This article is brought to you by GoEuro.
1. Avoid currency exchange at all costs (pun intended!)
Those little currency exchange stand in the airports will eat up all your travel funds in the five minutes it takes to exchange your currency. As I write this, one of the biggest exchange companies in airports is charging 0.08USD extra for each euro that you want to buy. So instead of paying 1.08USD for 1EUR, you would pay 1.16USD.
When you plan on spending a good amount of cash, those 0.08USD really add up. If plan on buying 1000EUR, you would be paying an extra 80USD just to exchange.
Many US banks charge a percentage or small rate for international withdrawal, whichever is smaller. For example, Bank of America charges 5USD for international withdrawals, and the bank where you get the money from will usually charge a small fee of around 3EUR/3.25USD. 8.25USD is much cheaper than 80USD, no?!
2. Pick cheap locations and be open to new options.
When you decide you want to make Europe your next tick-off-the-bucket-list, consider the “forgotten” parts of Europe as well. Western Europe dominates the European tourist industry, and it’s arguable whether it truly deserves that privilege.
It’s without a doubt that Paris and the likes are must-visits that have a lot of beauty to share. But what about Poland? Slovenia? And Albania? These are all countries that are overlooked far too often when considering what they have to offer. Because they are overlooked so often, everything is much less expensive and you’ll often be able to get buy with just a fraction of the money!
3. Use the right apps.
There are two apps that I use that make my travels so much easier and so much cheaper. Technology has done so much for us (arguably too much), and this is just one more to add to the list.
To plan how I’m going to get from Point A to Point B, I use GoEuro. It’s like a transportation search engine specifically designed to give you the best (and cheapest) options within Europe. What I love most about them is that they don’t charge for their services, it’s literally 100% free to use, and it takes such hassle out of the planning stages!
For years I would scour Google looking for the local transportation sites (because I didn’t want to pay that extra fee most transportation search engines charge when booking) and it took me forever! It was a huge hurdle that I had to overcome to finally figure out how and when I would get to where I wanted to be. But alas!, finally a transportation search engine that offers it all.
With GoEuro, it’s ridiculously easy, fast, and doesn’t cost you a penny extra to get wherever you need to be throughout Europe, whether it be by plane, train, or even bus! Having only recently discovered them, I guess you can say my travels within Europe have improved enormously!
You can use GoEuro on your laptop or with their app on your phone. I personally am obsessed with the app because I always prefer to travel without the extra hassle of bringing my laptop. Also, I’m beyond guilty of playing with my phone in bed into the wee hours of the night. I might as well be planning my next trip, right?!
Once I get to where I’m going, I use maps.me, which is an app that gives you a map OFFLINE! Yep, you read that right. It’s totally offline which means you can use it anywhere in the world without wifi or needing to change your data plan and pay insanely high fees.
It follows you live, just like Google Maps does. You can take the app with you to find the best shops, food, toilets, pharmacy… Practically anything you could need while traveling!
The reason I like it so much is because it is so comforting knowing where you are and how to get where you need to be if you get lost. Getting lost can be fun and all, and I totally encourage it, but when you’re getting hangry and you’re in a less than safe neighborhood it’s beyond nice being able to get to where you need to be.
4. Get a city pass.
I’m a sucker for city passes, and they’re so under the radar still! Last year, I did a little solo trip to Ghent, Belgium and had just the absolute time of my life. A huge part of that was because I got the 48-hour city pass for 30EUR (!!!) that gave me access to unlimited public transportation within Ghent, access to all the museums, a full day bike rental, AND a 2-hour boat cruise along the canal. Literally all of that for 30EUR!
Most cities in Europe are catching onto this and seeing how much use the tourists get out of it. It’s a way for people who usually skip these activities because of the cost to get to experience the city in a thorough way.
You can get a city pass for Ghent, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Prague, and more! All you have to do is google the city and add “city pass” at the end. There’s a super high chance you’ll find one for your destination city!
5. Explore cheaper food options.
Food will always be my biggest motivator in everything, and that’s no different with travel. I had always assumed that if I wanted to get the full experience of where I was, that I had to eat out. As a budget traveler, that just isn’t possible.
My favorite option for food while traveling is street food. Some of the highest concentration of culture can be found in street food, and it’s cheap, too! Think perogies in Poland, crepes in France, and churros in Spain.
The cheapest option is always going to be the grocery store. I always had this idea in my head that I wouldn’t be able to taste the real flavors of where I was if I got my meals form the grocery store but I was beyond wrong. Why? Because that’s literally where the locals get their food. It’s as close to the original source as you can get.
In Italy try Patè di fegato (which you can usually find in the deli section). In Spain, make sure to try Jamón ibérico, which is a cured ham. In Finland, try arctic berries. In Serbia, try krofne (a type of donut with rich filing!) All of these traditional, yummy, gastronomic treats you can find right in the local grocery store!
6. Hostels aren’t always the cheapest option.
If you’re traveling with one or more other people, there’s a good chance that AirBnB will be a cheaper option for you. Even as a solo traveler, I always check AirBnB for better rates and deals.
A few years ago I went to Paris with a couple friends and we stayed there for 5 nights. Each of us paid about 80EUR for all five nights! That’s literally 16EUR a night for our own entire apartment with a kitchen and everything.
7. Be realistic and write down your budget.
It’s important to have your budget be the primary thing in your mind while planning your European travels. If you have higher standards of living, you will be paying more and won’t be able to travel as long. It’s totally fine to have a higher standard of life, but you must also be aware that it will cost you more.
I usually take my whole budget and then divide it by a number of days I will be abroad. Let’s do an example:
Katie is located in NYC and has off work for 14 days in April. She wants to do a solo trip through Europe. Her budget is 1,300USD, and she can’t go above that. Her flight will cost roughly 700USD, leaving her 600USD for her travels in Europe. That leaves her with just over 40USD a day.
With this kind of budget, her best option is to explore Eastern Europe, stay in hostels, and enjoy the occasional meal at the restaurant while also enjoying street food and staying in to cook every now and again. She won’t have to skip out on the simple pleasures that traveling can give you like having gelato and getting a coffee while watching the locals, but she will have to be conscious of her 40USD a day budget.
8. Get a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees and benefits.
Most international airlines offer credit cards that not only have zero foreign transaction fees, but they all give you miles that could help offset costs when you go to buy your next plane ticket!
I currently use the American Airlines AAdvantage card. When I signed up and spent a certain amount within the first few months, I got a 60,000-mile sign on bonus which essentially gave me a free roundtrip ticket from the US to Europe! Do your research, there are tons of travel credit cards out there with huge sign on bonuses and zero foreign transaction fees.
If you have a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees, you will literally only be paying the exchange rate (which you can check here). The banks will not be getting a cent of your money provided you pay your entire credit card bill before the due date every month.
I always recommend keeping a credit card on you while traveling in case of emergencies. Before I moved to Italy for good, I made a trip here to visit my boyfriend. Guess who forgot to tell her bank she was traveling abroad, tried to use her debit card, and effectively got it frozen? Yep, that’s me! Luckily I had my credit card that I could put a travel notification on in less than a minute through their app so I still had availability to funds while I was getting my debit account unfrozen.
Moral of the story, make sure to tell your bank that you’ll be traveling abroad and just in case make sure to carry your credit card abroad with you.
If you look at it the right way, budgeting for travels can be really fun! I like to think of it as a game and see just how much I can save and just how far I can go with less. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and don’t let your budgeting consume your thoughts while you’re traveling.
Treat yourself every now and again. Go out for that steak in Florence that you’ve always wanted to try. Go on the London Eye if it’s on your bucket list! Just remember that you’ll have to compensate for those costs in some other part of your budget.
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