How to Go on a Cheap European Vacation

Travel agents once held high esteem among international travelers; they held the keys to the best flights, the best restaurants and best tours. In today's technologically advanced age, travel agents are becoming a thing of the past. If you want to travel to Europe without spending a lot of money, you have many more options available than what you might find with a travel agent. With a little detective work and planning, you can create your own European vacation at a fraction of the price.

Things You'll Need

  • Maps
  • Local cell phone


    • 1

      Travel in the off-season. The months of June through August are prime tourism months throughout Europe. Flights are at a premium, as are hotel prices. According to travel guru Rick Steves, the best time to travel to Europe are the months of October through April.

    • 2

      Reserve an open-jaw flight, rather than a round-trip flight, when traveling between European cities. These flights are cheaper and allow you to create a starting and ending point, thereby eliminating the need to hustle back to your original city.

    • 3

      Stay in inexpensive accommodations. Hostels are available for people of all ages, and seniors over the age of 55 might qualify for special discounts. Hostels are less fussy than hotels, have a more amicable atmosphere, and encourage more socializing with fellow travelers than hotels. If you don't want to pay for your accommodations, consider couch surfing. It is free, and you can plan the length of your stay with your host family. Stays are normally on a one- to two-week stretch, but each host is different. This type of traveling is best for people traveling alone or in pairs. An advantage to couch surfing that you won't get from expensive hotels is a local's perspective on the city you're visiting.

    • 4

      Attend a church service. Many historic churches charge fees for tours, but still offer religious services that are open to the public and free. In Ireland, you may attend Evensong without paying, as it is a nightly worship service. You will also get the added benefit of witnessing a centuries-old tradition, something a paid tour does not provide. At the Tower of London, arrive promptly at 11:45 in the morning and inform the Beefeater at the gate that you wish to attend the St. Peter's Ad Vincula services. You will gain admission, and when services are over, you are permitted to walk the grounds and take in the sites.

    • 5

      Drink tap water. Most European countries have clean tap water. It is cheaper than bottled or mineral water, which is often more expensive than a bottle of wine. Bring a reusable water bottle with you to fill up while on the go.

    • 6

      Shop at open-air markets rather than enclosed markets. The food is fresher and cheaper. The vendors are more willing to bargain down prices, and often have cured meats that don't need any extra preparation.

    • 7

      Eat where the locals eat. Tourist trap restaurants have advertising in both the native language and in English. Avoid these and follow locals to their favorite diners. These local eateries are often cheaper than those in tourist areas. Eat in season, as well. Find out what cuisine is in season during your visit and eat that. If you're unsure of where to go, ask. Most Europeans are more than willing to help a traveler find the best food available.

    • 8

      Use local public transportation for getting around larger cities. Many European cities offer single passes that are good for round trips, transfers or extended periods of time. Check with your preferred airport: Some have public transportation passes available for purchase on-site.

    • 9

      Use the local rail system. Every country in Europe has its own rail system administered by Eurail. If you are traveling from Berlin to Paris, you might pay less than deep discount airfare and cab fare combined. European airliner Ryanair boasts cheap rates, but flights go into smaller, out-of-the-way cities. If your final destination is Barcelona and you fly in with a discount airline, you might pay more in cab fare than you would using local rail systems.

    • 10

      Travel by bicycle. Europeans use their bicycles for everyday transportation needs more often than do Americans. Many rail stations have bike rental outlets that lease bikes to travelers for a small fee. In some cases, you do not have to return the bike to the same location, which is an added benefit.

Tips & Warnings

  • Plan your trip months ahead. You will get the best prices and deals if you do.
  • Don't rent cars in big cities. Parking and storage prices are often too expensive. Instead, rent a car after leaving a big city and turn it in just before arriving at your next big city.
  • Pack light. You don't need much, and if you carry too much with you, you'll stand out to thieves.
  • Never carry expensive photographic equipment around your neck. Keep it secure inside your case.
  • Wear a money belt instead of carrying a large purse to dissuade thieves.
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  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

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