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 PaperBackSwap.com (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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!