Hello again! I promised to write a post about traveling on a budget, and honestly I wrote this on the plane from Prague to JFK and I am just getting around to posting it! whoops! I can’t believe our trip was almost 2 months ago now! I won’t say this trip was cheap, but it certainly could have been much more expensive. I know many of you out there are now thinking about how you want to travel to some of these wonderful places…so I just thought I’d share how we did it on a budget. Hopefully these tips will help you plan your next trip!
1. Travel with Friends
Not only does traveling with friends make the trip more fun, but it saves money! We were able to split the cost of most lodging, rental car fees, road tolls, parking, etc. I’m sure we saved close to 2,000 USD at least by splitting these expenses. The boys tracked all the money spent in a spreadsheet (yep they are both engineers!) and we evened up in the end. Also in Germany and Austria, we purchased a “family/group” ticket on the metro for up to 5 adults, which was almost 1/2 the cost of purchasing 4 individual tickets.
2. Become familiar with budget airlines in your destination.
In Europe they have many budget airlines that can get you from one place to another often cheaper than the train system if you are only making a few hops, and sometimes quicker. Although this isn’t the “greenest” approach since trains are much better for the environment. We used Aer Lingus operated out of Ireland and Easy Jet which services much of Europe. Another budget airline across Europe is called Ryan Air but countries may have a line specific to their area too.
3. Familiarize yourself with booking websites abroad and other lodging alternatives.
We stayed in a few hotels during the trip, most of them booked on Booking.com which is a website with discount prices all over Europe. We also used DHR.com for one other hotel. We had no trouble with either one. DHR did require you to print vouchers and bring those with you so booking.com was a bit easier of a check in process.
Bed and Breakfasts can be a great deal too if you are looking to save money and you have a meal included. Obviously hostels can be an option for younger travels, but most have age limits, which the boys were over.
We saved a LOT of money on this trip by renting apartments in Paris, Rome, Vienna, Munich, and Prague through a website called airbnb.com. This website allows anyone, anywhere in the world to list their apartment. All but one of these apartments were just rental properties. There was one that appeared to be someone’s apartment they just vacate when a renter comes. Most of this properties have reviews on-line from past travelers and a few had a washer so we were able to do a few loads of laundry since we couldn’t carry 3 weeks of clothing with us. All the places had clean linens and towels, only occasionally did we need to have our own hand soap or something like that. The one in Rome even included a small breakfast. Most of the places we stayed were a bit out of the city, so we had to become familiar with the metro line quickly, but our place in Prague, we could walk to pretty much anywhere we wanted to see. It also saved money because we had kitchens, so we were able to buy breakfast items and even cooked a few dinners.
4. Trip Advisor should become your best friend in planning.
I can’t say enough good things about this website, you can see reviews on lodging, hotels, entertainment, etc. And you can also search forums. When we were trying to find a cheaper way to get from Munich to Prague, we found a forum where someone had asked the same question and voilà the answer was there! We will certainly be reviewing all the places we stayed on there and some of the places we went. It will take me a few months to contribute, but I definitely appreciate all the feedback other travelers have put there, so I want to make sure we add ours as well.
5. Eating on a budget?
This was probably one of the hardest parts of traveling in so many other cultures in a short period of time because a huge part of learning about the culture is indulging in the cuisine! With two days at the most in each place we wanted to enjoy the culinary art in each place. It was much different than traveling in the US because the food at home isn’t too much different. When we spend a week at the beach & have a kitchen we often cook for most of the week and pick a few days to eat out. Like last year in Hawaii, Dustin and I cooked 6 of our 7 nights on Kauai to save money and then ate out on other islands when we didn’t have a full kitchen.
In Europe we did save money by going to the grocery store and getting yogurt, muesli, fruit, bread, etc for breakfast when we were in the apartments. That’s another advantage to being a bit out of the city. And when a national holiday like Ascension Day pops up where the restaurants are closed, a dinner from the supermarket comes in handy! We also packed granola bars & almonds which lasted us a week or so, then we just picked up more granola bars at the stores and fruit for the road when we went to the supermarket or market. Most days we only had 1 “big” meal.
You can also experience the food culture by eating food from vendors on the street. In Europe food from street vendors is very safe and are much cheaper than sitting down at a cafe. Although as your trusty pharmacist, I still recommend the Hepatitis A shot (if you haven’t had the series already) before you leave whether you plan to eat food at a street vendor or not. Check out the CDC webpage if you want more specific vaccine recommendations for your destination.
In Rome, we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, which both tend to have 1-2 hour lines outside. There are all kinds of Skip-the-Line tours and we found a few on-line that were were going to buy beforehand but with our busy schedules before the trip we didn’t have time. It turned out in both places, there were people outside selling tours for 1/2 the price of the ones I found online, another plus to this was we just showed up and the tour was leaving in 15-30 minutes vs. booking a tour at a specific time and having to arrive at that exact time in an unfamiliar place. It worked out much better for to participate in a “walk-on” tour and it save us money!
7. Consider all modes of transportation
I mentioned above that we used some budget airlines, which for our timeline were cheaper and worked out better. Most people think of train travel when they think of Europe trips, which the train can be a perfectly good option especially if you are going to buy a EURORAIL pass, but if you are only hoping a few spots by train it may be more expensive. Before our trip, Josh made a spreadsheet with train prices vs. air prices, vs. rental car prices, which was very helpful! The car was a good option for us because we could go on our own pace and stop along the way at different sites we wanted to see, especially along the Mediterranean coast. One caveat with the car is we had to shop around for pick-up and drop off locations, originally we wanted to pick up the car in Barcelona and drop it off in Munich or Vienna. But picking up the car in Spain was a 1500 EUR one-way drop fee, by picking up the car in France, we only had a 200 EUR one-way drop fee added to our daily rate. That was almost a 2,000 dollar savings right there!
We don’t recommend driving in the major European cities as we mostly drove close to town, or parked in one spot and then saw the city by metro, walking, or buses. In Barcelona we did rent bikes for 5 EUR pp for the whole day, they came with locks and we biked around to see the city, this was fun! Barcelona was a good city to bike, because they had a bike lane along many of the roads. Other cities it might be a bit more dangerous. Europe is very bike friendly with plenty of bike racks, and you can bring your bike on the metro, bus, train, etc.
Hope this was helpful! I’ll try to post some packing tips soon too!
What are your tips for budget friendly traveling?’