Switzerland conjures up many images. On one side, there are majestic mountains, delicious fondue and chocolate, big banks sheltering people’s money, precision watches, and an orderly society. On the other, heart attack–inducing prices: $8 USD coffee or beer?! $50 steaks?! A $15 menu at McDonald’s?! $35-40 hostel beds?! WTH!
Switzerland is rated the most expensive country in the world to visit, with Geneva and Zurich being two of the ten most expensive cities to live in.
And because it is so expensive, it’s easy to see why so many people skip over the country and wait until they are older and (hopefully) wealthier. When I mentioned I was visiting Switzerland on a budget, many people shook their head and wished me good luck with a “poor soul to think he can do that” expression.
I’ll admit I was worried. While I’ve found that not all “expensive” destinations need to be tough on the wallet (though some are unavoidably expensive), Switzerland seemed daunting, having a strong currency and high taxes, and being a mecca for rich banks, international organizations, wealthy residents, and tax shelterers.
Switzerland will never be a “dirt cheap” country to visit, where travelers can visit on just a few dollars a day, but I found to my surprise that it’s possible to travel the country on a relatively light budget. It’s hard but doable!
How much I spent
Here’s how much my eight-day trip through Switzerland (Zurich, Bern, Geneva, and Interlaken) cost (in Swiss francs (CHF), which are worth $1.03 USD):
Total: 613.71 (or 76.71 CHF per day)
Overall, I did a good job of keeping my costs around $79 USD per day. Granted, it was a lot of work. I relied heavily on the sharing economy (see below) and cooking my own food. Being able to hike and visit free attractions also helped, though in wintertime when you have to pay to ski, this might not be the case. Having spent a few days in Zurich in the past, I didn’t feel the need to eat out a lot (and I don’t drink coffee) so I was happy to eat my own food versus ordering expensive restaurant food. Alcohol cost a fair bit (11% of my budget) but there was no way I was going to Interlaken without partying in the famous Balmers (also the only hostel I stayed in the entire time).
My biggest mistake was not paying attention to the fact I was flying in and out of Zurich. Since I went from Zurich to Geneva to Zurich, that meant I doubled back, costing me an extra 100 CHF in train tickets! This was such as stupid mistake, and I still kick myself for it. I mean, how could I miss such a simple thing?! If I had gone one way, I would have saved a substantial amount of money and significantly lowered my average spending. Always pay attention to your direction to save money on transportation. It’s a hard and fast rule of mine and I completely messed up.
How YOU can travel Switzerland on a budget
I kept a lot of my costs down because I don’t participate in many adventure activities and visited the country when I could hike (a free activity). While I could have trimmed some expenses (gone in one direction, drank nothing, avoided that Starbucks in Geneva), I don’t believe that you should not do certain things simply for the sake of being cheap (Live a little, right?). Even if I had done ridesharing or Couchsurfing during my visit, I would have put extra savings into other activities. Be frugal, not cheap is my travel philosophy. So I think my budget was just right for the country.