Traveling on a Budget

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

All four of us @ the Opera House in Paris

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.

Josh & Sarah peeking out the window in the room next door at one of our budget hotel finds in Limerick, Ireland.

We stayed in a few hotels during the trip, most of them booked on which is a website with discount prices all over Europe. We also used for one other hotel. We had no trouble with either one. DHR did require you to print vouchers and bring those with you so 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 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?

Döner kebab sandwich at the train station in Dachau, Germany.

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.

6. Tours

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?’

Tips for Driving in Europe

Yesterday we had to turn in our rental car and here are a few things that Josh and I learned while driving in Europe.

Every car has a clutch
Yep, that’s right, every car is a manual. I learned how to drive a standard when I learned how to drive as I remember my dad saying “You never know when you might need to know how to drive a stick shift car,” well, now I need to know. Thanks Dad!

Speed Limits Don’t Necessarily Need to Be Followed
While driving on small roads to the secluded beaches in Ireland, the speed limit on the winding road was 110kph (nearly 65mph) and I couldn’t go much faster than 50kph. I have found that I have been going under the speed limit more than over it.

Motorcycle (and other two wheeled operators) are crazy
They don’t have to follow the traditional traffic laws and they weave in out of traffic on or off the street. When sitting at a red light, it’s standard procedure for the bikes to weave their way to the front of the line of traffic.

Navigating always takes two people
When navigating through a city, the passenger had to ensure that the driver was going the right way. When backing out of a tricky parking spot, the passenger had to direct the driver out to not hit anything. Most turns from parking lots or gas stations were located at blind intersection so whoever could see helped the drive.

The left lane is only for passing
This this one of the cool things that I will try to bring back to the States. Cars only use the leftmost lane when passing another car. If you want to pass someone, you use the left lane then immediately get back in the right lane. Absolutely no cruising in the left lane.

The small cities have crazy small streets
This causes two problems. The first is that you have to be good with stick shift. As I mentioned before, I learned to drive a standard transmission when I was a teenager and have only used that skill a handful of times since then, until now. While navigating in small towns, most of the streets are wide enough for one car, so one car has to pull off on to the sidewalk (if possible) on a steep hill to let the other car through, then try to start moving forward without rolling backwards and/or stalling on a 45 degree bank.

Another problem is you need to be able to collapse your mirrors since the streets are so narrow. Luckily our rental car has a button that will fold both windows against the car to make it easier to navigate. I’ve have had to do this several times or I would have definitely sideswiped something.

Rarely do you have to make a left or right turn
I don’t think that Europeans like making turns as there are round abouts or rotaries at nearly every intersection. They are actually very helpful for novice standard drivers as it nearly eliminates the need to start your car from a dead stop.

Round abouts are also good for making U turns. If you accidentally miss your turn, then just go all the way around and viola you are now heading in the correct direction. We did this more times than I want to admit!

The roads are not designed for taking pictures
There have been lots of beautiful views that we would have loved to have had captured, but taking pictures in a moving vehicle is nearly impossible. As soon as you get ready to take a picture, a tree, a bush or guard rail suddenly appears and is the main object of the photo.

Some countries use their traffic lights differently
In Austria and Germany, the traffic lights were different than all the other countries. When sitting at a red light the yellow light comes on simultaneously letting you know that the light will turn green in a few seconds, so can start moving. Also the green light begins flashing after the green steady, which means that yellow is coming and you need to start slowing down.

Pedestrians have the right away
Driving in the city is a pain due to everyone walking around. Most locals will cross the street and expect you to stop and not hit them.

Speed cameras everywhere
Our car was equipped with a navigation system that knew what the speed limit was on every road as well as where the speed cameras were. I never saw a cop sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun trying to catch speeding cars. All cars going too fast were ticketed by speed cam and we were glad we knew where all of them were.

GPS devices are a must
At first, we thought we could get by having maps on our iPads to help us navigate around. Those did turn out to be helpful, but the GPS immediately told us when we were off course. Plus by following the turn by turn directions, we avoided going the wrong way down a one way street.

Gasoline costs a small fortune
The prices look like that gas is actually a great deal when the sign says €1.59. That”s actually the price per liter and there are 3.1 liters in every gallon. So that makes the price 4.93 Euros per gallon or $6.90 per gallon. Luckily we are driving a disel machine which is the least expensive option and it is more efficient than the small SUV we drove in Ireland.

No matter how many times we try, you can”t start moving in third gear
We have stalled this car quite a few times or had choppy starts nearly every time we try to start in the wrong gear. Lucky for us, our car is extremely quick to restart with a push start button.

Stalling is a perfectly acceptable way to park
More than once we have pulled in to a parking spot and thought we should pull in the spot just a little bit more. If moving the car forward results in a stall, then we call it good enough 🙂