A common thought is that only the wealthy can travel in Europe – especially when the buying power of the dollar is significantly lower than the Euro. This is not true. With a little careful planning a frugal traveler can stretch their dollars to save money and enhance their experiences in the lands they visit. Here are a few tips:
Keep a Budget
Keeping a budget is always a great idea when you’re traveling, but when the dollar is weak a budget is an absolute. Stay within your designated daily spend amount; if you have to go over your daily budget make sure you can reign in the costs elsewhere. Keep your receipts and at the end of the day add them up – it only takes five minutes, but it gives you peace-of-mind knowing about your money. Even if you use a credit card, keep your receipts and avoid the temptation of splurging on credit. As a reward for keeping a budget give yourself a well-deserved splurge toward the end of your trip.
Fly Into a Secondary Airport
When booking a flight to Europe research your primary destination and surrounding airports. Sometimes it is more affordable to fly into a neighboring airport, stay one night and catch a train to where you want to go. Plus you have the benefits of a side trip. I saved, on an upcoming trip to Austria, $400 on my ticket flying into a neighboring airport. Even with the costs of accommodation and a train ticket, the total cost is still less than if I had flown into the original airport – plus there is the added bonus of anticipating a four-hour train ride through the stunningly beautiful and magnificent Alps.
Lengthy Stays in Major Cities = Expensive
Major cities are often black holes for the budget minded traveler. Sometimes you have to be in the center of the action to see the sights, but consider balancing a city visit with staying a little further out and catching a train, a bus or walking into town.
Save Money with a Multi-Day Pass When Seeing the Sights
Sometimes you just have to play the part of being a tourist to see all the sights and visit all of the museums. However, playing the part of a tourist can be costly and add up quickly. Look for a multi-day pass often sold at tourist information centers provided by the city. With such a pass you pay a flat rate upfront and can see as many museums over a several day time frame that your heart can indulge. Usually included in the pass is bus fair for several of those days.
Eat Where The Waiter Greets You in His/Her Native Language
When you eat out, plan to eat many of your meals at small café’s or restaurants where the wait staff greets you in his/her native language.
One of the best tasting and affordable meals I ever enjoyed was in Italy at a tiny, family-run restaurant in a small village near Lago de Bolsena (Bolsena Lake) several hours north of Rome. The restaurant clung to the side of a steep hillside overlooking the blue lake. No one in the restaurant spoke English and the menu was entirely in Italian. Because we were in a little village far away from a major city the prices on the menu were not for tourists, but rather priced for locals. The owner of the restaurant was grateful for the additional business and enjoyed seeing new faces. The entire experience lasted several hours and it offered the opportunity to ‘talk’ to the locals using a combination of broken English, Italian and a number of hand signals; the food, wine, and experience was unforgettable.
Contrast this with a visit to a major city in a touristy area. In this particular case, it was Florence, Italy – a beautiful and historic city – but very expensive. Many of the restaurants near the historic museum’s areas offer menus in English. I have found that waiters often greeted me in English and charge higher prices because I am a tourist. The food can be lackluster and the experience rushed. At one restaurant the waiter greeted me in German (thinking I was German); when he learned I was American he quickly, and with a graceful slight of the hand, replaced my menu with one written in American English. It was an odd experience.
This is just one example, but the lessons are the same elsewhere; save money and meet the locals by trying to eat where the native language is spoken – the food will have much more local flair and flavor.
Carefully planning how you spend your money, especially when the dollar is weak, can help keep money in your pocket. It also allows you to step away from the touristy areas and see how the locals live and carry about their daily lives – which always provides a rich experience.