I travel through Europe a lot, and here’s what I do to save money.
Here are some practical tips to save money while traveling to Europe, without having any less fun on your vacation.
1. Timing is key: When is the best time to go to Europe?
Outside the high season, accommodation and flight prices are lower. Besides, there are a lot fewer people visiting in the low season, which means fewer crowds and shorter queues. Generally speaking, the high season in Europe is from April to October, and December. However, each country is unique, and you might want to check this for your destination in particular.
For example, if the high season where you’re going starts in May, the best time to travel is one or two weeks prior, or right after it ends. The weather should be almost the same, but the prices will be lower and the queues for the top attractions will be a lot shorter. Holidays like Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are more expensive. The prices for accommodations as well as flights are higher during the weekends.
I like traveling during the school year (March, September, and October) because there will be fewer people, it’s cheaper, the flights are a lot quieter, and the weather outside is still nice.
2. Choosing the hotel: Location, location, location.
Don’t book your stay in the city center, or near the main attractions. You’ll find great and very affordable hotels, with better conditions, outside the city center. And in Europe, that is not an inconvenience due to public transportation. As long as you are close to a metro station, it will take you 15 minutes to get downtown.
Besides, you’ll find that many hotels near the main attractions often have poor reviews. Since tourists will choose them anyway due to their location, they don’t put too much effort into improving their conditions. So, you might end up paying a lot for an uncomfortable stay, just for the location.
3. Using public transportation.
As I said, being “far” from the city center is not an inconvenience in Europe. You’re not that far, because most of the big European cities have a metro, which travels very fast from one place to another. Everyone uses it, it’s efficient, fast, and cheap.
But what about renting a car? I guess it depends on your destination. If you’re going to a rural area, like rural Tuscany for example, you’ll need a car to move around. (And also a driver, because you’ll be drinking a lot of wine, LOL) So then, yes, renting a car is a good option. If you’re going to Lisbon, then no. You don’t know the city, finding a parking spot is a nightmare, there are fees, and fines, while the public transit takes you everywhere you need to go, for very little money.
4. Eating where the locals eat.
Every big city has tourist traps. You’ll find expensive restaurants serving “traditional local food” near each attraction, everywhere in this world. Locals never eat there, because they are aware of how overpriced they are. And the food is not always “traditional”. So, if you want to pay a fair price for food that is, in fact, local, go where the residents eat.
You can find this information online, or you can ask your host, an employee at your hotel, or a cab driver. They’ll know, and they have no reason at all to hide it from you.
5. All-inclusive city passes, and combined discounted tickets for museums.
All the big European cities have some kind of city pass or city card that includes museum tickets, discounts, and even metro tickets. Depending on where you’re traveling, they might also include free access to hop-on-hop-off buses and other benefits.
These passes might be worth buying, but it all depends on your plans, and what kind of traveler you are. If you like visiting many attractions in one day, then yes, these passes are definitely for you. Always check the conditions, plan ahead, and do the math to see if it’s worth purchasing a city pass.
6. Booking the flight.
Some people book their trips through travel agents, but since they work on a commission, they will not always give you the cheapest option. When I book a trip, I start with the flight. I use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights.
The costs can vary a lot: for instance, you can pay half the price if you’re flying Monday instead of Saturday. And this is something you can see on the app, while a travel agent might not check that for you. At least, for me, they never did. So, if you are flexible with the dates, you can definitely plan your trip when the flights are the cheapest.
Also, you might know that flight prices vary. They may go up and down even in the course of a single day. The best time to buy a plane ticket is on Tuesday morning, around 60 days before your flight. Very specific, I know. Also, if you’re going to check the prices a lot, do it in incognito mode. I know this sounds a little crazy, but if there are many searches about a certain destination, prices go up. And my advice is: if you find a flight that’s crazy cheap, just buy a ticket and go on vacation.
7. Join free walking tours.
All the big European cities have free walking tours you can join. If you want to see the hot spots with a guide, I recommend you try it.
8. Traveling between European cities on a budget.
There are three cheap options to get from one place to another, and any of these is great. You can take the train, and this is my favorite one. The trains look really nice, they are fast and comfortable, and you can always get up and walk around if you’re tired of sitting down.
You can also book a flight on a budget airline, as there are plenty in Europe. However, to get the best price, you’ll have to do this in advance. The third option is Flixbus which is a bus line that connects a lot of European cities.
I’ve tried all of these options, and they are all very comfortable. I guess it depends on how spontaneous your decision is. If you plan your trip in advance, then the airplane is the best option. If your decision to see another city is sudden then any of the other two will work just fine. The train, however, might be faster.
9. Some attractions have free entrance on certain days.
Besides accommodation and plane tickets, the most money will be spent on entrance tickets for the attraction you want to visit. They can be expensive! In some European cities, there are certain days when museums can be visited for free. When you plan your trip, see if you happen to be there on one of those days.
10. Avoid tourist traps - some attractions are simply not worth the money.
As I said, you’ll spend a lot of money on admission tickets, and the last thing you want is to waste them on a disappointing experience. Not all museums are worth visiting. Choose wisely. Do your research before you plan your trip. If you go on Trip Advisor, you’ll find reviews of all the attractions, check them out before you go.
Europe is pedestrian-friendly, so make sure you pack comfortable shoes. Some attractions are so close to one another, no cab driver will take you on such a short ride. So, you’ll have to walk. But that’s a good thing, as walking is healthy and it allows you to see all kinds of cobbled streets, plazas, and beautiful buildings you’d miss by car. And, it’s also free.
12. Buy tickets online. and check if you are entitled to a discount.
For most attractions in Europe, you can buy admission tickets online and in some cases, they are even cheaper (In Barcelona, for example). When you go on the website, see if they have any discounts that apply to you. They usually have discounts for students, seniors, groups, kids, or people with disabilities, so check if any of them apply to you.
13. Exchange rate.
Before you leave your country, ask your bank about the exchange rates that apply to your account. In Europe, you can pay by card everywhere, but your card will automatically exchange your money, according to the rates of your bank. Check this information before you leave. Maybe your partner has a better exchange rate. Also, if you travel a lot, there are cards like Revolut that have very good exchange rates, and no ATM commissions. Check out that option, too!
14. Roaming rates.
Besides your bank, you might want to check with your phone company, too. Roaming can be very expensive, so check your plan and roaming rates before you leave. In Europe, you’ll find Wi-Fi almost everywhere, so you don’t have to pay for roaming mobile data, as long as you ask for the Wi-Fi networks at restaurants, cafes, hotels, or museums.
15. Find rentals with a kitchen.
There are many hotels offering rooms or apartments with tiny kitchens. I don’t cook on my vacation, but I do have breakfast in my room if I can. It’s a lot cheaper than breakfast at a restaurant because I buy my supplies at the supermarket. I also prefer to have my coffee at the hotel, as finding a place could take a while, and I’m not 100% human until I’ve had my coffee. You can cook all your meals at the hotel if you’re on a tight budget, and you’d save a lot.
16. Always check restaurant menus and reviews.
Before you go inside a restaurant, look it up online. You can find menus, reviews, and prices. A place might look very nice and have bad food, or on the contrary, it could look simple, and have amazing food. In Lisbon, for example, many places that don’t look fancy at all, have the best food in town. This way you can also see the prices beforehand, and you won’t have a surprise when the check comes.
17. Menu of the day for lunch.
In all European cities, some restaurants serve set menus for lunch (at certain hours), the so-called menu of the day. They are fixed menus that include a soup or starter, a main course, a dessert, and a drink, and you can usually pick one of two options. The prices are lower than if ordering from an a-la-carte menu.
I’ve had the menu of the day at restaurant La Fonda in Barcelona, and it was one of the best lunches I’ve had in my entire vacation. So look out for restaurants serving the menu of the day, and save some money at lunch.
18. Tipping in Europe is different than in the USA.
In the USA, tips are usually higher than in Europe. In most European countries the tip is 10%, but in some places, it is not customary at all. So, make sure you look up this information if you travel to a European country.
19. Drink tap water.
In Europe, tap water is drinkable everywhere. If it’s not, it will be marked “unsafe to drink”, but that is rarely the case in the cities. If you’re not sure, ask your host or the staff at the hotel, because you could save a lot of money by refilling your bottle for free, with tap water.
20. Don't buy unnecessary things.
Wherever there are tourists, there will also be people trying to take advantage of them. They’ll try to sell you bracelets, souvenirs, and all kinds of silly things you don’t need. Don’t buy useless things. Save your money for a good meal or a ticket to an interesting attraction.