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How I lived in Portugal for one month on a budget. All my best budget travel tips!
Within the last year, many people have asked me how I can afford to travel so much.
Being a recent college graduate with no reliable income and no job prospects other than waitressing, this is a valid question.
So for anyone who is interested, this article outlines exactly how I have been traveling cheaply without missing out on any cultural adventures.
I will specifically highlight my most recent trip to Portugal.
I lived and worked in Porto for one month and spent only 200 Euros.
(Not including the price of the round-trip flight from London. Though it was a RyanAir flight so you can bet this was pretty cheap as well).
When I arrived in Porto, I withdrew 200 Euros from an ATM and told myself I would not withdraw money again unless absolutely necessary.
So I formed a rough budget of 50 Euros a week.
For me, having the actual money in cash helped me visualize my spending and stay on track.
I try to avoid paying with credit or debit cards while traveling, so as to avoid foreign transaction fees and to avoid swiping my card mindlessly.
After forming a budget, I used the following tips to save money while living in Portugal.
How I Lived In Portugal For One Month And Only Spent 200 Euros
Here are the most important steps to living in Portugal for one month on a budget!
1. Do A Work Exchange
This is the most important step in how I lived in Portugal so cheaply.
Work in exchange for free accommodation.
Work exchanges vary from place to place. But in Porto I volunteered in Nice Way Hostel, working 8-hour shifts, 3 days a week.
In exchange for these few manageable shifts, I had a comfy bed in a staff dorm, free breakfast, and other perks including a free wine tour and a free stay in Nice Way Hostels in other Portuguese cities.
This saved me so much money on accommodation, food, and activities.
Also I easily made friends with the other volunteers, staff members, and guests in the hostel.
Setting up a work exchange is incredibly easy.
2. Cook Often
The second way I saved money in Portugal is cooking my own food whenever possible.
Having a kitchen in the hostel made all the difference, and I spent only 55 Euros on groceries during my whole stay.
I bought most of my food at the local market. This is hands-down the cheapest way to shop!
The other staff and I often had big group cooking sessions and dinners, which was super fun.
Because I cooked at home most of the time, I had enough money to eat out once in a while.
And I often indulged in traditional snacks like pastel de nata pastries and roasted chestnuts for a couple Euros each.
Alcohol can also put a dent in a traveler’s budget.
So I always opted for a one Euro bottle of wine from the grocery store rather than blowing more money on drinks in a bar.
Portugal is very affordable when it comes to food and drinks.
One extravagant night out included many bottles of wine, pitchers of sangria, endless plates of codfish cakes, an array of cakes and dessert liquors, and everyone only spent 10 Euros each.
3. Walk Everywhere
This may be obvious for most people.
But walking everywhere costs nothing and allows you to experience a city more in-depth.
While in Porto, I only paid for public transport to and from the airport. That added up to 4 Euros total.
I spent my free days walking for hours to different areas of the city or going on runs along the river.
When you have lots of time in one place, you can take your time and slowly become acquainted with the area without paying for public transport.
4. Take Day Trips
I did pay for public transport to take the local train outside Porto a few times.
The best way to cheaply explore other highlights of a country is to take an early morning train to a different city and return later that night.
This saves money on accommodation for an overnight stay.
And it still gives you a full day to experience the wonders of a new place.
I took three day trips from Porto to the nearby cities of Braga, Aveiro, and Viana Do Castelo.
The total cost of these train rides was 28 Euros.
So if you’re wondering how I lived in Portugal and worked, but still had time to explore the country: day trips.
5. Limit Souvenir Shopping
Another way to save money traveling is to only dish out cash on souvenirs that you absolutely love.
The best travel souvenirs are always the intangible memories and friendships you make. So physical gifts are hardly necessary.
But you shouldn’t deny yourself something you really love!
Buy souvenirs that are truly unique, and that you are certain won’t become dust-collectors at home.
I spent 4 Euros on a pair of earrings from Sintra because I wear earrings often and they were gorgeous.
Also, the little old man selling them from a blanket on the edge of the forest was too adorable to ignore.
6. Choose the Best Attractions To Spend Money On
Much to the budget traveler’s dismay, not all attractions are free in touristy cities.
It can be tempting to book every tour a city offers.
But the trick is to only spend money on the attractions that spark passion inside you.
For example, I paid 4 Euros to climb the enormous Torre Dos Clerigos in Porto because I’m a sucker for aerial city views.
Also, I paid 5 Euros to enter the world-famous library, Livraria Lello. I love bookstores and that library inspired Harry Potter, so I just had to go.
These attractions seemed worth it to me despite my frugal ways.
When I visited the city of Sintra, I also paid a total of 23 Euros to explore the city’s most famous attractions, the Moorish Castle, the Pena Palace, and the Quinta da Regaleira.
These gorgeous and unique landmarks turned out to be highlights of my trip.
Limiting my spending to a few, carefully selected attractions made those few experiences that much more memorable.
7. Consider the Destination as a Whole
As I’ve reiterated numerous times, Portugal is an affordable country.
The culture and lifestyle of the country obviously affect the travel budget.
But the country’s affordable prices hugely affected how I lived in Portugal for one month on 200 Euros.
Though I did not include my flights to and from Portugal in my budget, I do want to mention how important it is to look for cheap flights.
Budget airlines and off-season prices make it possible to fly internationally for very little money.
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So that is exactly how I lived in Portugal for one month so cheaply.
I will probably continue to travel this way no matter how much money I may have one day.
Though I am often hesitant to spend money, I never feel like I am depriving myself of anything or missing out on cool experiences.
I spent most of my time in Portugal walking around, socializing, cooking, taking photos, going for peaceful sunset runs, sitting by the river, talking with people, and slowly forming a connection with the local culture.
Travel can easily cost little money if people learn to enjoy the simple things in life and try to only spend money on the essentials.
So for anyone who is afraid to travel because of the cost, cheap travel is definitely possible.
And for those of us young people who are stuck with college debt and have never had a real job, exploring the world is not entirely out of the question.
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To read about more of my adventures in Portugal, check out these articles!