Hi Frugalistas! I’m planning on writing a series of posts on itinerary planning. Before I start though, I want to focus on how to use your planning and your itinerary to save money on your trip to Europe.
Here are the principles I stick to help me balance the budget and travel to Europe more often:
1. Some countries are more expensive than others
Europe is not created equal. Regardless of their currency some countries really stand out when it comes to cost. England is expensive, as is Scandinavia and Switzerland. If you really want budget travel in Europe you need to consider “new” rather than “old” Europe – that means Turkey, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic etc. The situation in the economic crisis-hit countries is interesting. I read recently that prices in Greece actually went up significantly in 2012 – my guess is that there are bargains to be had, but you need to do your research and find them. In Barcelona recently I spent EUR92 for a double room and buffet breakfast (and free wifi!) in a brilliantly located 3 star hotel. Good value by my reckoning!
2. Some cities are more expensive than others
London and Paris are definitely more expensive than Berlin or Barcelona – not just for accommodation, but also for food, entry fees to popular sights and shopping. Venice is expensive, despite not being a “major” international city – the number of tourists and cost of getting goods into the city make it very expensive. If you are an urban animal, seek out smaller cities or cities that are a bit cheaper.
3. Cities are more expensive than rural areas and smaller towns
Not just accommodation, but also food. You can eat exceptionally well in small towns for a fraction of the price of a city and not compromise. At a saving of anywhere between 25 and 50% it’s a great option and gives you a completely different experience. If you want to practice your language skills, the country is also the place to get more practice!
4. Understanding the seasons for individual locations
When all of Europe is on holidays in July and August expensive cities such as Paris and Rome are cheaper. Hotels are significantly cheaper, and while many restaurants and smaller shops will be closed, and the queues will be longer, if saving money is your goal, you will win!
Similarly, Mediterranean locations will be much cheaper in the cooler months. Even ski resorts have seasons, so work out when the skiing will still be good, but when the prices are a bit softer (and the queues will be less).
Rick Steves also recommends business hotels for the European summer, particularly in Scandinavia. When demand is lower, apparently the prices are significantly better.
Here’s how I use these principles to get the most out of my dollar:
1. I try and steer clear of really expensive countries
I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I’d love to go there, but when I do it will be either a shorter trip than my usual trip length or I’ll be tackling it in small portions over a number of trips and combining it with cheaper places such as the Baltic states or Poland. That way I can still have an enjoyable time and not scrimp.
2. I try and avoid high season
Not only does that mean I avoid the huge queues, I also pay less for my hotels (and often for my activities).
3. I reassess my choice of accommodation
I still look for central hotels in a safe location with breakfast and wifi included, but in expensive destinations I do moderate my expectations. I give up any expectation of a view, settle for a smaller room and sometimes book a single room rather than a double when I’m on my own. In Venice that still meant a great, historic little pensione overlooking the Guidecca with a restaurant over the water and a fantastic breakfast buffet. My compromise? A small, single room and no lift (elevator) in the building.
4. I mix city and town locations
Going from city to city can be exciting, but it is expensive, so I mix it up with a mixture of rural and city locations. Some years ago my husband and I spent 3 weeks in England and in Paris. We stayed at a B&B in London, then went traveling in rural England for a week, again staying at B&Bs (it was at a time when an Australian dollar was getting us 34pence……) before we went to Paris for a week. That week in rural England was not only fascinating, but was a fraction of the price of our time in the cities – even with a hire (rental) car.
By understanding these price differences you too can save in Europe!
Credits: All photos author’s own