February 29, 2016

Europe 101: Tips, Tricks & Being Thrifty

It's no secret that travel from the United States to Europe can be expensive. Stupid expensive. While there are some things you can do to help mitigate some costs, others - such as airfare - can't be avoided. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can make your dollars go further when planning a trip to Europe!

While the idea of a grand European tour sounds exciting, hopping from one country to another will put a hard hit on your wallet. Transit and lodging costs are the biggest expenses for any trip, so if you can limit your transit, you can limit your bills. In other words, touring Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice (Italy) is most likely* going to be a less expensive trip than visiting London, Paris, Berlin, and Athens. So when developing your itinerary, pick a region or country and concentrate on seeing all the highlights rather than trying to see all of Europe in ten days. Always tell yourself that there will be another trip or you'll drive yourself crazy thinking about all the other places you didn't see!

Due to our family connections, all roads lead to Germany for us. So we concentrate on one city or one region for our sightseeing portion of vacation before heading to Bavaria for our family time. 

*If your travel dates are flexible and you check airfare prices constantly, you may find good deals to make country hopping affordable!

If your budget is particularly tight, visit Europe in the off season to save money on airfare and lodging. Not fully convinced? Look at the price difference quoted on Kayak.com shown to the left for flights from Richmond, VA, to Paris, France, in April versus July.

Traveling in the shoulder month of April instead of the high season of July represents a $327 cost savings on airfare - no small change when it comes to flights! You may not be able to go swimming in the Aegean in April and may still need to bundle up when touring castles in northern Europe, but traveling in the off season will also afford one other plus: smaller crowds at the popular sites.

When we visited Neuschwanstein Castle in July 2010, it was swarming with tourists compared to my father-in-law's October 2015 visit.

While it may be convenient to fly out of the closest airport to home, consider driving further for better prices. We live within an hour of the Richmond International Airport in central Virginia, but we almost always drive the two hours north to Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C. for our flights. Using the same travel dates as above, flights out of Dulles are $882 in April and $955 in July. That's a sizable difference! That cost savings is well worth the extra drive, and even the airport parking fees don't eat up that difference. Additionally, consider what airport you'll be arriving at. For example, on our visits to Bavaria, we compare the prices for landing in Munich versus Frankfurt to determine the better deal.

Many people are familiar with London's Heathrow Airport, but did you know there are a total of 5 airports in London? Many of Europe's discount airlines (Ryanair, Easyjet, etc) operate out of these lesser known hubs.

Don't be afraid to shop around on third party websites for airfares and lodging. I regularly use Kayak, Skyscanner, Orbitz, and Priceline in addition to checking the individual websites of specific airlines. For lodging, consider services such as Airbnb, which not only may save you money but provide a more intimate experience as opposed to staying at a hotel. But when using hotels, oftentimes you can receive a better rate by reaching out directly to the hotel, thereby saving the hotel from the fees owed to the third party booking site. And finally, be sure to clear the cookies from your internet browser when shopping around. When sites see that you're consistently looking for information on specific travel dates or locations, they may budge their prices higher, figuring that you're already sold on the site/location and would be willing (or forced) to pay the higher price.

Unless you're planning to spend a week lounging on the French Riviera as opposed to hardcore sightseeing, keep in mind that you won't spend much time in your hotel room beyond sleeping and bathing. As such, there's no need to stay in a four or five star hotel (unless you're loaded, in which case it's doubtful you're reading a blog about being a thrifty gypsy!). Read reviews or take personal recommendations for a clean but cheap hotel in a safe location of the city you're visiting. Avoid the main drag and very popular tourist areas as hotels will be at a premium. Instead find a location a little more off the beaten track with good connections to metro stops or a doable walk from the sites you're interested in seeing.

For a few more specifics on how I find the "perfect" hotel for us, read more here.

While you may think it's counterproductive to your budget to take a longer trip, consider this: is it worth spending nearly a thousand dollars per ticket (or more) for just a week long trip? At least two full days will be spent in transit, leaving only five at your destination(s). In my opinion that doesn't justify the cost of getting yourself there into the first place. When it comes to Europe, I recommend a minimum of 10 days unless you're visiting the United Kingdom or if you've snagged an incredibly good deal on airfare.

With these tips in mind, planning a budget-friendly trip to Europe is more than possible! Stay tuned for a follow-up post on how to save money once your feet are on the ground in Europe!

Do you have any other tips or tricks you use when planning an European vacation?


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1 comment:

  1. Yes on all the points! But the biggest saver in our opinion is using apartments instead of pricey hotels (we use Airbnb for anything over 1 night)...also staying within a region and not over-extending yourself (transport costs add up).
    By the way, we were just in Germany for a 10 day vacation and loved the Bamberg/Nurnberg/Wurzburg area. But no surprise because we always love Germany.
    Frank (bbqboy)


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