Start Planning as Early as Possible
There’s lot of research to do when you’re planning a trip to Europe. You’ll need to sort through transportation options, hotels, sightseeing opportunities and activities. You might want to fit in a tour or two. All of that is going to depend on the kind of trip you want.
Do you want to see all the sights or do you want to relax by the pool? Do you want to eat yourself silly in the best restaurants, or are you happy grabbing a quick bite between museums? Is your trip seasonally dependent because you want to ski or hit the beach?
The sooner you plan all of this out and have the goals for your trip set, the better off you are.
Set up airfare alerts and get deals sent to your inbox. Keep an eye on Kayak’s rate forecaster.
If you already know when you want to go and how much you have to spend, when the right deal pops up you can buy it immediately. This is particularly advantageous with airfare since the really good deals or mistake airfares often last for less than a day.
Pick an Offseason
For most places in Europe, winter is the offseason unless you’re planning to participate in a winter sport. An alpine ski town in the winter will be pricey, but you might be able to get a deal in the summer. Spring and Fall are shoulder seasons that can be more affordable and have more pleasant weather and smaller crowds, but you’ll want to avoid Munich during Oktoberfest unless that’s a bucket list item you’re trying to check off as prices for hotels can be 4 times more than their normal rate.
Go Off the Beaten Path
Italy, England, Ireland, Spain…. These are all well-worn paths in Europe for tourists. But Europe still has hidden gems. If you want European flavor but want smaller crowds and cheaper prices, opt for Croatia instead of Italy or Edinburgh instead of London.
Or you could opt for somewhere that doesn’t get near the hype of any of those places but still has wonderful opportunities for travelers, like Lithuania or Slovenia. Plenty of travel bloggers rave about these countries, and you can often see amazing sights, eat delicious food and stay at fantastic hotels for a fraction of the price of big cities like Paris or Amsterdam.
If you’re stuck on the idea of visiting a big city, check out accomodations in the suburbs or surrounding towns. It will likely mean you’ll have to spend more time in transit and you should weigh the cost of transportation against the savings of your hotel. But, if you have unlimited transport pass and you don’t mind the travel, it could save you lots of money on a hotel or allow you to stay someplace nicer for the same cost.
Compare Different Ways of Travel
You can travel Europe with a wide variety of transportation from cheap airlines to Eurail passes to bus companies to renting your own car. A lot of people will try to convince you of a one-size-fits-all solution to your travel, but this really isn’t true. What will be the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation for you will depend on a lot of factors: what country you are traveling in, how far you’re traveling, the time of year, how much luggage you have, how many countries you are traveling through, how many people you plan to travel with, whether you have any health issues to consider, and even how old you are.
For instance, many of the train options in Eurail offer discounts for younger and older travelers, they combine multiple countries into packages, and for a group of travelers going together. This is great when all the places you’re planning to travel have train stations, when you’re traveling with a group, and when budget is your number one concern.
If you have several young kids or a lot of luggage or plan to travel to small towns or maybe just want the freedom to move around on a whim, a car rental might be a better option. Just know that automatic cars often come with an extra charge in the rental market in Europe.
Busses can often be the cheapest option out there, but you may have to trade comfort for the price.
One of my favorite tools for comparing different transportation options and prices is RometoRio. It gives you an overview of transportation options, times, costs, and more. It’s all laid out for you in one place. It’s great for helping making quick decisions about what’s affordable and what’s not, and comparing what those options will get you.
Get a RailPass
If you decide trains will be part of your travel plans, get a rail pass. Rail passes can make travel SO much cheaper if you decided on trains as your main source of travel. You can get multi-country passes, student passes, and more deals depending on where you’re going. You can pick the rail pass that fits your needs.
If you’ve never tried train travel – I highly recommend it. It’s a fast and affordable way to get around Europe. Trains are clean and efficient – in the time you’d spend figuring out directions, getting lost, and driving there or the time you’d spend waiting in airport lines, you can be there on the train. Plus you get gorgeous views.
Just make sure you check out the passes and whether or not they can get you where you’re wanting to go before you buy. Also, be aware that train strikes do happen, something Italy is notorious for among travelers, and that can mean your pass becomes less than helpful in those countries.
Limit Your Luggage
There are many good reasons to pack light when you travel to Europe. It can save you back pain. Make you more mobile. Open up opportunities that you might not have otherwise.
It can also save you a lot of money to not have to pay a fortune in baggage fees. This is particularly the case with budget airlines in Europe. They tend to have very strict baggage rules and charge infamously large fees.
Then there are the fees to attendants at hotels, charges for storing extra luggage in lockers at the train station, and other places that you’ll need to pay to get help getting luggage up to your room if you bring too much with you.
It’s not worth it, and if you’re honest with yourself you’re probably only going to wear half the things you’re bringing. So create a capsule wardrobe, decant your lotions and potions, trim down the electronics you need to bring with you, and leave behind things you can find when you get there. Check with your hotel ahead of time to head off any worries you might have.
Breakfast and Wifi Included in Hotel
Check to see whether breakfast and wifi are included in your hotel. These may not seem like huge costs but they add up over the course of a trip. You might be able to do without them, but having breakfast available at your hotel can speed up your morning routine and get you out to the sites you want to see faster. Not having to go to the local coffee shop for wifi in order to get help with directions for you day can also be priceless.
For a personal story: One hotel I stayed at was quite cheap, but did not include breakfast or wifi in the cost. The nearest place with breakfast was a half mile away – not something I always felt like doing or had time for first thing in the morning.
The price of breakfast for cereal, fruit, and juice? 19 Euros. 29 Euros if you wanted the buffet with all the fixings. The Wifi was an additional 11 dollars a day. It added up quickly over a 10 day stay, so be mindful of all the little extra charges that might not be included in the base fee or make sure there’s a cafe close by for breakfast and internet access if you need it.
Find a Place with a Kitchen
Whether it’s a hostel and Aparthotel or an Airbnb rental, having a kitchen in the place you’re staying can save you a lot of money. You can purchase groceries and cook breakfast or dinner in your room. It also gives you the opportunity to pack a picnic or snacks to take with you. A picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower? Yes, please!
Make a List of Places to Eat off the Beaten Trail
If you try to eat at a restaurant close to the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben, you have a high likelihood of spending more than you would at a restaurant in the basement of a building in a cobblestone alley ½ mile away from the tourist site. Many would argue that the food is likely to be better as well.
It can be really hard to figure out where to eat when you’re already tired and hungry after a long day of sightseeing. Having prepared ahead of time with a list, and maybe even bookmarking a few locations on Google maps, means that you don’t have to think! It also gives you the opportunity to read reviews and check out menus ahead of time.
Buy Sightseeing Tickets Ahead of Time
If there are certain sights you know you want to see, get your tickets ahead of time. For some sights, like Neuschwanstein Castle, this is the only way you can get tickets. But there are other benefits, too. Buying early typically means you can shop around for the best deal, get early bird discounts, and avoid lines. Most of the popular destinations in Europe have some way to purchase tickets ahead of time or cut lines.
Have you tried any of these before? Do you have other suggestions to add? Let me know in the comments!