Without a doubt, Europe is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, and traveling across Europe fills the dreams of those planning their next getaway. However, Europe also has the well-founded reputation of being an expensive travel destination, and the high cost of traveling in Europe deters many would-be wanderers and sojourners.
You don't need to let a fear of spending too much stop you from taking the trip of a lifetime; there are many ways to travel Europe without breaking the bank. With our expert tips and comprehensive advice as your guide, finding the cheapest way to travel Europe couldn't be easier!
One of the best things you can do to save money is to avoid tourist traps and restaurants aimed at tourists because the prices are inevitably going to be higher in establishments that cater to vacationers. When it comes to dining, look for menus only in the local language, and seek out restaurants that are filled with locals. This will require a sense of adventure, of course, because you may not know what will be brought to your table, but in restaurants popular with the locals, asking the server for recommendations, eating the set menu of the day, or going with the current specials are reliable ways to get a delicious meal. When it comes to seeing the sites, avoid large, flashy businesses with lots of signs in English. If you want to take a boat tour in the Mediterranean, for example, go with the small, family-run business over the corporation that organizes tours at a dozen harbors along the coast. The trip will not only save you money, but the more intimate, authentic experience will be much more rewarding. Step outside the tourist bubble, and you'll be amazed at just how much you can learn through hand gestures and a jumble of broken phrases in two languages.
To find more of the cheapest ways to travel Europe, hit up the lesser-known travel destinations. Eastern Europe, despite its rich history, old-world charm, and welcoming nature, is still much less frequented by tourists than hotspots in Western Europe like France, Italy, and Spain. Croatia's coast boasts miles of white sand beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, but you'll spend less money and have more room to spread out your towel in Watermelons or Paradise Beach, Croatia, than you will in the French Riviera. The town of Poiana Brasov in Romania has miles of downhill runs and cross country ski trails, but you'll save more than you would skiing in Austria or Switzerland, in part because the country is much cheaper than Western Europe, in part because you'll come out on top when exchanging US dollars for Romanian leu. When traveling Western Europe, venture outside the popular cities and into the countryside to get closer to a local experience and save money on food, drinks, and lodging.
In economic terms, one of the best ways to travel Europe is to avoid hotels. Instead, stay in a hostel, a cheap alternative to hotels that generally allows you to meet and socialize with a lot more people. Alternatively, use Couch Surfing, AirBnB, or Wimdu to pay nothing or next-to-nothing to stay in people's apartments all over Europe. If you're more comfortable staying in a hotel, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend an exorbitant amount. Book well in advance to get the best prices, or if you're willing to arrive in a city without a set plan, find a hotel that is trying to fill empty rooms at the last minute. Hotels sometimes slash prices when traffic is slow, particularly in cites that cater to business travelers such as Brussels and the Scandinavian capitals.
Hands down, the cheapest way to travel around Europe is to travel in the off season. The off season varies slightly from place to place, but it is generally from November to March, with the exception of the Christmas holidays. Fewer people are traveling at this time, so many airlines and hotels drop their prices dramatically. You could save hundreds of dollars, for example, by booking a flight to Italy in January instead of July, and once you're there, you could save even more on the hotel. In addition, traveling during the off season is one of the best times to visit Europe because you get to see how the locals live their daily lives when they and the majority of tourists aren't on vacation. Be aware that museums, shops, and restaurants might have more limited hours, but if you're willing to work around this, off season travel is a great way to save money in Europe.
Another way to find discounts in Europe is, quite simply, to ask. Are you a student or senior citizen? Many European institutions, from railway companies to museums, offer discounts to students and seniors even if they are from another country. Are you a history teacher visiting a history museum or a musician attending a classical music concert? Don't be afraid to ask if you get some kind of discount. In Europe, many organizations look out for their own, so you might save a pretty penny--or even get in for free.
We all know there's no better discount than paying absolutely nothing, so seek out the free events that are offered all across Europe. The examples are nearly endless. The city of Rome puts on many free concerts and festivals during the month of August as a way to attract people to the city during a time that, traditionally, most Romans take vacations on the coast. The Louvre, whose entrance fee is usually 12-16 Euros, is free on the first Sunday of each month from October to March for all visitors and always free to art teachers. If you're in Germany's capital, check out the free lunchtime concerts given by the Berlin Philharmonic. To find free events where you're staying, consult newspaper listings, check online, or talk to the locals.
There are just a few final considerations you should keep in mind when traveling to Europe on a budget. Make sure you eat and drink like the locals. What does this mean? It means you should drink ouzo in Greece, beer in Germany, and red wine in France; you should eat seafood along the Mediterranean and meatballs and potatoes in Scandinavia. Save even more by skipping restaurants for some meals and heading to the local market; you'll spend much less by eating food that's grown locally and in season.
Just a bit of planning can save you a lot in the long run, so before you leave, you should decide where you want to spend your money by determining what's important to you. What do you want to get out of your trip? Foodies, for example, should sleep cheap and splurge on unique restaurants, but if sleeping in a secure, quiet place is important, save money by snacking on grocery store food in parks and spend more on your nightly accommodations. If you're traveling with kids, look into a family car rental to get the best value on transportation while still having plenty of room to be comfortable. Any time you're on vacation, you're going to have to spend money on things you don't normally spend money, so start your trip right by setting your priorities straight. Spend money on things that will make your vacation perfect for you and spend less elsewhere.
Last but certainly not least: Remember to talk to the locals. Locals live in their city day in and day out, and unless you're chatting with the Queen, which is unlikely, you're probably going to strike up conversations with folks that do their best to live frugally and save money, just like you. Ask questions, and don't be afraid to botch a few words in Portuguese or Albanian. Be polite and kind, never pushy, and be open to receiving kindness. Particularly in smaller towns or less tourist-heavy sites, locals are happy to tell you about their hometown or even give you a (free!) tour. More than all the maps or travel guides in the world, locals are a wealth of information that can help you find the cheapest way to travel around Europe.
Our travel experts at Auto Europe are always working hard to help you find the best way to travel Europe, and nothing could be better than touring Europe with the freedom and convenience of a rental car. Contrary to what you might believe, renting a car in Europe doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. With Auto Europe, you'll always get the best deal because, in addition to the countless resources, from travel tips to road trip planners, that we put together for our amazing customers, we guarantee the best rates on car rentals in Europe. If you find a car rental rate that's lower with one of our competitors, we'll simply match that price or get you a better deal! It's the guaranteed cheapest way to travel Europe by rental car.
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