Europe continues to be a favored destination for many world travelers – from the newbies to the returnees. If you’ve been fortunate to have visited this region, it is easy to understand why. It is a fantastic blend of cultures with its rich history indicative by impressive gothic architecture, quaint squares and courtyards and colorful cobble-street cities. Everywhere you turn, you will find many English speaking stylist residents who are laid back, generally friendly and welcoming. But the continent is not necessarily the cheapest getaway (if you reside outside of it of course). Here are 7 easy ways to plan a future Euro trip, or “How to get away with(out bank account) murder.”
1. Fly Cheap & Into The Cheapest City – Not Your Intended Destination
The summer time is the most expensive time to fly into Europe with October to April being the cheapest time to fly in. Many folks swear by Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, etc. Occasionally, they may provide decent fares but you really want to use search engines like Adioso, Skyscanner & Vayama. They include many more airlines (including local and smaller airlines) into their database and are not controlled or run by any major global airline. You also want to follow travel sites like TheFlightDeal, TravelZoo & AirFareWatchdog on Twitter as all are great search places for the best possible deals on travel fare (including mistake fares or fare glitches!) However, possibly the most precious piece of advice when booking is to play around with your searches and find the cheapest nearby city to fly into instead of your actual destination. You may be able to stop off in two cities for less than the cost of flying into one. For example, I once was planning a trip to Greece but the best airfare available was around $1400 USD to Athens. Instead, I booked a $600 fare to Istanbul – stayed there for 5 days and then purchased a second RT plane ticket to Athens at a mere $150 USD. Hence, I joyously spent half the direct flight cost and got to visit two countries. There are certain Euro cities which will always be more costly to fly into- London, Paris, Rome etc. And then there are stops which seem to be always cheaper – Frankfurt, Milan, Dublin. My advice, book cheaper and take in twice the fun in two different places.
2. Book A Looong Layover
Research layover rules for different airlines. Most folks dread the thought of layovers but they are simply missing out! Not only are layovers often cheaper, some major airlines will provide free hotel accommodations, transfers and meals given a lengthy layover! If you purposely select a long layover, chances are, you may get to experience a new city for FREE! I’ve managed to spend 2 days in Dubai and a full day in Amsterdam for free through smart layover bookings! You simply want to ensure that your layovers will place you in your connecting city during the daytime and not overnight. All major airports have a place to store luggage for pretty small fees. Just don’t forget to pay attention to which countries will require a visa for you to leave the airport and be in their city.
3. Trek It Cheap Locally
Getting around Europe is tres facile and really hassle free. If you plan to do a little country hopping, I would advise a mix of flights and train rides depending on where you’re flying and how much time you have. Trains in Europe are prompt and comfortable , but you definitely want to book weeks, even months in advance. Eurail.com provides a detailed rail map of Europe to help you plan your travels. The Eurostar train will get you from London to Paris in a little under 3 hours. It can also take you from England to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Eurail is the resource for train travel across all of Europe. TrenItalia is a national rail service within Italy and is a great way to city hop within the country.
However, you should fly if your train ride will exceed 4 hours. Instead opt for a cheap non-frills airline. EasyJet & Ryan Air are local airline services that can get you almost anywhere in 1-2 hours starting from $10+. (No, I’m not kidding!) The one drawback is, they have very strict rules regarding both carry-on and checked-in luggage size/weight. Therefore, pack LIGHT unless you want to pay a hefty fee for checked-in luggage. Read all luggage rules very closely! (Both these airlines not only fly within Europe, but also offers select service to Egypt, Greece and North Africa. Not bad!)
4. Shack Up On A Dime
Trip Advisor will offer the most valuable information on hotel accommodations as well as Hotels.com. Folks leave extremely valuable feedback there about their experiences. Also, always select a hotel (preferably through a rewards program) with free WiFi & free breakfast. But in Europe, the sky is actually the limit when it comes to accommodations. If a hotel doesn’t tickle your fancy, then search out a small mom-and-pop inn or a bed & breakfast on sites like Venere and Booking.com. You may even want to consider other lodging options like farm stays, cottages, campgrounds, villa rentals and even castles!—that can be less expensive and more authentic.
If you’re looking for a more “homey” feel, both Craigslist and Airbnb can provide options to stay in the private residences of folks who are away or who have extra rooms to rent. Hostels are also not as scary as the movie makes them appear. There are many wonderful and highly rated hostels where you can rent a private room. HostelWorld provides a comprehensive listing with easy reviews for your convenience while HostelGeeks provides listings of 5 star hostels across the continent. You can also Couchsurf. Yes – It also sounds a little scary, but many people actually do it. The website at Couchsurfing provides listings of homes/places where people will let you sleep on their couch for free!
5. Budget Daily Activities
Luckily, Europe offers many free sights and attractions. Many top museums in London, Paris and Madrid for example will cost you nothing. Also, many European tourist offices will offer you discount passes for public transportation and sightseeing. From experience, purchasing All-Day train/bus passes give you the most bang for your buck when commuting within a new city. Also, use free tours! In many countries, there are free tour services available. Just Google them. Hearplanet is also a great Iphone/Android app that you can download to provide free talking tours. Hence – you do not even have to pay money to learn about a new city you are in!
There are also numerous cool activities waiting for you to pounce on them listed on platforms like Groupon or Living Social. We often tend to use these within our home cities – but whoever said you can’t capitalize when you travel? Chances are, you’ll save a ton of money on activities like boat cruises, kayaking, walking/Segway tours and dining as well. I have saved a ton of money this way. If you use apps, simply switch your city/location to your destination. Matter-of-fact, start research way in advance to see what is available – just in case a great deal disappears by the time the actual trip comes around. Of course – only purchase activities in advance if you are absolutely sure you can follow through.
6. Eat Smart
Eating out several meals a day can quickly become pricey in many countries in Europe. As mentioned earlier, always select a hotel that provides a free breakfast. Read reviews to pick ones with a nice and large spread! Ensure that you have a hearty meal before you step out for the day. I like to pack a few extra Ziploc bags to save fruit and other easy munch-on-the-go foods from the breakfast buffet. Hence, while you’re out sightseeing, you can snack for free.
Once you’re street bound, stay away from restaurants in touristy areas and instead seek out local daily markets and street stalls and carts. Every city has them. You can also head to local pubs, and tapas bar for yummy traditional dishes that will cost far less than at a restaurant. The biggest tip here: if you want to “fine dine” out, choose lunch time as most places have cheaper lunch menus that will get you an awesome meal for way less than dinner!
Lastly, if you are traveling in a group and renting out a place, the smartest thing to do is to head to a local grocery and cook as many meals as you can. You can then save your dollars to dine out on special evenings to indulge in local delicacies. Also, a trip to the grocery lets you become familiar with local non-alcoholic drinks & snacks – including chocolate – so pick up a few items and try them out! It also wouldn’t hurt to pack a few small food items in your carry-on from home. Granola bars, mixed nuts, dried fruit and even a few Cup-of-Noodles can come in very handy after a long day out on the town. You can even save it for your hotel room grubbing when you turn it in late at night.
7. Be Mindful Of The Time Of Year
As mentioned in the beginning, summertime is a highly favored time to travel. But the truth is , it’s the most expensive and most crowded time to visit many places. Either way, both seasons will provide the chance to take in many sporting events and festivals. Winter brings the bonus of being less crowded with everything being cheaper too.
EXTRA TIP: Additionally, in general, if you are traveling to a foreign country, it is important that you do your homework and know what the currency exchange rate it. Since the Euro has a higher value than the US dollar, you might want to spend some time tracking the exchange in advance (maybe even months before you actually book). Plan your travel (weather still being a top consideration of course) to visit that country during a time when you will get the most bang for your buck. Having more money to use when you travel obviously increases the quality of your experience while abroad. I once booked a trip to London and country hopped to 4 other cities (Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Venice) at a time when the Euro-USD exchange was rather low (1E-$1.20). What that meant was, I spent about $2000 in total for a 10 day trip: 3 hotels, 4 flights, 2 inter-country train rides, dining out and light shopping. Cha-Ching!
And there you have it. Follow these basic guidelines and you are guaranteed to cut down your expenses on that Euro trip you dream about every night. Happy trekking!