Every time I plan a sojourn to Europe, I wonder how I will ever afford it. Yet, with my tried-and-true cost-saving maneuvers, Europe continues to be on my travel list. So although my tips may not be original, I think they’re worth repeating every so often. So here goes:
1. Search out Discounted Skies
From about 90-days out, I do a 20-minute search on the web every day, searching for deal on discount airline sites like Air Transat (www.airtransat.ca) and fare trackers like www.airfarewatchdog.com that notify you if rates drop on flights to your chosen destination. Sometimes I use points to get me to cheaper gateway cities, provided connections don’t incur a hotel stay. And I’ll admit to upgrading myself on Air Transat; the extra $300 is so worth the extra comfort.
2. Redefine Bargain Rooms
When it comes to rooms, I tread carefully. There’s often a reason why something is cheap and in Europe that might mean you’ll end up on the wrong side of town or in a flea pit. Here’s where I turn to www.tripadvisor.com, www.expedia.ca and recommendations on family stays. Keep an eye on www.eurocheapo.com, too, where rooms in Barcelona, for example, are listed for as little as $50.
3. Don’t Pay Twice on Insurance
Be sure you’re covered but remember that many credit cards provide trip cancellation and interruption insurance, rental car insurance and out-of-country medical coverage as long as you use the card to book your flight, accommodation or rental car. All of a sudden, that annual card fee is worth gold. Check out your cards and while you’re at it, confirm how they are received overseas and if they offer instant emergency cash.
4. Live Like a Local
Staying with a family is a great segue into living like a local. North Americans have never quite married to this concept but it’s quite the norm elsewhere in the world. Many of my friends do the home-swap thing but if that’s not an option, check out www.interhome.com for rentals throughout Europe; www.rentalsfrance.com; www.rentuscany.com for villas in Italy and www.cottagenet.co.uk for the England and Ireland.
5. Use Transit
Use the Tube in London, the Metro in Paris and bicycles in Amsterdam or Copenhagan where racks of bicycles are plentiful. Simply deposit money into the slot (about $4) to release your wheels of choice, pedal from point A to B, park your bike at the nearest rack and in many cases (as in Copenhagen) retrieve your money.
6. Cheap Eats
European street eats are no longer confined to fish ‘n chips in England or bratwurst hotdogs in Dresden — though that country’s traditional fare is always the best bet – and they’re always reasonably priced. Besides, you then get to eat in great people-watching places such as in a park, on a beach, or beside a museum. If accommodation includes breakfast, eat heartily and have as late a lunch as possible so that dinner is light and inexpensive. I always travel with cookies (to accompany my English Breakfast tea), and often I’ll make supper a snack in my room of baguettes, ham and cheese. Remember, alcohol can make an inexpensive meal bust your budget. That’s why my water flask sometimes contains wine!
7. Look for Free Stuff
Every city offers a ton of activities that you can enjoy for free including no-charge museum and art gallery days, and cultural events. Think Changing of the Guard in London, or the Basel Historical Museum. Google ‘free things to do’ in the city of your choice and presto. Contact the appropriate tourism agency where freebies are often categorized by interest and travel style eg: for families. The tourism folks will also let you know of any bundled attractions passes which for short visits in particular, can be a real money saver.