How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 by

This 🤤

So how do you visit that on a budget?


Kidding... kind of.

I just spent three weeks in Switzerland and came in at just under 2,000 and wanted to share what it takes to make Switzerland... let's say, "affordable", air quotes intended.

Show me... the land of the Swiss!

Switzerland, Europe View on Google Maps

There are three parts to this - lodging, transportation, and food.

So then, where am I staying?


Ok, I'll expand, but you're going to have to square with either couch surfing or staying in a hostel dorm. On the plus side, Swiss hostels have consistently been very nice.

On the less-plus side, they are going to run you about 30/night - at a minimum. And there only seem to be about two hostels in any given city. Why you gotta be so difficult Swizzyland?

Fortunately we've got The Data™, so here are the average hostel prices around Switzerland so you can gauge for yourself -

Hostel Costs by City in Switzerland

Larger circles mean more hostels are available

Training around

The primary mode of transportation around Switzerland are trains - ask anybody how to get anywhere and "trains" will be their response. It's so easy! But not so cheap...

Use either or the SBB app, and if for some reason the website declines your credit card, try the app and it should work. It happened to me as well as a few other people I met traveling 🤔

And what does this fanstastically efficient (seriously, the few minutes you'll have between connecting trains are all you need to make it) traintopia look like?

Switzerland City Train Prices (without discounts or discount cards)

How to read this -

Train prices in Switzerland are basically the sum of their parts (and switching directions is more or less the same price) - as in the price for A → C (going through B) will be the same price as A → B + B → C and will be the same price as C → A.

Ex. Geneva → Lucerne will be about 69 because -

  • Geneva → Berne is 37, and
  • Berne → Lucerne is 32

Now you're thinking, "wait, but the title of that cool map said 'without discounts'", so... discounts?

Discounts on that transportation

There are something like sixteen different versions of discount cards you can get depending on if you -

  • Want discounted vs totally free fares
  • Consecutive vs flexible days in a month
  • A certain region vs all of Switzerland
  • If you're a student (or young or some such) or not

It's overly complex (bad Switzerland), but in general there are only two to look at because the all-free-fare transportation cards are pricey and the regional cards are a little overly restrictive.

Half-fare Card

  • Costs 120 for a month card
  • Gives you 50% off all regular train ticket prices (see map above)

Meaning the breakeven for getting/not getting it is if you'll spend 240 in regular priced transportation, then get the half-fare card.

Supersaver Tickets

  • Costs nothing up front, you just find this option when booking your ticket online or on the app (on many, but not all, routes)
  • Gives you 30-50% off the regular ticket price (see map above)
  • Usually only if you book your ticket at least a day or so out

You can buy supersaver tickets with the half-fare card for up to a legend - wait for it - dary 75% off, but it's not always available and not always an additional 50% off, so... may the odds be in your favor.

Now quickly, how do I eat?

To touch on food real quick, there's not a lot to say here - to shoot for that 2,000/month number you'll need to be making most of your own food, because eating out in Switzerland is expensive. Ugh.

We're talking 6 for a coffee and 20 for a single pizza. Yes seriously. So keep to the relatively normal priced grocery stores (look for Coop or Migros) and get yo' cooking on 🍳

The Finale

And here we are -

  • Hostels
  • Limited travel, and plan ahead if possible
  • Cook your own food

And I still went up to the top of Schilthorn as part of my activity budget. You can do it!

From the top of Schilthorn near Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

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