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How to Find Budget Accommodations in Europe

Budget accommodations in Europe often include budget rentals such as this one near Avignon, France.
Provence, France, is still beautiful in October, and great vacation rentals go for a fraction of the high season cost, making budget travel relatively possible. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Your decision about accommodations during your European vacation can save or cost you a lot of money. It can consume the bulk of your travel budget. Worse yet, you could spend way more cash than you need to and have a less authentic vacation experience. Not only are there many excellent budget options for accommodations in Europe, but these cheaper options often mean you will truly experience the local atmosphere rather than being in a sanitized, generic setting at a pricy chain hotel. What would you rather do? Spend more to stay in a standard hotel room, or spend less to sleep in a castle or be the guest of a rural European farm?

Agriturismo Olivello in Murlo, Tuscany.
Enjoy a beautiful and rustic agriturismo in Tuscany with fantastic local hosts (Agriturismo Olivello). Photo © Transitions Abroad.

There are several programs in various European countries to encourage preservation or farm stays that make it easy and cheap to visit somewhere worth writing home about, such as:

  • Agriturismi in Italy is a wonderful option. These rural accommodations, frequently at real working farms, can be found at various budget levels and with a mix of amenities.

  • Spain’s Paradores provide rooms for a fixed-price stay. These are rooms at government-owned historic buildings, and you can stay at some unique accommodations such as castles and monasteries.

  • France’s Bienvenue a la Ferme (in French) program is a government-sanctioned and rated program where you can stay at a farm. The accommodation options range from the cheapest and crudest (a spot to pitch a tent with no services whatsoever) to the divine (a stay on a real working farm, with the extraordinary luxury of meals cooked on-site).

Bonus: You will have some great tales to tell when you return home about your unusual experience staying at a monastery in Italy or staying on an ancient working farm still producing wine or olives.

Affordable Vacation Rentals

If you will visit at least a week, consider a vacation rental. The ubiquitous Airbnb and Homestay directories are the big names. They generally offer many options, sometimes taking a cut for their services built into the price. However, many other online vacation rental reservation systems cover Europe, individual countries, or even specific regions and cities offering deals.

Even when and if a rental costs the same as a hotel stay, which is rare, this is a better (and cheaper) option for many reasons. It’s more affordable because you can prepare your own meals. Not only does this save you on dining out, but it also helps you avoid hotel extras like tips and overpriced breakfasts. You will also typically stay in a real neighborhood, not a touristy area surrounded by fellow tourists.

View of house in a vineyard in Piemonte, Italy with the Italian Alps in the background.
Enjoy the view of the rolling grape-vine-covered hills of the Piemonte region of Italy, with the Alps in the background. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Bonus: You get to live like a local and experience a destination like a native.

Vacation rentals in Old Nice are often great accommodations, cheap, and well-located.
Rent a sunny loft apartment in the heart of old Nice for a week or two on the French Riviera during the off-season for a fraction of the cost of a hotel. You will enjoy much more space to relax and even be able to cook your own food from the incredible local markets. Photo © Transitions Abroad.

Camping in Europe

Before you turn your nose up at this option, consider it seriously (even if you like a lot of amenities). Camping in Europe often differs from the rugged experience one can expect in the U.S., for example. It is also a much more mainstream option in Europe.

For example, the campgrounds are government-rated in France and Spain, much like the hotels. A top-rated campground can have far more amenities than a standard tourist-level hotel that costs much more nightly. It is not uncommon, in fact, to find some pretty impressive amenities, particularly at campgrounds in popular beach towns. You can find campgrounds with pools. You can even camp without camping since many campgrounds have cabins or furnished recreational vehicles for rent.

Bonus: You will meet many more people by camping in Europe. If you like to socialize, this is by far the best accommodation option.

RV Rental in Europe

You might also consider renting an RV for travel in Europe. This isn’t an inexpensive option (expect to pay 1,000 euros and up weekly), but it can be cheaper than a hotel stay. Your home is also mobile, and you can stay in many campgrounds in Europe near a city or the countryside.

You also get the extra benefit of avoiding an added transportation cost for a car (although gas prices are no insignificant consideration, particularly with an RV that uses so much, albeit the cheaper diesel variety). Increasingly, hybrid and electric cars are also an option.

Bonus: You have all of your luggage everywhere you go. This is a nice benefit for anyone who’s dragged luggage up and down train station stairs.

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