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Budget Travel in Europe

Careful and Informed Planning is Key

Portofino in the Fall
Even the very exclusive and beautiful town of Portofino in Italy offers some lodging deals during the off-season (just don't eat there). Photo by Gregory Hubbs.

Many people believe that European travel is either for the well-heeled elite or for backpacking teenagers who are willing to rough it. That is far from the truth. Not only is it possible to travel in Europe on a budget, it is actually extremely enjoyable. In fact, you will experience a more authentic Europe, and you will feel more connected to the destinations and communities you visit.

Often times, something as simple as choosing to visit a different month, or lodging in a different city, can literally save you hundreds. For Americans struggling to visit Europe on a weak dollar, this can mean the difference between affording and avoiding Europe. For travelers from other countries, it can bring European destinations within reach for a holiday, or certainly make it easier on the wallet.

In future columns on budget travel in Europe, I will get much more in-depth on each of the topics below. This is an overview of the many tactics you can use to travel to Europe on a budget.

Transportation on a Budget in Europe

The methods you use to get to Europe and get around can have a tremendous impact on your travel budget. Depending on how far you must travel to get to Europe, and how much traveling within Europe you will do, you could actually save in the hundreds to thousands of dollars by making adjustments.

For flying to Europe, the when and where of your decisions can dramatically impact cost. Sometimes flying into or out of a different city, in a different season, or even on a different day saves money. Getting around Europe on a budget can depend on many factors. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a rail pass or ride the bus, and other times a long-term buyback lease car rental is cheapest.

Dining on a Budget in Europe

For many people, sampling the wonderful regional cuisines and native dishes is a primary, if not the primary, reason for visiting Europe. You don’t have to sacrifice this just to save a few euros. In fact, sometimes the cheapest food options – a rural restaurant, a local market, fresh-baked bread at the neighborhood bakery – are the most delectable. There are also dining options that are pricy, but a waste of money, such as included hotel breakfasts.

Lodging on a Budget in Europe

Many American travelers probably are under the illusion that a vacation in Europe is too expensive, but part if the reason is we are not exposed to so many delightful lodging options in the States. In Europe, the choices go so well beyond hotels, motels and inns. Most of the less expensive options are also much more authentic to Europe, and provide a much better chance to connect with your hosts or fellow travelers.

Even the camping options are much better, more inviting, more regulated and sometimes providing more amenities than a typical chain hotel. Camping, in fact, is quite popular and much more mainstream in Europe than it is in the U.S. There are also many diverse options beyond the basics, from affordable castle stays to overnights on a farm to RV rentals.

Itinerary Planning in Europe on a Budget

Where you go in Europe could very well be the most deciding factor impacting the cost of your vacation. It influences everything from the cost of lodging and taxi rides to meals and sightseeing. European cities make up six of the top 10 most expensive cities of 2007. That means it is important to avoid lengthy stays in cities like Moscow, London and Copenhagen.

That doesn’t mean you need to avoid staying in London (ranked 2nd) if your heart is set on it. But be smart about it. Plan the rest of your trip in smaller, less expensive cities and end your trip with three days in London. By ending your trip there instead of starting it there, you also avoid spending all your money before you even get time to enjoy your European vacation.

Believe me, it is still possible to travel in Europe on a budget. A bad exchange rate needn’t stop you from planning your dream vacation. The keyword is simply planning. With more research and planning, you can experience a memorable trip to Europe on a limited budget.

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