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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Table of Contents
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 with kids 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. If you plan to take the train, we recommend using Rail Europe.
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. For unique, curated activities, check out Headout.
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.