Travel Tip Tuesday: Stretching Your Dollar in Europe

I know … I know … European travel is soooo expensive. That “crap-ass dollar” (and I am quoting a regular reader here) is making it ever more difficult to pack up and head overseas. But there is relief.

Or at least help.

Today’s Travel Tip Tuesday roundup features 12 tips you can use to save a little green on your next European Vacation. Chevy Chase would be proud.

In a recent Budget Travel article, Tim Leffel lists 10 ways to save in Europe. I’ve selected my favorite tips from his article and added my notes in italics.

1. Buy train tickets in advance
Train travel can be more expensive than flying, but you can save by buying tickets online in advance and traveling during off-peak hours. In Germany, weekday, round-trip Deutsche Bahn tickets purchased at at least three days in advance are 25% off the regular price, and weekend tickets bought in advance are 50% off. Look for Dauer-Spezial one-way tickets on the Web site for very low prices, too. Many tickets purchased more than a month in advance for France’s TGV trains are at least half the normal price. While I normally don’t like to plan my vacations down to to the minute, this pre-planning option can pay off. (Pun intended.) My suggestion for free-spirited, yet budget minded travelers would be to pre-purchase the train tickets, but leave other travel options open so you won’t feel too constricted.

2. Eliminate a night in a hotel
Sleeping in transit
is a backpacker’s trick to save money, but it works for those who want to travel in moderate comfort as well. A double-occupancy, upper-deck cabin on the DFDS Seaways’ ship that sails daily from Copenhagen to Oslo (an overnight trip lasting 16 hours) starts at $139 in the summer. A couchette bed in a six-person compartment on the 11-hour overnight Deutsche Bahn train from Prague to Cologne costs $72 per person if purchased in advance. I used this trick often when backpacking through Europe and the savings do indeed add up. I *love* this tip, and I love how Tim has modified it for a more, shall we say, mature crowd!

3. Evaluate city passes
Many tourism bureaus—including ones in Lisbon, Zürich, Budapest, and Stockholm—sell city cards that cover the costs of mass transit and admission to museums and also provide discounts to other attractions. To determine if they’re worth it, you have to do the math: Sometimes you’ll have to go to four or five museums just to break even. For a full list of cities with the cards, go to I have NEVER found a city pass to save me money. That may be because I rarely, if ever, use mass transit. I prefer the old fashioned method of getting around … on foot! I have “accidentally” seen magnificent churches, random museums, intimate gardens and intriguing statues that weren’t on my radar. My advice here is to select a few museums you *must* see, purchase admission from them and head out on foot!

4. Don’t buy single rides
Multiride subway cards are almost always a better value than individual tickets
, depending, of course, on how many stops you want to make. In London, a single Tube journey costs a whopping $8, but a one-day unlimited-ride Travelcard runs you $13.25. An even better value is the Oyster card, which starts at $16 (a $6 refundable deposit for the card itself and $10 worth of credits toward subway and bus rides). With the Oyster card, a single ride on the Tube is $3 to $4, and a day of unlimited transport is $12.25. When you run out of credits, you can recharge the card at Tube stations, convenience stores or newsstands where you see the Oyster card logo. If you weren’t too keen on Tip #3 (see above) and choose not to tour the city on foot, this is a great suggestion. Once again, don’t automatically purchase a full-day pass without doing the math!

5. Check Chains
If you can, avoid renting a car at all—rates in Europe are high, as are gas prices. If you really need a car—to tour the Tuscan countryside, for example—check the prices of rentals at European chains such as EasyCar, Alimex, and Sixti. Sixt advertises cars in France and Italy for as low as $7.50 a day, but beware of expensive add-ons. This is a new tip for me as I haven’t seen these agencies or tried the service. If you do please let us know how it goes. Tim is right, however about the gas. This morning in Catanzaro we paid 1.55 euro for a liter of gas. 1.55 euro = $2.40 X 3.78 liters (to make a gallon), which means we paid $9.07 for a gallon of gas! Ouch!

6. Find the freebies
Scour the Internet before your trip for free museums, concerts, cultural events, and activities
—you may be surprised by what’s out there. Visit Oslo’s Web site, for instance, has an extensive list of free festivals and museums. The blog at EuroCheapoa worthwhile source for affordable hotels—also routinely posts articles on how to find free stuff in Europe. And at, we’re posting a list of eight free European events this summer, including perfor­mances by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and various ensembles at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw hall, as well as the annual White Night festivals in Rome, Paris, Brussels, and Madrid. What is even better about this tip is that in addition to being FREE events, they are all local events. What better way to enjoy a new city, country or culture than by mingling with the locals?

And now a few of my own tips …

7. Skype it, baby
If you aren’t familiar with Skype you can read up on it, but what it essentially means to you, oh budget traveler, is FREE long distance. Yes … some things are free in this world, you just have to know where to go. Using your own laptop, all you have to do is find free wireless Internet service and you are good to go!

8. Learn how to eat and sleep on a budget
Check out the Cheap Eats and Cheap Sleeps in the area. Wait … we’ve already talked about those. Well, you can check them out again!

9. Become a Barman (or gal)
In most European bars you will find the option or ordering your coffee, limoncello or gelato at the bar, or grabbing a table and being served. It is always cheaper to order at the bar. When you sit at a table the price automatically goes up.

10. Hit the ATM.
Never change money at the hotel or airport – using the ATM will ensure you get the best rate of the day. In these days and times … that matters!!

11. Eat with the locals
When asking for suggestions or recommendations, don’t ask where you “should” go, ask the locals where “they” go. I noticed a trend in Belize with locals telling us about the same two or three restaurants, however when I asked if they had been there, the answer was always “No. We can’t afford that place!” We were oh-so happily surprised to visit the restaurants they choose when dining out. In addition to a lighter tab, you can experience a more authentic experience and get a truer sense of the country.

12. Think twice about that big tip
Apparently, this is a rather controversial topic, but I can not count the number of times I have seen advice or tips on restaurant tipping and thought “What Italy are YOU visiting?” Many of the restaurants are family owned where the employee who delivers your meal, takes you order and accepts your check are either all the same person, the owner or one of his children. It is similar to the “you don’t tip the hairdresser if he/she owns the place” logic we use in the states. However, I had friends visiting last summer who added a week to their Italian tour to venture farther south and enjoy Calabria. When we insisted on paying, one of the men said, “Well then, we will get the tip!” We explained that you don’t tip in Italy, only to discover that their tour guide, who led them through three weeks of Rome, Florence, Venice and Assisi told them the same percentage is expected in Italy as in America. Let me tell you, folks. If you feel you have to tip, go ahead and leave some coins (remember, European coins are money, too!) But never tip 20%. Ever. Don’t forget that many of these restaurants charge you a cover fee of 1.00 – 3.00 euros per person just for sitting at the table … they are getting their money from you – so save a bit on the tip!

Do you have any tips for saving in Europe this summer? If you are planning a trip what will you do to maximize your dollar? Any other tips from those of you in Europe?

Until next time … Buon Viaggio!

10 Responses
  1. Mary

    Good tips! And as for tips, the whole tipping thing amazes O. He was shocked when we went to the US and had to leave a tip (especially in one restaurant where they had actually already added it to the bill!). Here, we never tip. Occasionally we may leave the rare extra euro that rounds out the total, but that’s about it and it’s done when we pay the bill, it’s not given to the waiter. Although, I have seen a tip jar at one of the local bars.

  2. I’ve always wondered about tipping in Italy and round the change for the waiter.
    What I have found strange, is that the cab drivers in the UK expect a tip also.

  3. joanne at frutto della passione

    I would add that when you withdraw from an ATM, withdraw large amounts. Don’t forget that your bank will charge you for every withdrawl you make from a different bank, so you save on bank fees by making fewer withdrawls. – Unless of course you find your bank where you are travelling!

  4. No need to buy bottled water all the time. There are fountains all over Rome (and most places in Europe) where you can refill your water bottle. The water is good, safe and free. Just make sure it’s a drinking fountain.

    I usually round up to the next Euro or leave a Euro or two if my friends and I sit at a table for a really long time during an aperitivo, lunch or dinner. I def. do not give 20 % esp. like you said there is usually a service/bread charge added to the bill already.

    Also waiters in Italy are not paid like they are in the States. I used to waitress and in America we made our living from tips. Here they actually make a real salary.

  5. Oh, how I’d love to get my hands on this one 😉 Great tips!! I will add that my Paris Musuem Pass actually did save me money- not the City Pass, I always drink standing at the bar and I always buy a metro pass…no single rides for me baby!!!

    Great tip from nyc/carribbean ragazza about the FREE water!!

  6. Oh, let’s call up that guide and give him hell! Probably gets a cut!

    I came to see if your tips could save me money living here. Nope. It’s hopeless. I watched a section of Uno Mattina that promised to tell how a family of 3 could save 300 euro a month being slightly careful and 400 being parsimonious, and all they said was that it’s cheaper to buy one package of 800 g of cookies than to at 400 g. I don’t buy cookies.

  7. Scintilla – I think the taxi drivers in the US expect a tip, as well, someone with more cab-riding experience can correct me, though.

    Mary – that is exactly what we do. Can you believe that guide?? Grrrr….

    NYC Gal – GREAT tip about the water and definitely an oversight on my part leaving it off!! Brava. Definitely refill those water bottles!!

    Good deal, Robin. I’m glad to know the Paris museum pass will save you $$. I’ve never used it!

    Sorry, Judith … no big 400 euro savings here. Although I have noticed (maybe just here in the south) that it usually isn’t cheaper to buy in bulk. Michelle and I commented on that the other day, actually and said they needed to “catch on” to how it “works!” Maybe you could save several hundred euros if you go around to your neighbors and steal fruit, veggies and herbs from their garden?? (I am NOT recommending that!) lol

  8. In regards to the ATM fees, you might want to check with your bank. Mine, First Community Bank, which is a local bank in NM & CO…offered to refund any fees incurred while using the ATM in a foreign country. All I had to do was bring the receipts home with me and they would credit my account for those fees.

  9. So right about not tipping. I was surprised at first but since there is always a “bread and cover” charge, I only tip if the service and food are exceptional and I never give 20%.
    Another thing cost-saving tip which I’ve never tried but might be interesting is house swapping. Basically, you stay at someone’s house for free and you offer your house in exchange. I don’t really know how it works or which agencies to go through but it might be a good way of discovering a town our a country.

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