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Top 12 tips to save money while traveling in Europe

Updated on August 28, 2013

A dozen money-saving strategies

Once you've worked hard and saved for your overseas trip, bought your plane tickets and begun weighing up where you can go and what you can see within your budget, you soon realise there are choices to make.

Spending more time in places and seeing everything you want to see can cost a lot in accommodation unless you know a few tricks of the trade that will save you up to 50% of the accommodation cost.

Staying twice as long in a place gives you more 'play time' to just wander and experience a place as the locals do, discover things for yourself rather than pay for high cost, high impact guided tours that leave you wondering what city you're in when you wake up.

Having a great time in Europe does not have to cost a fortune. After seven months in Europe we picked up several money-saving strategies to keep within a tight budget but still have a great time.

Accommodation, food and transport are the biggest cost items so keeping these under control is important.

Great things to see in England
Great things to see in England | Source
Apartment in Salzburg
Apartment in Salzburg | Source

1. Rent an apartment - not a hotel.

Hotels are the most expensive accommodation option, so avoid them if possible. The accommodation cost will be high and in addition you will have to eat out for all your meals, and pay for laundry which can be very expensive, especially if you are traveling as a family. Renting an apartment will be just as central but cheaper and give you more space and the ability to make your own meals and do your own washing.

Comparison costs for Vienna, for example, we paid €1200 for a room for 5 days. In Salzburg we hired an apartment in the old city for about €400 for a week which was equiped with a lovely kitchen, dining room, lounge room and bedroom in a 13th century house about 200m from the Cathedral.

2. Book accommodation as early as possible.

The best apartments will book out well ahead of your travel dates so book as early as possible to have a wide selection of options.

In some countries, travel costs go down the closer you get to your travel dates. In others, the p[rice rises. In Europe, prices rise very steeply the closer you get to your travel dates.


3. Deal direct.

If you can pay your rent directly to the owner of the property rather than through a booking service you will save money. For Britain and Europe try ownersdirect.com or airbnb.com.

We had success with both ownersdirect and airbnb with bookings in the UK and Europe.

One warning though, to beware teaser ads where owners have more than one property in a place and advertise a great-looking place in a good location but when you ask for a booking, they tell you it's booked out but they have another place. Ask for photos and more information about the alternative accommodation and the new location before booking just to make sure. We ended up in the tiniest apartment in creation in Paris which was cramped and uncomfortable, despite being in a great location in Rue des Arts, just south of the Ile de la Cite.

4. Stay for a week.

Rental for a week is usually about the same price as for four or five days, so you save a lot by staying for a week.

Staying for a week also allows you time to explore a place thoroughly and make a day trip or two as well, often to very interesting out-of-town attractions.

On our trip for seven months in England, France, Italy, Germany and Austria, we stayed at least a week in each place. Staying for longer in each place reduces the amount of travel and accommodation organising and gives you time to book your forward travel plans.

5. Be flexible with arrival/departure day.

If searching online for accommodation, find out the usual arrival/departure day of the week for that place.

If most accommodation is booked from Friday to Friday, you'll find more options for Fridays than if you search for Saturday to Saturday dates.


6. Avoid Saturday travel

Saturday is the most expensive day for travelling because there's high passenger demand, especially for days when there are major local events being held.

Compare prices for traveling on other days nad take an alterative if possible.

Cafe Central, Vienna
Cafe Central, Vienna | Source

7. Shop for food where the locals shop

Most European cities will have 'tourist areas' where eating out will cost much more than the areas where the locals eat. Find a market or supermarket and get local produce for breakfast, local breads and cheeses for lunches that you can carry in your backpack and basic supplies - wine, cheeses and fruit to make easy light meals or relax with a picnic on long summer evenings admiring the views. Supermarkets will usually also sell a wide selection of local wine with good quality wines for AUD $5-10 bottle.

Great places to see in Italy.
Great places to see in Italy. | Source
Great places to see in Austria.
Great places to see in Austria. | Source

8. If eating out, have your main meal at lunchtime.

If you are going to eat in restaurants, try lunchtime rather than evening, as the service is usually quicker and the meals are usually cheaper than dinner service.

9. Buy train tickets early

Train tickets increase drammatically the closer you get to your travel date, so book as soon as you know your travel dates. Eurostar going from France to England books out on some days many months in advance. If you book early enough you can find great deals.

10. Take your own snacks when travelling

Taking your own snacks and/or lunch will save buying highly inflated, poor quality 'railway station food'.

In Italy, there are many small delis where you can buy a bread roll of your choice, have the shop slice fresh ham and cheese of your choice to make a fresh roll for a fraction of the cost of buying a ready-made soggy roll at the station or on the train. Kepp an eye out for these shops as you wander around and allow time to buy lunch on your way to the station, bus station, ferry port or airport.

Great places to see in Germany.
Great places to see in Germany. | Source

11. Train, bus or car?

Car hire usually becomes cheaper than train or bus fares if you are traveling with three or more people in a group. If you are traveling long distances is worth considering whether the driver or drivers are used to driving on the opposite side of the road from usual, whether they would prefer to sit in a train or bus to absorb the scenery.

If you are traveling a long distance, consider also whether you can swap drivers if one becomes tired.

The locations where you are traveling are also a consideration. Car travel is more convenient in rural locations where there is less public transport available.

If you're going from the central city of one place to the central city of another place, train or bus will work best as car parking in cities is very expensive and sometimes difficult.

12. Look for car rental deals and save the quotes

Car rental companies offer good earlybird deals. If booking online, choose the 'save quote' option to lock in the price of any deal that looks ok to save the pricing.

The company will usually email you back offering you a better deal a day or two later on the same car.

Be ware of the insurance costs. You might find a great car rental deal and then discover the insurance excess is huge unless you pay an extra $100 a day for insurance. This will increase the overall cost significantly.

In some countries it is possible to buy insurance excess reduction policies separate from the car hire.

We found that online credit card transactions with our home address outside the coutry we were in could not be processed online. In these cases we used a debit travel card.

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
King's College, Cambridge
King's College, Cambridge
Anglesea Abbey
Anglesea Abbey
The Palace of Versailles, Paris
The Palace of Versailles, Paris
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
Herculaneum
Herculaneum
Taormina, Sicily
Taormina, Sicily
Vatican Museum, Rome
Vatican Museum, Rome
Almonta Beach, South Australia
Almonta Beach, South Australia

See my other travel stories . . .

See my other travel stories . . . by clicking on the links or clicking on the photos:

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England

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Exploring Mont Orgeuil (Gorey) Castle, Jersey Island, England

This is one of England's most interesting castles. Stone steps lead from the entrance to the top of the artillery platform and turrets, bringing its fascinating history alive.

Punting on the River Cam, Cambridge, UK

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A national treasure - Dyrham Park, Bath, England

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Midsomer Murders filming locations, Oxfordshire, England

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France

The Palace of Versailles, Paris

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The Latin Quarter, Paris


Italy

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Looking up towards the city from the east coast, the city appears incongruous, with sheer cliffs rising to a crowd of stone buildings perched on the top.

Treasures of the Greek and Roman city of Syracuse, Sicily

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Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily

Sicily has many priceless relics. The Valley of the Temples, dating from 500 BC is one of the most famous because of its near-intact ancient temples. It attracts more than 500,000 visitors a year.

Step into St Peter's Basilica, Rome, Italy

Stepping inside the main doors of St Peter’s Basilica, noisy hoards of tourists are stunned into silence, looking up and dropping their bottom jaw as they contemplate the sheer size and grandeur of this building.

The eyes are drawn from the huge, ornate marble pillars upwards to the soaring barrel-shaped ceiling that is heavily decorated with gold.

A huge peace offering - the Colosseum

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Marveling at the Sistine Chapel

A visit to the chapel which displays Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Vatican City, Rome, Italy

Etna - visit an active volcano

Feeling the raw power of this enormous active volcano was a highlight of our trip to Sicily. Come with us to the cold, barren, windswept summit . . .


Australia

Whalers Way, South Australia

Whalers once hunted these waters but now they are a paradise for whales, seals and visitors.

Best White Sandy Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

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Happy travels . . .


Thank you

Amanda

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    • profile image

      Hitesh Gupta 15 months ago

      I really liked your article. It’s concise and very informative. You have not minced your words anywhere, having read this there seem to be some wonderful places to visit. There are many good tourist places in europe (http://www.tourtravelworld.com/europe-travel-guide... , very tasty cuisine which people can’t resist and many more which can’t stop people from viewing european countries.

    • profile image

      Melanie P 4 years ago

      Some great tips here :) If there are a few of you staying in rented accommodation it can certainly be a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel, more comfortable and better value for money.

      Another tip that I think is massive and has been missed off is travel money. Make sure to shop around and find the best deals, its not always best to leave this until the last minute as you will be stuck with the current rate that is only available at that particular time.

      A good example of this is that I have been using M&S and the Post Office for my holiday money in recent years but this year I decided to shop around and found a great exchange rate at ICICI Bank which I had never head of before ( http://www.icicibank.co.uk ). I found this by using Money Supermarket which shows the exchange rates of a variety of websites...its worth a look if your looking to exchange your currency.

    • profile image

      Abril 4 years ago

      I really agree with the post. I have been changing the way I travel for some years now and for me, the holiday apartment is the most practical option. In the case we didn't know the web, I recommend the one I commonly use: http://www.apartmentdistrict.com/

      Thank you for the great post :)

    • europewalker profile image

      europewalker 4 years ago

      Very useful travel trips. I love traveling around Europe. Some countries I still want to visit are Scotland, Ireland and Switzerland. We found that booking things early was cheaper and more convenient. Voted up and useful.

    • Kbdare profile image

      Kbdare 4 years ago from Western US.

      Great information and money saving tips! Thanks for sharing!