For most people, the biggest hurdle to traveling to Europe is the price tag. A combination of initiative and online research will prove most beneficial for keeping the cost of your trip down.
A basic way to financially plan a trip is to break the costs down in three ways:
- Getting there
2. Traveling while there
3. Daily budget
Getting there and back will likely be your biggest overall expense. There is an old idea that buying your tickets months and months in advance will result in the cheapest ticket. This is no longer true. Once you decide you want to take a long trip, start doing research online for ticket prices and plan on purchasing your ticket one or two months in advance. Play around with dates, days and destinations. For example, it is nearly always cheaper to travel mid-week and you can often fly into a major hub for less. However, if you are planning on visiting Europe during the summer months, check prices online frequently, as you may find a great price deal.
There are still times when it is possible to receive a significant discount by buying a ticket far in advance, and this is when airlines do special price sales. British Airways posted a special online, with a round-trip ticket from New York to London costing under $400. Tickets such as these often have a requirement as to when you leave, but are open on the return. With the ticket mentioned above, it was necessary to leave very early in the year, but it was possible to fly back during summer – peak (and most expensive) travel season. The lesson is this: if you see a great ticket special advertised, buy it if it fits with your travel dates – the cash you save on the ticket can allow you to travel for longer or to splurge a little while in Europe. For the best discounts check out the list of the best vacation rental websites.
Traveling once you are in Europe can be pricey, but it doesn’t need to be. As always, do research and talk to other travelers. Most people going to Europe for the first time generally think taking trains is the way to go. Yes, it’s great way to travel, especially if you want to see the countryside and overnight train trips allow you to save on a night’s accommodation costs if you sleep in your seat. However, train travel is not always the most economical option. The European rail system is different in each country, and prices vary according to local pricing schemes. In Italy, train travel is heavily subsidized by the government, and train tickets are very cheap when compared to other Western European countries. Germany, on the other hand, is very expensive for purchasing individual train tickets. In Eastern Europe, train tickets also vary widely in price (it can be as low as $5 USD for a couple hour ride in Romania or as much as $60 for a roundtrip ticket between Budapest and the Transylvania region, which is about an eight hour trip). Another option in Eastern Europe is the bus system. The buses are often more comfortable and cheaper than trains. In addition, on some buses, there is a hostess who will bring you snacks and water or coffee – for free!
In Europe, a recent proliferation of budget airlines has greatly reduced the cost of travel between countries and cities. Ryanair offers flights from 1p (about 2 cents US), not including taxes, for many tickets purchased 14 days or more in advance. Competitor EasyJet offers similar deals. Even if you do purchase a ticket less than two weeks before the flight, prices are pretty reasonable. These are perhaps the two largest, and well-known, of the European budget airlines. Unlike American airlines, it is possible to purchase tickets on the day of the flight, without paying an exorbitantly high fare. Whichbudget is a great website for finding cheap tickets for European flights, as it lists flights from a variety of European airlines, including budget and ‘regular’ airlines.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when thinking about booking a ticket on a budget airline:
- In addition to the ticket price (including taxes), also factor in transportation to and from the airports. Many budget airlines fly from airports further away from the city center and main airport(s), because it is cheaper. Thus, it may be necessary to factor in up to an hour to get to or from the airport, in addition to higher transportation costs to get to and from the airports.
- Budget airlines only provide food and drinks for purchase. The prices are reasonable and the food is good quality, though some people may still want to bring their own food and drink.
- Some budget airlines will allow customers to change their tickets for a fee, others not. Be sure to read the rules and restrictions when researching the ticket.
- Budget airlines in Europe usually have a weight limit for checked baggage, and will charge you per kilo for excess weight.
In researching travel costs within Europe, you need to decide how you want to travel (for some people, traveling by train is more important for their experience) and how much that travel will cost.
Once you decide on a European itinerary, do some research and decide on a daily budget amount. Your daily budget should include the following basic costs: food, lodging, basic city transportation, entrance fees for sightseeing. Note that there will be expenses that arise that are not covered by this. These can include personal hygiene products (e.g. shampoo, conditioner, tampons, condoms, cold remedies), internet time (note that if you plan on checking your email on a daily basis, you should work this into your daily budget), laundry (note that doing laundry in Europe can run $7-10 per wash and dry), souvenirs and gifts.
It is also important to remember your daily budget should be a guideline. Cities such as Paris, London or Amsterdam require a higher daily budget (upwards of $70 USD), yet if you will be traveling to cheaper cities that may only cost you $35-40 USD, it will balance out a bit. If you will be visiting both Western and Eastern Europe, you will need much less, as it is possible to visit some Eastern European cities with a daily budget of $25 USD, or less. So, it is possible you can easily work within a budget of $40-50 USD per day, if you will be visiting countries and cities that are a mix of expensive and not-so-expensive.
Nightly lodging is usually the single most expensive expense in a daily budget, running anywhere from $15-30 USD per night (for a bed in a hostel). For people with perhaps a greater sense of adventure, a smaller budget or those wanting to meet locals, there is alternative to staying in hostels. There are different websites that connect people with extra space in their home with travelers. Global Freeloaders and Couch Surfing are two of the top websites for this. Locals in an area may have a couch for you to sleep on, or they may have a spare room. Some hosts will offer space to couples traveling together, also. There is absolutely no fee for using these services (though it is always a very good idea to give a gift to the host – a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers are good ideas). In addition to receiving a free place to stay, you’ll receive tips from a local, someone who may take you out with their friends, someone who may know of another person in another city for you to stay with and importantly, you can make a friend and ally in a new city.
In all, traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be a mind-blowingly expensive trip. While reading a travel guidebook is a useful tool for deciding where to go and what to see, online resources will prove more valuable for finding ways to save money. A little creativity and initiative will go very far in helping you to travel longer and further with less money.