It’s no secret that Europe is one of most expensive regions in the world to travel. Hefty hotel rates in major capitals coupled with a high cost of living and an unfavorable exchange rate for the Canadian dollar can make your European dream vacation seem, well, just like a dream. But the truth is Europe can be done on a budget. I know because my girlfriend and I have done it. In fact, some of our richest experiences have been the moments that required very little money. Here are six simple tips to help you save money on your next trip to Europe.
One of the best ways to save money eating out is to make lunch your main meal. You can often find similar multi-course dinners for half the price. Also, remember not to over tip regardless of what time of day you are eating. In most European countries, 10 percent is normal unless the service was outstanding. However, before laying down your tip, it’s important to check the bill to see if a service charge has already been added. If it has, then you don’t need to leave anything additional.
It’s only naturally to want to fit in as many cities and countries as possible during your trip to Europe. But you’ll likely have a better experience if you narrow your focus down to one city or region, not to mention your wallet will also thank you. While budget airlines and trains run throughout Europe, costs can quickly add up, especially for longer journeys. On the other hand, short regional train trips are usually inexpensive.
Just like at home, you can save a lot of money by buying food from the grocery store instead of eating out at every meal. This is where having an apartment or access to a kitchen at a hostel or campground can really help you save money on your trip since you can stock up on groceries for your stay. Hitting up the grocery store or local market is the perfect way to taste local flavors such as cheeses, fruits, cured meats and wine for the local price. Plus, grocery stores are a huge money saver when it comes to bottled water and snacks, which cost a premium at tourist shops and train stations.
Unless you’re a hobo who doesn’t mind sleeping on park benches, then you are going to need a place to sleep at night. Luckily, there are ways to circumvent Europe’s costly hotels. When it comes to alternative lodging, hostels are that the top of the list. However, European hostels, particular in major cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona, aren’t always the most budget friendly way to go, especially if you are a couple or family. Instead, look into apartment rentals, couchsurfing or camping. For example, on our first trip to Europe, we camped in Paris and Cinque Terre, Italy, and discovered as we were doing research for our trip that many European cities have campgrounds located in them.
Currency exchange kiosks at the airport or train station are convenient; unfortunately, they also offer the worst rates. Your best bet if you need to exchange money is to do it in a bank. Even then, it’s best to only exchange what you’ll need until you can visit an ATM, which tend to offer much more favorable exchange rates. Keep in mind, though, to avoid ATMs that aren’t attached to a bank. Not only can these have higher fees, they are also more prone to identity theft scams.
One of the best ways to save money while traveling in Europe, especially in more expensive areas like France and Italy, is to volunteer with the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization (WWOOF). By signing up to WWOOF at a farm, volunteers get the chance to learn about organic farming while working with hosts who produce a variety of organic products like cheese, olive oil and wine. In return, the hosts provide them with free room and board. We once spent two weeks at a biodynamic winery outside of Florence, and to this day our time on the farm with the other volunteers and hosts is still one of our fondest travel memories.