Flying on the cheap has never been easier.
Maybe I’m biased because I live in a massive city with 3 airports at my beck and call, but the reality is, budget airlines have changed the game of aviation as we know it.
Ever since these no-frills carriers figured out a way to cross the Atlantic Ocean, the cost of flying to Europe from the US has dropped exponentially. This summer, direct flights to Spain and Italy are the lowest they’ve been in years – hovering at $500 to $600 RT. Even Emirates got in on the cheap flight action. Of course, the deals didn’t last very long, but I snagged 2 round-trip tickets to Greece on a direct flight for $1,000 total.
While going back to some of my favorite places is definitely on my to-do list, I wanted to book my summer Euro trip with three things in mind:
Find a way to Serbia for a music festival
Visit places I’ve never been before
Don’t spend more than $1,000 on flights
And honestly, these days, $1,000 is generous for flights.
But with all that in mind, I started scouring the web for the cheapest way to do this. I hope my full transparency can help you plan your next adventure, even if you are on a tight budget. If you ever need a hand booking a flight, let me know. I’d be happy to help 🙂
Travel Lightly and Consider Layovers
Before we get into it…something crucial to keep in mind is that I opted out of carrying lots of luggage. I don’t want to pay extra for bags, and frankly, I don’t really need them. How many outfits do I think I’m going to wear in 2 weeks?? I am not checking a bag at all – probably bringing 6 outfits and will do a load or two of laundry while I’m there. Sorry in advance to all my fashion-forward friends/family, but I will most definitely be an Outfit Repeater.
I will say, it is much harder to pack lightly in the wintertime when you’ll have a bulky jacket or some sweaters. Just something to keep in mind.
Another thing to note – this time around, I managed to get a direct flight home from Europe, but on my way there, I have a quick layover. If you’re open to layovers, they’ll help keep your costs down. In this case, it’s too quick to get out and explore, but when I venture over to Asia I always look for flights with really long layovers on purpose. On my way to Bali, I had 12 hours in Seoul to go explore the DMZ. It was the best layover I’ve ever had. So with that in mind, let’s get into it!
New York to Copenhagen – $200
Yep. It’s possible to get from NYC to Europe for less than California these days. Thanks to carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air (those budget airlines I was talking about earlier), flying across the Atlantic has become very cheap to do.
I initially started planning this trip with the intention of touring around obscure spots in Eastern Europe, but as I said earlier, my real goal was just to get to cities/countries/countrysides I haven’t seen yet. So Copenhagen will be my first stop.
Denmark serves as a cheap way for me to get to mainland Europe. Once you’re there, traveling around cheaply is really easy to do. Buses, trains, planes…the European landscape is like traveling around America. Just with passports involved.
*If you’re okay with a quick stop over and packing lightly, you can get round-trip flights to and from Europe for around $400 these days. But I didn’t want my trip to end in Copenhagen, too, so I bought a one way with WOW Air.
Copenhagen to Berlin – $36
I’ve always wanted to explore one of the world’s best cities for electronic music, and with a fare this cheap from Norwegian Airlines, I’ll finally be able to. Not only will I get to party in abandoned warehouses for a few days, but thanks to its centrality, Berin is also going to get me a little closer to Eastern Europe.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to what time your flights leave. I land in Berlin around 10 pm. Normally, that would mean wasting an extra night at a hostel for no reason. But it’s Berlin. People go there for the nightlife. So really, I got the best deal by arriving at the perfect time. And it gives me extra time to explore Copenhagen earlier in the day, too.
Berlin to Budapest – $44
So I’m not even going to Budapest. I absolutely love this city, and thought about it, but don’t have enough time to hang out here on this trip. So why’d I buy a flight here? Because it was super cheap (cheap is the common word throughout this post, could you tell?) and I can take a bus from Budapest to Novi Sad, my real destination. Novi Sad is a small fortress town tucked an hour north of Belgrade in Serbia.
It also happens to be the home to Exit Festival. I should also mention this was the last flight I bought, less than 2 weeks before my trip. And it was still under 50 bucks. That’s less than the cost of a bus ticket from NYC to DC…and I bet I paid extra for it because it was a last minute purchase.
Budapest to Novi Sad – $28 (Bus) for EXIT Festival…
then Novi Sad to Belgrade – $28 (Bus)
Not counting either of these in the overall tally, because, well, they aren’t flights. But to give you an idea of just how cheap travel around Europe can get – these are shuttles I booked at the last minute for a music festival. Aka probably the most expensive time to visit. Novi Sad is a bit of a small town that’s off the beaten path (and therefore has less transportation options) but let’s say I were going straight from Budapest to Belgrade. That train ride would cost about $15 for the 6+ hour journey. You can really, really penny-pinch your way around this continent if you know where to look. Around most continents, actually.
Belgrade to Bucharest – $65
For this leg, I could’ve instead opted for a $20- $30 train/bus combination, but that would’ve taken me all day. Instead, this flight is 1.5 hours and I wanted as little time spent in transit as possible. Less travel days = more time in each city. Win win. This was another flight I bought at the last minute, too.
Bucharest to Stockholm -$76
I worked backwards for this flight. First I found a cheap return fare to the US (bonus points- it’s direct). So I knew I had to find a way back up north. I used Google flights to search fares from Stockholm to various Eastern European destinations, assuming that costs would be similar in reverse. They were. I could’ve found a cheaper flight from Prague, but sticking to the rules, I wanted to venture somewhere new. So I’ll have some time to check out Transylvania and maybe meet Dracula thanks to Blue Air.
Stockholm to New York – $343
When I found this flight for $343 direct, I knew I had to book it. Careful though, Norwegian Air is notorious for charging tourists more money for the exact same flights. To avoid this, I booked my flight in Swedish with the help of Google Translate. If you don’t have Chrome, you can always open up the booking window twice in separate browsers. I had the check-out open once in English and once in Swedish, filling everything out step-by-step and side-by-side. The only catch is that my boarding pass is now in Swedish, but that’s more comical than it is an issue. I saved over $100 by doing this!
Here, I even took some screenshots to show you:
Flight Costs Laid out Again:
- New York to Copenhagen: $200
- Copenhagen to Berlin: $36
- Berlin to Budapest: $48
- Belgrade to Bucharest: $65
- Bucharest to Stockholm: $76
- Stockholm to New York: $343
So there you have it. 5 new countries for less than $800 during the prime time summer rush to Europe. Even at it’s peak, where flights are most expensive, it’s possible to fly on the cheap. I’ll be staying in hostels, too, to keep costs down (and because they’re awesome). But you could even try CouchSurfing if you really want to save.
Have you found any great flight deals lately? Let me know the best deal you’ve snagged or your favorite places to look in the comments!