Okay, so it feels like the underlying theme of all my Switzerland posts is that Switzerland is expensive. It is. But it is still entirely possible to travel through Switzerland and not burn a gaping hole in your travel budget for the entire year. How do I know? Because we did it. And I would 100% do it again. I think there is a fine line between travelling cheaply and actually missing out on what a place has to offer. And there is definitely a huge line between the minimal budget needed for Switzerland compared with what you would need for somewhere like South East Asia. It is near impossible to live off just a few dollars a day in Switzerland, but once those base costs are paid for, day by day life is definitely affordable.
Fortunately Switzerland’s draw-card is its natural beauty; it is hard to spend too much when you’re out exploring the local scenery. Being from New Zealand, I didn’t feel the need to splash out on activities like paragliding or bungy jumping, because they are all things we can do at home (and with similar mountainous views). During our time in Switzerland I picked up a few tips that definitely helped us preserve some of our precious pennies, not all of which I’d appreciated beforehand.
Transport. Investing in a rail pass was probably the wisest decision we made prior to our visit to Switzerland. It seems like a HUGE expense at the time (and it absolutely is) but it is so worth it and most likely you will end up saving heaps of money. There are lots of options available (location, duration etc.) so it requires a bit of pre-planning to first make sure that it is actually worth it for a particular trip (it might not be necessary if you are based in just one city) and second that you choose the best activation date for your travel. The passes have to be purchased prior to your arrival in the country, so don’t leave it too late.
We were visiting multiple places in Switzerland and the rail pass entitled us to basically unlimited free transport and significant discounts on some of the more prestigious journeys. We could ride cable cars, gondolas, trains, ferries and it even gave us access into some museums. I would consider the rail pass a huge enabler, as we traveled to SO many more places that we probably would have decided against if we were paying as we went. Lets not forget that transport in Switzerland is basically superior to any other transport network in the world: it’s not just a way of getting from place to place, but pretty much an activity in itself.
Eating. Something that can’t be avoided, and if you’re anything like me, it’s not something you’d ever want to avoid. It is probably the most controllable variable expense however, which makes it an easy area to save some money. We cooked most of our meals at home and predominantly ate picnic lunches. We also ate mostly vegetarian food during our 10 days there and did not consume much alcohol at all.
Supermarkets are more expensive than other countries, but not prohibitively so – I think bringing in staples like pasta, rice, oats and snacks across the border from France was slightly unnecessary. Meat and produce are noticeably more expensive, although lots of supermarkets offer discounted perishables in the evening. If you do want to eat out, lots of restaurants do lunch time specials, which are great value compared to dinner prices.
Last tip: don’t buy water! Switzerland is (unsurprisingly) home to some of the most pure water in the world and there are drinking fountains everywhere. I always just carry a bottle with me and fill it up when the opportunity presents itself – necessary, because I drink a lot of water!
Accommodation. Hostels are disproportionately expensive for what you get in Switzerland, so if you are travelling with a buddy then Air BnB is the way to go. Fortunately I had Andy, Jamie and my mum with me, meaning that we could really utilise Air BnBs (admittedly we did stay in one hostel, and it was the single worst accommodation experience I had during our travels in Europe!). Apparently there is a big couch surfing community in Switzerland, so if you are travelling alone and not daunted by the idea, I think it would be pretty worthwhile investigating more. My family and I usually ate oats for breakfast, but if you need something more substantial than that, booking a hotel with an inclusive breakfast could save on buying food out.
Activities. Think about what you want to do there before you book your trip. Switzerland’s activities are very seasonal. Summer time means hiking, swimming, lazing in the parks and just wandering through the streets of cities – all of which are free. Winter time means a whole lot more time spent indoors, which probably means a whole lot more money spent generally on dining and shopping. And of course, snow sports don’t come cheap.
Hopefully that provides a few ideas to make any trip to Switzerland slightly cheaper than it otherwise may have been. It is one of my favourite countries in the entire world, so if you think you can afford it then I definitely suggest a trip! Our budget was NZ$100 a day each and excluding the rail pass and a few of our Air BnBs (which we had prepaid) we managed to stick to our budgets, just. The struggle was worth it!