A trip to Europe doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Too often, travel gurus recommend that travelers save money by traveling during the off season or visiting less-popular European destinations. While that may appeal to some visitors, most people heading to Europe want to visit the most beautiful cities when the weather is good and the popular attractions are open. Fortunately, it is possible to save money on your European vacation, even when you travel in the high season and visit popular destinations like Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Berlin. Follow the advice below and you could save enough money to add an entire extra week to your European holiday!
Book an Open-Jaw Plane Ticket
Novice travelers often look for cheap return airfares that arrive in, and depart from, the same city. Experienced travelers, on the other hand, prefer open-jaw tickets where they fly into one city and out of another. The price of an open-jaw ticket is often the same as a regular round-trip airfare, but you save time and money by not needing to backtrack to your original destination. If your European itinerary involves visiting multiple countries, this could save you an entire day and up to €100 in return travel costs.
Choose Intercity Buses
Although traveling around Europe by train can be an experience in itself, train travel is no longer the most economical way to travel between major cities. Recently, discount bus lines have begun offering reliable, comfortable service between cities all across the continent. For example, when booking a trip between Madrid and Barcelona four days in advance, the best available bus fare was more than €20 cheaper than the best available train fare, and the journey was one hour faster. Many buses offer wireless internet and fully reclining seats, so you can even save the cost of a hotel room for the night by sleeping on an inter-city bus.
Download a Budget-Friendly App
Load up your smartphone with apps to help you save money in Europe. Start by grabbing an offline map program that allows you to download a detailed, searchable street map of a specific region while you’re online, and then access the map later when you no longer have internet access. Then, add a currency exchange app that updates automatically with the official rates. Check the app before you change money at any currency exchange offices or banks. Finally, check with the concierge or reception staff at your hotel to see if there are any specific apps that locals use to save money. For example, one popular European app offers huge dining discounts to diners who reserve their table through the app.
Go for the Local Option
Although you might be craving the comforts of home, the best way to save money in Europe is to live like a local. Instead of paying €7 for a frothy blended coffee drink at the French branch of your favorite North American coffee chain, look for a local café serving simple coffee and pastries at the bar to save €5. Check out the options in the local supermarkets, pharmacies, markets and department stores to find the best deals and to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Invest in a Travel Insurance Policy
If you get injured abroad, hospital bills can easily add up to €10,000 or more. For most travelers, a comprehensive travel medical insurance policy could reduce this cost down to zero. Before you rush to purchase your travel medical insurance, check with your employer, your credit card and your home insurance company to see if you already have travel medical coverage. If not, they may be able to add one-off coverage, or an annual policy, to your existing insurance coverage. For travelers with pre-existing conditions, or older travelers, the best rates will be found by shopping around to different insurance companies each time you travel.
Make Your Own Reservations
It has never been easier or cheaper to make your own travel reservations. Most airlines allow you to compare prices for different days and routes before booking the itinerary that makes the most sense for you. When you book directly with the airline, rather than with a travel agent, you don’t pay a commission and you are in full control of your reservation should you need to make a change. Most rail and bus services in Europe have English-language websites where you can compare routes, travel times and prices before reserving directly online. Again, no need to pay a commission to a travel agent. For guided tours, day trips or other specialized travel services, it’s almost always less expensive to organize and pay once locally upon arrival.
Select the Set Menu
In Western Europe, dining out can be one of the most expensive parts of your holiday. As noted above, there are apps to help keep dining costs down. You can double your savings by also choosing to order from a restaurant’s daily set menu. Usually available at lunch, set menus typically consist of a limited selection of appetizers, main courses and beverages, which are purchased together for a discounted price. At one classic Paris bistro a three-course set meal is available for €25, while the same dishes ordered separately from the menu would cost almost €35. Typically European restaurants do not modify the set menu, even to accommodate preferences or allergies, so it’s not great for picky eaters but it is awesome for adventurous (and hungry!) diners.
Take a Free Walking Tour
From London to Budapest, almost every major city in Europe offers some type of free walking tour. Often led by university students who want to practice their English language skills, these tours combine the best of historical and cultural knowledge with insider tips from your local guide. He or she can direct you to the best bakery, most bizarre museum or quaintest nearby village. At the end of the tour your guide will pass around their hat or a small bag, and you can tip them according to the value you received from their tour. The standard gratuity is about €5 per person per hour (so a couple who takes a two-hour walking tour should consider leaving at least €20). Considering that most walking tours in Amsterdam cost twice that, whether you’re happy with the tour or not, a “free” walking tour is a great deal.
As you can see, it is possible to travel to any city in Europe, at any time of year, and still stick to your budget. Just make a few smart choices before you go and spend your money sensibly after you arrive, and you might even come home with some euros left in your pocket!