Remote lodging and audio tours: See the Continent one good deal at a time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
London’s double-deckers offer a unique view of the city for just two bucks.
If Salzburg’s hotel prices are too high for you, consider staying on the city’s outskirts.
In Paris, the Louvre offers free admission at least once a month.