How to Travel to Europe on a Budget
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.
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How to Save Money on a Europe Trip
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. One of our favorite Europe travel tips is to use local air carriers once you arrive. It’s easier and often more efficient.
2. Use airline rewards program
We have purchased approximately thirty 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 Johnny Jet 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.
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3. Look for 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.
Using a travel site like Google Flights or Travelocity might help to compare cheapest fares.
The app Skyscanner will notify you of price changes if you want to monitor pricing for a specific destination (Google Flights does this too). And don’t forget to download our favorite travel apps before your trip!
Once you land in Europe, there are numerous discount air carriers, such as Ryan Air, Wizz Air, 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.
Planning a multigenerational trip to Europe? Use these multi-gen travel tips!
4. Consider traveling to the cheapest countries in Europe
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, former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro come to mind), Greece, 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 VRBO, 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. A
ny 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 1 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 discount airline carriers. We have found them to be cheaper than ferries, car rentals, and train travel at times.
Always check for cheap flights before you book other transport and take into account transportation time to and from the airport to make sure it’s the right choice.
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 and Lisbon passes.
10. Find ways to save money on food
If you want to travel Europe cheap, one of the easiest way to do this is to find accommodations with meals or kitchens included. 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.
11. Ask the locals
Locals usually know where to find the cheapest restaurant, transportation, tour, you name it. This can save you money on meals and other essentials, as well as give you an opportunity to find a destinations true charm.
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 plan budget travel to Europe.
Book Your Flights – You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service. If you need airport transfers, we recommend Welcome Pickups.
When traveling in Europe, we use AutoEurope to make our bookings. They find the best rates and allow you to compare different car rental agencies. Europcar is another option.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages. Other companies to look at include Tours by Locals and Withlocals.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational-based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.
One of our favorite things to do annually is taking photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threats, or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master or World Nomads to find the best policy for your group.
I was in Europe in my early 20’s and would love to go back. Talk about being on a budget. I would not do hostels this time around
These are great tips! For our family of four (with two teens), renting apartments through Air Bnb was a huge money saver. Much cheaper than two hotel rooms, which we would have needed, and we stocked up at the grocery store for breakfasts and snacks.
We traveled by train, and booking tickets as soon as the schedule opens is the way to get the cheapest tickets. Once they sell out, the prices are higher. Although now that my kids pay adult fares (over 14), renting a car may be a cheaper and less stressful way to go the next time.
Awesome tips! My husband and I went to Rome a few years ago and would LOVE to go back!!
Great tips I am a graduate and soon I will to pay off my student loan but still want to be able to travel the world. I will try out these tips and see if I can save money too!http://www.fadedspring.co.uk/
Great tips! I cannot wait till the day when the mister and I can travel abroad. I have pinned this for future reference.
I loved this post, since Europe is on my bucket list, i am just waiting to have some more money and a husband ready to leave 🙂 I think he’s secretly scared of planes, hehe.
Anyways i loved your article all the way! 🙂 Awesome points i will keep in mind before i arrange all i need for my travel. Can’t wait to see Italy, England, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, so many flavors and cultures!
Can you share some pictures of your trip to europe, perhaps you have on another post? Please let me know i would love to see.
Oh how I love Europe! I would love to take my husband, he has never been!
This is a wealth of knowledge! I did an exchange program in Bavaria as a high school student, and have wanted to go back again ever since. But of course in early marriage we never had the money, and now we have 3 kids 5 and under, so traveling internationally is a much bigger challenge than it was before kids. Thanks for the tips- I so want to make it happen!
This is a great post! My husband and I went on heaps of overseas trips before kids, but they have started to slow down now that we have two little ones. We are thinking about a trip to europe next year, so this will come in handy for sure!
Maria, I hear you! Our first trip was SO different from each subsequent trip. We stayed in some very sketchy places. I shudder to think about them!
Dana, I’m so glad to hear you found some nice apartment through airbnb and were able to navigate the train system. I love your extra tips. Thanks for stopping by!
Michelle, me too! I just read a post from Dana at Kiss My List and they just returned from Rome. I really loved reading about it, but it makes me want to go back tomorrow!
Ana, keep paying off the student loan, and travel the world when you’re done. The world is amazing no matter where you travel, and if your goal is to get to Europe, I hope you get there soon!
Thanks Jessica. Go when they are little, they are so portable (LOL). : )
Ella, feel free to browse through my site. I have posts on France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia. I also write for TravelingMom.com and there are a ton of location specific posts over there. I hope you can travel there soon and convince your husband he wants to go!: )
Debra, that would be so cool! My mom didn’t visit Europe for the first time until after both my sister and myself had traveled there. I really think the best part of Europe is experiencing so many different cultures and meeting new people. Hopefully you can visit soon!
Jamie, you can SO do this! We took our kids to the UK when they were 6, 4, and 2. It was challenging on the flight, but I always remind people that is the shortest part of the trip, and you will likely never see those people again! Good luck to you, I hope to hear about your plans soon. : )
Donna, that’s great to hear. I hope your Europe trip works out for you and let me know if you have any questions!
These are GREAT tips! My husband travels to other countries for work and we’ve been saving up the rewards points from those flights so that I can join a few of his trips next year! 😀
Not only are there great airfares to Iceland, we found that for many attractions, kids under 12 were free and for many tours, kids were ½ price.
I got to travel to Europe when I was in high school. Since I was younger, I got into most places for free which was a money saver.
I’m saving this because I’d love to visit Europe! Thanks so much for your wonderful post!
I want to go to Europe someday. It’s not feasible with our schedules right now but these are some great tips for when it is possible!
Yes BE FLEXIBLE! So important! I would LOVE to go back when the kids are older…sigh!
These are all great tips for saving money and still being able to travel to Europe. I like the rewards benefit the most. Thank you for sharing these with us.
You’ve given me all the tools I need to plan an affordable trip. Now if I could only get my homebody of a husband to commit to a trip across seas. 🙂 Thanks for linking up with us at the #homemattersparty. We’re glad to have you!!
Jaclyn, that would be so fun! I wish my husband traveled abroad, I would try to find a way to go on every trip!
Tamara, I am going to send you a message. I want to know more about Iceland!
Beth, you are right. I completely forgot there are many discounts available for students traveling to Europe. I enjoyed those when I studied abroad. Definitely worth looking into!
Thanks Bonnie! I hope you make it there and these tips help you find a way to do it on the cheap!
Pam, I hope you find a time soon where it works. One of my favorite places to visit!
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