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How To Have a Cheap European Holiday

 The following is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a French girl who has recently started to blog over at Reach Financial Independence.  Pauline blogs about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence. Pauline and I are blog swapping today, so head over to her site and read my post about ways to take care of your eyes when traveling.

If you would like to guest post, please see the guidelines and contact me, and you still have a few days to enter the giveaway for $100.

 

 

 

 

Traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be expensive, even though the Euro is pretty high these days. With some careful planning, you can secure good deals on flights, accommodation, and attractions.

 Find a Cheap Flight to Europe

First, search until you are blue! Depending on the day, the time, the length of you stay, and the route you chose, you can find great variations of price. For example, I just flew from Brussels to Cancún, Mexico. Flying from Paris (my hometown) to Guatemala City (my real destination) was over $1200 one way. This flight cost me $400. If you are ready to be flexible in dates and destinations, savings can be huge. I like Kayak, because you can say ”I want to fly from NYC to Paris, or Berlin, or London, or Madrid”, and it will give you the best price in just one search.

Book as soon in advance as you can, two months being the ideal to get a good deal. Or opt for a last minute promotion. In between, chances are you will pay more for you flight.

Big hubs in Europe include London, Milan, Berlin, Paris, Madrid… then you can reach your final destination with a cheap European low-cost company, and enjoy a free layover at the same time!

 Travel Cheaply Within Europe

Again, try to book your tickets as soon as possible. If you are flying into London, you can try the Flight Checker which is a cool tool, just enter your budget and a destination country, and you can see the cheapest date to fly on major low-cost companies.

The main low-cost carriers are Easyjet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Vueling, Air Berlin, Germanwings and Transavia. Depending on your destination and how early you book, you can find flights as cheap as $5, with all taxes included! Those companies even cover Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and the Canary Islands.

Subscribe to the email alerts of the ones that fly where you want to, and book as soon as the promotion is live.

Bus travel can also be very cheap. Eurolines is the main bus company and sells tickets on offer 60 days before travel. In the UK, Megabus offers £1 tickets to travel from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, and also within the country.

If you prefer to travel by train, consider Eurail, the European train pass. You can chose a few countries to explore, and the duration of your pass, which will grant you unlimited train travel during that time. If you are on a semester abroad and able to prove your European residency, you can travel on InterRail, which is cheaper. It lets you travel on most trains, but you need to make a reservation on high speed trains for a fee.

 Getting Around When Traveling in Europe

Most cities are easy to visit by foot. An inexpensive way to travel slowly and exercise. For the past few years, lots of major cities have implemented a public bicycle network, that usually costs about $2 a day. You can take a bicycle somewhere, and give it back at another bike spot, which is great to visit new neighborhood without having to come back. You can also drop the bike en route if it rains.

If you prefer the bus or subway, check out the daily and weekly passes. They will save you a lot of money and allow you to get on and off public transport as much as you please.

 Cheap Accommodation in Europe

European countries have one of the most extensive network of Couchsurfing members. If you want to stay in Paris, Rome or London, there are literally thousands of people ready to give you a bed for free for a few nights. You just have to create a profile and contact them a few weeks in advance to get acquainted and plan your stay. The main advantage is that you will usually stay with people in the city center, live like a local and discovering the city with them.

Can’t find a free roof? Try Airbnb. People rent their room, or sometimes a full apartment, for prices usually lower than a hotel night. Again, you can have a wonderfully located place for a great price.

As with flights, you can also subscribe to hotel alerts, such as the Travelodge chain in the UK and Spain, who has early booking rates as low as $15 per night, or Accor Hotels in most Western Europe, with rates starting at $30 per night for a double room with private bathroom.

If you go through Booking or Priceline, make sure you check the conditions thoroughly. Many hotels have a shared bathroom, no wifi or breakfast, others are not in the center of town. It can be difficult to reach them on public transportation.

 Get the Most of Your Travel Money

Many banks offer credit cards with no fee on purchases and withdrawals abroad. Make sure you bring one of those with you. For cash, consider bringing a few dollars in case of an emergency, and rely mainly on your credit card. Do not exchange currency at the airport, the rates are insane.

You can also bring Travelers Checks, which are safer than cash, but carry a fee and usually a commission on exchanging.

 Use Your Rewards

Does your credit card earn you miles? Hotel nights? Car rentals? Time to cash them out! If you don’t have such a card but plan on traveling a few months from now, get one. The sign up rewards can pay for a big chunk of your European holiday.

 Cheap Eats in Europe

If breakfast is included in your hotel rate, it will probably be a buffet. Eat well and have a late lunch as your main meal for the day. Lunch deals offer great value compared to a la carte diners. I like to try new foods and also hit the market when visiting a new town. You can feast on wine, cheese, fresh bread and cold cuts for next to nothing.

If you are less adventurous, and will stick to chain restaurants, look them up online. Many have 2 for 1 offers on main dishes if you print a voucher or like their FB page. If your hotel has basic cooking amenities, you can bring back a ready meal from the deli.

 How to Pay Less on Attractions

Once again, Google is your friend. Make a list of must see attractions, and look them up online. Did you know that the Louvre in Paris is free on the first Sunday of every month? That many attractions in London offer 2 for 1 vouchers if you visit them by train? That most national parks are free?

There is a plethora of free stuff to do, and if you time well, you can save a great deal of money. Late nights entrances, free Sundays or student discounts are almost all listed online.

Want a free guided tour? Search for ”free walking tour” and the name of your destination city. Guides usually work on tips and you can see a whole town’s major sites in half a day with a local who is passionate about it. And then come back the next day to explore at your pace.

Have you ever traveled to Europe or are you planning on going? Do you have any tips to share to make it a memorable experience?

Kim’s Comments: We’ve only been to Italy, but it was excellent. We found train travel to be easy, even for the unseasoned traveler. The taxis scared the heck out of us, though, so we walked most everywhere we went!

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

36 comments

  1. Great advice! I would love to go to Europe some day but the cost is the main thing stopping me. Perhaps if I use some of your tips I will be able to make it affordable.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..Giveaway: iPad Mini + iPad Mini Case + $100My Profile

  2. Mandy - Money Master Mom

    Hey DC if I quote the wise Tom Cruise from Knight and Day “some day is just a code for never” Find a way to make it happen, you won’t regret it.

    Before I became a wife, and mother to 3 I backpacked quite a bit. I’ve lived on every continent except for Antarctica. In God’s supreme sense on humour I married a homebody. But lately he’s been really excited at the possibility of travel. I mean he married a personal tour guide, he can’t go wrong :)

    I haven’t made it to Italy let (aside from some time in their airports as stopovers) but I loved Berlin – I think it is my favourite European city I’ve visited so far (Amsterdam is pretty cool too)

    It’s easy to postpone travel when you think about putting a few thousand dollars down on your mortgage instead, but the life experience really is priceless. Listen to me, I sound like a Mastercard commercial.
    Mandy – Money Master Mom recently posted..The Big CookMy Profile

  3. Great tips! That bike plan sounds like a really neat idea. I’ve been to Europe three times and definitely plan on going back more times. We did a lot of walking and used public transportation a lot.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..A Smart Way to Play Interior Designer When MovingMy Profile

  4. I agree with you Mandy! I had been postponing European travel for two reason. It was next to home so easy to go later, and as the old continent, it wouldn’t change much until I retire. The Roman monuments would still be around. I wanted to see Asia, South America first, and it was much cheaper. For the same price I could spend a month in Asia or a week in Europe. Until this summer, I toured Europe on a motorcycle for a few months, and with a bit of planing it was not so expensive.

  5. We are planning to in the next few years! I definitely plan on using credit card rewards or miles! That is definitely the way to go!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Craigslist: Great Way to Sell your Crap or Total Pain in the Ass?My Profile

  6. This post is perfect for me! We want to plan a European vacation soon.
    Michelle recently posted..iPad Mini and $100 Cash GIVEAWAY!My Profile

    • Glad you find it useful! Do you know which part you want to visit yet? A good idea is to mix a few classic cities in Western Europe, and then visit Eastern Europe (cheap and different)

  7. Many hotels have a kids sleep and eat free policy, so look for those too!

  8. I did the opposite of you, Pauline. I traveled extensively throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia and stayed for weeks at a time in France, England, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, with Greece and the Netherlands thrown in there as well. With the generosity of friends and an excellent public transportation system, I did this all reasonably cheap. However, I did manage to completely neglect the Orient, South America, the Middle East and Africa. Now I can bring my daughter along with me on those adventures! I love reading about your adventurous escapades because you’re touching on territory I have yet to discover. Some day…wistful sigh. (Haha, who am I kidding? Once bitten by the travel bug, there will be NO stopping me!)
    Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy recently posted..Is Your Significant Other A Spender Or A Saver?My Profile

    • I remember the first time we traveled with my family, it was amazing. I think it is a wonderful part of a kid’s education. Even going to the next town can be an adventure. You can make her curious, checking atlases or children books about how other kids live in other countries. I loved those when I was young. There is no shaking that travel bug off!

  9. Excellent post Pauline! Traveling through Europe can be a lot cheaper than people think.

    When I lived in England I took full advantage of how cheap it was to travel to Ireland, and Europe.

    I flew to Dublin for a weekend on Ryanair for 40 pounds. I took the train all over England.

    And each month that I was working there I flew to a different country in Europe. Heck, one time I even flew to Los Angeles because it was cheaper to fly from Heathrow to LA then it was to fly from my home in Canada to LA.

    I so miss living in the UK!!
    Tackling Our Debt recently posted..Try These Easy and Delicious Classic Cakes – Grab Free eCookbookMy Profile

    • I used to do the same and escape the UK almost every weekend, I miss the cheap flights. I can’t believe going to LA was cheaper than Canada-LA! Now with a weaker sterling pound it is even more affordable.

  10. We are from Europe and travel there often (more often before kids:-). Wikitravel has some nice tips now and then – for example how to find the right local bus to San Sebastian, something we would never have managed to find in Basque country.
    On your last comment – how do you find hotels with kids free policies, I’ve never seen such, and until what age do they offer that typically, do you know?

    • Hi Ivy, usually there are chain hotels, for example Travelodge in the UK has family rooms (1 double bed and one sofa bed for two) at no extra cost save for high season. They charge extra for breakfast but have a kettle in the room with tea and coffee.
      In Western Europe, the Accor group has cheap motels, like motel 6, called F1, around $35 a night that sleep up to 3 people for the same price. Their higher end hotel called Novotel sleeps up to two kids (under 16!) with parents for free and they get free breakfast too. Disneyland Paris in low season has kids free in the room (under 7) and they also get in free at the park.

  11. Great tips on free and reduced priced things to do. I like you suggestion of making Google your best friend when searching for bargains.
    Terry recently posted..The right way to handle tenants who are moving outMy Profile

  12. When I traveled over there, I found the less baggage you have the better. To use cheap transportation like the subways, it’s so much easier if you can carry everything in a single bag that you can manage up and down stairs by yourself since tube stations don’t always have elevators or escalators.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..IRS Double Standard – How Much Is Hair Worth?My Profile

  13. Excellent! When we traveled to France we took your advice and used tons of planning tools. It made a 10 day stay enjoyable and much cheaper than I would have imagined.
    AverageJoe recently posted..How Much Did This Election Really Matter?My Profile

  14. A great organizing tool is tripit, you can log all your hotels bookings, trains and flights in one place and carry it on your smartphone.

  15. When I was living in the UK I travelled many times per year and it was cheap for the most part. It was so cheap no one wanted to stay in the UK because it was grey,wet and boring most times, although I’m biased lol. I always bought my tickets online last minute and never at a travel agency but that’s because I found the best deals online. I travelled to places that I will never be able to bring Mrs.CBB to now unless we win the lottery as the price to travel from Canada to some of these places is outrageous. I often saved money by eating with the locals, and staying away from resorts and all the fancy hotels.I also travelled light so I could purchase items if I wanted to. This is a huge topic I could go on about.. but great post! Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Turning Leaves Into Compost- Where There’s Muck There’s BrassMy Profile

  16. I would love to travel to Europe and see all the history and experience the culture. I think that as soon as our house is paid off that will be one of the first things on the list.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Buying Land and Building a House – Part 1My Profile

  17. Great list. We are big fans of walking everywhere we can. You get to see the city so much better that way. We also take advantage of hostels too. We have never had a bad stay.
    Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter recently posted..Less Obvious Things That You Need To Buy Before Moving OutMy Profile

    • I have had mixed experiences about hostels. This summer many were full, noisy, common showers dirty and the room was small, compared to a chain hotel a bit further out of town. But if you walk, you can’t beat their price or you pay a high premium for a normal hotel in the same location.

  18. Love this post! (We’re planning a trip to Europe in 2013 :D)
    eemusings recently posted..Link love (Powered by mochachinos and Coldplay)My Profile

  19. Traveling to Europe its really pricey in almost everything. But without real planning and the patience to find other less price or cheap alternatives, it really is a burden. I have been to Europe twice – and there are really times even if we planned our itinerary we sometimes cut some of it. Like it into a much affordable places.

    Thank you. Its a good post, informative and with the helpful tips. Nowadays planning must go well planned,.

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