Europe is a dream destination for many travelers and with good reason. It’s home to some of the world’s most iconic sightseeing, richest history, and interesting cultures.
Depending on what part of Europe you’re visiting, it can also be very expensive. (Cities like London and Paris come to mind…) But even if you’re going to eastern Europe, which is typically less pricey, airfare can still be a budget buster.
By the time you’ve booked flights and hotels, it can feel like there aren’t any funds left for actually enjoying your vacation—and that won’t do.
Fortunately, a European trip doesn’t have to break the bank. These tips can help you cut down on major expenses, so you have more flexibility to spend on the little things that can make you trip great!
Use Credit Card Rewards for Airfare and Hotels
Plain and simple, credit card rewards are the most effective way to reduce out-of-pocket airfare and hotel costs.
Do a bit of research and find the best travel rewards credit card for your needs. You should consider the signup bonus, reward rate, reward type, and annual fee.
Look for a card with:
- A generous signup bonus
- Flexible travel rewards you can easily redeem
- No foreign transaction fees
The best cards all come with huge signup bonuses that are available when you meet a minimum spending requirement. These bonuses can be worth up to $750 or more. That’s easily enough to cover part of a flight or several nights in a reasonably priced hotel.
Simply use the card for all your regular expenses (gas, groceries, bills), and you’ll likely have no trouble meeting the minimum spending requirements.
Signup bonuses provide big money right out of the gate, but you can also earn rewards on every purchase you make with your card. Again, if you use it for your everyday expenses, it doesn’t take long to rack up these rewards.
Once you’ve accumulated a bunch of rewards, simply redeem them for travel expenses like flights or hotels. In many cases, you can even use them to book tickets to attractions, tours, and day trips through the issuer’s online travel portal. They’re amazing!
If it sounds easy, that’s because it is. The beauty of credit card rewards is that you can earn them fairly quickly without going out of your way.
All you need to do is use your credit card for your everyday expenses instead of your bank account. Never buy anything you can’t afford, and always pay your bill in full and on time. Follow these simple rules and you’re golden!
Visit Multiple Cities
If you’re not using credit card rewards, flying to Europe from the U.S. is expensive. However, once you’ve arrived, getting between European cities and countries is pretty economical.
If you have time, it makes financial sense to fly across the pond just once. Then, stay long enough to visit a few cities.
For example, some people plan separate trips to see Ireland and Scotland. It’s much less expensive, however, to combine them into a single trip. Flights from Dublin to Edinburgh are dirt cheap, whereas making a flight to each from the U.S. can get quite pricey.
Every destination has three travel seasons: peak, shoulder, and off-season.
Most of Europe’s peak season happens over the summer, although for some areas it’s late spring to early fall. Shoulder season is usually spring and fall (or early spring and late fall), and off-season typically happens during the winter.
Peak season is busiest, which means demand for flights and accommodations is highest. Even if you’re not an economics student, you probably know that this increased demand drives up prices. That means peak season is almost always the most expensive time to travel.
For many European destinations, shoulder season offers lower airfare, less expensive hotels, and fewer crowds. Even better, in many parts of Europe, the weather is significantly more pleasant.
Summer travel throughout much of Europe can be extremely hot, while the spring and fall temperatures are usually much more moderate. So, if you like fewer crowds, nicer weather, and larger savings, shoulder season may be the best time for you to visit! (Pssst…it’s my favorite time of year for European travel!)
Off-season offers even larger savings and still fewer crowds. Winter weather isn’t for everyone, but depending on the vacation you’re planning, it may not be a huge factor.
For example, if you’re interested in touring museums, churches, and castles, winter weather won’t put too much of a damper on your plans. On the other hand, if you want to lie on the beach or tour vineyards, a winter getaway probably won’t work.
Consider an Airbnb
When it comes to accommodations, don’t limit yourself to hotels. While you might not be a hostel kind of person (at this point in my life, I know I’m not), you do have other options.
Airbnb lets you rent a house, condo, or apartment (or a room in one) instead of a hotel room.
There are a couple of benefits to Airbnb, the most important being that it can save you money. Hotels in Europe, especially western Europe, can be very expensive.
Besides that, if you’re used to U.S. hotels, you might be surprised at how small the rooms are. Because they’re so small, hotels often only allow two people. So, if you’re traveling with your family, you may have to book a second room for your kids. Suddenly, that $150-a-night hotel costs $300 a night…so it adds up fast!
Renting an Airbnb can mean getting more space for less money. It also means you’re staying in a local neighborhood which helps you become more immersed in the culture. I don’t know about you, but experiencing different cultures is one of the things I love most about traveling.
Stay Outside the City Center
People gravitate toward the city center, but sometimes you can save a lot of money by staying on the city’s outskirts or even in smaller towns.
Small towns have something different and worthwhile to offer. It’s a mistake to think the only city worth visiting in France is Paris, for example. Spending a couple of days in a smaller town gives you a whole different experience while saving you money on accommodations.
If you’re primarily interested in a big city, you can still save money by staying on the outskirts. Hotels and Airbnbs will be cheaper, but the city center will still be easily accessible via public transit.
Pick up a Sightseeing Pass
Flights and accommodations are your big-ticket items, but once you reach your destination, there are still opportunities to save.
European cities are full of fantastic sightseeing attractions, but unfortunately, admission can be quite expensive. A sightseeing pass can drastically reduce your costs and save you time by helping you avoid long ticket lines.
Unlimited sightseeing passes like the London Pass usually offer the best value. You buy the pass for a set number of consecutive days and visit as many of the included attractions as you like. The more you do, the more you save.
If you’re not interested in going on a sightseeing mission, you may want to check out passes that include a set number of attractions that can be visited over a longer period of time. While this style of sightseeing pass comes with more modest savings, it still beats paying regular admission prices.
Use Public Transit
It will depend on your destination, but many large European cities have excellent public transit systems that cost significantly less than taking a taxi or renting a car.
Even for day trips outside the city, there’s often a train or bus that can get you there comfortably without costing a fortune.
Plus, navigating a city’s public transit system gives you a glimpse into life as a local, which can be a little adventure all on its own.
Of course, you’ll want to do the math if you’re traveling as a family or group. Sometimes a short taxi ride might be the same price as public transit for four people. But if you’re traveling solo or as a duo, public transit is usually the cheaper option.
I truly believe that European travel (or any travel!) is money well-spent…but why spend more than you have to? Use these tips to make the most of your next European adventure and save money while you do it!
Thanks so much for reading and happy traveling!
What are your favorite money saving travel tips? Let us know in the comments below!
Greg Johnson is a personal finance and frugal travel expert who leveraged his online business to quit his 9-5 job, spend more time with his family, and travel the world. He is the co-owner of the popular blog Club Thrifty, where he teaches others how to spend less and travel more.