Tuesday, 18 February 2014

How to calculate the cost for a hike in Western Europe

This post focuses on budgeting a long-distance hike in Germany, France, Spain and Great Britain. It will mostly be interesting for hikers with a low budget who are planning on hiking several months.

Wayside food
Food – the absolute bare minimum: No matter how frugal you live you will have to eat. The typical thruhiker diet will cost you around 10 € per day in all these Western European countries. This diet includes granola for breakfast, dehydrated pre packaged food a la Lipton, Knorr, Continental or Top Ramen for dinner, plenty of chocolate, gummy bears and trail mix for snacks and a cold lunch consisting of bread/tortillas with cheese, sausage etc for lunch. You will even be able to afford an occasional treat and/or local specialty. All these items are available in supermarkets along the trails. You will be able to buy cheaper in big chain discount supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl but expect higher prices in the little mom and pop shops in small towns and villages. The 10 € per day diet does NOT include specific dehydrated backpacker meals like Mountainhouse, specific energy bars or drinks and no outing out in restaurants. You won't be able to find these backpacker meals and snacks in supermarkets anyways. If you are on a really tight budget you might be able to get by on 7 – 8 € per day for food but I don't recommend saving on food. You will miss out on local specialties like regional cheeses or sausages and bad quality food will impact the enjoyment of your hike on the long run. So as an absolute bare minimum you will need 300 € per month.

Accommodation: First a word of warning: Free camping is technically more or less illegal in all Western European countries expect Scotland. Still European long-distance hikers are stealth camping all the time with no problem. Just be discreet, set up camp late and leave early, don't light a fire and tuck yourself away a bit when possible. I have hiked over 12,000 km in Europe and have never had any problem with stealth camping. Keep in mind that almost all forest in Europe is commercially exploited and logging operations cause a lot more damage than your stealth camping. Just don't camp in specifically protected nature areas. Still, thruhiker experience has taught me that you'll need a stay in civilisation about once a week for washing yourself and your clothes, resting your body and doing organisational stuff. Costs for accommodation vary greatly depending on the country.
  • Great Britain is about the most expensive. Hotels are usually out of reach for budget hikers and even a cheap B&B will set you back at least 40 € plus per night. Things are made worse by the notoriously bad and unpredictable weather. You will want to seek shelter much more here than in warmer countries but there are no shelters or refuges along the trails except for the boothies in Scotland. (No bothies in England or Wales). The only cheap alternative are youth hostels but unfortunately they have become unpopular and more and more hostels are closing down. Still you will be able to find hostel accommodation along the more popular long distance trails but expect to pay around 20 € for a hostel dorm bed per night. When I hiked the length of the UK in 2011 the combination of bad weather and lack of cheap accommodation sort of spoilt the trip for me. 
Picnic shelter
  • Germany is a bit better in this respect. The biggest advantage here is that there are picnic shelters and huts along almost all trails in Germany. Although not meant for overnighting these shelters are great for getting out of bad weather and I have never had any problems sleeping in them in an emergency. The cheapest form of accommodation in Germany are youth hostels and B&B. A youth hostel dorm bed will set you back about 20 € but there is no extensive hostel net along the trails. But you will usually find a B&B or a Gasthaus (Restaurant/Bar/Hotel) where prices range from 20 – 40 € plus per night. You will have to hunt around to find a single room under 30 €. Hotels are usually out of reach of a budget backpacker. 
Camping Municipal in Metz
  • France is good and bad news: B&B's are usually posh and expensive (40 € plus with the sky as the limit) and the same goes for hotels. There are very view youth hostels and they are usually only in bigger cities. But there is a specific French institution called gite d'etape offering hostel-style accommodation for hikers. You'll find them usually along more popular trails. Prices vary a lot depending on the services offered but they can be as cheap as 10 – 15 € for a dorm bed, shower and kitchen facilities. Another option in summer are the municipal campgrounds where you can pitch your tent for under 10 €. I found them to be conveniently located close to the city centre and offering shower and laundry facilities. You won't find picnic shelters along trails in France. Refuges do only exist in the mountains and must often be booked ahead. Do not count on finding an open emergency room in these refuges. 
  • Spain is a relatively cheap country for Western European standards. A decent single en suite room including TV and wifi will set you back around 25 EUR. There aren't many youth hostels, especially not along trails but you will find very cheap dorm-style pilgrim's hostels along all the pilgrimage trails. You will find the occasional picnic area along some trails but they usually offer no shelter from bad weather.
Assuming that you'll want a town stay about once a week you should budget at least 100 € per month for accommodation.

Metz cathedral
Culture: I think this is the most overlooked budget item for a hike in Europe. Other than their American or Australian counterparts European „trail towns“ offer a lot of sightseeing opportunities and I personally think that this is what makes European hikes so special. Missing out on that would be a shame. You should therefore include sightseeing in your time and financial budget. On all my American and Australian thruhikes one rest day per week was enough for me but in Europe this turned out to be stressful. In town I was always torn between resting and sightseeing. I now budget 2 rest days per week: One for resting and one for sightseeing. Hiking in Europe you should also try some local food and eat out occasionally. All this means you will have to increase your budget by at least 100 € per month. This should cover a couple of extra town days for sightseeing, a couple of restaurant meals and entrance fees.

Telecommunication: I always use a smartphone on long hikes to be able to check the weather forecast, update my blog and make hotel reservations and usually buy a local SIM-card. Costs vary tremendously from country to country. France is a nightmare in this respect. You will hardly find any free wifi in towns and prepaid SIM cards with data are outrageously expensive for European standards. The cheapest I could find in 2014 was a prepaid plan from Orange that still set me back 40 € per month for data alone. Germany and Spain on the other hand are very cheap in this respect. You'll find plenty of cheap providers and get away with under 10 € for a good data deal. On top of all that Spain is free wifi heaven. Free wifi is a standard for all hotels and you'll find public free wifi in almost every town.

Train station in Canfranc
Transport: Good news is that you can get to any trail in Europe via public transport – you won't need expensive shuttles. Still, this transport, especially if you have to go a longer distance from your point of entry to the trail can be expensive. Booking ahead will save you a lot of money especially with travels in Germany and Great Britain. Also keep in mind that you might need a bus or train from the trail into a town for resupply or sightseeing.

Replacements and repairs: You will have to buy fuel for your stove. Gear will wear out and will have to be repaired or replaced. The most expensive „consumable“ for a thruhiker are trailrunning shoes that have to be replaced every 1,500 km.

It is difficult to calculate an exact amount for these three items telecommunication, transport and replacements but you should budget around 100 € per month. This does not include shoes and your flight into the country but will give you some buffer for other little unexpected spendings.

Considering all the above you will approximately spend per month on the trail:

Food:                  300 €
Accommodation: 100 €
Culture:               100 €
Miscellaneous:     100 €
Total:                  600 €

If you want to calculate your overall trip budget you have to take more things into consideration:

Flights: Are not included in the above calculation

Gear: The above calculation assumes that you bring all your gear with you including shoes for the whole trip. If you have to buy shoes as you go add the price. Also keep in mind that after a long trip your gear will be worn out and might have to be replaced.

Health insurance: Depending on your personal health care plan you will need travel insurance. Companies like Caremed offer travel health insurance for around 40 € per month depending on the country and the deductible. I would never ever go anywhere without health insurance but when choosing a specific plan keep in mind that health care in Europe is much cheaper than in the US. In Spain and Great Britain tourists are treated for free by public health care (you only have to pay for medication and there are exceptions for dental care) and in France GP's will only charge you a flat rate of 28 € per visit (plus medication if necessary). What I am driving at is that it might make sense for you to get cheap travel insurance with a high deductible because the treatment of most common hiker ailments will be cheap in Europe.

Storage unit
Maps and Navigation: My above calculation assumes that you do all your trip planning with free resources. This is generally easy as OSM maps are pretty good for most European countries and you can download tracks for almost any trail from the internet. If you want to use paper maps you can download and print out maps from the country's Geographical Institute (for free from the IGN in Spain and France, most German federal states and for a nominal fee from grough.co.uk for Ordenance Survey maps for Great Britain). If you want to buy „real“ paper maps and / or guidebooks for your hike this will be a considerable cost factor, especially if you are planning to do a longer hike.

Rent / Utilities / Storage costs: If you don't give up your apartment or house you will still have to pay all related costs. And even if you do you will have to put your stuff in storage. Don't forget to include these costs in your overall trip budget.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for the information on wild camping in Europe, and I look forward to your next year's hike!

Bobbie said...

Hi Christine,
I'm so grateful that I found your blog! I have hiked several of the Camino trails in Spain, Portugal, and France.
I'm now planning my first ever hike in Germany. In one post you've already answered so many questions that I've been seeking answers for for the last several months. Thank you!
I met a young German couple on my first Camino in Spain and now am flying to Düsseldorf at the end of August to attend their wedding. After the wedding I will have have about 2 1/2 maybe three weeks to hike a trail. Two questions for you:
1. I know a ridiculous question in many respects but what trail would you recommend? I'm thinking Westweg. I have all of my own gear plan on stealth camping and taking your advice staying in the occasional hotel or B&B.
2. I never seem to find those magical low-cost airfare from the US to Europe any suggestions?I live InSedona, Arizona.

By the way planning my first through hike in the USA doing the JMT this summer. Very excited my first ever wilderness hike and alone! Now back to reading more of your posts and blog. Thanks again Bobbie

German Tourist said...

Bobbie, I am glad I could help you! Regarding your questions:
Have you had a look at this website?
It describes all the "premium" hiking trails in Germany and I can recommend all of them. They are all extremely well marked and usually you can get free information material. I have hiked almost all of them over the years and except for the Rheinsteig stealth camping should not be a problem. Westweg is a nice one, too but there are others that are equally recommendable.
Regarding cheap airfares check out AirBerlin.
Please let me know if you have further questions by emailing me. You will find my email address under "contact".
All the best for your hike,

Ancie said...

I´m glad that I found your blog. I´ve been reading a lot of blogs - written by men, fun and interesting but...I´m a woman and... =)
I´m planning to go hiking (probably start with the Camino trails in Spain), when my youngest child leaving the home (she´s 19 now). So in the mean time I´m reading, planning, saving some money (hrmff so difficult) and go outdoors in the neighbourhood.
And now I understand why my mother, brothers, friends mm acting like they do - THANKS!! Now I know it´s not me.. =)
Ancie in Sweden

Joanna said...

Very useful post, thanks for sharing! :) Do you sometimes hike in Eastern Europe? There are also many beautiful hiking trails perfect for travelling on budget

Holistic Hiking Agency said...

Hallo Christine,

meine Frau und ich planen, ab August ein, zwei oder drei Jahre auf Wanderschaft zu gehen. Wir werden unsere Besitzstände verkaufen bzw. einiges unterstellen. Uns interessiert, ob es besser ist, sich in D abzumelden oder angemeldet zu bleiben. Wie machst Du das? Das hat ja möglicherweise Auswirkungen auf die Versicherungspflicht bei der gesetzlichen Krankenkasse.

Dein Blog ist übrigens eine wahre Fundgrube fü alle Weitwanderbegeisterten! Super!

Viele Grüße
Matthias und Susanne

German Tourist said...

Hallo Matthias und Susanne,
ich würde in D angemeldet bleiben. Wenn euch das Thema näher interessiert, dann schreibt mir eine PN. Kontaktemail findet ihr unter Contact.

Unknown said...

Hi Christine,
You wrote abour "outrageous" prices for SIM starter kits in France... That's true when you use thoes of "great" operators like Orange or SFR. However, cheap solutions do exist! Personally, I use Lycamobile with their free rooming service (in 14 countries).
Another tip. You certainly know the EU regulation which fixes the maximal price for calls made or received in EU countries others than yours.However, there is no regulated price when you call abroad from the country where you bought your SIM card. Consequently, in EU counrties, it is systematically cheaper to use FOREIGN (EU) SIM cards for calling abroad (presently 19 cents/min max).
All the best

melmacer said...

@Jaques: Phone is not the problem in France. But data plans still are.
Going online with roaming is out of budget if you work with photos or yt. At least until June 2017 when Roaming finally stops.
In Spain it is way easier to get a Prepaid data card.

melmacer said...

@Jaques: Phone is not the problem in France. But data plans still are.
Going online with roaming is out of budget if you work with photos or yt. At least until June 2017 when Roaming finally stops.
In Spain it is way easier to get a Prepaid data card.

Syam Trekker said...

Great posting about How to calculate the cost for a hike in Western Europe, thank for sharing

Unknown said...

Hallo Christine,

mit den Kosten stimme ich so gut überein.
2002 bin ich von München nach Santiago de Compostella gepilgert - 2980km, knapp 3 Monate unterwegs, Kosten unterwegs gesamt ca. 3000,-€. Die meiste Zeit in Pilgerherbergen (nur mit Pilgerpass möglich!) geschlafen, Essen selbst gekocht. Schuhreparatur unterwegs.
Ausrüstung nicht mit gerechnet und Wohnungskosten zu Hause auch nicht.
Mag heute, 2018, etwas mehr kosten.

bon camino und weiter immer festen Boden unter den Füßen,