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Madrid-based TPG Contributor Lori Zaino offers some of her best tips and tricks for planning an affordable European getaway.
Booking flights and choosing the best hotels are just part of the trip-planning equation, and by now, you may have a good feel for how that works. However, once you get to where you’re going, you’ll no doubt want to explore your new city, taste the local cuisine, visit neighborhood museums and check out some popular attractions.
While doing all these things can really start to add up, there are some easy things you can do to help you save money on a trip to Europe. Here (in no particular order) are my best tips for planning an affordable European vacation — besides using points and miles to cover the cost.
1. Visit More Affordable Countries
While everyone loves visiting London and Paris, these are among the most expensive cities in Europe — not to mention the exchange rate between the USD and the British pound hasn’t been so hot for American travelers in a very long time. Other places like Copenhagen and Oslo, while being wonderful cities, are also on the pricier side.
If you’re watching your budget but desperately want to visit Europe, consider visiting a cheaper country like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic. Looking for something a little more off-the-beaten-path? Try Eastern European countries like Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia, also known for being budget-friendly destinations.
2. Travel During Shoulder Seasons for Off-Peak Prices
Shoulder seasons may vary depending on your destination, but usually the high season happens during summer and around Christmas, while low season tends to be in winter (excluding holidays), making spring and fall your best bet.
As an added bonus, hotels will generally be cheaper than they would be at the height of peak season, the weather will be more agreeable — not too hot, no too cold — and popular European cities and attractions won’t be packed with as many tourists.
Booking off-peak travel means you still may be able to travel for fewer miles than usual and you’re also more likely to encounter lower airfare prices. Going against the grain and traveling to really cold places during the winter — or to very hot places during the summer — could also save you a pretty penny.
3. Take Advantage of City Passes
City Cards and Passes let you pack in a bunch of attractions, and often times public transportation as well, for a flat rate. These are especially helpful if you plan on visiting a lot of tourist attractions and museums. Be sure to check out the specific options available in the city you’re visiting and calculate if this purchase would make sense for you — if you’re only planning to visit a few of the included places or mostly attractions that aren’t part of a particular City Card or Pass program, it might not be worth it.
4. Use Apps to Find Deals
Hotel Tonight is a great choice for booking last-minute lodgings — use promo code BKelly99 for a special treat! — while TheFork can help you find restaurant discounts in many European cities. Apps like Stay or VisitEurope can also help you create your own itineraries or tours throughout a country or city instead of you having to shell out money for a guided tour.
5. Change Currency Wisely
Instead of paying pricey fees and getting terrible exchange rates, ask around on social media or at work before your trip to see if anyone you know might have euros available to change with you — you’ll help a friend out and save on taxes and fees.
While traveling, always have a currency converter on your phone so you can easily check the going rate and you won’t get caught spending more than you need to.
6. Stay Somewhere Local
Staying in local neighborhoods and accommodations — for instance, opting for an Airbnb stay vs. staying in a chain hotel — often means more authentic travel experiences, fewer crowds and often offer large savings.
Obviously it’s important to be close enough to all the big tourist attractions and the neighborhoods you plan to spend time in, but renting an apartment in a more residential or local neighborhood is typically cheaper and a great way to get to know a city. Plus, restaurants and shops in these neighborhoods tend to offer more reasonable prices as well since they aren’t geared towards tourists. Just be sure to read these tips to help avoid falling for Airbnb scams.
7. Consider Alternative Modes of Transportation
Translation: You can save money by using low-cost airline carriers and trains to get around Europe. Everyone complains about Ryanair — I get it, no one loves to have their knees up to their chin for two hours — but if it means saving a couple hundred dollars, it could be worth it. European train systems vary by country, are pretty easy to navigate and provide easy — and scenic — ways to get from A to B, allowing you to bring more luggage and have a relaxing, hassle-free trip.
8. Avoid Paying Foreign Transaction Fees While Traveling Abroad
Using a credit card with no foreign exchange fees will save you money if you plan on putting a lot of your expenses on a given credit card — which you should do, especially given the bonus categories for travel or dining. Here’s a handy list of some of our favorites:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Citi Premier Card
- Citi Prestige Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
- Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Ink Plus Business Card
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (See Rates & Fees)
- Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express
- United MileagePlus Explorer Card
- British Airways Visa Signature Card
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express
- The Hyatt Credit Card
- Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
9. Stay Connected with a Local SIM Card or Wi-Fi Service
Instead of paying for expensive roaming services, see our post on easy ways to stay connected while traveling abroad for options such as buying a local SIM card, a pocket-sized Wi-Fi device or even a global roaming plan.
10. Blend in with the Locals
Walking with confidence and blending in with the locals can help you avoid unnecessary hassles like being cheated or overcharged. Choose public transportation instead of taking taxis or Uber rides everywhere — those can really add up! Pay attention to your surroundings and take good care of your belongings to avoid becoming a target for pickpockets. Know the local currency conversion rate so you don’t get scammed.
Being knowledgeable about cultural norms, like whether or not it’s typical to bargain at markets or how locals dress, can help you fit right in. Of course, speaking a few words of the local language also helps. Figure out how to say a few phrases like hello, please and thank you and try them out — you might be surprised!
With a little planning and flexibility in your travels, you can find ways to save a few bucks here and there on the road or overall by booking during the slower shoulder season instead of in the middle of the high season. By combining these tips with your prior knowledge of how to make the most of your points and miles, your next trip to Europe is certainly within reach.
Do you have any tips and tricks for traveling on a budget in Europe? Let us know, below.
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.
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