Now is the best time to travel to Europe on a budget. As a family, we have visited sixteen European countries, learning something new each time. With the arrival of each child, the cost of travel has grown exponentially so I am always looking for ways to save money when we travel. Here are some of our best tips for how to travel to Europe on a budget.
*This post contains affiliate links, but opinions are 100% my own.
1. Plan ahead and be flexible
As soon as you think you might be traveling to Europe, start thinking about buying airline tickets. To find the biggest discounts consider traveling in the shoulder season (usually April through early June, September, and October, depending on location) to take advantage of fewer crowds and cheaper prices. Be flexible when you begin searching because the cheapest option might be to fly into one city and travel to your final destination via another mode of transportation. If possible, have flexible travel dates to find the best flight deals available.
2. Use an airline rewards program and purchase airfare using points
We have purchased approximately twenty round trip airline tickets to Europe using frequent flyer miles. The only things we have to pay for are airport fees and taxes. We purchase everything with our rewards credit cards, but we make this work by paying off the credit cards EVERY SINGLE MONTH. If you can’t commit to this, airline rewards programs aren’t worth it.
Check out The Points Guy to get the scoop on all the different credit cards that offer rewards and find the best one for you. Most airlines allow the purchasing of seats 330-360 days in advance, so be vigilant and if you don’t see the tickets you want, keep checking back, they occasionally open up more seats.
3. Pay attention to airline sales and fly discount carriers
There are many discount international airlines that frequently run deals on travel from the east coast to Europe. If you are able to get a ticket, it can be a great bargain. Just know that sometimes bargains aren’t the best way to go. A couple of discount carriers that occasionally offer reduced fares to Europe are Icelandair and Norwegian.
Once you land in Europe, there are numerous discount air carriers, such as Ryan Air, Wizz Air, airBerlin, and easyJet, that can transport you from country to country. Many times a flight can be cheaper than rail or car travel. Just know that these airlines can have different baggage requirements than we do in the U.S., so pack accordingly.
4. Consider traveling to bargain destinations
When many Americans book their trips to Europe they head to Italy, France, and the UK. I’m not saying you need to avoid these destinations, but if you want a bargain, go off the beaten path. A few years ago, we took our kids to the Dordogne region of France, and not only was it less expensive than Paris and Provence, but the people were super friendly and the area was a wealth of history and scenic beauty. Other budget European destinations include Croatia, Portugal, and Greece.
Other discount destinations where your dollar will go further include the rest of former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro come to mind), Poland, Spain, Czechia, Hungary, and Istanbul. Trying one of these places instead of one of the more popular destinations will save you money on food, lodging, and transportation.
5. Look into alternative lodging
European hotels are often unable to accommodate our family of five due to room size and fire code restrictions. As a result, I have spent numerous hours researching alternative lodging options. In addition to using services like HomeAway, I’ve also used Red Apple Apartments for our trip to Copenhagen and we were very pleased with them.
We’ve also enjoyed stays where we rented a self catering home or cottage on a farm or rural property. In Italy it’s known as an agriturismo, in France, it’s a gîte. Any of these accommodations are bound to save you money, not only on lodging, but on food expenses as well, since it’s possible to prepare food in the apartment or room. They can also provide an opportunity to live like a local which is something you just can’t find at a hotel.
6. Check the currency conversion rate
If you’re still not convinced now is the time to visit, consider this. As of today, $1 converts to .90 Euro, which is much cheaper than the $1 to .82 Euro we paid in 2015. This can only mean one thing: bargains for you. Everything will be cheaper; hotels, trains, tours, you name it, is cheaper now than it has been in a long time.
However, you still need to pay attention to foreign transaction fees (find a credit card that doesn’t charge them). These can be charged by your bank on debit and credit card transactions. Confirm before traveling whether or not you will need to pay them.
7. Transportation in Europe
This is where costs can get out of hand and you have to do your research. For a family of five, sometimes it is cheaper to rent a car than pay for five train tickets. However, some rail carriers like Rail Europe offer discounts for children or groups traveling together. They also offer discounts when visiting multiple countries. There are also the discount airline carriers. They have been cheaper than the train at times.
The key is to book your ticket in advance through the local operator’s website. This will give you the best price available, and the sooner you make the reservation, the cheaper the ticket. This applies to airlines and trains.
If you are renting a car, check with your credit card before you leave. Many rental agencies in Europe require you to take out an exorbitant insurance waiver that often costs as much as the rental. On a recent trip we learned that our American Express card provides us with insurance on these international rentals, saving us hundreds of dollars. Also, try not to pick up and drop off in a different location because the drop off fee can be ridiculous. An auto consolidator like Auto Europe that shops around for the best price might be the best way to go.
Buses, bikes, and metros can all be budget friendly options too. Some cities offer bus passes (buy in bulk to receive a discount), bikes for rent, and metros are typically cheaper than taxis. To save the most money, use your feet.
8. Research the best overseas phone plan
In the past we have used a local SIM card we purchased when we reached our destination. This was a handy way to pay for a set number of minutes and swap out the SIM card in our phone.
We have also used a portable wi fi device, paying a daily rate and using only WhatsApp to communicate by phone. Another option is to use your regular cell phone provider, but be sure to confirm rates and usage plans before heading overseas.
9. Invest in a city pass
Most major European cities offer a “city pass”. This allows visitors free admission (or discounts) to the major attractions and sometimes transportation and dining discounts as well. We really enjoyed the discounts provided by the Dublin, Copenhagen, and Lisbon passes.
10. Find ways to save money on food
Eating out for every meal of the day can add up quickly so here are some options:
– Stay at a hotel where breakfast is included.
– Make lunch the largest meal of the day and eat a small dinner. Lunch prices are usually less expensive.
– Shop the local grocery store and have a picnic. Better yet, stay in an apartment and cook your own meals.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak when it comes to planning a trip overseas. Hopefully, these tips will help you travel to Europe on a budget.