European Travel Can Be Affordable, With Some Planning

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The cost of a European vacation may seem daunting. However, with some careful planning you can travel to Europe for little more than the cost of a domestic vacation. Two major factors in saving money on European travel are when and where to go. Several countries, such as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Poland can be considerably less expensive than others. If you are trying to save money, avoid Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and Luxemburg. Consider avoiding the big touristy cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, Rome and Venice until you have more money to spend.
You can reap tremendous savings by avoiding travel during the peak summer season. Airfares and lodging prices are generally very expensive between mid-May and mid-September. You can find great deals on airfare and lodging between October and April. You can also save money by flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Additionally, you can save money by flying across the Atlantic into less popular European cities. Once you arrive in Europe, you can take a train or a discount European airline to your target destination. It is also easier to use frequent flyer miles for flights to less popular destinations. Frequent flyer miles can be a great way to save money on air travel.
Once in Europe, it is inexpensive to get around using trains, buses, subways and discount airlines. If you have a long distance to travel, consider a sleeping train or a discount airline such as easyJet or RyanAir. You will be pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive airfare within Europe can be. A sleeper car enables you to cover large distances while you sleep and save the cost of a hotel for the night. There are places that you just can’t reach by train or bus. In this instance, rent a car for a day or two to visit these special out of the way places.
Save money on lodging by staying at an apartment, Bed and Breakfast or locally owned hotel. You can get better deals by staying in small towns or just outside the city center; this works well in cities with a good subway system. There are numerous resources on the internet to research and read reviews on lodging options. Some of my favorite on-line resources include TripAdvisor, VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner), Fodor’s and Rick Steve’s.
Finally, don’t pay unnecessary fees to convert money or to pay for travel expenses. Many credit cards charge between 1-3% on European purchases. Use a credit card, such as Capital One, that doesn’t charge extra fees for European purchases. Generally, you can get the best exchange rate on local currency by using your ATM card at a major European bank. With ATMs, you are charged a fee every time you pull out money, so minimize your transactions. Avoid Change Bureaus; they usually have unfavorable exchange rates.

How to Save Money on European Travel

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

I have decided to focus on a topic that is near to my heart and for which I have a great deal of first hand experience. Although in some cases you should do as I say and not as I do. I have a terrible weakness for European cafés and therefore spend too much money on meals and wine. We must choose our battles.

1.) Take the time to research air fares; it helps to be flexible on dates, times and locations. On my last trip we were able to save about $500 by trying a wide variety of routes and destinations – all within southern France. It is generally much cheaper to travel in and out of the same city and to book round trip tickets. If you need to travel one way within Europe there are several low cost, regional, airlines. If you don’t have too much luggage, consider a high speed train. I found train travel to be easy, fun, inexpensive and reliable. However, it can be difficult with a lot of luggage. It’s great for a day trip!

2.) Avoid travel during peak season, June through August. I usually travel in May or September to avoid the huge summer crowds and get better prices. Most hotels charge higher rates during the peak summer months. The service is also much better when there are fewer people to deal with. I also found that several historical sites don’t charge admission until June 1st.

3.) Save money by eating fewer meals in restaurants. Buy some bread, wine and cheese at the local grocery store and have a picnic in the park or at the beach. Reserve a hotel with a refrigerator to keep food fresh for breakfast and snacks. Most hotels offer breakfast but it can be very expensive, pick-up a baguette or a sandwich on the go and eat it as you stroll through the city. If you are limited for time, eating all your meals in a restaurant can use up a lot of valuable time.

4.) Save money when eating in restaurants by ordering the special of the day, sharing a meal or eating the seasonal local specialties. You can also save money by ordering the fixed price menu. If you are traveling to several towns in a region eat in the smaller less touristy villages. In addition to being less expensive, the food is better and the proprietors are more open. Seek out restaurants that are off the beaten path or ask a local for a restaurant recommendation. The prices will be lower, the food will be better and the ambiance will be nicer. You can eat with the Americans at home.

Save on wine by ordering a half liter or small pitcher of house wine. Most restaurants in France and Italy serve a half liter of house wine for about 5 euros; it’s the best deal going. The house wine is usually produced locally, many restaurants serve only regional wines. As they say, when in Rome….

5.) Take the time to research your lodging. You can save on lodging by staying in lesser know towns and staying in small locally owned Inns or Hotels. If you have the time, book an apartment for a week or two and take days trips from your base location. Another great way to save money is booking a business hotel over the weekend or a holiday; this can be especially helpful for airport locations.

There are several internet sites that can help you select good quality, inexpensive hotels such as Tripadvisor.com and Hotels.com. You can read reviews written by the people who have recently stayed there. A good guidebook on the region you are visiting can also be very helpful in selecting a hotel. Check out your selection with several sources to make sure the reviews are consistent.

6.) Think about what site-seeing you plan to do and what is really important to you. Admission into museums and various historical sites can be very expensive. When you visit cities with several sites that you want to see ask the tourist office if there is a museum pass or some kind of package deal that you can purchase. Be selective on what you pay to see – the inside of one mid-evil castle looks about the same as the next. You have limited time and there is so much beautiful scenery and architecture available to see absolutely free.