Every summer, thousands of backpackers descend upon EuropeÂ?s shores looking for adventure, culture, and ways to stretch their money to last for three months of nonstop travel. Unfortunately, travel during the peak season (June 15 through September 15) is expensive due to high demand (especially in August when most Europeans take their vacations). Furthermore, with the dollar losing strength against the euro and the pound, and Greece hosting the Summer Olympics, it will take a little more planning to travel on a budget this summer.
To help you save on a Europe trip, I’ve put together a list of my top 10 tips for saving on transportation, accommodations, and sightseeing in Europe. You might already be aware of some of these strategies, while other tips may be travel insider tactics you had not considered:
- If you’re planning to visit multiple European cities, consider purchasing an open-jaw ticket. Rather than flying to and departing from the same airport, an open-jaw ticket allows you to fly to one city and depart from another. With good intentions, many travelers buy round-trip fares to London (usually the cheapest European city to fly to from the U.S.) and then visit cities elsewhere in Europe. However, the cost and time spent traveling back and forth between the U.K. and other countries can often nullify the value of the round-trip London fare.
By purchasing an open-jaw ticket that flies into one city, say Paris, and out of another, such as Rome, you can save the time and money of having to get back to your original city. A travel agent, particularly from a student travel company such as Travel CUTS or STA, can help you plan an itinerary and book the ticket that best suits your needs.
- Before you leave, stock your wallet with discount cards. Your best bet is the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or the International Youth Travel Card(IYTC), which are good for discounts on airfare, transportation, accommodations, museums, and other travel services. It also comes with basic travel insurance. Visit ISIC.org for more details. The Youth Hostel Association member card (YHA) for Hostelling International is another good card to have because it gives you a discounted rate at over 4,000 hostels worldwide. Go to the Hostelling International website to find out how to join.
Read Avoiding the foreign currency gouge to learn more about exchange rates and using your credit and ATM cards abroad.
Use credit cards to make purchases and ATM cards to get cash because youÂ?ll get the best exchange rates. ItÂ?s a good idea to get a little cash and some travelersÂ? checks before you depart in case of an emergency. However, unless youÂ?re traveling to remote areas, youÂ?ll find that plastic is accepted most everywhere and ATM machines abound. You can use an ATM debit card to make both purchases and ATM withdrawals, but some banks may charge an extra fee for debit card purchases abroad. Before you travel, find out what fees and restrictions your bank applies to international withdrawals and purchases, as each bank has slightly different rules.
- Do as the locals do when it comes to transportation, and purchase multi-ride bus or metro tickets to get around major cities. In cities like London, Paris, and Rome, buying a single bus or metro ticket for every ride will deplete funds quickly. In London, for example, a single ticket for a one-way ride (within zones 1 and 2 of the London Underground) will run you about $4. Full-day passes start at about $8 and allow you an unlimited number of rides on the Underground trains and buses. Therefore, if you plan on taking more than one ride a day, the full-day card is a much better value. And if you really want to cut down on transportation costs, get off the bus or subway and hoof itÂ?in most cities, the main attractions are well within walking distance.
- When staying at a hostel or small hotel, ask if you can work for a discount. If youÂ?re willing to, for example, spend a couple hours cleaning or working the front desk, some places might let you stay for a discount or for free. For instance, a friend of mine got a discount on accommodations by helping pass out the nightly apple pie and ice cream at a hostel. Obviously, this wonÂ?t be the case in every hostel (especially with the free apple pie and ice cream every night!). You’ll probably have better luck at small, independent lodgings than large, chain locations.
- When staying at a hostel, make good use of the kitchen facilities. Eating every meal out can empty your wallet and expand your waistline faster than you’d imagine. And if youÂ?re traveling by yourself, eating solo at restaurants can get lonely. ThereÂ?s no better way to enjoy the local cuisine than to stop at the market and have a big fry up with your new international friends in the hostel kitchen.
- Discount rail passes and backpacking go hand-in-hand. Rail Europe offers a variety of discounted Eurail train passes for travelers under 26 from the all-encompassing Eurailpass Youth to specific country passes. Riding overnight trains is also a good way to avoid paying for accommodations, as well as keeping your days free for exploring. Passes can be purchased through [% 2966 | deal | Rail Europe %] or a student travel agent.
- If you donÂ?t mind riding buses, the hop-on, hop-off bus service Busabout can be yet an even cheaper option for exploring the continent, although slightly less flexible in its travel times and routes than rail. A Busabout pass allows you to create your own itinerary within Busabout’s network, linking 11 countries and 41 individual cities and towns throughout Europe. Purchase a pass through the Busabout website or a student travel agent.
- Sometimes train or bus passes arenÂ?t the best deal if youÂ?re only going to a couple of places. If this is the case for your trip, consider hopping from city to city on a budget airline. Europe is home to a number of low-cost airlines, the most well known being Ryanair. Based in London’s Stanstead airport, Ryanair often offers flights from London to cities all over Europe for under $10 one-way, not including taxes and fees. If you can’t fly from London, there are over 50 other budget European carriers based in other cities, which are listed on LowCostAirlines.org.
- If youÂ?re looking for something a little different, consider traveling in Eastern Europe, where it’s possible to live lavishly on a budget because the cost of living is so much lower than in the West. Plus, thereÂ?s the added bonus of being one of the few tourists in the area. This summer is actually the perfect time to visit, as several Eastern European countries including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland just joined the European Union this spring. While these countries will not start using the Euro for several more years, prices are likely to rise quickly. The days you’ll be able to travel in Eastern Europe and enjoy multicourse gourmet meals and fine hotel rooms on a shoestring might be numbered.
With a bit of creative thinking and a little extra effort, youÂ?ll find that even this summer it’s possible to save a couple bucks and still experience all that Europe has to offer.