Right now I am in Italy. I know, not the most frugal place to be vacationing, but travel and experiences are things that are worth every penny. I figure this is the most appropriate thing to be writing about, because too many people skip out on amazing European vacations because they just assume that they can’t afford it, or that it’s not worth going if you don’t have a huge budget to play with. Well here is my response to that – you can still see the world on a budget. Here are my tips for saving money on your European vacation:
Research cheaper locations:
Of course everyone wants to go to Rome or Paris, but if you want to save big money, try somewhere that is still a hidden gem. Bulgaria is a great spot that’s off the radar but is still incredibly beautiful and not full of tourist traps where you’ll get a very authentic experience. For more ideas, check out Europe’s most affordable cities of 2013. You can always fly into one of the big cities and spend the day looking around, and then take the train or an affordable quick plane ride to your next destination.
Visit during the off season
The European off season is October through May, and pretty much every expense associated with a vacation in Europe is deeply discounted during this time. European beaches, such as the Cote d’Azur and Amalfi Coast, are busiest in the months of July and August (and we are paying for it right now), but can still be enjoyed in June for a fraction of the cost. Major cities like London and Rome are interesting really any time of year.
Use your points:
This is the perfect opportunity to use all of those credit card points you’ve been saving. Use them to pay for your flight and maybe even some of your hotels for your trip. Me and my boyfriend were able to use a combination of our points to pay for our entire roundtrip fare. If you have a better credit card, the concierge may even be able to help you book some of your hotels and get you upgrades.
Take the train:
Italy is known for its extensive rail network and low ticket prices. If you are traveling around Italy, a rail pass may not net you much savings, so just buy your tickets as you need them at the ticket window or the ticketing kiosks – it’s so much easier than booking flights with long layovers (where you’ll probably lose your luggage). This is the way that we’ve been getting around, and it’s super convenient.
Rent a house or apartment
Vacation rentals are becoming more popular, especially with so many online sites making it easier and safer to do. You’ll get a more authentic experience, more room, and save tons of cash preparing your own meals. Check out HomeAway Europe (book direct) to find interseting places to stay in Europe.
Make lunch your biggest meal
In countries like Spain and Italy, restaurants offer full three course meals for a set price at lunch time, often for around 10 Euros. You’ll see the notice on restaurant windows, and remember that service is included (even though we’ve been throwing a little extra on the check). In Italy, you might see signs announcing “pronzo di lavoro” which means “worker’s lunch”.
Save money on currency conversions
Follow these practices to save on fees when you convert your US dollars to euros and/or pounds:
- Check with your bank to see if it has a European branch where you can convert your money on a feeless basis.
- Get cash from ATMs – you get a much better rate than the currency converter stations.
- Use a credit card that does not charge for foreign currency conversion – call your bank before you leave to confirm.
Don’t use your cell phone!
I always keep my phone on airplane mode, and then just use the hotel wi-fi to send messages with Whats App and make calls with Skype. Viber is another great resource. If you don’t have the apps or a smartphone, just buy a phone card and use a landline to call home. If you do happen to use your phone for an emergency, just phone your cell phone company when you get home and see if you can argue it down. Many times they will decrease the charge as a courtesy.
Find the free stuff:
With a little research, you can find free exhibits, museums, and attractions. For example, The Louvre is free on Fridays, all museums are free in England, and the Prado in Madrid is free from 6- 8pm. Before you go on your trip, do a little research and get a list of free attractions.
If you just take the time to really plan it right, you can see Europe without going broke or stressing about money while you’re there. Always negotiate with your hotel when you check in to see if they are able to upgrade you or throw in free breakfast, and talk to the locals to find the best spots to eat so you don’t end up in a crappy tourist trap with snobby servers. Do you have any great money saving tips? Because I’m going back to my vacation now…