Step-By-Step Budget Tips for a First European Vacation

Piazza del Popolo at sunset time, long exposure with motion effect
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Trying to afford that first European vacation? Start with a great airfare.

Airfares are often the barrier that keep would-be visitors from the sidewalks, byways, and plazas of Europe. Many people get around that by using frequent flier miles, or by employing other techniques such as scanning airline deal pages. During the winter months, it's sometimes possible to find round-trip flights between North America and Europe for far less money than in the more popular summer months. If you can't go during that time of year, the shoulder seasons of mid-Spring and mid-Fall often provide relief from the expensive Summer fares.

Another tip: Sometimes, flying through Ireland or Iceland can provide a better fare. Those places make great stopovers, too. Many who have made a brief visit to either locale find themselves wanting to go back for a longer stay.

01 of 09

Take Advantage of Cheap Airfares Within Europe

Street By Dublin Airport Against Cloudy Sky
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Once you arrive for your first European vacation, you'll confront the matter of transportation between cities.

At one time, it was unthinkable for anyone but the very wealthy or the business traveler to fly within Europe. But the rise of Europe's budget airlines, including carriers such as easyJet, have made a few well-placed flights a big money-saver on many itineraries.

The main hubs for budget airlines in Europe are Dublin, London, and Berlin, although you can find a nice variety of choices in most major airports.

A good place online to start checking for budget airlines within Europe is, which is organized by country and city. Simply click on an airport to find out how many budget airline options you'll have in that place.

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02 of 09

Take a Hard Look at Food Costs

High Angle View Of Breakfast Served On Table At European Cafe
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Many novice travelers actually corral their transportation and lodging costs, only to find restaurant bills break their food budget. It happens all too frequently: underestimated food costs greatly increase the cost of a trip. But there are a number of ways to find affordable eating options in Europe or any other international destination. Be sure to eat up at breakfast, which is often free with the price of a room in Europe. It's important to picnic when you can because, in some parts of Europe, you're charged extra to sit at a table.

Economizing on food can be taken too far, especially for novice travelers in Europe. The food is certainly part of the experience. Don't miss a fine lunch or dinner in Paris -- just budget for it by economizing on several other meals.​

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03 of 09

Look for Hotels With Value, Not Frills

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The booking engines will quickly reveal four-star hotels in Europe providing comfort, English-speakers, and name-brand convenience. But make no mistake: With the turn-down service, pillow mints, and concierges, you will also receive a hefty bill. This level of comfort insulates you from the differences you've traveled to discover. Don't choose a hotel that resembles something you'd find in your hometown. In Europe, there are at least five kinds of hotels catering to budget travel.

In many places, families will rent out their guest rooms and make you breakfast for a modest nightly rate. These European bed and breakfast establishments won't provide turn-down service, fancy antique furnishings, or gourmet food. But you'll probably get candid, up-to-date information about the places you want to visit. In some cities, convent stays or home swaps work extremely well.

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04 of 09

Consider Savings by Destination

european coast
Mark Kahler

Do you know where to look for clean rooms and low prices on lodging in Rome? What neighborhoods in Venice prey on tourists with over-priced food? What is a cheap but satisfying snack in Berlin? There are destination-specific tips that you should consider as you build your European itinerary.

Many first-time travelers are intimidated by the expensive reputations of some European cities. They've heard of people who spent the equivalent of $14 for a hamburger or $300/night for a standard hotel room. While it's certainly possible to make such expenditures, rest assured that even in the most expensive cities, there are ways to economize.

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05 of 09

Follow the Road Less Traveled

european marketplace outdoors
Mark Kahler

It's a fact that some parts of Europe are considerably more expensive than others. How d o you find the more economical destinations? One way is to look at the road less traveled. Discover places that aren't tourist hubs and often you'll find more value for the money.

Greece and Turkey are both wonderful destinations, but Turkey tends to be far less expensive. Another example: Germany's East Frisia (Ostfriesland in German) in the nation's northwest corner is a region where prices are lower and the pace is slower. In such locales, you might trade a subway token for a bike rental, and add depth to your itinerary while saving money at the same time. You should also look eastward for some fine discoveries along with your bargains.

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06 of 09

Sleep on the Train and Save on Hotel Costs

european train station
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Trains traverse Europe with a level of service not seen in North America. Many first-time visitors invest in rail passes that save time and money. For an added fee, you can also bed down for the night on some trains.

There is much economy in pulling out of a station late at night and arriving in the next place on your itinerary eight hours later. The savings can be measured in time: do you want to spend the better part of a day in Europe watching Germany's industrial heartland go by your window? You spend the time sleeping and save your waking hours for more interesting travel discoveries. There is a financial saving available because the price for a night train is often less than all but the cheapest hotel rooms. You wake up in the center of a new city, ready for the day. One warning: Many people find sleeping on a train very difficult. It is clearly not for everyone.

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07 of 09

Beware of Scams

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Mark Kahler

We're not sure what a "genuine fake" watch is, but we suspect it is the knockoff of a designer version that sells for a fraction of the designer price. At least there is some truth in advertising here!

But many other merchants have no intention of tipping you off to something that's less than forthright. Travel scam specialists are criminals who create all types of unscrupulous ways of separating you from your money. Beyond places of business, there are street thieves who are well-schooled in their scams. They prey on travelers who arrive jet-lagged or perhaps tired from a less-than-restful night train experience. Although these encounters rarely involve violence, it's important to know about scams that are common to your intended destinations, and learn from other travelers. Many of those folks speak up about the scams to which they've fallen victim, risking embarrassment to help you avoid a similar fate.

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08 of 09

Take Delivery of a New Car in Europe and Travel for Free

Car Park
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Affording a trip to Europe and buying a new car at the same time?

It's not as crazy as it sounds.

If you need a new vehicle and if you are willing to wait a while for it to appear in your parking space, it is possible to take initial delivery in Europe and gain free travel while others pay top prices for trains, planes, and automobiles. European automakers started offering travel incentives to North American customers many years ago when such cars did not enjoy the popularity so evident today. It varies by company, but most offer a discounted retail price, free hotel nights, meal vouchers, free insurance for a limited time and other enticements. You fly to the factory, drive your new car, drop it off at a shipping point, and then fly home. A few weeks later, your car arrives at home.

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09 of 09

Visit Europe in the Off-Season

Weston-Super-Mare, England
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This waterfront in Weston-Super-Mare, England looks rather lonely. In warm weather, you'd see a lot more people. The same might be true in Ireland. You know that winter is not the time to visit European beaches, but perhaps you don't know that there is serious money to be saved by visiting other attractions here in the so-called off-season. Venice in March? Paris in January? It might sound unorthodox, but many times lower airfares and hotel rates await those who are willing to travel to Europe in the off-season. Take a look at some of the advantages and plan for the potential pitfalls.