If you were to ask U.S. travelers where they would most want to go on a big trip, they would most likely say that Europe is their number one choice. However, many travelers think that anywhere outside of the country is too expensive and unattainable. That’s simply not true, but American travelers aren’t sure how to reach their vacation goals sooner rather than later. By knowing when to travel, you can save almost half off a traditional vacation to a European destination. Here are just a few ways to enjoy a trip overseas for much less.
Travel in the off-season. The busiest time of year for tourism in Europe is summer. All the kids are out of school and attractions are packed with travelers of all sorts. Any time of year outside of summer is a good time to go to beat the crowds, but if you also want decent weather, try visiting in late August, September or early October. Though attractions may be open fewer hours each day, you’ll be able to do more in a normal day because you won’t be standing in long lines everywhere you go.
Book airfare mid- to late-summer. If you choose to travel in fall, fare sales for Europe will appear near the end of summer or even midway through. You’ll notice how much fares can drop between the seasons – sometimes as much as 50 percent! Not only will this help you fit the flight costs into your budget, it also allows you to see how a slight change in travel plans can really benefit you when it comes to your choice of destination.
Book your meals with TopTable. You’ll probably be spending some time eating out on your trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to empty out your wallet to dine well. When you book a reservation with TopTable you can get exclusive dining discounts including affordable fixed-price menus and two-for-one meals. You can download the phone app and make reservations at restaurants on the go if you aren’t sure where you’ll be at a particular time before you leave home.
Buy a city pass. Another great way to save money on your trip is to purchase a pass for the city you’ll be visiting. Most large tourist cities offer them and you just have to do a quick online search to find it. For one price you can gain entry to a whole list of popular attractions without waiting in the ticket queues. Some even include transportation and other discounts at your destination.
Choose low-cost airlines. When traveling to Europe, not all airlines are created equal! Certain carriers, such as Ryanair and EasyJet, cater to budget-conscious travelers and have expanded their networks in Europe. Keep an eye out for discount carriers when you’re comparing airline prices, and plan to travel light so you don’t get stuck paying for extra baggage fees.
Shop at local grocery stores. Eating out at restaurants forevery meal takes its toll on your wallet, and often your diet as well. Seek out local grocery stores and shop like you normally would at home. To save money in Europe, plan to eat at least one meal this way per day. For example, you could stash breakfast food in your room and pack a picnic lunch so you can splurge a bit on a highly rated restaurant for dinner.
Stay in hostels. Although hostels aren’t as popular in the U.S., there’s still a huge hostel culture in Europe that’s social, safe, and fun. Contrary to popular belief, not all hostel stays are characterized by sleeping in a noisy 12-person dorm room with one overcrowded bathroom. Many hostels actually offer private rooms at a fraction of the cost of your average hotel.
Take buses and trains. Public transportation is the ultimate way to get around in Europe, so take advantage of the excellent bus and train systems here. Buses are generally cheaper than trains but take longer to reach your destinations. Save car rentals for days when you want to explore remote parts of the countryside, not city days where you’ll be faced with traffic and parking nightmares.
Find family-run businesses. Shopping and dining at “mom & pop shops” give the local economy a boost and connect you with the local culture. Avoid overly touristy areas and chain establishments in favor of more authentic experiences that you can feel good about and remember forever.
Pay with cash. As any traveler to Europe will tell you, ATM and credit card fees add up – not to mention the exchange rate. Keep in mind that in many smaller European towns, establishments only accept cash. When you arrive, take out an amount of cash you feel comfortable with and avoid exchanging cash at bureaus that don’t show the buying and selling rate.
Embrace free activities. Exploring a new place doesn’t have to be all about paying for expensive tickets and fancy meals. Some of the best ways to experience local culture is by simply sitting outside in a park while having a picnic and people-watching. Pick up copies of local newspapers and magazines when you travel to look for listings of free events and to learn about fun things to do nearby that aren’t listed in the guidebooks.
Do your research to avoid costly tours. Sure, guided tours can provide you with history and insights about a new place, but you can also do this research yourself to save money. When visiting museums and historic sites, choose self-guided audio tours over a personally guided tour, and read about places you plan to visit before arriving. With a little advance research, you can be your own tour guide and save hundreds of dollars in Europe without missing out on the famous sights.
When you travel to Europe outside of the summer months, you will notice that airfares aren’t all you’ll save on. Besides saving time by not having to stand in lines and elbow your way through throngs of tourists, you’ll also find that hotel rates are lower during the rest of the year. You’ll see more, do more and probably be amazed by how little you spent in comparison to what you thought it would cost you.