Seeing Europe for a Lot Less than Most Tourists Will Pay; European Vacation IS affordable!
Brussels is strikingly beautiful
Spending less on your travel and accommodations frees more money for other things
When booking travel to Europe, most people think of major destinations to fly into and out of. In remembering that Europe has a very extensive rail system, you can save a lot of money by planning your trip before you go with this in mind.
I was determined to see Brussels. Home to so many things, but most importantly, I wanted to try Pomme Frits, the world famous Belgian French fries, sample some authentic Belgian chocolate, and finally, have a real Belgian beer in Belgium after seeing the NATO headquarters.
Book your flight as far ahead as possible.
I saved hundred of dollars by booking my flight and accommodations months ahead of my trip. I decided to fly into Cologne, Germany and then take the train to Brussels. What a great idea that was. I used CouchSurfer for the time that I was in Germany, where I carefully chose the person that I would be staying with. It would be rude to be a guest in someone's home when they have offered hospitality for free, so I decided to bring a gift to them. My gift was a German to English Dictionary, which worked out great because my host was planning a trip to the United States.
If you do use CouchSurfer or some other similar service, go with your gut. If it does not feel right, spend the money and get a hotel room. My host was informative and charming to say the least, but the Europeans, their stamina plus my jetlag made the first night that I slept jarring to say the least.
After my few days in Cologne, I boarded the train to Brussels. It was easy enough with the efficiency of the ICE trains, and the apartment that I rented was a few blocks from all of the embassies. Posh, indeed.
By booking ahead, I saved over 700.00 from what the posted prices were even a few weeks after I booked the trip. Make sure that you confirm with your airline what happens if you must cancel for any reason. I purchased trip insurance, and although I did not need to use it, as many different things as I had planned, it was far better to have the insurance there for me.
Be open to changes. When I flew to Germany, they were offering a few hundred dollars for anyone that was willing to give up their seat. I asked if I could be assured of being on the next flight. The gate agent looked it up and said that if I took the next flight, they would be able to reserve me a seat in the same location on the plane, or, I could give up the money and be upgraded to business class. I took the upgrade. I arrived 90 minutes later than my original departure time, which was fine with me.
Don't use a hotel. Rent someones' home or apartment instead.
I decided that I wanted to save some money by renting a home or an apartment instead of the usual hotel fare. Added to this, I have discovered that to American Standards, hotels can be very small in Europe.
In Brussels, I went through many days of searching through web pages, checking off the things that were important to me. Something important to consider is that in Europe, many of the older buildings will not have elevators. Another thing to think about is that the ground floor is not counted as a floor. The floors above the ground floor are. So, what we call in the US the 5th floor would in most parts of Europe be called the 4th floor.
By renting out a private residence, I feel as though I got a more genuine look at Brussels from what most Americans would see. I attended neighborhood festivals, ate food that I bought from local grocery stores, and I learned the sometimes complex and confusing bus and public transportation system that Brussels is known for.
I know that I saved a lot of money from eating in my apartment. I also saved a lot of money by having an apartment that provided free cable television and internet service, so I did not have to pay a daily or weekly fee for that.
When I compared what I would have spent if I had flown directly into Brussels, stayed in a one or two star hotel, rented a car rather than used public transportation, and then flew back to the US from Brussels, my savings were well over $2500.00 USD. That is more than a significant savings.
Just so you know, by booking so far ahead, my airfare round trip was less than $300.00 at the time I booked. My apartment was $1000.00 for five weeks, and my food bills totaled $450.00, including eating out.
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