Eastern Europe, especially Romania, is becoming more popular amongst travelers looking for adventures on a budget. While places like Norway and Switzerland present challenges on traveling with less than $100 a day, the cost of travel in Romania (or Eastern Europe for that matter) can be done on a $35 a day budget.
Romania is now a hot destination due to its accessible fairytale castles and quaint little villages. The Transylvanian landscape, full of mystery and intrigue, is anything but boring. The country is also one of the fastest growing economies in the Eastern Block.
I spent nearly three months traveling in the country and kept track of my expenses. Now, granted, I did take on some freelance gigs to fund my travels. I still had to keep it within a budget since I wasn’t making anywhere near the salary I was making back in California.
Romanian Currency & Conversions
The RON (New Romania Leu) is the currency of Romania. They’re funny looking bills, but virtually indestructible. I think you can toss into a volcano and it would survive. It’s not made of paper. It’s made of a special tear resistant (proof) plastic. The conversation rate as of April 2017 is $1 = 4.26 Leu.
My Spending Habits in Romania
I would say my style of travel is relatively frugal. Traveling in Romania and the Balkans countries are much cheaper compared to their Western European counterparts. I could splurge occasionally and try out the local beer, wine, and traditional cuisine without regretting it later. While I was making some money during my travels, I wasn’t frivolous by any means. The whole time I was in Romania, I was able to stick well within a daily budget of $35 a day!
I spent about a week and a half in the Capital city of Bucharest and as capital cities go, the most expensive city in Romania. I spent most of my time around Brasov and other Transylvanian towns. There was a month (June 2016) that I spent in the Village of Breb in Maramures County – where my entire expense of living/traveling was 310 Euros ($317). Through luck, I met somebody in Cluj-Napoca just when I was getting ready to hop over the border to Hungary. I was offered a room and board with all the meals covered for an entire month.
Now calculate that in your head for a minute
$317 / $30 = $10.6
Yep. You can stay and live in Romania for $10.6 a day! Of course, I would learn later that the average salary for most people in Romania and the Balkans for that matter is around $10 a day! As a foreigner who hails from California where the public is pushing for a $15/hr. Minimum wage, this was an eye-opener.
Of course, that month was an outlier, not the norm. It does not take into account that I was practically stranded in that village for a whole month. All the other times, I stayed at hostels or hotels (if I couldn’t help it) and Couchsurfed when I could.
The Cost of Accommodation in Romania
Shared Hostel Dorms: There are some things I don’t like some about staying at backpacker hostels. However, for the most part, I stay in hostels to save money. Many of my friends in the US would never stay in one. Maybe it’s the lack of privacy. It’s not as bad as you think. If you want to save a little money and don’t mind sharing dorms with other people, hostels are the way to go.
In Romania, the average cost for a bed in a hostel dorm is around 14 dollars. Not the cheapest but not the most expensive either. It’s approximately $35 in Norway, and in my home state California, it’s around $40. During May (2016) I found a nice hostel in Brasov called Kismet Dao. They were running a promotion for the whole month where you get one free night for every three nights you stay. They even throw in one free bottle of beer. I decided to make it my headquarters in Transylvania and wait for 3+ weeks.
Guesthouses/Apartments: Guesthouses were reasonable. Whereas dorm rooms in many hostels throughout the world can cost between $30 and $45, a room in a guesthouse in Romania will only cost you around $30. It depends on where you are. In Bucharest, for example, you can get an Airbnb room for as little as $27 a night. Alternatively, in the city center for around $40 a night. If you were to split this with one or two more people, you could have a place to sleep for under $10. Claim your $40 Airbnb credit on this link!
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Hotels: Hotels are more expensive than the above options but still cheap. In California, the average price for a room in a crappy Motel 6 room is $65. I was able to get an ok three-star hotel in the city center in Timisoara for $50 a night. I split this with my girlfriend and only ended up paying $25. Not bad.
The Cost of Food and Drink in Romania
If you are in Bucharest, there’s a plethora of restaurants and bars. A typical dinner in a restaurant with drinks and a 3-course meal will cost around $10 – $15. The prices can go higher or lower depending on where you go. You can get a Shawarma or Donner for approximately $2 if you want to cheap it out. However, going out to eat fast food is not what travel is all about – you have to splurge a little and try out the local cuisine and traditional foods.
TIP: If you want good traditional Romanian food, you have to head out to the smaller towns and cities.
As mentioned, I spent a total of 317 dollars for food and board for a whole month. When I stayed in hostels, I would stay for more than several days at a time. That meant that I could go to the grocery store to buy and cook my food. Dining out every night can get expensive. Purchasing food in the grocery store is much cheaper. The quality of produce and meats in Romania is much better than the stuff I used to buy in the grocery stores in the US. Most products in the country are naturally organic.
You can even save money by getting ready to eat meals in big supermarkets like Lidl and Carrefour. While you’re at it, get your beer, wine, or liquor there too. Beer in Romania is remarkably cheap. You can get a standard 2-liter bottle for less than $2. A bottle of water in a restaurant in California is $2.
Beer is cheaper than water!
In the three months, I stayed in Romania; I spent around $10 a day on food (not counting drinks). Most people living in the US spend about $50 a day on food eating out. Just put that into perspective. The average salary for people living in the Balkans is $11 a day. Crazy right?
TIP: Avoid restaurants that cater to tourists. They serve food that is less authentic and probably ones you can find better in your home country. They’re also more expensive. Walk the extra mile and explore the outskirts of town away from the city center.
The Cost Transportation in Romania
Going from place to place in Romania is relatively cheap. Trains cost around $10 going from Bucharest to Brasov. I took a bus from Sibiu to Alba Iulia for only $5. Fares for taxis in town is around $2. Local buses go for as little as 25 cents. Trains are old school and slow so that you may opt for a bus. Buses between cities can be as little as $5 a ride. Car rentals are also cheap – you can get a car for $20 a day and explore several destinations in one fell swoop.
The best way to get around in Romania is by hitchhiking. Most drivers won’t charge you if they find out you’re a foreigner. However, it’s customary to offer a few bucks to the driver if you’re offered a ride. 10 Lei per 50km is usually adequate.
TIP: When you hail a car in the Maramures region, waving your hand down a few times to the incoming vehicle means you’re willing to pay for a ride. Thumbs up and point towards the direction of your destination means you want a free ride.
Cost of Activities & Entertainment
Throughout the months, I also kept track of my expenditures for activities and entertainment in Romania. This includes everything from entry fees to tourist sites and souvenirs I bought. The most touristic places charge high prices relative to the costs of living in the country. Places like the famous Dracula Castle and Peles Castle charge a day’s worth of salary for most Romanians.
I am happy to report that you can skip going “inside” those places if you wanted to. They look better from the outside anyway and more comfortable to photograph. However, I recommend you pay the fee to go inside the Rasnov Fortress if you ever make your way there. The best attractions in Romania is the natural landscapes. There are plenty of places to hike in or around the Transylvania region.
I spent around $600 total for activities and entertainment for the three months I have been in Romania.
Laundry, SIM cards, Wi-Fi, coffee (yes it is essential), etc., worked out somewhere around $40 to $50 a week. I had a good deal with Google Project Fi, but it didn’t work well in Romania. I resorted to getting a Local sim card which cost around $15 – I needed it for work, but you can get by with the local Wi-Fi. Whenever I could get away with it, I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink. Laundry in Romania is not cheap. It’s around $4 a load, but you still have to dry your clothes!
Coffee, about coffee. Most hostels in Romania offer free breakfast, but from my experience, they served mostly instant coffee. Yuck! Why can’t they serve some Kick-Ass? Some places did serve decent coffee but I’m a caffeinated kind of guy, and I need my coffee. If you’re not into coffee, you will save even more.
TIP: Get insurance while traveling in Romania because you don’t want to be burdened with a six-figure medical bill when something happens. I always go with World Nomads for complete coverage on health and travel.
Miscellaneous Expenses in Romania
I spent money on other things while traveling in Romania. I met a cool artist who made a handstitched wooden covered notepad with Bob Marley’s face draw on it. It cost around 80 Leu, but I was happy to help a fellow artist. Clothing was something I also spent money on. Some of my jeans were falling apart from the constant and continuous travel. I did only go to second-hand stores to buy them. There, I was able to find jeans for around $2 a pair.
I kept losing sunglasses and the mice for my laptop. This set me back a few dollars but nothing terrible. They were reasonably cheap in Romania.
Romania Backpacking Budget: Total Expenses
In 85 days, I spent a total of $3050 give or take. That is $35 a day without even trying too hard. I didn’t also do any penny-pinching. Can I do it cheaper? Of course. The majority of people in Romania get by with just $15 a day. I am a tourist. I do touristy things, and those incur subsequent expenses that go along with it. The going out to eat and drinking with my peeps did the most damage. I definitely could have traveled for even less if I was anti-social.
Travel in Romania is Cheap
This brings me to my next point – most Americans believe that travel is unaffordable or extremely expensive that will cost thousands of dollars. Well, it depends. If you’re opting to stay in posh hotels and visiting only the more expensive capital cities and dining out instead of cooking your meals. Yes, it can. If your travel style is more like mine, $1000 is plenty, and it’s more than enough to explore places that you want to discover. I will hammer this out one more time – Most people in the Balkans don’t even make $500 a month!
I hope these numbers serve to prove that long-term travel is attainable and is affordable. You can start saving money by going cold turkey now on your buying impulses. The average cost of living in a city like San Francisco is around $3,500 a month. You can see an entire country for under $1,000 a month.
This shows you that traveling around the world is cheaper than living back home. It may not be glamorous, and you will have to cut corners eventually – But seriously, travel is the only thing that makes us wealthy.