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Saving money on European travel

I wonder how many people have been putting off going to Europe this year because they think the high price of the Euro makes it too expensive. There are some simple ways to minimize your travel expenses:

  1. Plan ahead.
    1. If you use the town website to find accommodations in advance, you can be sure of the most economical place. If you wait until you come into town to look, you will have to take what's left.
    2. Find the most economical transit tickets before you go. Sometimes you can only get them by purchasing in advance; sometimes you only have to know that certain regional passes are always available and more economical than full fare.
    3. Think about what you are doing before you do it. Don't put yourself in a box. Don't book a flight out of Rome Ciampino for 6 AM without checking on how you will get to the airport by 4 AM. (Transportation from Rome doesn't run that early and nearby hotels are pricey. Shuttles from those hotels probably don't run that early, either. Taxi$, anyone?)
    4. Never take day tours! You're just giving a lot of money to someone else to do what you can do for yourself.

  2. Confine your travel to a smaller area. There is plenty to see in every part of Europe. Do just Benelux and western Germany, or eastern France and Switzerland, or nothern Italy and Austria. Leave the farther away place for your next trip. Remember Rick's axiom, "Assume you will return".

    People who hop all over the continent spend more money and have less time for actually seeing what they came all this way to see.

    Think quality, not quantity.

  3. If you know a European language (even a little), go where it's spoken. People who know the local language can usually find less expensive accommodations and transportation.

  4. Learn something about the local cuisine. There are often delicious, low cost items on the menu if you know how to read it. The German cuisine is based on pork. Schnitzel is often one of the least expensive items on the menu; beef steak is NOT. You don't have to have a complete dinner twice a day. There are some low cost, light dishes on every menu.

  5. Try to stay away from big cities, i.e. visit smaller towns or, if you have to visit a major city, consider staying outside the downtown. Small places generally have lower prices.

  6. Don't use major hotel chains or booking agencies. Hotels are easy to find with booking agencies, but they are usually more expensive. Booking agencies often only feature the most expensive places. Avoid "starred" hotels. Use town websites to find accommodation. Stay in vacation apartments and private rooms.

  7. Use public transportation. Knowledgeable people save a lot of money on the trains by taking advantage of group and purchase-ahead tickets.

    Rental cars might get you to a few, more remote places, but they usually increase your travel expenses significantly. There are plenty of accessible things to see without a car; don't seek out inaccessible places. If you really want to save money, do some research, you will probably find that you can get where you want to go with public transportation. A car might get you there faster, but in my planning for trips, I have often found that the cost per hour saved is not effective).

    On a recent trip to Germany I could have spent $960 on car rental plus fuel (w/o CDW, which wouldn't recommend doing without). I actually used public transportation and spent only $380. That was a savings of $580. Yes, having the car would have been faster, but it only would have saved us 9 hours, total, on the five days we traveled long distances. So each hour saved would have cost the two of us about $65.