Beginner’s Guide To Cutting Costs While Visiting Europe

Young female traveler with hat and backpack standing on San Marco square with tower and basilica on the background in Venice.
RossHelen / Getty Images/iStockphoto

For many people, traveling to Europe is a bucket list item — an opportunity to indulge in some of the world’s most fascinating history, beautiful art and delicious food.

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However, traveling overseas is not as simple or affordable as domestic trips, and it can require a lot of thoughtful planning, smart research and other strategies to keep costs low.

Experts offer important tips to cutting costs for the beginner who is traveling to Europe for the first time.

Travel and Airfare Tips

Travel in the Offseason

The most affordable time to travel to Europe, according to Taylor Beal, owner of travel blog Traverse With Taylor, is the offseason — ideally not in late spring or summer.

But, Beal said, “Avoid school breaks like Christmas or spring break. The best way to get a cheap flight is to set an alert on Skyscanner or Google Flights ahead of time. That way, you can wait to see a reasonable fare drop before booking.”

Make Your Money Work for You

According to Hrvoje Milakovic, owner of Traveling Gossip, “Generally, the offseason is typically the most affordable time to travel in Europe. This is usually from November to April, depending on the destination.”

However, it’s worth noting that the weather may not be as pleasant during the offseason, and some tourist attractions or restaurants may have reduced hours or be closed entirely.

Choose Your Destination Wisely

Some cities and countries in Europe are more expensive than others, prompting Milakovic to advise, “Consider visiting less touristy or offseason destinations to save money.” Instead of Spain, consider Croatia, for example.

Lodging

Lodging is one of the biggest costs after airplane tickets. But Milakovic said some cities in Europe have more affordable lodging than others. These include:

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Paris, France
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Additionally, no matter which city you stay in, look into the following options for cheaper lodging, according to Fred Hoffman, founder chief editor at The True Wilderness:

  • Hostels are usually the most affordable accommodation option in Europe and a great way to save money while traveling.
  • Airbnb is also an affordable option for those looking for a more homey experience in their travels.
  • Camping is also an affordable option and a great way to experience nature while visiting Europe.
  • Budget hotels. Finally, many cities have budget hotels or pensions that offer rooms at lower prices than traditional accommodations. 
Make Your Money Work for You

Sightseeing

Plan Ahead

Beal also recommended that you plan out activities ahead of time to get the best rates. “Many places in Europe offer cheaper tickets online,” she said. “Plus, many are first-come, first-served — and popular attractions will easily sell out ahead of time. The Anne Frank House, for example, sells out far in advance.”

City Passes

Jonathan Merry, founder and CEO at Bankless Times, recommended buying a city pass.

“In a lot of European towns,” he said, “you can get passes that let you into the key attractions for a price that’s not too steep.”

These passes may come in different kinds, depending on your interests.

“Museum passes are especially convenient since they allow you to bypass the line of people waiting to purchase tickets,” Merry said. “The passes may be purchased at most airports, bus stops and train stations, in addition to information kiosks geared specifically for tourists.”

Check Out Free Museum Days

Many museums in Europe offer free or discounted admission on certain days of the week or month. For example:

  • In Paris, many museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
  • In Berlin, many museums offer free admission on the first Monday of every month.
  • In Rome, many museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
  • In London, many museums offer free admission every day.
  • In Barcelona, many museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
Make Your Money Work for You

Food

Know the Dining Rules

Know the basic dining rules in the countries you visit, like the fact that water is not always free, said Nausheen Farishta, a Chicago-based traveler and writer at globe-gazers.com. “In many European countries, they won’t bring water out unless you ask for it. When they do, the default is for it to be bottled water. They may give you an option between still or sparkling water, and you’ll see this on your check when it comes time to pay. Instead, you should explicitly ask for tap water if you’re not expecting to pay for your water at a restaurant.” 

Another tip for saving money when it comes to food and drink is to be aware that it is not always free to dine in, Farishta said. “For instance, in much of Italy you’ll save money by having your coffee standing up at the bar — like the locals — rather than being charged a cover fee to sit at a table.” 

Eat Like a Local

Avoid tourist traps and opt for local, family-owned restaurants instead, Milakovic suggested. “Street food and local markets are also great options for affordable meals.”

Transportation

Use Public Transportation

Renting a car overseas can be incredibly pricey. Milakovic recommended public transportation as one of the most cost-effective ways to get around European cities.

He added, “Consider purchasing a transit pass or using a ride-sharing app to save money on transportation.”

Look Out for Hidden Fees

There can be hidden fees in transportation, however, Farishta said. Not researching and strictly following public transportation ticketing rules can get you into trouble.

For example, she said, “Belgium is particularly tough on anyone who does not properly fill out the information on their train tickets and will be quick to charge you a hefty fee. In Paris, and in other cities, you’ll need to hold on to your metro ticket until you’re all the way out and through the turnstiles on the other side. They’ll often have guards checking for your ticket before allowing you to exit or — you guessed it — another fee.” 

Other Ways To Save

Use a European SIM Card

For people who need to use their phones frequently and don’t want to rack up big roaming or data charges while traveling, travel guru Rick Steves recommends getting a European SIM card put into your phone or buying an inexpensive phone with one already built in. This will give your phone a European mobile number and assure better rates than you would get even with your regular carrier.

Get a Travel Rewards Card

If you don’t have a travel rewards card yet, get one before you plan a European vacation, according to Jenny Ly of Go Wanderly.

“Depending on the time of year you plan to go,” Ly said, “you can use your accumulated points or miles to pay for one or both of your flights. In addition to offering 2x points on all travel-related transactions, many of the best travel credit cards also allow you to earn points each time you use the card to purchase while traveling. The large welcome bonuses are just another great benefit of applying for one of these credit cards.”

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Make Your Money Work for You

About the Author

Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance writer and author of nine books. She holds a B.A. from Sonoma State University and an MFA from Bennington College. Her articles and essays about finances and other topics has appeared in a wide range of publications and clients, including The Atlantic, The Billfold, Good Magazine, GoBanking Rates, Daily Worth, Quartz, Medical Economics, The New York Times, Ozy, Paypal, The Washington Post and for numerous business clients. As someone who had to learn many of her lessons about money the hard way, she enjoys writing about personal finance to empower and educate people on how to make the most of what they have and live a better quality of life.

 
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