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.
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!