Europe on a Budget

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by Katie Jackson

It’s hard to use the words “Europe” and “budget” in the same sentence. Crossing the Atlantic implies exorbitant expenses, and rightfully so. First you have the airfare—usually at least $1,000. Then, you have room and board—Europe is home to five of the Wall Street Journal’s 2016 list of Top 10 Most Expensive Cities to Live In. But don’t be discouraged by the initial sticker shock. There are plenty of ways to save money on a trip across the pond, especially if your destination is the U.K. where, thanks to Brexit, the American dollar is the strongest it’s been since the 1980s. Regardless of where you go, you’ll want to travel off-season, but regardless of when you visit, below are 10 evergreen tips for traveling on a budget in Europe.

  1. Go East Young Man/Woman – One of the best ways to keep your costs down is to start with the compass. Destinations in Western Europe – Paris, London, Dublin, Madrid, etc. – are the most popular. They’re also the priciest. Most 4-star hotels in Paris start around 250 euro/night. The same standard of accommodations in Belgrade, Serbia will set you back about 100 euro/night. Matthew Bowles, an international investment property specialist, lived in Belgrade and says a medium pizza costs around $2.50. In Paris, $2.50 can’t even get you a plain crepe in a sit-down restaurant.
  1. Align Your Bucket List with The Europe Backpacker Index – Whether or not you’re a backpacker, pay attention to this group’s go-to list. The 2016 rankings list the following cities as the top 10 most affordable to visit: Kiev, Bucharest, Krakow, Sofia, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Budapest, Cesky Krumlov, Warsaw and Zagreb.
  1. Book Transportation in Advance – For the most part, last minute deals do not exist when it comes to transportation in Europe. Book your flights, trains, buses, etc. as far in advance as you can. Of course, doing this limits your flexibility, but if you end up paying $400 for a flight that could have only cost $50 if booked a month sooner, you’ll be too upset to fully enjoy that flexibility anyway.
  1. VPNs Can be Your Best Friend – “It’s possible to trick the booking system by using a VPN, virtual private network,” says Brian Choy, a photographer who frequently flies from New York to Europe. Domestic and international flight prices can differ based on where you’re booking from, so it’s not always advisable to let your computer know your geographical location. Often a flight from Paris to Rome is cheaper if it is booked in either Paris or Rome than it would be if it was booked in Kansas City. (Choy also recommends paying attention to which currency you’re booking in. Often, international sites have different options and you can save money by not booking in USD.) Here is a helpful article on VPNs à wikiHow to Use VPN.
  1. Book Overnight Trains and Buses – If you’re the kind of person who can sleep sitting up, do your traveling at night. Europe’s major rail and bus network pretty much runs 24/7 so you have the option to book night journeys which save you the cost of a hotel. Keep in mind, however, that a bed in a sleeper car can cost as much as a bed in a hostel or budget hotel, so this tip usually only works if you book economy or coach.
  1. Book Accommodations on Arrival – The internet makes it beyond easy to research and book rooms in advance. But even discount sites like Kayak and Hotwire don’t always have the cheapest beds in town. Those beds belong to the people (who haven’t yet discovered AirBnB) who greet visitors at train and bus stations with Room for Rent signs. I traveled for 80 days in Europe and booked most of my rooms this way, paying around 30 euro for a private room and bath in a local’s house. The same setup in a hotel would cost at least 50 euro.
  1. Book Where You Can Cook – If you don’t want to stay in the cheapest room in town, but you still want to save money, book where you can cook. Recently, I stayed at Fresh Sheets Bed and Breakfast (yes that is the name of it!) in the heart of Old Town Dubrovnik. The rate for my well-appointed room with a kitchenette was 248 euro—well worth it for the luxury and location. I spent half as much of my food budget by shopping at markets and grocery stores (recommended by the friendly owners) and cooking meals for myself.
  1. Eat Breakfast Out – If your hotel has the option to add on breakfast, say no, or at least do your due diligence and find out what breakfast entails before you add it to your room rate. In April I stayed in a 3-star hotel near Montmartre in Paris. The breakfast add-on was 12 euro. The breakfast spread consisted of a few paltry pastries, lousy drip coffee, hardboiled eggs and pathetic apples. For 6 euro you can enjoy a handcrafted cappuccino and fresh croissant in a café with better views than the vending machine.
  1. Eat Around Universities – When I was in university, I studied in Paris, Rome and Dublin. Seven years later, I’m still eating at the places I frequented as a 19-year-old. Universities are surrounded by plenty of restaurants catering to hungry college students and their tight budgets. A savory crepe and soda in a sit-down café in Paris’ Latin Quarter—a popular place for students—costs around 6 euro. The same Coke and crepe near the Louvre will cost double that.
  1. Drink as the Locals Drink – “Drink beer in beer countries and wine in wine countries,” says Cindy Paulauskas, owner of MDFV, a small ship cruise company that takes guests throughout the Mediterranean. Sipping what the locals sip is akin to eating what’s in season. And not only is it cheaper, it’s often tastier. (Paulauskas also saves money by ordering from the daily menu.)


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