Hi Frugalistas! You’re off to Europe. You’ve found a great deal on an airfare, worked how you’re going to travel around and found the best accommodation you can afford. You know what all of this is going to cost, but what about budgeting for everything else – your food, entertainment, gifts and souvenirs, and all those little incidentals that add up along the way? Here are 10 important things to budget for a trip to Europe:
1. A fantastic guidebook
It doesn’t cost a lot, but do invest in a great guidebook that is recently published and gives you a good idea of what things cost. Using an old guidebook is false economy as prices can and do change significantly. A good, recent guidebook is an investment, that, if used correctly, will save you serious money.
I always recommend trying to book a hotel with a rate that includes breakfast, but if the accommodation of your dreams doesn’t, you do need to budget for breakfast. Allow EUR13-17 per person per day for a moderate 3star hotel breakfast, and between EUR5-12 for a cafe breakfast outside your hotel.
3. Other meals and snacks
It’s impossible to give an exact amount for other meals – it just varies so much on where you are and what you are eating. I budget EUR12-18 per day for a good cafe lunch in western Europe and EUR30-40 for moderate restaurant/brasserie dinner with wine regardless of where I am going and what I end up eating. I pocket the change when I travel in cheaper locations, or lunch on a sandwich. Save money on lunches and dinners by avoiding tourist trap restaurants, drinking tap water and by choosing fixed price menus where available. Plan on EUR8 for a sandwich/baguette and water to go.
I save money on snacks by not snacking! It’s easy to spend EUR10-15 a day on snacks without even thinking. Instead I make sure I eat a good breakfast and eat a good lunch once I am hungry again – often around the time others will be settling down to afternoon tea. If you are a snacker, buy bottles of water and packets of chips/cookies/little cakes from a supermarket – a packet of cookies will cost EUR1.50-2.50 in a supermarket. Save even more by refilling water bottles from the tap (usually quite safe to do in Europe). You do need to budget for gelatos and other little treats – that’s part of the joy of traveling, so allow EUR4.00-4.50 for a scoop of gelato or a little cake/pastry to take away, more for sitting down in a cafe.
4. Traveling locally
Budgeting for a car or Railpass to travel from destination to destination is only part of your traveling budget. How are you going to get around your destinations once you get there? This includes getting to and from the airport. Budget a minimum of EUR50 for a taxi – more depending on how far away it is, and EUR20 per person for a return trip from the airport and back for a bus or the train. Your guidebook should give you detailed prices here for your specific location. To use the metro or local buses where you are visiting, plan on EUR1.50 for a single train ticket on the Metro/Ubahn/underground, but save on that by looking at pass or bulk purchase options.
5. Car parking and road tolls and fuel
Unless you can afford to pay anything up to EUR50 per day, do not plan on garaging your rental car in large cities. Pick up your car on the way out of town to keep down costs. Any small town with a tourist presence will charge for car parking. Plan on EUR10-15 per day for this, as prices vary considerably. For road tolls I suggest using EUR10-15 per day as a rough guide for each day you will be using the larger freeways. Fuel will cost about EUR2.50 per litre, so calculate your rental car’s fuel efficiency to work out your budget. Allow a bit extra for unplanned mileage or unplanned stops.
6. Entrance fees
It is unlikely you will be able to calculate your exact costs here – there will always be somewhere you end up visiting that wasn’t on the itinerary. Instead I suggest budgeting for your “must sees” then allowing EUR15 per person per week for any extras. This won’t work if Disneyland ends up being your extra, but will for smaller regional galleries etc. Check out the prices on the site website to get latest entrance fees, and also look for passes that will give you multiple sites in one ticket (such as the Paris Musee Pass) – they can save you money if used correctly.
You do need to cut yourself some slack and spend money spontaneously. As a rough guide allow yourself 5-10% of your weekly budget for a splurge that you weren’t planning on. A blowout meal, a fantastic unplanned-for-activity or that pair of shoes you can’t leave Europe without are all important parts of traveling.
All self-discipline makes for a dull trip – so plan to cut loose occasionally and enjoy.
8. Postcards & phoning home
You will want to communicate with those at home. Plan on 1EUR per postcard, with another Euro for a stamp and you should have change. Buy your postcards away from tourist sites to save a few pennies if you need to. Check out phone card rates for your location, avoid roaming on your mobile/cell phone or hotel phone rates to save money. Do this in advance and you will be able to budget easily according to your traveling and phone destination. Use free wifi in cafes and at your hotel, and free services such as Skype or FaceTime to cut down even more on phone call costs.
9. Internet and wifi acess
Search out free wifi wherever you can. Many cheaper hotels in Europe will allow you free wifi or access to a computer for free. Purchasing wifi tends to be an issue for more expensive hotels – which seems bizarre to me, but is usually the case…… If you do need to purchase wifi count on about EUR25 for 24 hours. For a cheaper option, your fantastic guidebook should include addresses for Internet cafes in most locations – budget for 3EUR per hour for this. Make sure you discipline yourself not to use your international roaming for data on your phone or you will be in for a shocking budget-blowing surprise when you get home.
Again, you can spend as much or as little as you like on souvenirs and gifts. Check out my post on shopping with just a carry on bag for tips on small, inexpensive gifts. If you are interested in food as a souvenir or gift, buy in supermarkets or markets rather than tourist sites to save money, and plan spending about twice what you would at home for equivalent goods (food in Europe is quite expensive). Plan on EUR5-10 for a poster in a tube, and between EUR10 and EUR20 for souvenir books of the major sites and galleries. Check out prices on line if you have particular hobbies you might like to incorporate into a souvenir (for example, I love needlework and love the French brand Les Bonheurs des Dames – expensive, but beautiful and different).
So, how much should you budget for a trip to Europe? Well, it depends…….on you, your tastes, your budget and your choices. Do your research regardless and avoid any nasty surprises.
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