Re­mote lodg­ing and au­dio tours: See the Con­ti­nent one good deal at a time.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Travel - By Elissa Lei­bowitz Poma

Fre­quent trav­el­ers to Europe know to cut ex­penses by trav­el­ing in the off­sea­son, choos­ing buses over taxis and prowl­ing su­per­mar­ket aisles for lunchtime fare. Here are other tried-and-true tips from travel agents, tour guides and fre­quent trav­el­ers for cut­ting costs in Europe with­out hav­ing to re­sort to hos­tel bunk beds, fast food and shared baths.

Lodg­ing

K Con­sider a short-term apart­ment rental. Fam­i­lies and groups of three or more can save money with a week-long fur­nished apart­ment, es­pe­cially dur­ing high sea­son. Hav­ing a kitchen in which to pre­pare meals is a cost-saver, too. A sim­ply fur­nished, one-bed­room apart­ment with a sofa bed in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella neigh­bor­hood in June was quoted at $801 a week on the Web site Apart­ments in Florence ( www.apart­mentsin­flo­rence. net). A triple room in the two-star Bi­jou Ho­tel in the same neigh­bor­hood: $1,057 a week.

To find rec­om­mended rental agen­cies, go to the of­fi­cial tourism

Web site for the coun­try you’re visit­ing and click on its ac­com­mo­da­tions link. Find tourism Web sites at www.towd. com. K Seek out busi­ness-trav­eler ho­tels on week­ends. “The rates for week­ends are usu­ally sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than their week­day rates,” Kaaryn Hen­drick­son, owner and founder of the bud­get travel Web site Back­pack­Europe.com ( www. back­pack­europe.com), wrote in an e-mail. Look for such ho­tels in cities’ fi­nan­cial dis­tricts; the Hil­ton Barcelona, in that city’s fi­nan­cial cen­ter, for ex­am­ple, has late-April rooms for $460 a night dur­ing the week and $153 on the week­end. K Choose a ho­tel out­side the city lim­its. Ann Lom­bardi, vice pres­i­dent and lead Europe agent for the At­lanta travel agency the Trip Chicks, said she ex­plored the out­skirts of Salzburg, Aus­tria, and set­tled on the Ho­tel Auwirt in Hallein, an old Ger­man salt-min­ing town a 15-minute train ride from the city. “I stayed there for half the price of a ho­tel in Salzburg, and I got break­fast and din­ner, too — and we’re talk­ing re­ally good food,” Lom­bardi says. K Con­sider B&Bs or pen­sions that in­clude break­fast. In Europe, the cost of stay­ing at a B&B can be less than the cost of a ho­tel room, plus you get your first meal of the day. “Some [break­fasts] can be quite ex­trav­a­gant, which not only saves you money on break­fast, but lunch as well,” says Mary White, pres­i­dent of BnBFin­der.com (888-547-8226, www.bnbfin­der. com). K Don’t take the first room shown to you. For those check­ing out ho­tels, hos­tels or inns on the fly, you’ll prob­a­bly be shown the most ex­pen­sive room first. Ask to see lower-priced ones. K Join a home-stay pro­gram. If you’re com­mit­ted to cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions, be­come a mem­ber of a home-stay pro­gram, such as United States Ser­vas (707-8251714, www.usser­vas.org). Once you’re ac­cepted and have paid the $85 an­nual fee, you’ll be able to con­tact other mem­bers in the coun­tries you’re visit­ing and find a host. The two-night min­i­mum pre­vents lodg­ing-moochers.

Din­ing

K Eat where the lo­cals eat. Ask your ho­tel concierge where he or she per­son­ally likes to eat, look for small restau­rants on side streets, or ob­serve where the lo­cal con­struc­tion crew or bank work­ers spend their lunch hour. How to spot tourist traps? David ShoveBrown, a Wash­ing­to­nian who spends four months a year in Rome, says he never eats at restau­rants that have red-and-whitechecked table­cloths or touts out­side pres­sur­ing passersby to come in. K Don’t over­tip. Tip­ping cus­toms vary through­out Europe. In France, a 15 per­cent tip is in­cluded, but it’s con­sid­ered good form to round up to the next euro; in Scot­land, some, but not all, restau­rants add 10 or 15 per­cent to the bill; in Hun­gary, a gra­tu­ity isn’t in­cluded on the bill but is ex­pected. For an ex­cel­lent primer on tip­ping in Europe, search the Fodor’s Web site, www.fodors.com, for the “Foodie’s Guide to Tip­ping in Europe.” K Make lunch your largest meal of the day. Lunch menus gen­er­ally of­fer the same or sim­i­lar food as the din­ner menu, for less money. K Seek out cafes near univer­si­ties. They’re used to cater­ing to stu­dent bud­gets. Some univer­si­ties’ cafe­te­rias also are open to the pub­lic.

In­tra-Europe Travel

K Fly low-cost air­lines. Dozens of small air­lines, from the pop­u­lar easyJet to the more ob­scure Cen­tral Wings, zip across the Con­ti­nent in­ex­pen­sively. Sky Europe (011-4212-4850-4850, www.skyeurope.com), for ex­am­ple, has flights from Lon­don to Bratislava, Slo­vakia, for $37 one way, as of press time. Tak­ing the train would re­quire more than a half-day and cost hun­dreds of dol­lars more, as shown on the Web site of Rail Europe (888-382-7245, www.raileu­rope. com). To see a list of Europe’s bud­get air­lines, visit www.open­jet.com. Tip: Don’t for­get to fac­tor in the cost of get­ting into the cen­ter city from re­mote air­ports, and keep in mind the strictly en­forced weight lim­its for lug­gage. K Join a fixed-price air­line ticket pro­gram. Through Europe By Air (888-321-4737, www.europe­byair.com), you pur­chase one-way flights for $99, re­gard­less of the des­ti­na­tion. This best serves trav­el­ers who make big hops across the Con­ti­nent, such K Pur­chase a tourist-at­trac­tion card. Th­ese all-in­clu­sive passes cover large cities such as Prague and Paris and smaller spots such as Di­jon, France, and are ideal for trav­el­ers who want to see many at­trac­tions in a day or two. The Lis­bon Card, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes ad­mis­sion to 27 at­trac­tions, dis­counts for 47 oth­ers and city trans­porta­tion; cost is from $19.83 for a 24-hour card. For a di­rec­tory of avail­able cards, visit as Dubrovnik, Croa­tia, to Am­s­ter­dam. K Do your home­work be­fore you buy train tick­ets. Once you fig­ure out which coun­tries you’ll visit, check the com­par­i­son charts on Rail Europe’s Web site to de­ter­mine which pass is most eco­nom­i­cal. The Eu­rail Se­lect Pass alone, for ex­am­ple, has 13 dif­fer­ent types of tick­ets for adults, rang­ing from a five-day, three-coun­try pass for $403 to a 15-day, five­coun­try ticket for $891. If you’re visit­ing only Spain, should you get a $186 Spain Pass or pick up tick­ets along the way? When the op­tions start mak­ing your head spin, you may want con­sult a travel spe­cial­ist. K Rent cars that use diesel fuel. As of mid-March, a gal­lon of gaso­line in the United States cost an av­er­age of $2.78, com­pared with $7.09 (as con­verted from liters) in the Nether­lands, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion ( www.eia.doe.gov). More-ef­fi­cient diesel cost $5.21 per gal­lon. K Charge your rental car on a pre­mium-level credit card. Most of the pre­mium cards cover the re­quired col­li­sion-dam­age waiver por­tion of the rental in­sur­ance — a fee that could tack on $40 or more a day to the cost of your rental.

Sight­see­ing

www.eu­ro­peanci­ty­cards.com. K Visit mu­se­ums on their “free” days. Many of Europe’s largest and most pop­u­lar mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Vat­i­can Mu­seum in Rome and the Lou­vre in Paris, of­fer free ad­mis­sion at least once a month. (See chart be­low.) Guide­books and free tourist publi­ca­tions can tell you when. K Down­load au­dio tours in­stead of pay­ing for a guided tour. The two-hour walk­ing tour of the Mont­martre neigh­bor­hood in Paris, for ex­am­ple, costs $7 to down­load onto an MP3 player through Walki-Talki.com ( www.walki-talki.com) vs. $15.09 per per­son for a guide-led tour of the same neigh­bor­hood and same length through Vi­a­tour ( www.vi­a­tour.com). Bonus: You can tour on your own sched­ule.

Money

K Charge pur­chases us­ing low- or no-fee credit cards. Some credit cards charge up to a 4 per­cent for­eign trans­ac­tion fee for cash ad­vances and pur­chases, while oth­ers — such as those avail­able through Cap­i­tal One’s “No Has­sle” pro­gram — have no for­eign-use fees. Or look for a credit card provider such as Wash­ing­ton Mu­tual, which charges just 1 per­cent (the amount that Visa or MasterCard as­sesses it). K Join an al­liance-form­ing bank. Bank of Amer­ica has a part­ner­ship with Deutsche Bank, Bar­clays and BNP Paribas in Europe, mean­ing that it doesn’t charge any fees if you with­draw your money from one of those banks’ ATMs in Ger­many, Poland, Italy, Spain, Bri­tain and France. K Make large with­drawals. If you use a debit card that charges fees, with­draw more cash — at least $200 a pop — less fre­quently and stash it in a money belt or ho­tel safe. K Ne­go­ti­ate with cash. Un­like in the United States, Euro­pean shop own­ers and hote­liers are will­ing to bar­gain. If you’re stay­ing at a small ho­tel or hos­tel, for in­stance, you may be able to ne­go­ti­ate a lower price for a multi-night stay if you pay in cash. Out­door mar­kets and shops may be will­ing to bar­gain, too. Note: This doesn’t work at restau­rants and mu­se­ums. K Keep a cur­rency con­verter handy. Print out a cur­rency con­ver­sion chart, such as the one avail­able at www.oanda.com (click on FXCheatSheet), to keep in your wal­let. With it, you won’t have to do com­pli­cated math cal­cu­la­tions while bar­gain­ing or tip­ping. K Ap­ply for a value-added tax re­fund. The gov­ern­ment-im­posed tax on mer­chan­dise varies by coun­try, and for­eign vis­i­tors are en­ti­tled to tax re­funds on some pur­chases. Min­i­mum-pur­chase amounts range from $30 in Swe­den to $330 in Switzer­land, and the ac­tual per­cent­age of the tax varies from 7.6 per­cent to 25 per­cent. (Most are about 20 per­cent.) Many trav­el­ers don’t bother to ap­ply for the re­fund, think­ing the process is too dif­fi­cult, but it can be worth the has­sle. For an easy-to-com­pre­hend guide on how to get the most out of the VAT pro­gram, in­clud­ing rates and tips, check out Europe travel guru Rick Steves’s up­dated in­for­ma­tion page at www.rick­steves.com/ plan/tips/vat.htm.

BY ANNE MCDONOUGH — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Lon­don’s dou­ble-deck­ers of­fer a unique view of the city for just two bucks.

BY SEAN GALLUP — GETTY IMAGES

If Salzburg’s ho­tel prices are too high for you, con­sider stay­ing on the city’s out­skirts.

BY PAS­CAL LE SEGRETAIN — GETTY IMAGES

In Paris, the Lou­vre of­fers free ad­mis­sion at least once a month.

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