Anyone who’s been to Europe recently knows that the exchange rate makes buying anything feel a little like this:
But there are painless ways to save money, even when you’re having the time of your life! You just have to travel smart, and think about that ugly exchange rate before forking over some foreign currency for that baklava. Here are the 6 failsafe money-saving tips that I use on every trip I take.
1. Take the cheap flight. You might have to trade a modicum of comfort, but there are deals to be had! There are several budget airlines that can jet you around Europe once you get there. Weekday flights, late-night flights and early-morning flights are often cheaper. Once I slept on the floor of London Stansted Airport for a €20 flight. Do you think I regret it? Hell no!
The cheap flights also frequently take you to an airport that isn’t the biggest or closest to your destination city. So before booking that flight, check the price of the airport-to-city shuttle, bus or train to make sure the combined price is still a bargain. (Usually, it is. The main airports have hefty shuttle/bus prices, too!)
The same goes for buses within the country you’re visiting. They’re often cheaper than the train counterpart, and you can usually get really cheap tickets for late-night buses (which are often empty and thus conducive to some not-so-comfortable sleeping). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a 3 a.m. bus to be at the airport for a cheap, early-morning flight.
2. Sleep on floors. This goes along with my airport story above. You’re only young once, so don’t pay for a bed while your back can still take it! (I’m not going to suggest you sleep on a park bench or the subway. But I’m also not going to say that I don’t know people who have done that!)
Call up that college friend who’s teaching in Ecuador. Heck, message that high school friend you haven’t spoken to in 4 years but that you happen to know (due to some recent Facebook stalking) is living in Paris.
And if you don’t know anybody with a floor for you, stay at a hostel! Most hostels won’t be massively uncomfortable as long as you keep all your belongings in sight. (Check reviews online for the best, cleanest, friendliest hostels.) In fact, I often prefer a hostel to a private hotel room. Nothing helps you make friends on the road like a hostel.
It’s not, I swear! As long as you don’t leave your instincts at home, hostels are a great place to meet people! Everybody is there for the same reasons: to see new places and meet new people!
Once, in a hostel in Munich, my friends and I were discussing dinner plans pretty loudly when I noticed a girl sitting on her own. I invited her to dinner and not only did she speak English, she also traveled all around Munich with us for the rest of our stay. (We still chat on Facebook!)
3. Pack snacks. I never go on a trip without a box of Special K cereal bars dumped in my backpack, smushed between clothes. (Sans the box, of course.) Your schedule is going to be crazy while traveling, which means your appetite will be all over the place. Having a tiny snack on hand will keep you from coughing up a fiver (€5) for a bag of chips on your dash to the train station because you’re starving and don’t know when you’ll next have a chance to eat.
4. Buy a water bottle. It’s easy to get dehydrated on the road. It’s also easy to get caught somewhere without a shop—like a bus or a train when you need something with which to wash down medication or motion sickness pills.
As soon as I touch down in a new country, often before I leave the airport, I buy a water bottle. (Remember, you can’t buy it before you go through security when boarding.) As long as the tap water there is okay to drink, I’ll keep refilling that water bottle until I leave, dropping it in a recycling bin on the way to check-in for the return flight.
5. Eat at the supermarket. Eating out is expensive, no matter where you are. Yet it’s something that travelers take for granted as a necessary function of traveling. That’s just not true. While on the road, my friends and I find the local supermarket, then stock up on bread, cheese and crackers. You can stop by in the morning and get fresh fruit!
If you’re someplace warm, you can pack your grocery-store goods and hike somewhere for a fantastic picnic. In Nice, France, we stocked up on grapes, cheese and baguettes for a picnic on the beach. (On more than one occasion!)
6. Skip the souvenirs. Sure, that key ring looks cool now, but chances are you’ll regret it in 3 hours when you want a shot of Tequila or a pint of Guinness—er, I mean, a museum ticket. Just take photos—they’re as good a memory-keeper as any!
And if you absolutely have to bring something back for a friend, go someplace the locals go. Not everything authentic to the country comes from a tourist trap. (In fact, most of the authentic things don’t come from a tourist trap.)
For example, in Belgium, I bought chocolate for my friends from the grocery store instead of one of the mega expensive tourist candy shops. (Just make sure to check the label to verify that you are getting something authentically Belgian, or whatever country you’re exploring.)
7. Google. Before you leave for a trip, do some extensive Googling. The most obvious tourist attractions are also often the most expensive. But there’s usually just as many, if not more, amazing attractions cheaper, if not free, in the same city.
You’ll also discover plenty of things you wouldn’t necessarily notice just by walking around when you get there. I’m not saying you need to plan out every minute—often the best trips are the unplanned ones…
But you should do some Googling beforehand to get a feel for the city and to decide which pricey tourist attractions are actually worth the price. (Think the garden in Èze, France.)
And take note of anything you decide is absolutely unmissable! I often scribble down the name and location of some things I want to see so that I can ask for directions when I get there!
So! There are my top seven tips for saving yo-yos on the road. (Yo-yo is to euro what dolla is to dollar.)
What are the things you do to keep travel under budget?