Something different — and useful for a change — this week, as I have friends getting ready to head off for Spain on last minute holiday deals, and many others are planning trips to Europe for the summer.
I was lucky enough to finally return to Europe at the end of 2011, and managed to do so without completely breaking the bank. I had a flat in Amsterdam for quite some time and visited Hamburg, Germany — both of which can be extremely expensive. I didn’t have to sit roadside with a cardboard sign, wash windows, or go hungry. In fact, call it a cliche, but I fattened up nicely thanks to an unlimited supply of cheap, incredible Dutch cheese.
Here are a few random tips for how to save money in Europe:
- Trains are nostalgic and romantic, however, they are not always the cheapest means of getting from point A to point B in Europe. You may get lucky with a budget airline flight (i.e., RyanAir) or can find a cheaper ticket by taking long-haul buses (www.eurolines.com is a popular choice). If you do opt for the train, consider purchasing a Eurail Pass.
- If you’re going to be moving around a lot, buy a transportation card (one that covers both the subway and buses) early on your visit rather than paying full price at the station then opting to buy a card later. The cards are rarely a bargain unless you do a lot of moving around, so consider lumping all of your sightseeing into one or two days.
- Many European cities offer a free museum day. If a free day is not an option, most offer some sort of pass that allows you multiple sites of interest at a discounted rate. Pool all of your sightseeing into one or two days and take advantage of both your museum pass and a transportation card.
- Coke and other softdrinks cost exponentially more in Europe than in the U.S. — drink water instead. And don’t expect any refills!
- Students should always carry an identification card and ask about getting a student discount for attractions and transportation.
- Unlike in the U.S., servers and bartenders receive a proper salary in Europe; 10 percent is considered a decent tip. Many places add a service charge onto your tab — there is no need to leave a tip on top of the service charge.
- Never eat on the trains. The food is rarely good and is always expensive. Eat before your trip or pack something from the market.
- Eat away from the hotel and the main drag. Restaurants have to pay a higher rent in tourist areas and they pass the cost on to you. Go a few streets over to where the locals eat.
- Europe is a great place to try your hand at couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) for the first time. Not only can you get a free place to stay, you’ll meet a friendly local who knows the spots. If you’re really luck, you may have access to a kitchen for cooking meals at home to save money.
- Meet a local. One of the unofficial Rules of Vagabonding is to talk to everyone anyway, so take your chances. You may get invited to someone’s home, their guest cottage, to dinner, or at the least learn about a good, cheap place to eat!
- Germany and a few other countries have excellent ride-sharing websites. People post long trips that they have planned; you team up with drivers to split petrol costs — saving you both money.
- Get a change purse or small bag for coins. Consistently losing euros and one-pound coins from your pockets is a bad idea.
- Parks are free and so is wandering the streets. Who says you need to pay to go inside of tourist attractions? Wandering around allows you to get tuned in to the real “buzz” of a European city as opposed to being force fed stereotypes and cultural cliches.
- Particularly when in the U.K., check for last minute holiday deals on the internet. Thanks to the economic downturn, you’ll often find some damn good prices for destinations such as Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal.