next destination, to see the next attraction, to do as much as possible.
This will wear you down like crazy. We learned, from this experience, that slow travel is better suited for us (and I believe for families in general). We’re now always trying to spend at least 5 nights in a city before moving, although we generally choose month-long stays and a much slower pace.
2. You can still keep costs low in very expensive cities (like Munich), but also be prepared for unpleasant surprises and higher prices than anticipated in others (Pula & Rijeka). In other words, always research prices and have a cushion available.
3. Unless you’re some sort of a machine, you can’t travel at this pace and work at the same time, if you want to see as much as possible of the cities you visit.
We spent most days exploring and returned home exhausted. There was little time for doing anything else, including work and even getting all the rest that we needed.
4. Always be prepared for the unexpected and embrace each city and culture exactly as it is. NEVER say no to a particular city just because you believe you won’t like it.
Budapest was one of the most pleasant surprises for me and a city I instantly fell in love with, despite not even wanting to stop there at first!
5. Traveling is not a race. The ultimate goal is not to see as many places as possible, without actually being there.
Rushing through the cities and cultures like we did is not the best approach, especially when you have a little one with you. Learn from them to just stop and admire the flowers, a crack in a wall, the people walking by.
Take a moment and rest, take a moment and breathe it all in. You don’t travel to reach the finish line, you travel for the experience itself!
One month in Europe by train: costs
This is probably the most important question you have now and everybody is curious to know the answer.
Before delving into the numbers, let me say that we could’ve kept costs a lot lower if we had lowered our requirements regarding accommodation.
If all the family members can sleep in the same bed, you can save a lot of money. Also, as we were proven by out time spent in studios in Munich and Trieste, you don’t really need more than just one room if you’re doing just a few days at a time in a country. You won’t spend much time inside anyway, so why pay extra?
Also, it’s worth noting that we tried to keep food costs as low as possible. This means that we didn’t always eat out, even though we did that at least once in every city.
Otherwise, we tried to take advantage of AirBnb’s offer and use the kitchens that we had at our disposal, or get some cheaper fast-food on some occasions.
Again, it’s a bit more difficult to have a good, healtht diet and keep costs low at the same time when you spend so little time in each city because it takes a while to find out the shops with the best prices and the markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
So overall, even though we did our best to keep food costs low, if we were to do this again, we’d manage to do it even cheaper at a much slower pace.
With these in mind, here is how much we spent for our month-long trip around Europe:
Note: We spent one night in Arad and Timisoara in Romania as they were the cities we departed from and returned to.
Arad – Budapest – 65 Euros (1st Class train ticket)
Budapest – Vienna – 40 Euros
Vienna – Munich – 67 Euros
Munich – Verona – 87 Euros
Verona – Trieste – 38 Euros
Bus in Croatia (3 cities): 80 Euros
Zagreb – Belgrade – 50 Euros
TOTAL: 427 Euro
Budapest: 96 Euros (3 nights)
Vienna: 150 Euros (3 nights)
Munich: 256 Euros (3 nights)
Verona: 189 Euros (3 nights)
Trieste: 229 Euros (4 nights)
Pula: 160 Euros (4 nights)
Rijeka: 124 Euros (4 nights)
Zagreb: 85 Euros (2 nights)
Belgrade: 110 Euros (3 nights)
Romania: 68 Euros (2 nights in hotels)
Total: 1467 Euro
Money spent in each city
Arad: 12.85 Euros
Budapest: 137 Euros (45.66 Eur / day)
Vienna: 258,36 Euros (86.12 / day)
Munich: 203,81 Euros (67.93 / day)
Verona: 170,23 Euros (56.74 / day)
Trieste: 150, 84 Euros (45.96 / day)
Pula: 169.36 Euros (48.85 / day)
Rijeka: 124.50 Euros (36.75 / day)
Zagreb: 82 Euros (41 / day)
Belgrade: 82.30 Euros (27.43 / day)
Timișoara: 13.20 Euros
Total: 1404.45 (46.81 / day)
GRAND TOTAL: 3298.45 Euros
In other words, we spent around 109 Euros per day.
As I said, this isn’t the best possible budget, or one that would fit your travel habits, but we had to learn that the hard way.
We never traveled by taxi and tried to use public transportation at all times (or just walk). We didn’t fill our days visiting things you had to pay for like museums and similar and instead opted for free attractions and exploring the streets.
Of course, we did spend time in zoos and aquariums, we did visit a few museums and other paid attractions that we were sure the little fellow would enjoy. But we mostly tried to keep the attraction costs as low as possible.
So for the future, we’ll keep costs low by adjusting our accommodation requirements, exploring free entertainment and free attraction options in the cities we visit or at least take advantage of tourist passes (we didn’t get any).
Also, we don’t plan to travel like this and spend more time in a city. This will also help keep costs low as you get discounts for weekly stays and even better discounts for monthly stays.
Plus, you get to cook more at home, you can buy some food in bulk and get special deals at supermarkets. But all in all, 3,000 Euros for a month in Europe for a family of three… that’s not too bad!
All in all, this was a great experience for us. As the first adventure together with my wife and son, it went really well.
We’ve learned a lot during the time, we bonded and enjoyed each minute spent together and we’ve seen so many beautiful places. This experience was the one that told us that we can do it.
Scratch that! It told us that we SHOULD do it more often. Don’t let kids be your excuse for not traveling the world! They will love it just as much as you do!