How to road trip on a budget in Europe – the ultimate family guide!

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Fancy a family road trip in Europe? Welcome to my ultimate guide with everything that you need to know to have magical adventures with the kids whilst sticking to a small budget. Road trips are a brilliant way to explore, and we find it much cheaper than pricey flights (and everything else that gets added on like luggage, transfers, airport parking etc!), so it’s a good way to have an affordable family holiday. Plus, they’re just blooming good fun, and the ultimate way to explore mainland Europe – which we’re so fortunate to have on our doorstep!

So, here’s how to have a family road trip in Europe on a budget:

1. Set your road trip budget

Think about what you’re able to spend on your European road trip and then take out the main factors to see how much spending money that will leave you. You’ll need to price up the big things like:

  • Accommodation
  • Fuel
  • Travel costs (ferry, tolls etc)
  • Food

Then whatever’s left in the kitty is the spending money for excursions and days out. Thank goodness for the internet, it’s actually really easy to find toll costs and predict fuel usage nowadays and you’ll be able to find the cost of things you’d like to see and do too. Being organised and planning everything properly is the best way to keep your family road trip on budget.

Manor Farm Campsite, Interlaken, Switzerland, lake, Eurocamp holiday, sunset, frugal mum review photo

 

2. Choose cheap accommodation throughout

We keep our road trip costs down by staying in holiday homes on campsites, not only is it the best way to travel with kids (rather than the whole family being cooped up in a hotel room) it’s also much easier to get away on a budget. Be pragmatic – your accommodation is a place to sleep in between fun excursions and adventures.

Eurocamp accommodation options title image, mobile home, frugal mum review

We’ve also learnt our lesson to book our stopovers in campsites too where possible. Take our upcoming trip to the South of France for instance, it was cheaper to book a two night stay at a Eurocamp campsite on the way down (£93 for a 3 bedroom holiday home and a cool pool area!) than to book one night in a hotel nearby – we couldn’t find a room under £130 for 1 night!

We’re doing a 23 day road trip around Germany, Austria and Italy in September and we’ve booked at least 3-4 days at each campsite on the way to explore properly as we go, and in doing so we’ve managed to avoid hotels completely by mapping out our route around those. (Averaging at just £56 a night!)

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips, photo of gondola in venice

We book all of our family European road trips through Eurocamp where possible – as it helps us to keep on budget – we’ve had some fantastic road trips hopping between their campsites, spending as little as £25 per night. And, they have such good pools, flumes and facilities for the kids that you can entertain them on a budget while you’re there as well!

Loads of the Eurocamp campsites are so well located too – we’ve used them to visit cities like Rome, Venice and Amsterdam, Swiss mountains, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and theme parks. They also have great sales and run offers like free ferry travel or loyalty discounts – so it’s certainly worth a look if you’re looking for a budget European getaway! We’ve visited campsites across Italy, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland – you can check out my reviews here: Frugal Mum Eurocamp Reviews.

Switzerland, Jungfraujoch, snow, glacier, mountain, frugal mum family photo, travelling on a budget tips, europe

For everything that you need to know about Eurocamp holidays, and money saving tips, check out my articles:

The Ultimate Eurocamp Holiday Guide – and money saving tips!

eurocamp review, complete holiday guide, FAQs, frugal mum

Why do we use always Eurocamp to travel in Europe with the kids?

Eurocamp article, why use Eurocamp to travel with kids in Europe

 

3. Plan your route wisely

As well as planning your route around cheap accommodation options along the way, consider the impact that your journey will have on fuel costs and tolls etc. For instance, on our first trip to Italy we drove through France (there are lots of tolls within both France and Italy) so our toll costs came to £400.

On our next visit to Italy we’re travelling through Germany and Austria – Germany’s roads are free for those travelling by car, and Austria has a 10 day vignette for €11.50. We’ll then come into Italy nearer to our end location and avoid lots of the tolls there too.

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips, photo of lake in france

Generally travelling in toll free countries, or those with a vignette system for a set cost, will be much more affordable than toll motorways. Of course you can often avoid the tolls in those countries too by travelling a more scenic route and avoiding motorways, but that will add on travel time and fuel costs, so you’ll need to weight it up. Here’s some info about the tolls systems across Europe to help you to plan a cheap route:

  1. Austria: Requires a vignette for motorways and expressways. Additional tolls apply for certain tunnels and alpine roads.
  2. Belgium: No general toll system for passenger cars, but specific tunnels, like the Liefkenshoek Tunnel, have tolls.
  3. Croatia: Uses toll booths on motorways.
  4. Czech Republic: Requires a vignette for motorways and expressways.
  5. France: Has an extensive network of toll motorways (autoroutes).
  6. Germany: Only heavy goods vehicles are tolled, cars travel free, but some bridges and tunnels (like the Warnow and Herren Tunnels) do have tolls.
  7. Greece: Uses toll booths on motorways and certain bridges.
  8. Hungary: Requires an electronic vignette for motorways and expressways.
  9. Italy: Extensive toll motorway and some bridges and tunnels also have tolls.
  10. Norway: Toll roads, bridges, and tunnels are common, with an electronic toll collection system in place.
  11. Poland: Some motorways have tolls collected at booths.
  12. Portugal: Uses both toll booths and electronic toll collection on motorways.
  13. Slovakia: Requires a vignette for motorways and expressways.
  14. Slovenia: Requires a vignette for motorways and expressways.
  15. Spain: Has toll motorways (autopistas) and some bridges and tunnels with tolls.
  16. Switzerland: Requires a vignette for motorways and expressways. Some tunnels and alpine roads also have additional tolls.
  17. The Netherlands: No general toll system for passenger cars, but a few specific tunnels have tolls.

 

4. Self-cater to save on food costs

Food can be a huge expense when you’re travelling abroad with kids, particularly if you eat out regularly, so keep costs down on your European road trip by ensuring that the places you stay have good self-catering facilities. Packing up drinks and picnics, and making meals in your holiday home, is the best way to keep your food budget on track.

To keep costs down load up the car in the UK with non-perishables – such as cereal, pasta and tinned goods – it’ll be a lifesaver if you’re visiting somewhere with a higher cost of living or if the food on the campsites is expensive. And, stock up at cheap supermarkets along your route. When the scenery is so beautiful nothing beats a picnic anyway, we’ve had lunch in some of the most amazing locations – a picnic at the water’s edge in Venice? Yes please! 😍

venice, photo of frugal mum and children enjoying picnic by the water, travelling on a budget tips, italy

 

5. Find the cheapest travel options

Lots of holiday providers offer significant savings if you book your travel through them when organising your accommodation. For instance, booking the Channel Tunnel Crossing through Eurocamp is usually cheaper than booking directly – so make sure that you book it as a package if you’re driving.

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips, photo of lake in france

When I contacted Eurocamp recently for up-to-date prices, though things fluctuate slightly, the cost of a return trip on the ferry was around £120, whilst Le Shuttle was £250. It does add an extra hour onto your journey to opt for the ferry over the Channel Tunnel, but it’s around half the cost so it should definitely be considered if you’re trying to travel on a small budget.

 

6. Plan your holiday itinerary

Set a budget for days out and work from there. Before you go on your trip, do some research to pre-plan the things you’ll want to see and do in the local area to get the most from your money. For instance – if you’re in Rome you can visit The Colosseum on the first Sunday of the month for free. So if you were planning that excursion, why not make sure your visit is that Sunday?

frugal mum family photo, rome, colosseum, italy, How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide

Another example – lots of zoos, theme parks and children’s activities will have peak and off-peak prices. If it’s cheaper to visit on a Tuesday than a Saturday, a little bit of pre-planning will ensure that your visit coincides with the cheaper prices. (Avoiding the weekends will reduce the crowds too!)

Further still – say you wanted to visit Harder Kulm and Jungfraujoch whilst in Switzerland, with a little prior research you’d see that if you buy tickets to Jungfraujoch you can visit Harder Kulm for free. So, you could make sure that you visit there first to avoid paying out twice.

frugal mum photo, giessbach falls in brienz, switzerland, view across lake, travelling on a budget tips

Making a rough itinerary for your trip is a great way to ensure that you can do all of the things you’d love to do while you’re away without breaking the bank. It’ll also help you to balance out pricier excursions with cheap or free activities for some frugal days out too. So, do your research before you go – and make the most of nature – some of the best sights (like Giessbach Falls above) are often free!

You might also discover things like free walking tours or museums with free admission days, and most religious buildings across Italy offer free entry too – so city breaks can actually be a really affordable option. For city break money saving tips, check out my article: How to have a European city break with kids on a budget!

how to have european city break with kids on a budget, frugal mum tips, family holiday

You can also explore parks, hike the countryside and visit some beautiful beaches without spending a penny – so find out what’s in the surrounding area before you go (as well as local events) and take advantage of opportunities to explore without spending a lot of money. If you’re heading to Italy, you might want to check out this article too: Cheap family travel: How to explore Rome on a budget – in just one day – with kids!

how to explore rome on a budget, italy guide, frugal mum review, tips, holiday with kids, eurocamp, on budget in a day

 

7. Take your supplies with you

When you book campsites with mobile home accommodation, like Eurocamp, just little things like taking your own bedding will save you a bit of money. Make sure that you pack things like anti-histamine tablets, antiseptic cream, bite cream, bug spray, paracetamol and plasters too – these items can be really expensive from pharmacies abroad (compared to our UK budget store and supermarket prices) so it pays to be well prepared for every eventuality! Check out my Ultimate Family Holiday Packing Guide – with free printable checklist to help you to get organised.

frugal mum free printable family holiday travel checklist

 

8. Book slightly (or completely!) out of season

Holiday prices can vary significantly depending on the time of year, so consider travelling during the off-peak season to find cheaper prices. If you’re able to avoid the school holidays and peak dates, you can save a ridiculous amount of money. September can be a great time to travel in Europe – it’s our favourite time to getaway – it’s quiet, affordable and still lovely and warm. But if you do need to book around the school holidays, Easter or May half-term is often a lot more affordable than the summer holidays!

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips, photo of eurocamp slides

Eurocamp do some brilliant May half-term deals every year – making it possible to book your accommodation for less than £300 per week! I recently found 78 Eurocamp breaks for a family of four under £250 for May half-term week. But if you do need to book your European road trip during the school summer holidays, over July and August, and you’d like to find something inexpensive check out my article: Budget Family Summer Getaways: July & August school holiday deals under £1000! (An affordable family European road trip is possible in the school holidays if you can find the right deals!)

budget summer holiday school getaways, frugal mum family travel deals

 

9. Pack sensibly to make travelling with kids pain free

You’ll want to avoid over-packing, as that’ll add to your fuel costs on a long drive – we always take detergent with us so I can hand-wash undies and a few t-shirts if need be and most campsites have laundry facilities should you need them – so don’t pack more than you need to.

However, having said that, being prepared and packing wisely for the journey will make travelling with kids so much less stressful. I’ve put together a list of 13 things to pack on a road trip with kids, with all the family road trip essentials you’ll need to make it as easy as possible, so use that as your bible and it’ll all run smoothly – I promise!

Make sure that you read it carefully, and prep your car properly with the mandatory things you’ll need for driving through France etc, as well as the documents you should carry too. And, remember to familiarise yourself with local driving laws, such as speed limits and parking rules, to avoid fines.

Family road trip essentials: 13 things to pack on a road trip with kids

things to pack on a family road trip with kids, essential travel guide, frugal mum tips

 

10. Think long-term

If you’re planning on road tripping your way around Europe with the kids as often as you can, then consider things like choosing a fuel efficient car, annual travel insurance, and renting a toll tag – which allows you to breeze through the tolls without stopping.

Also try to save in advance to make trips less stressful – working to the budget you’ve set. Work out your average annual travel costs and divide it by twelve, then set up a monthly direct debit into a savings account to collect the money year round. That way you’ll have a good chunk of money to work with when you need it, and won’t need to borrow to book your family adventures.

How to road trip on a budget around Europe, the ultimate family guide, frugal mum tips, photo of frugal mum family eurocamp

 

For European family road trip ideas, check out my articles:

Our Italian Eurocamp Family Road Trip: What we spent, tips & how to explore Italy with kids on a budget!

how to explore italy on a budget, our eurocamp road trip, family holiday, europe, frugal mum guide, what we spent, tips

 

How to have a city break in Paris on a budget with kids!

How to have a city break in Paris on a budget with kids, family budget travel tips, europe, france, frugal mum

 

Our Eurocamp Interlaken Family Holiday: What we spent, tips & how to visit Switzerland on a budget from the UK

how to explore switzerland on a budget, interlaken guide, frugal mum review, tips, holiday with kids, eurocamp, manor farm campsite

 

Not sure where to go? Check out my European campsite reviews…

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Cisano San Vito, Lake Garda, Italy

Camping Cisano San Vito, Eurocamp holiday, swimming pool, flume, slides, Italy, Lake Garda, frugal mum review photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Village Fabulous, Lazio, Rome, Italy

Camping Village Fabulous, Eurocamp holiday, swimming pool, flume, slides, Italy, Rome, frugal mum children, review photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping Village Valle Gaia, Tuscany, Italy

Camping Valle Gaia, Eurocamp Holiday, Tuscany, Italy, swimming pool, flume, slide, frugal mum review photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Camping La Chapelle, Argelès-sur-Mer, Roussillon, South of France

La Chapelle, Argeles, South of France, swimming pool, slides, flumes, Eurocamp holiday, frugal mum children, review, photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Les Lacs du Verdon Campsite, Regusse, Provence, South of France

Les Lacs Verdon, Regusse, South of France, boat, lake, Eurocamp holiday, frugal mum children, review photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Manor Farm Campsite, Interlaken, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Manor Farm Campsite, Interlaken, Switzerland, lake, Eurocamp holiday, sunset, frugal mum review photo

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Beekse Bergen Lake Resort, Hilvarenbeek, North Brabant, The Netherlands

Lake Resort Beekse Bergen, Eurocamp holiday, the Netherlands, lake beach, frugal mum with children, photo, frugal mum review, lake resort, hilvarenbeek, north brabant

 

Eurocamp Holiday Review: Duinrell Theme Park Resort, Wassenaar, South Holland, The Netherlands

duinrell theme park resort, Eurocamp holiday, the Netherlands, rides frugal mum with children, photo, frugal mum review, south holland

 

 

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  1. Thank you, Natalie, for this fantastic guide! Your tips on budgeting, choosing affordable accommodation, and planning routes to save on tolls are incredibly helpful. We love the idea of self-catering and packing essentials to cut costs. Your detailed breakdown of travel costs and itinerary planning makes it so much easier to manage a family road trip in Europe without breaking the bank. Can’t wait to try Eurocamp on our next adventure! visit : https://www.splitsaving.co.uk/

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