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Top tips for a budget-friendly European vacation

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Thinking about postponing that trip to Europe? Jane McIntosh, creator of Jane’s Smart Art Guides™, audio guides for independent travelers, says, “Go ahead and go.”

While the exchange rate keeps getting worse and fuel surcharges increase the cost of flying, there’s still no guarantee that the dollar will power up to the euro’s mojo or that air fares will plummet anytime soon.

Jane recently sent us this dispatch of her top tips for reducing the strain on your overseas budget.

Know when to go.

If you don’t have to vacation during the summer, don’t. Airfare can cost hundreds less during the off-season. Seasonal pricing holds true for lodging too and off-peak travel ensures shorter lines at museums and other major attractions.

Why not check out a traditional European Christmas market? Click here for a list of some favorites. Remember, the days might be shorter, but Europe seems to be the only place on earth where you can still enjoy cultural offerings in the darkness. Chamber music, anyone?

Compare airfares.

Compare the fares of major airlines with charter flights and consolidators. And, consider flying into a hub like London or Brussels and then transferring to a no-frills airline in order to get to your destination.

You can use tools like CheapoSearch to research low-cost carriers including RyanAir, easyJet and Wizz Air. Check out Kayak and Mobissimo for great fares on major carriers, especially for travel from the U.S. to Europe.

Plan transportation ahead of time.

Especially if you intend to visit more than one city, look into your travel options well in advance. Car rentals are much less expensive when reserved from home and purchasing inter-city rail passes before you go can also save you money. Truly intrepid rail pass travelers avoid hotel bills by riding overnight trains (a favorite Cheapo pastime)! RailEurope, AutoEurope, and EuropCar are great places to rev your engines.

Forget about taxis.

Taking a taxi from the airport may not have seemed a luxury two years ago, but it certainly appears so now. If you’re traveling alone, public transportation is likely to be your cheapest option. Advance “googling” will help you determine the economics of train versus taxi if you’re traveling with others.

Rent an apartment, flat or villa.

To drastically reduce your cost-per-night, stay in an apartment, flat or villa instead of a hotel. The web is awash with vacation rental agents. But beware falling in love with an apartment or home you find on a web site and then getting stuck with an unresponsive agent. Do your agency homework first, then choose your lodging. Will the agent be available to you (in English) if you have questions or need help?

Go local.

Use the hotel room’s coffee maker and, especially if you’re staying in an apartment, find out where the nearest food markets are. Going out for breakfast can add up fast, so load up on the hotel’s continental fare.  If possible, stay somewhere that offers a kitchen as dining out every night adds up quickly. It’s fun planning dinner when many of the available ingredients are so different from what you’re used to back home. Just remember that 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds!

Be your own tour guide.

It’s this easy: take a detailed map and load up your iPod with any number of walking tours, site guides, and podcasts.  You’ll find touring at your own pace and customizing sightseeing to your own interests is a great way to go! If you have your heart set on a tour, look for economical multi-day or multi-site tourist passes. But forget about group tours, sightseeing buses, or expensive private guides.

Take a walk.

In some cities the cost of public transportation is off the charts, so walking is the best way to get to know a place—and save money in the process. If you prefer public transport, look for off-peak fares, multi-day tickets, zone passes (like the Oyster card in London), and other money-saving deals.

Make your own souvenirs.

Instead of buying souvenirs, take pictures. With a digital camera your millionth shot costs no more than your first. Just be sure to take extra batteries and memory cards from home as these items are expensive to purchase in Europe.

About the author

Meredith Franco Meyers

About the author: Meredith earned an MFA in fiction writing at The New School in New York City. Her feature stories and articles have appeared in Ladies' Home Journal, American Baby, Self, Bridal Guide, Time Out New York, Fitness and more. She joined EuroCheapo in summer 2007.

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18 thoughts on “Top tips for a budget-friendly European vacation”

  1. Besides the book fairs, museums, art galleries, and festivities that Italy boasts of, there are lots of activities that you and your family members can engage yourselves into. You will never find a dull moment in Italy because of the list of adventures that you may love and die to try. Take a quick look at the following list for a much enjoyable European family vacation.

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  2. I think the above article has very good tips on how to save money on a European vacation.

    I would also add to consider Eastern Europe as generally visiting countries in that region would be cheaper than Western Europe.

    I like the go local tip and would add that it also applies when looking for good restaurants or eateries. Follow where the locals go and avoid the expensive tourist traps.

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  3. Pingback: Family Travel: 10 Great Blog Posts On Traveling With Children | My Little Nomads

  4. Very useful tips, just keep on posting more economy-friendly travel tips — we all need that, don’t we? Being frugal these days is a must! You are right, photos can be or one of the nicest souvenirs from your travel. I am sure your friends will love to see more of your travel photos!

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  5. Good tips! I also suggest to use a personal finance software with a cellphone or PDA phone. This makes recording and tracking expenses much easier. An Excel sheet on a PDA would do very well as a personal finance planner and it can be easily transferred to a PC for expenses tracking and archiving.

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