So, you've scrimped and saved, and you can finally afford to take that dream vacation to Europe. Or maybe you're staying closer to home and taking a long weekend in a neighboring city. Either way, and no matter how carefully you've saved, holidays have a way of getting real expensive, real quick. Luckily, it's possible to save money while on vacation, too, without limiting your enjoyment one bit. Read on for my personal pointers on how to travel well on a budget.
I really cannot stress this enough. A bit of forward-thinking helps with everything from when to fly and buy (check out the Hopper app for guidance on when flights will be cheapest) to early-bird hotel deals.
Research can help with your itinerary, too. Many cities in Europe have sightseeing cards, offering discounted admission to several museums and cultural attractions, often with public transport included. Whether these are worth your while is something you'll only know by planning your must-sees ahead of time. I usually make an overall trip checklist as well as a loose plan for each day I'm away, so I can decide if any multi-passes or deals are worth it.
With (seemingly) every airline charging for checked baggage these days, flying with only a carry-on is a no-brainer. You'll get out of the airport in a flash with no oversize/overweight fees to pay. Also, if your luggage is manageable, you'll be much less likely to throw your hands up in defeat and opt for a taxi instead of public transport.
Speaking of, you need to embrace public transport where it's readily available. If possible, download the app for the metro or bus schedule(s) of where you're going and work out some key journeys ahead of time. Pay attention to fares—buses are often cheaper than underground metros and offer better views as well!
In avoiding the lure of a taxi, some forward planning (there's tip #1 again) helps. I've even been known to Google Streetview my walk from the train station/bus stop to my hotel/apartment, so I know where I'm going when I arrive in a new city at 11pm.
Stay Somewhere with a Kitchen
This is my top tip, and one that's easy to follow (do people even stay in hotels since Airbnb became a thing?). When I travel, I make sure I have breakfast foods where I'm staying, so I can eat and hit the ground running each morning. While lunch is usually eaten in a restaurant while out and about, I have a rule for any trips longer than a couple days: dinners alternate between home-cooked and restaurant meals.
This doesn't have to feel like a punishment, and finding local ingredients can be half the fun. In fact, some of my best travel memories involve cooking in far-off locales, like the time my girlfriends and I pulled together a Greek feast (complete with the Mamma Mia soundtrack playing) in our island villa, or the astoundingly good €3 bottle of wine my sister and I enjoyed while watching the sea crash into the coast from a balcony in southern Italy.
When you do eat at restaurants, choose well. Avoid those too close to major tourist attractions, as they'll be the priciest. Order the house wine, which is often local and affordable, and the specials, which are freshest. Prix fixe meals are often a great deal, and you can share between multiple diners, so long as they're ordering something as well. Insist on tap water (assuming you're somewhere where it's safe to drink) rather than paying for bottled. Finally, learn the tipping etiquette for the country you're visiting and play along; in Europe, the service charge is often included in the bill, or at the most should be a few euro extra.
Divert Costs from Home
Finally, look at what costs you can recoup from not being at home during this time. Can you do a home swap or rent out your house while you're away? Monthly fees are another place to look: if I'm going away for more than a week, I know it's cheaper to buy a few weekly travel cards instead of my typical monthly one here in London. I can also put my yoga studio membership on hold for a month and pay per class instead until the next month. It may seem like a lot of effort, but making some smart decisions with your regular expenses can divert that money to where it'll best be used.
What are your favorite tips for travelling on a budget? Share below!