Thursday, July 08, 2010

Euro Trip Tips: Budgeting for your Europe Trip

A trip to Europe is not a cheap undertaking! But if you do a bit of planning you can save money and be prepared for the inevitable costs of your vacation.

Here are a few of my tips for budgeting for and paying for a trip to Europe.

1. Decide when you're going, where you're going, and book travel early.

I don't recommend trying to squeeze in too many countries in your trip, because you'll spend a lot of money (and time) traveling and not enjoying yourself. We settled on two countries in two weeks, which was great.

We quickly realized when pricing our flights that flying to Europe from the USA between Memorial Day and Labor Day would cost between $300-$800 dollars more per ticket than flying during "shoulder season", so we did our entire trip right before Memorial Day.

We booked our flights 5 months in advance and booked our hotels in advance as well - which helped to save money.

I also "bought" some great travel books on (I like Eyewitness Travel and Rick Steves the best) before our trip and read through them early to plan our itinerary.

2. Budget, save, and spend!

We created an ING Savings Account for our trip and dedicated a portion of our savings each month to our Europe Fund. (For more information on how I create and manage multiple savings accounts see here) We put money into that account for 9 months!

Note: If you're interested in how much we saved vs. what we spent because you're trying to plan your own Europe trip you can email me at I don't feel comfortable posting how much we spent for all to see.

A large portion of your budget will go to plane tickets (our tickets from LAX to Munich and back to LAX from Rome cost about $1000 round trip for each of us).

Another large portion of your budget will go to food. Food is more expensive in Europe and you have to factor in the exchange rate. My friend who honeymooned in Italy said that I should estimate about double for food in Europe as I'd estimate for a trip in the US. That worked well.

Exchange rates in Europe hurt! 1 euro is typically equal to $1.30-$1.40 dollars. That means that if a gelato costs 1 euro that really means it cost about $1.30. Be sure to factor that into your budget.

My best advice is to figure the total amount of money you will need, put yourself on a monthly savings plan, and stick to it! Then you can enjoy yourself on your trip without worrying about money!

Note: I can't speak to hotel cost, because we paid for most of our hotels with Starwood points that I earned traveling for work (yes, I'm really lucky), but hotels will definitely set you back a pretty penny as well.

3. Leave room in your budget for "contingency money."

Despite careful planning we had several unplanned expenses.

My power converter caused my flat iron to short out -- which meant that I purchased a flat iron in Munich for 22 euros so I could flat iron my hair for the rest of the trip.

The ballet flats I wore on day one gave me crazy blisters -- I ended up buying about 18 euros worth of band aids and blister pads over several days.

The Mr. left a bunch of clothes in our hotel room in Munich by accident -- so we had to purchase about 30 euros worth of socks, undies, and t-shirts. And getting the clothes back cost us about 35 euros in shipping.

I didn't pack quite enough warm weather clothing -- so I ended up spending 22 euros to buy two dresses in Rome.

All and all we spent about 127 euros (or $165) on unplanned expenses. Yikes!

When you're traveling, especially in a foreign country, unplanned expenses will arise. Just budget for it and take it in stride when it happens.

4. There are lots of ways to save money while you're in Europe.

I'm sure that there are many more, but here are just a few ways to save money while you're actually on your trip:
  • Don't buy food or drinks near the major tourist attractions. Eateries with "We speak English" signs or waiters beckoning you in should be avoided at all costs. If you're in Italy you can use the "gelato index."
  • Find local markets. For several dinners and lunches in Italy we ate delicious fresh meats, cheeses, and fruit from adorable corner markets. Much cheaper than a restaurant.
  • Don't over-tip. Only Americans tip 20 percent in Europe. Often times tips are already included or not expected. Ask other customers what's expected.
  • Avoid Taxis. Taxis are pricey and most cities have really easy-to-use buses and metro rails. Even from the airport to your hotel.
  • Likewise cars are worthless and expensive headaches in big cities. We only had a car for the Tuscany pat of our trip.
  • Comparison shop for souvenirs and buy your souvenirs in cheaper cities you visit (for us that was Tuscany).
  • ATMs give the best exchange rates, they do come with transaction fees. Minimize these by making fewer and larger withdrawals. Use your debit card exclusively for ATM withdrawals and your credit card for purchases. Note: American Express doesn't have any foreign transaction fees, Chase had a small fee per purchase.
  • Throughout Italy, drinks (espresso and wine) are cheaper at the bar rather than at a table. Standing at the bar will save you up to 40%.

While a trip to Europe will set you back quite a few bucks, you can still have an amazing time without breaking the bank. Happy traveling!

And in case you missed them... our Europe trip recaps:
Europe Trip 2010, Part 10: Tuscany
Europe Trip 2010, Part 9: The Vatican
Europe Trip 2010, Part 8: When In Rome
Europe Trip 2010, Part 7: Ancient Rome
Europe Trip 2010, Part 6: Florence
Europe Trip 2010, Part 5: More Venice
Europe Trip 2010, Part 4: Venice (the first half)
Europe Trip 2010, Part 3: Bavarian Alps & Castles
Europe Trip 2010, Part 2: Munich
Europe Trip 2010, Part 1: The Brief Recap (our trip at a glance)

Also, I'm linking up with Saving Money Living Life on this post! Check out the Friday Linky Party there!


Anonymous said...

Great tips, thank you! It seems overwhelming for me to plan such a big trip but when you break it down it's not so bad!

{Louisiana.Bride} said...

Thanks for the tips! Since we have to have our money in by Aug I have laid the saving rules down big time around here. When I was in England my hair dryer blew out the first day, so now I am trying to figure out a cute hair style to do for Germany that doesn't involve a converter.

Hannah @ The New Black said...

We're starting to plan a trip to Europe in the Spring and I have been using your posts to plan half of it! I love Rick Steve's books too...I'll have to check out Eyewitness travel. I'd be interested in a ballpark figure on what you spent. We're trying to decided if it's more cost efficient/better experience to go at it alone or to take a tour.

Kassie said...

I love all your tips!! I travel a lot, and have people ask me how I can afford it--it's because I save using tips like these. Thanks for some more of them! :)

Belle said...

Huge thank you! These will be so helpful whenever we get the chance to head to Europe!

Lindsay said...

Oh my gosh I love these tips to save! This will come in handy one day :) THANK YOU!

Jenn said...

Hey! It was a fun party and yes, each person brings a bottle of win to stock their cellar. We mailed out cute wine bags with the invitations so each person brought a different kind of wine in wine bag- it was really cool and they loved it! It's similar to a stock the bar party but just wine instead. =)

Jenna said...

These tips are SO helpful as I'm getting ready to play our trip. I'm thinking we are going to go to Bologna or Parma, but your post on Florence has me really tempted to go there!

Jen said...

Very helpful tips! ^_^ I have one: if you have family oversees, see if you can bunk with them. Saves money on lodging! :) (I did that when I went to Wales.)

Tillie said...

thanks for all the tips!! i totally want to go to europe and have wondered if it's possible to do it on a budget.

Rebecca (Craving Simplicity) said...

These are great tips!! We are definitely saving up for a big trip!

Random Musings Of My Life said...


We are planning an Italy, Paris trip and this will help SO MUCH!

Emily @ Longley's in San Diego said...

Awesome tips!! Thanks for sharing :)

BudgetBabe said...

So helpful! The husband and I are looking into going within the next year or two. I've even set it up as a goal on Mint (have you seen that new feature?! It's awesome!).

I've loved seeing all your pictures, by the way. Looks like a fabulous trip!

Whitney Molder said...

Great tips, lady!! :) Thanks so much.. This helps for future travel plans... A LOT!

Kristin said...

awesome tips!!

Sweet Simplicity said...

I love that you shared all of this! Your posts will be so informative for anyone planning a Europe trip.

Mrs. Newlywed Giggles said...

Left an award for you on my blog!

Perfectly Imperfect said...

girl I need your help with budgeting. I am horrible at it. HORRIBLE.

I'm sending you an e-mail =)

Crazy Shenanigans said...

Great savings tips!

Author said...

Great trip tips! Last time I was in the UK, it was $1=2.5 pounds...UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heather said...

Loved the tips. Thanks for sharing & educating as well. Also, thanks so much for linking up to Fabulous Friday, always love your blog!
Heather @

Kristin said...

I am so sending this to my mama. She's going on an Italian excursion in a few months!

Carrie @ Laugh Love Eat Ice Cream said...

How difficult was it to find a flat iron in Munich? I was planning to bring mine with a converter as well, but maybe I should just plan on buying one in Amsterdam?

Thanks for your earlier tips - I've been reading Rick Steve's books and they're a big help!

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