Time and money. Those are the two main things that stop people from exploring the world. For now, we’ll focus on money, providing you with 6 strategies to really cut down the cost of a trip to Europe. You’ll set your budget, select your must-have destinations, learn how to save on accommodation, eat cheap, get rock-bottom airfare, and learn about a little-known booking practice that can save you hundreds. Let's get started!
1. Set your budget
You are reading this because you want to save money, so the first step is figuring out how much you can spend. This first big decision will serve as a guide as you plan your trip. Typically you’re looking at $1700 to $3000 per person for a 2-3 week trip from North America, including airfare, accommodations, and food. This varies widely with your traveling style, but we’ll teach you a few ways to be on the lower end of that range.
2. Select your must-sees
There are a million places to visit in Europe, whether what excites you is history, culture, food, shopping, or art. However, select which ones you NEED to see. Maybe your trip wouldn’t be worth it without seeing the Spanish Steps and Colosseum in Rome, strolling down the winding streets of Bern, Switzerland, or drinking red wine beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Whatever they are, write them down as must-sees.
Now, I bet that you’ve ended up with 10 or more cities on your list. We’re talking about budget travel here, go ahead and slim it down to just a few; 3-4 is perfect.
3. Be flexible
Remember those must-sees you wrote down? This is where they come into play and save you hundreds of dollars. Flexibility is key to low prices in just about everything (what’s cheaper, a taxi, or the bus? Buffet, or a'la carte?).
If you’re flexible with the order in which you visit destinations you’ll be able to save hundreds on airfare. If you’re visiting 3 cities (Rome, Berlin, Paris for example) you end up with six potential routes.
Rome -> Berlin -> Paris
Rome -> Paris -> Berlin
Berlin -> Rome -> Paris
Berlin -> Paris -> Rome
Paris -> Berlin -> Rome
Paris -> Rome -> Berlin
Depending on your destinations some combinations may not make a whole lot of sense at first as you’d be doubling back and flying all over the place (ie. Berlin > London > Paris). However, due to the mysteries of airline pricing they can sometimes be cheaper and are worth taking a look. I know what you’re thinking,
“I have 5 destinations I want to visit and that’s a lot of different ways to organize my trip, there’s no way I can go through them all!” - Your brain
There’s actually 120 different ways of doing a 5-city trip. Good news is that Trip Ninja can find the best route for you. What is Trip Ninja? It’s this awesome site where you simply plug in the number of nights you want to spend in each destination and the site finds the cheapest route between them. You can use it for a trip of up to 5 cities. Check it out at demo.tripninja.co !
4. Ultimate booking tip
Airlines have gotten pretty smart about how they price flights, knowing that often people will book it all in one ticket. Depending on your route, you can often save 20 percent or more if you break it up into several different tickets, a practice called “split ticketing”. What I mean is buy your to/from Europe flights on one ticket, then buy all your flights within Europe on a second ticket. This may seem like a hassle, but you can often save hundreds by doing this. Trip Ninja does this automatically for you to make sure you get the best deal. Follow this link to read the full article on split ticketing.
Hotels can get very expensive very fast. Everyone is different, but with my engineering background I see them as “non value-added”. Basically they’re just a place to sleep. When I look back on my travels I rarely say “wow, I really loved that hotel”. Hostels are different, you meet people and enjoy mutual experiences that usually don’t happen in hotels. They’re also much better on your wallet. Book ahead, research it well, and make sure you bring a lock (lockers are usually provided for your stuff). Check out Hostelworld.
Now, if you’ve got a few friends in Europe I’d suggest posting on social media and asking who’s where. I’ve got a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in 5+ years that are scattered throughout the world. Not only is it usually a free couch to sleep on, but also someone to catch up with and a local to point you in the right direction.
Couchsurfer is also a great option.
6. Eat cheap
After I finished the tour of the Vatican I was starving and went into the first pizza restaurant I could find. Boy was that a mistake! Not only was the pizza €7 a slice, but the one I had picked up earlier that day just outside a subway station was way better (and €2-3 ). What I’m saying is there are places where locals eat, that are usually better and cheaper, and often just a couple blocks away from the main tourist attractions.
If you’re looking to go the extra savings, make your own snacks and meals. Some bread, peanut butter, nutella, and a bottle of water go a long way and prevent you from breaking the bank. Often I find eating at a park or plaza to be one of the best parts of my trip, simply people-watching and seeing the local culture.
7. BONUS: Keep your receipts - get your taxes back
As a visitor to Europe, you can often get your sales taxes refunded to you! Not many travelers know this but it’s nice to get a “oh here’s some money back” cheque when you get back home (or on your way out of Europe as sometimes ports of entry/exit can give you the refund). Full info