5 Simple Ways to Beat Your Travel Budget

Your resolve is strong: despite the ever weakening U.S. dollar, you’re determined to see Europe no matter what it takes! Student loans, credit cards, maybe even selling candy bars door to door are ways to get the extra money, but how do you make it last once you’re there?

Here are a few budget travel tips to stretch what funds you do have while not sacrificing any of the adventure.

Traveler in Hostel Kitchen, Patagonia
Hostel Kitchen, Patagonia © aokettun

#1: Cut the Cost of Food

Even eating at fast food chains like McDonald’s is no way to save money nowadays. A meal may look like the same cheap price as it is here in the States but that 5,50 on the menu in London is actually almost 11.00 US dollars (!). Forgo the Royal mit Kase in Germany or Mc Pesci in Italy and make your way to a local grocery store.

Surely you’ve heard it before: “buy your own groceries and save.” And it’s true. Even without a kitchen to cook in there are a variety of great on-the-road dishes you can whip up during a train ride or while sitting in the hostel lounge.

Of course the staples are meat, cheese and bread but a little imagination can do wonders. How about cold pizza? Foccacia, spaghetti sauce and salami covered in a slice of fresh mozzarella … all quite tasty and fun to make.

With the use of the hostel kitchen, your possibilities are endless. Pasta of course is super cheap but even a little ground meat and bread combined with packets of ketchup or mayo can make a good burger. Chances are there are tons of spices to add a little extra to your meal in the cupboard at the hostel. Travelers are notorious for leaving these things behind. Look and ask around as most of that pasta on the shelf has been there for 3 weeks when some kindhearted soul moved on and left it for someone just like you.

Shopping at the local grocery store is an adventure in itself. Eating local cuisine does not mean spending 15 Euro at a restaurant. Those items you’re looking at in the store are what locals eat at home. And those people you are shopping with? Well, they are the locals you’re traveling to engage.

Also, don’t forget about the on-the-go treats that the local store has sitting under the warmer. Many shops offer some sort of cheap, pre-cooked treat warming on a rack like you would see at a 7-Eleven back home. If you can keep your food costs to around $15US a day (about 10 Euros as of 2008) then your saving about $20-25US that you might have otherwise spent dining out.

#2: Get Off Your Arse!

Transportation in a city can really add up. Every Metro ride in Paris will cost you about 1.50 Euro for individual tickets and in Rome a three day Roma pass is about 25.00 Euro. All the while you are sitting on a crowded bus or – even worse – waiting for the subway to arrive underground, far from the sights, sounds and people above that you came to experience. An even more persuasive argument: you are much more likely to get pickpocketed on that bus than strolling down a city street.

Why not pull out your guidebook map, plot a path to your destination and walk? There simply is no need to take public transportation from one sight to another each and every time. Chances are that your points of interest are not all that far from each other anyways. Walking also allows you to stroll the streets, seeing things that the lazy and rich miss out on as they zip along a hundred feet underground.

Sure you’re probably going to have to take the metro or bus sometimes – getting from the airport to your hotel for example or that long journey home after an exhausting day of walking. But think of it as a treat for all your hard work, rather than a means to get where you can otherwise walk.

If you must use public transportation try to figure out how much you will be using. Usually you can buy books of metro or bus tickets, possibly even day tickets, for much cheaper than one-way individual tickets. Check out the ticket windows at the station and you will likely see a run down of available ticket options. Choose the one closest to your essential needs and save a bit by purchasing in bulk.

If you end up with extra or are not going to use your whole day pass, pass it on to a fellow traveler. Surely there’s a fellow cost-conscious traveler staying at your ho(s)tel (you both likely chose it because it was inexpensive) who would love to use your leftover tickets.

Closeup of Hand Holding Money
Fist Full of Dollar (and a Euro) © ganessas

#3: Being Flexible Pays Dividends

Putting in for a vacation at work and then trying to find the cheapest airline tickets for your days off is never the best strategy when trying to save. Being flexible with your travel dates can save hundreds of dollars.

Just being able to leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday can save you tons of money on roundtrip airfare. Not convincing yourself that summer is the only time to see Europe for good weather can also be very rewarding. Sure the weather might be a bit colder in November or early December but that just means bring a heavier jacket and you can experience a beautiful German town covered in snow.

A quick search on Kayak.com shows that flying out of New York on August 1st and returning August 10th from Paris will cost you $914US this year. Move that same 10-day trip up to early November – the 7th and the 16th – and you’ll be paying $582US. That’s a savings of $332US!

You can also be flexible in where you’re going. If it’s just for fun then I would argue it doesn’t matter where you go in Europe. But let’s say you just have to see Rome on August 1st through the 10th, why not think about flying into London rather than a direct flight? A search like the one above on the day this was written shows direct flights for $1157. Flying into London however, and then taking a budget airline flight to Rome ends up saving $142. That extra money is something that can be used for a nice hotel stay, a couple of fancy dinners or that heavier jacket so you can go next November and save even more.

Country Road in Czech Republic

#4: Go Where Fewer Men Have Gone Before

Many European travelers head to Rome, Paris and Barcelona – three of the most expensive cities to visit. Why not head off the beaten path and experience Eastern Europe instead? Year-round prices are substantially cheaper and crowds are thinner.

Searching Kayak.com for a single hotel room on November 4th, 2008 in Rome shows that a 3-star hotel 1.1 miles from the city center is $91.00. Taking that same date and searching for 3-star hotels in Krakow Poland results in accommodation for $63.00 only .6 miles from the city center and $51.00 a mere 1.8 miles from the center.

The savings obviously don’t stop there. Restaurant prices will be lower as cities in Eastern Europe are not the tourist traps that their western counterparts are. Beer and wine tend to cost a lot less, making those late nights at the local pub much cheaper too.

With several Eastern European countries in slow transition to the Euro, American travelers still have a bit of an edge on the exchange rate. At the time this article was written .62 US cents still gets you 1 Czech Koruny (dollar) and about .45 cents gets you 1 Polish Zlotych. Compare this to the almost $1.60 a Euro will cost you or the very expensive $2 a British pound is going to set you back. On top of all this, you avoid the dense crowds that flock to more traditional European destinations.

#5: Europe is a Museum You Already Paid for

I like to be able to say that I’ve seen the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David but truthfully to me, neither was worth the cost. The Mona Lisa is disappointingly small at only 31 x 21 inches and entrance to the Louvre is about 9 Euro. That’s not to say that 9 Euro is not a fair price for all the wonderful art one can see but I’m just trying to make a point.

For the average person, the Mona Lisa – likely the first thing you head to in the Louvre – is a disappointment.

The David statue which is housed in the Accademia in Florence costs 6.50 Euro and without reservations can mean a long wait in line. Compare that to heading up the street to Piazza della Signoria where an exact replica of the statue stands in the same spot that the original stood for over 300 years which you can see for free.

Before the hate letters start rolling in from art lovers around the world understand I am only making suggestions on how to save money. By all means allow yourself the cash to see one or two exhibits that are important to you. Not paying for each and every museum or sight is just one way to cut the costs of your trip.

If you just have to see a particular museum or work of art, look for freebies. Most museums have one free day a month and/or offer discounts to students and youths. There are more than enough free things to do in Europe and many can be just as satisfying as those with an attendant price tag.

European cities are themselves works of art. Stroll the streets and admire the wonderful architecture of Paris or the cobbled streets of Ulm. Find a well maintained, beautiful park in London and people watch or pull up a section of stair on San Marco Square in Venice and enjoy a bottle of wine until the lamps light up at dusk. Head out on the pier in Barcelona and listen to the waves or watch the fishing boats head drift into the night from the coast of Cinque Terre Italy … (all with a bottle of wine if you ask me).

Seeing Europe does not have to mean paying admission. Think of your airline ticket, hotel and food costs alone as admission to the wonderful and amazing cities that locals experience everyday.

About The Author

Christopher Cook currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida where he received his second Masters Degree from FSU. As an avid traveler he maintains a budget travel website, www.noambit.com and develops MP3 audio tours in the hopes of inspiring others to just get out there and see Europe. He has lived and studied in Tübingen Germany and travels as much as possible each year to cities throughout Europe. His writing has appeared in several publications including, bravenewtraveler, thetravelrag and the FSView.

22 Responses

  1. Lola

    Great tips Chris. I live by #3 & #4.

    Sometimes finding the cheapest tickets to Europe means flying to a major city out of your way and hopping a budget airline to your final destination.

    As for #1, thats the one thing I splurge on abroad :)

    Reply
  2. Anthony

    I remember the first thing I did with my friend after we unloaded our stuff in Barcelona: walked from Lesseps down Passeig de Gracia towards Las Ramblas all the way to the pier. Look that up on a map, and see how juicy of a walk that was. And it was all worth it. We took the subway back though ;)

    Reply
  3. elina

    i love the strolling part :)

    so true that you see everything the rich and lazy miss out on..!

    Reply
  4. Marion

    I’ve been living in Rome for about 5 years now. It’s a wonderful city and, even if I’m not a tourist anymore, I still enjoy strolling the city streets and still discover new beautiful things.

    As you mention in the article, another good reason to walk rather than taking public transportation is that less stressful. Rome buses and metros are too crowded and dont’t run frequently… Anyway, if you want to get around the city by bus or subway I’m not sure that the Roma Pass is very convenient since the one-way ticket costs 1 euro and many attractions are within walking distance of each other. ;-)

    Reply
  5. chris cook

    Anthony, yes…lesseps is one heck of a walk…i got off at that stop just a few days ago to see park guell…that would definitly wear one out….marion, sooooo true…just walking around rome allows you to find new things everytime. i was just there a few days ago and everytime i finished seeing something new another opportunity arose. one needs many visits and great walking shoes to see it all.

    Reply
  6. Anthony

    As for Rome, nothing like having mom mumble “why don’t these people move out of the way so your foot that is dangling outside of the bus can get in” in Spanish and pissing some old Italian dude off who pushed us off at the next stop. I’ll stick to Barcelona.

    Reply
  7. Anthony

    Chris, that walk to Parc Guell is another hell of a walk. I stayed right around the corner from Lessps station…small world eh?

    Reply
  8. Sophie

    I’m not hostel-friendly but I love renting an apartment or cottage and getting to know one place intimately instead of running around like a maniac. If you choose a location away from the center of things and share with friends, it can be very cost-effective and you can save tons of money on food by cooking in. Plus, I love having “my” grocery store, “my” pub, “my” local park. It’s the best make believe ever.

    Reply
  9. chris cook

    Hey all, thanks for the comments. A bit of an update though, the roma pass mentioned in number 2 is actually only 20 Euro not 25 like I had previously wrote…even better!! It sure saved me a lot of money last week.

    Reply
  10. Nick

    Generally a great article. There are some very useful ideas here.

    One thing: I live in the Czech Republic and 1 dollar = 16-17 Czech crowns.

    That’s not enough to buy a beer, but maybe just enough to buy a pizza on the street. I think the zloti estimate is mostly correct.

    Thought that oughta be corrected.

    Reply
  11. Heather

    I love staying a little bit out of the city center. You’re closer to residential neighborhoods where you can really feel what normal life is like.

    Reply
  12. Dennis Czigler

    Great advice. I would like to add that in many cases buying food in small delis and grocery stores can be much better than eating in a restaurant catered to tourists. More often than not the servings are extremely small and not filling AND expensive.

    Dennis Czigler
    http://www.europetraveltours.net

    Reply
  13. Anna

    Interesting article, but advices which might be new and fresh for tourists from US or Western Europe are quite obvious for people from Eastern Europe :). We’ve benn cutting the costs since the borders have been opened. and it’s nice that Author has mentioned Kraków, Poland as a place to visit. I live quite close to it and I can say that maybe it’s as big and ‘west-european’ as Paris or Rome but has great historical architecture. Crowds of Japanese tourists can proove it. So, if you’d like to visit Poland I reccomend also cities like WrocÅ‚aw, GdaÅ„sk or Warsaw.

    Reply
  14. Keira

    I went to the Louvre myself and it is worth the money to go inside. We saw many famous pieces of art that you’d hear of in any world view art class in college.

    It was fab and I knew going into the Louvre that the Mona Lisa was a highlight for a majority of the people attending the museum, but as an art student I knew it had very little to recommend itself other than a unique background painting trick and that it was super small.

    So instead I found the room and photographed the crowds from the entrance to the painting and then the painting itself. Talk about packed in like sardines. The only people looking at anything else in the room (which is packed with art, beautiful masterpieces) were the Asian tourists with the guided tour headphones.

    My tip with the Louvre is to not be single minded about where you’re going and to really look at everything you possibly can.

    Reply
  15. Dayna

    While a lot of these are common sense – they work! Around many cities, walking is a great way to get the vibe of the neighborhoods and connect with locals. I can also second the Eastern Europe tip! In my own experience, not only does your money go farther, but because they are less trodden the experiences are more interesting and unexpected. Where we are now in Bulgaria – a shot of whiskey at a village bar is about thirty cents. A quality beer is around a dollar. The locals are friendly and excited to meet foreigners, and it makes for a very rich experience.

    Reply
  16. Anji

    Sometimes, avoiding those main touristic places helps you discover the culture of a country even more! Discovering those local places and meeting local people is the key! And of course, being alert at not being taken for a ride while we travel.

    Reply
  17. Stella

    Tip number one is the most useful ;) As for the Louvre I believe it worth the ticket fee and more!

    Reply
  18. Harvina

    Like it the way you explain it. I am traveler, travel to those places where ancient history remains alive. I love to research new things about places of older age.

    Reply

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