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Money-Saving Tips for Traveling Europe

Recently back from a two week trip to Europe, I can relate firsthand to how expensive the continent can be. Elite museums and historical sites, bustling cities and cutting edge restaurants all contribute to the allure and charm of Europe…while often conspiring to empty your wallet. Additionally, coming from the United States, I lament that my money does not stretch as far due to the fact that the exchange rate is not in my favor. However, for many of us who travel part-time, our travels are a way for us to explore a new destination, imbibe the culture and remove ourselves from our day-to-day routine. Most of us do not want to skimp so much that we do not enjoy the trip that we have been planning for weeks/months/years! I certainly fall in that category.

These days budget travel tends to imply hostels and street food, couchsurfing and cooking for yourself. While these are all fine ways to travel, the truth is there are still ways to spend a little less while you are traveling through Europe without staying in hostels and exclusively eating street food (sorry those days are over for me).  Here are six prudent tips I discovered on my last trip which will help make your money last longer while still experiencing all that the beautiful continent has to offer.

1.    Avoid cabs.  Transportation can get expensive when you are away for an extended period of time, even just two weeks. As a general rule, avoid cabs as much as you possibly can as the cost will accumulate and eat away at your budget. Figure out the local transportation system as soon as you arrive (or research it ahead of time). Most local subway/tram/bus tickets cost under $2 a ride and some European cities have all day tickets that will cover multiple people. Walking is another option if you leave yourself enough time to get where you need to go and typically allows for more exploration.

Example: Arriving in Munich from Boston, I knew that the airport was approximately 45 minutes from the city center. Research showed that a cab would cost 50-60 euros without any traffic while a ticket on Munich’s S-Bahn was 10.40 euros and proved to be the better option.

Example: Both nights in Berlin I walked the 30 minutes to and from dinner. It was a great way to view neighborhoods I had not been able to explore during the day while getting some exercise.


Neighborhoods of Berlin explored by foot

2.    Take the overnight train. This trip to Europe marked the first time I took the overnight train and while I was apprehensive at first, it worked out perfectly. As I was planning to buy a train ticket anyways, it made sense to travel at night and eliminate the cost of a hotel room.

Example: For the Munich to Berlin journey, you could purchase a train ticket as low as 75 euros for the high speed intercity express train (I no longer connect on European trains due to numerous debacles while changing trains. Tickets are even cheaper on trains that connect.) You would have paid the same amount during the day plus the cost of a hotel room.


The overnight train from Munich to Berlin

3.    Do your restaurant research. As the number of tourists has increased throughout Europe, so has the proliferation of tourist trap restaurants. Restaurant prices are one of the most inflated costs and should not take up more of your budget than necessary. Trust me, as a true foodie, I believe that eating your way through a city helps to teach you about the origin, history and culture of the city. That being said, make sure you read reviews, find the good deals and seek out the hidden gems. Do not get caught paying a lot of money for bad food. Your trip is too short for that.

Example: I researched restaurants in every city I was visiting and marked down ones that were reasonable while still giving me a flavor of the city. When it came time to go to dinner each night, I could consult my list and decide where I wanted to go. One night, I ignored the list and followed the crowds at a restaurant near my hotel.  It was bustling, but outside the main tourist area so I figured it was a safe bet. Wrong. It was glorified fast food at an exorbitant price. It was the worst food I had on my two week trip and I was disappointed for not following my own advice.

My traveling companion with the best lunch deal in Budapest

My traveling companion with the best lunch deal in Budapest

4.    Eat a European lunch. Many Europeans eat their big meal at lunch and a smaller meal at dinner. Adopting this strategy for a few days of your trip will allow you to enjoy the same food at a cheaper price at many restaurants while spending less at the more expensive dinner hour.

Example: In Venice, I ate lunch at Aciugheta, the adjacent property to the famed Il Ridotto with the same owner. With drastically lower prices, I was able to enjoy the same delicious food.

venice pizza

Fantastic pizza at Aciugheta

5.    Take advantage of the free walking tours. Europe is full of free walking tours and while this is the first trip that I have utilized them, it will surely not be the last. Depending on the company, the guides either receive minimal payment or none at all. Since they are dependent on your tips, you can bet that they will be engaging and informative. The cost? Whatever you decide to tip them based on the tour you received and your budget. Tours can be expensive and overpriced. Free walking tours are a great way to cut that cost.

Example: In Munich, I took the Sandeman’s free walking tour of Munich, which consisted of 3.5 hour historical and cultural overview of the vibrant city and showed me more than I ever could have seen on my own. In Budapest, the free walking tour by Free Budapest Walking Tours provided more value that the guide even allowed us to tip her.


Fisherman’s Bastion was the perfect place to end our Free Budapest Walking Tour

6.    Travel during shoulder season. The reasoning behind Europe’s peak season is obvious – longer days, nicer weather, prime vacation time. What else does peak season possess? Higher costs.  Traveling outside of Europe’s peak season means the demand is lower for flights, hotels and trains, which yields lower costs. You can still enjoy the nice weather, but without the hordes of tourists vying for the same amenities.

Example: Visiting Europe in September eliminated the large number of tourists who travel during the summer due to school and work schedules. During the week, many destinations were far emptier than they had been when I previously visited in the summer. I obtained lower rates for flights and hotels compared to what I had paid in August in the past.


An empty street in Budapest

Hopefully these travel tips will help you make the most of your money without decreasing any aspect of your experience.

Happy Traveling!

Do you agree with these money-saving tips? Are there any you utilize when you travel that you think I missed? 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael Maider #

    I just enjoyed a fantastic happy hour at Burwell’s Steakhouse, Charleston, SC.
    Many cities (Boston not one of them), have a vibrant happy hour scene.
    This allows one to try different restaurants and foods at a considerable savings.

    November 7, 2013
    • I agree, happy hour is a great way to save money with discounted food and drinks. Unfortunately, Boston does not have happy hour, but we did take advantage of it in Europe!

      November 10, 2013
  2. Some good tips here – I’m a big lover of eating out at lunchtime and taking free walking tours. Would also advise checking out museum/gallery websites as a lot have free days or discounted evening rates.

    November 11, 2013
    • Thanks, Lucy! Yes, that is a great tip. Museums can add up and visiting when it is free or has a discounted rate is a great way to save money while still seeing everything you want to.

      November 11, 2013
  3. Great tips. I spent 2 months travelling in Europe last winter and I did a lot of couchsurfing and traveled by Eurolines buses which were cheap. I found Prague very cheap, but Amsterdam and Berlin were pretty expensive.

    December 9, 2013
    • Thank you! I have heard those are great ways to save money also. I have not used either of them, but they seem like good strategies especially for extended travel. I found Prague cheap as well, and Budapest was even more reasonable. Venice was definitely the most expensive on my recent trip!

      December 9, 2013

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