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Extending your trip by economizing

My husband and I are not fancy travelers but we love a long trip and long stays in in the locations we select. We have learned – in part due to excellent advice in the Forum – how to economize in order to afford to be gone on longer trips and frequently.

Many people who come here for advice say they cannot afford to travel longer than a week, 10 days, or maybe 2 weeks. Certainly, some are limited by available vacation but some are limited by funds, hence we often see “I’m on a budget.”
Some of the advice-givers here take long trips of a month or more and have developed strategies for making your money go further.

For our part, we traveled about 18 weeks (not sequential) between January 1 and October 31, in 2016, so I had a chance to analyze how we made that work. Here’s what worked to allow us to travel so long. (Retired, of course, so time is not a problem.)

  • Longer stays = less expense in lodging, food, transportation. We stay in apartments, (usually) a minimum of 4 nights. We cook some dinners. When we stay in hotels or B&Bs, our food cost approaches €100/day for two, including wine. Last year, in a month-long stay we spent €56/day average because we cooked about 2/3 of our dinners and ½ our lunches.

  • Longer stays = a more local experience. You start to experience local life style, find your coffee shop, your grocery, your greengrocer, etc. So many people say they want to relax and get to know the culture, then have an itinerary of 2-or-3 night stays and rent a car. That does not connect you to the culture and it costs a bundle.

  • Limit geography to fit the length of the trip. One country, not three, in two weeks. If you have two months then you can roam farther, but even then, 11-countries-in-60-days is costly and confusing.

  • We primarily use public transportation and buy passes when they make sense. Cars are expensive and insulate you from other travelers and the culture. Sure, you may need one for a special sight or site now-and-then, but buses and trains are economical and fun. Oh, and an occasional taxi is worthwhile, especially arriving in a large city you’ve never navigated before.

  • We limit souvenirs and gifts.

  • Have an occasional splurge. My husband likes first class on the train, so we do splurge for that but I buy tickets in well in advance whenever possible. We also do a higher-end dinner about once a week when we have an apartment.

  • Self-guided tours rule. When we take a tour we make it a good one with a private guide or very small group for sites we deem worthy (Vatican Museums, Pompeii, Louvre). Otherwise, we use Rick Steves’ self-guided tours and a few from other sources (the “24 Great Walks in ____” books are terrific) as well.

What advice can you give to people who wish they could travel longer but think they do not have the funds? Where do you splurge and where do you save?

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1833 posts

Look for airfare options. At the moment, more and more "bargain" airlines are offering more and more routes, both for getting to/from Europe and flying around Europe. And even some long-established airlines are offering discounted prices in some cases, to compete.

Of course, researching the options requires noting restrictions and add-on fees that might make the flight not so much of a bargain. Or a traveler might need to make adjustments to their travel style to accommodate the policies of the airline regarding baggage and other things. You might even save a lot by flying on a different day of the week, but that might affect how much overall time you get for your visit, by a few days.

Saving money getting there in the first place could free up funds for that occasional splurge dinner, performance, or tour, or might allow staying longer and having the means to pay for your lodging.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
11613 posts

Great post, Laurel!

I don't stay in apartments because as a solo traveler it is just about break even cost for a hotel or b&b. But I do stay longer in some cities and daytrip occasionally. I am trying to cut back on 2-3 might stays in favor of 5-7 nights. I love having "my" coffee shop or grocery, or even "my" bus stop, talking to people who are surprised that I am staying in their town so long, when most people daytrip or spend 2 nights maximum.

I limit daytrips, too, to places within an hour or so from my "base", and explore smaller museums and sights whenever possible.

I economize on meals in large cities and splurge on meals and hotels in smaller ones, where my euro stretch further.

I usually have breakfast at the hotel or b&b, have a main meal at lunch, and a very light dinner.

Bus/metro passes are my friends - I like a bus ride to get oriented, and I like not having to think about buying a ticket. The vaporetto pass in Venezia is something that pays for itself rather quickly.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
9800 posts

Hi,

Some great tips here, much of what I do anyway....generally, traveling solo, and depending on one's travel style. I save by way of accommodations..staying at a hostel, mostly small hotels, B&Bs in England, a 3 star in certain cities, Pensionen. Mostly no A/C, a few no wifi, or not en suite. AirBnB and apts are not an option.

I don't use a rental car since I don't want to be bothered with driving, the expense of buying gas by the liter, parking in a wrong area, getting a ticket and having to waste money paying it off, etc.

I use public transportation...bus, trains, trams, subway trains, I ride the EN night trains, at least two per trip, not only to save on the hotel expense but as a way to squeeze out another day or two.

The occasional splurge is at dinner. Most of the time it is dinner in small restaurants, train stations (very good variety offered), sometimes the dinner picnic, Cut down the beer expense. Basically, if you go over in the summer, there are lots of ways to cut expenses depending on the amenities/comforts you can do without, and how desperate you are to go.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
2307 posts

Book flights within Europe with budget airlines as soon as flight schedules are released for the best value. We now take only one check in bag between the two of us, as we always rent somewhere with a washing machine.

We now visit places off season to allow longer stays eg we are staying in the Algarve in Portugal for 4 weeks next March. The apartment is costing £640 total for 4 weeks. The same place is £500 a week this month.

Unless we are taking a week long winter city break, we always hire a car but book these when the rental company has a sale, so we save 20/25%. The 4 weeks in Portugal cost us £154 total. Again, this would be four times the price in July or August. We would have spent more in bus and rail fares than this in the month, had we not had the car.

Take the time to research accommodation. I have stopped using Airbnb, as their exchange rates are dreadful. Often, the same apartment is available on other sites such as VRBO or Trip Advisor and usually c 20% cheaper than Airbnb.

Posted by BG
SF Bay Area, CA
1868 posts

I totally agree with what Laurel says. I like to stay abroad as long as possible and this is the way I travel.

Posted by CJean
Ontario, Canada
1480 posts

Laurel, what a good idea for a thread!

  • We try not to travel during high season. Shoulder or off season usually means lower flight and accommodation costs.
  • although we don't rent apartments, we do often stay in one place for a while. But one thing we don't scrimp on is our accommodations. When I'm on vacation, I want to be in a place where I can be comfortable. That means a full ensuite bathroom. AC, if the weather will demand it. Quiet at night. An elevator (I have mobility problems). A comfortable bed. And WiFi. Frankly, I don't want a long vacation if it means staying in a cramped bare bones room every night. But with careful research, we always find suitable places to stay that don't cost our first born. The key is adequate research.
  • I don't cook on vacation. Because I'm on vacation! The second reason why we dont stay in apartments. But that doesn't mean our food budget is huge. Neither of us is a huge breakfast eater. We'll partake if it's included in our hotel cost, but won't pay extra for it. If not included, we're quite happy with a coffee and pastry at a local cafe or bar. And while I won't cook, we both love making up a picnic lunch at a local market or from several shops in our area and dining alfresco on a bench. Or grabbing something from a takeaway. Dinners, as often as not will be in a small local place. Think pub vs restaurant. Maybe only one or 2 splurge restaurants during the whole trip. Good local food is all we want. And outside the big cities, prices are lower. Sometimes a lot lower.

-Public transportation whenever possible. And I'll buy our train tickets as early as possible to get discounted prices. City transit passes wherever they make sense. Taxis only rarely. And car rentals even more rarely- only where local transportation is spotty or completely inconvenient. On our upcoming month long trip, we're only renting a car for our 3 days in the Loire. DH is calling this our ABC ( Another Bloody Castle) minitour. Lol.

  • Guided tours. We almost never pay for them. Thanks to Rick and other sources, we rarely find ourselves unable to do what we want on our own. Again, adequate research is important.

  • Souvenirs. As I've said before on other threads, I'm past the age where I need any more "stuff" cluttering up the house. Memories and photos (and maybe a bottle of something nice) are usually all we bring home.

Everybody has a budget. It's just that that budget is different for everybody. Since travel is a priority for us, especially now that we're retired, a goodly portion of our discretionary funds are allocated to allow us to travel comfortably (but certainly not extravagantly) the lengths we want. That's usually a couple of months over the year, broken into 2-3 trips. That's about as long as I care to be away from home. But every person's definition of "comfortably" will vary hugely. And that's OK.

Posted by Agnes
Washington DC Region, USA
4650 posts

All the replies so far focus on how to squeeze the most out of the travel bucket itself (the part of your discretionary income that goes to travel). To me, it's more likely that you have to squeeze all the other discretionary buckets first (meaning cut waste from your total budget which involves all living expenses), so that the travel bucket can grow in the first place.

I guess the shorthand way of saying this is...if you live below your means, it's likely you'll have the flexibility to fund longer trips. It's easier to cut across your entire budget than focusing mainly on how to economize on the sliver that's dedicated toward travel. I cut back on those things that I just don't value too much like state-of-the art electronic gadgets (including replacing cars too early), high cable bills, or eating out constantly instead of cooking at home, etc.

Posted by andi
franktown, colorado
1369 posts

What a terrific and valuable post. Thanks, Laurel, for starting it and all the posters who have also contributed. A lot of the suggestions I already do and the rest are going to be incorporated into my future travels! Thanks, all!

Posted by Jill
Boulder, CO
1352 posts

Very good thread Laurel! We don't stay in hostels, but don't mind staying in a 1 or 2* place. We eat a good breakfast then just have a snack or picnic lunch.

Agnes - I agree economizing starts before the trip is ever planned! We RARELY eat out when at home. I don't buy expensive clothes. We only buy used cars. We really live below our means so that we can spend money on traveling! It's all about priorities!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
11613 posts

So true, Agnes. My car is 13 years old and has about 40,000 miles on it. My lifestyle in the US is simple, because travel is my priority.

Posted by Laurel OP
Lincoln City, OR
7454 posts

Great responses! I agree that economizing on a daily basis is the first step. When we returned from living in Italy we bought a house below our means so we could continue to travel. Did not want to have to say "Can't go this year because we bought a house." We eat out rarely now that we are living back in the U.S. and that helps too.

These are great lessons (and inspiration) for those who aspire to more travel. Keep 'em coming!

Posted by pfresh3
Redding, California
244 posts

Our first trip to Europe was a river cruise. We Absolutely loved it. We were pampered everyday. However, it was expensive. For a nine day cruise we spent $$$ . Since then we have taken a RS My Way tour for 13 days, it wasn't as expensive but still more then doing it on your own. Since then we have spent a month in Scotland and England, last year a month in France, and in two weeks we leave for Germany for 5 weeks. All three of those trips were independent travel and were cheaper then that 9 day River Cruise! We use all of the suggestions listed. The most important is to plan well. Reading this forum, RS guidebooks, and internet research. We rent apartments and stay longer at each location. I love to cook, so visiting local markets, cooking simple meals from those amazing ingredients is a dream come true! And it saves money and gives us a great experience.
We also travel at a slower pace. Find a cute small town and just wander. No big sites to see just enjoying the moment.

Posted by Laurel OP
Lincoln City, OR
7454 posts

"pfresh3 I keep looking at tours with R.S. and tell myself I will save that for when we are old.... Right now we prefer our own pace and knowing we can stay at least twice as long as each tour lasts for the same money.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1991 posts

We economize on food. We normally stay in B&Bs with good, filling breakfasts. Then we skip lunch. For dinner we do a lot of takeout and inexpensive restaurants. Another way we save is by walking everywhere. We rarely use metros and buses in cities. Of course this is partially because we really enjoy walking.

Posted by mrp
Phoenix, Arizona
215 posts

Great thread! We do many, if not all, of the things mentioned to economize when travelling. I love to cook on vacation, but I hate to drive on vacation. We always take advantage of the fabulous public transportation options. We also stay a bit out of the main tourist areas to find more affordable lodging options. We feel this provides a more authentic experience.

I will add some thoughts about economizing to create the travel fund. In addition to rarely eating out, we frequently buy gently used clothing, always pack our lunches, and always make our coffee/tea at home. We also ask ourselves, before spending discretionary money, how much of our trip could that money cover. When thinking in terms of whether we spend the money for a meal out in our hometown versus a meal out in Rome, London, etc. my family readily opts for the meal out abroad. It helps us to focus on our reason for economizing making it feel less difficult to give up small things. Fortunately we are in an economic position at this point to make those choices. We acknowledge not everyone is and make sure that some of our discretionary money also goes to help those in need in our own community. This makes the "reward" of our travel even more meaningful.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
3165 posts

For longer stays yes apt is perfect. But I finally tried vg rated hostels with pvt rooms. I have not been disppointed so far. While brfast or meals can be diff than what I prefer it has worked out so well espec for, Switzerland.
I have had matterhorn view from my pvt hostel window in Zermatt.
Rural splendor from my pvt room in Engelberg. LAke Geneva views from my balcony in Laussane. Yes I work hard at finding these gems. But it works wonderfully to keep my budget and still see some gorgeous destinations.

For Britain train travel off peak saves alot.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
9800 posts

Shoulder season in the fall ie, Sept and Oct is the period when hotel rates are at their highest in Germany and Austria., because of Oktoberfest, and certain cities become trade fair cities (Messestädte) The hotel rates are at their lowest at the height of the summer season, ie mid-July to end of August, when it is seen as the '"slow season."

Posted by Frank II
Freedonia
6959 posts

Since I travel full time, and have lived in hotels for 3+ years, I've learned a few things about keeping a travel budget.

1) Learn to get and use travel points. I have not paid for a flight to Europe or for a hotel room in a major city in the U.S. in over two years. (I do have to pay airline taxes on free flights.). The key here is being flexible. When I hear people say it's impossible to get a flight it's because they want a specific flight on a specific date. Sometimes that one is not available. Or your first choice in hotel is not possible. (I recently spent a week in Manhattan and it didn't cost me anything. Normally my room would have been just over $300/night. ) There are numerous websites that can teach you how to do this. And my flights have all been in business class.

2) Build loyalty. If you go to a city/town/village more than a couple of times, stay in the same place and get to know the management. Then, the next time you go, you can contact them directly and ask for a great rate. Since you are a loyal customer, they will usually do something for you. I'm spending the summer in London and was able to work out a great rate at my usual hotel.

3) Limit time in expensive areas and balance with stays in less expensive areas. If all you want to do is go to London, Paris and Rome, then it will cost you. But go to secondary places, especially when it is not high season, and you can save some money. I believe to really experience a country, you need to get out of the busy tourist areas and go to the smaller places. Walk around, use your eyes, try talking to the locals. You'd be surprised how many of them who don't see tourists day in and day out will be interested in you as well.

4) You don't need to go to a sit down restaurant for every meal. Most areas and supermarkets have take away prepared foods--sandwiches, salads, etc--that are much cheaper than a restaurant. Picnic. Eat like the local workers. Piadini in Italy, ham baguette in France, Currywurst in Germany, Hakari in Iceland. (Okay, perhaps not the last one.)

5) Cut out souvenir buying. I travel light so there is no room for souvenirs. If I do buy something, it's probably a postcard. And anyway, if I did buy a souvenir, it would just wind up in storage. I try to live by the motto: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

6) Watch the little expenses. They can add up. As an example, if you need to replenish toiletries, find out who sells them cheapest.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
10357 posts

You can save quite a bit by being flexible on travel dates and airports.

Travel outside of high season to get better rates on flights and lodging.

Know the options for free/inexpensive guided tours, city passes, etc.

Buses are always an inexpensive travel option and don't need advance reservations. If you are traveling from one small town to another and don't need to connect to somewhere else the same day, a bus can be the best option for both travel time and cost.

Travel very light. It's easier to use public transportation and you won't pay extra fees for baggage on cheap flights.

When you use a restaurant, go with the fixed price menu so you know what you're paying. Lunch is cheaper for restaurants/cafes.

The cheapest rooms I've found are private rooms in an Airbnb home, often as cheap or cheaper than a dorm bed in a hostel.

Posted by Jennifer
Tunbridge Wells
2307 posts

CJean - "I don't cook meals as I am on vacation". The point of the post is to extend trips by economising and eating out every meal certainly isn't that.

I took early retirement and last year spent over 24 weeks away in the UK and Europe on various trips, most lasting an average of 3 weeks. This wouldn't be possible if I ate out every night, but it took some getting used to after only having 2 week holidays when I was working, where we would eat out at least 10 out of 14 nights.

Europe doesn't have the loyalty programmes that the USA seems to have, so we pay for our flights and accommodation. It leads to a different way of planning holidays.

Posted by Laurel OP
Lincoln City, OR
7454 posts

More really excellent points.

Frank II's take on using points to fly is good and I know many do this. Key, to me, is to make one flight whether paid for or with points, pay in terms of duration of stay. I hate the flights so going once for two months makes more sense than going three times a year for 2-3 weeks each.

Posted by stan
The Heartland USA
3192 posts

Laurel, thank you - good topic. I agree that longer, slower stays would be a richer experience. What keeps us from doing that is not so much direct expenses, but other factors - available time off work, family issues, pets, and vacant house security. All things that can be dealt with, but make trips longer than two weeks difficult. Hence a wish for more shorter RS tours.

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1669 posts

Drive a few hours to a cheaper airport. Example, I used to live in Cleveland. Toronto is 4-5 hours away and often has direct flights for $500-$800 less. That adds up, especially for families, and easily offsets the cost to drive. The direct flight options offset the time lost by driving.

Grocery stores exist in Europe! I'm not suggesting cooking your meals unless you want to (I actually find buying ingredients and cooking a couple times on a trip a great experience in local food but then I enjoy cooking at home). But buy snacks. No need to stop for overpriced snacks in tourist locations when you went to a grocery or market a few blocks away and have your apple/granola bar/yogurt with you. If your hotel doesn't include breakfast, or the breakfast is too small for your taste, then stock up on breakfast foods and save your dining out money for lunch or dinner, which is almost always more interesting.

Don't skimp on experiences you are interested in. If the museum you want to see most is 24euros..well, that's one of the reasons you came. On the other hand there are things that you aren't interested in but are called "must-dos" - there's no such thing. If you are afraid of heights and not interested in high-views then don't pay to go up in the eiffel tower just because it's iconic. Save that money and spend it on a museum pass. Or vice-versa. Spend what it takes to see what you value, but don't get stuck on someone else's list.

Food tours can be a good value because you get a meal and a tour experience in one.

I personally limit guided tours. I do food tours and skip-the-line tours in crowded locations - these offer a benefit (food, expediency) above and beyond a guide - but otherwise prefer to do it myself. I feel I learn more and experience more by reading and navigating myself around rather than passively following and listening.

Posted by emma
London
4002 posts

Try staying in cheaper chain hotels rather than b&bs. They might not have the "atmosphere" but they will often have significantly better facilities at a comparable or cheaper price. Sign up for emails to get discounts and promotions.

Don't always stay at the accomodation recommended in guide books, and yes I'm including the RS books in this. Being in a guide book means increased demand. Go to a place down the road and you will probably find something just as good at a (potentially) less inflated by demand price.

Similarly don't always ignore chain restaurants/pubs in favour of independents. Will they provide you with gastronomic flights of fancy, almost certainly not, but you will get well cooked tasty food at a good price. Look out for lunch and pretheatre promotions. Sometimes food is just fuel and independent doesn't always mean better.

Don't buy "travel clothes" unless you are planning to do particular outdoor pursuits. No need to be dressed for the Zambezi when all you are doing is walking down whitehall! Shop your own wardrobe but don't skimp on shoes.

Posted by Laurel OP
Lincoln City, OR
7454 posts

Emma - Great points. We love Pret a Manger for lunch when in London. It may seem rather pedestrian to Londoners, but we do not have it in the U.S. We also use bars in Italy to grab a panino. Very economical.

Posted by CJean
Ontario, Canada
1480 posts

CJean - "I don't cook meals as I am on vacation". The point of the
post is to extend trips by economising and eating out every meal
certainly isn't that.

Jennifer, Economizing is different for every person and every budget, as I stated in my post. We manage to extend our stays for the durations that we want and still fall comfortably within our budget. For other people and other budgets, they may need to scrimp or cook for themselves in order to meet their goals. There is no wrong here. It has been our experience that you can eat three times a day without cooking, and do it economically, if you make prudent choices. A sandwich and a bottle of water for lunch costs little. But , in your words, is still eating out. And a heck of a lot cheaper than a sit down 3 course with a bottle of wine.

In the last year we travelled for 10 weeks ( not all at once) internationally. Each trip was planned for the duration we wanted, and then budgeted for. We still had money left over, so I think our economizing worked well for us.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
11613 posts

Pret A Manger and Paul! I often get a simple inexpensive dinner or lunch there.

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1224 posts

There are a few Pret a Manger in NYC. Not sure where else in the US they are but I'm sure google can provide the answer

Posted by geovagriffith
1778 posts

Lots of great suggestions already posted.

We are retired and usually have lengthy trips abroad. Most average 4-5 weeks. We lived in Germany for four years and had already traveled extensively in Europe, but after retirement have visited more places some more out of the way places.

Cruises are great ways to visit out of the way places that you don't need several days to see. Places like the Greek Islands, Adriatic coast and more.

When we lived in Europe, we had less money to spend on travel, so we frequently found B&Bs or in Germany ZimmerFrei (staying with a family that rents out a room to tourists and provide breakfasts.

We frequently take the free waling tours that are offered in most European cities. They are good value and your tips are usually far less than paying for a tour upfront.

Touring can run up an appetite, but if staying in a B&B we try to eat a healthy breakfast and either skip lunch or just have a snack, like an apple. We also don't go heavy on alcohol, since that can run up a hefty bill. Of course, sometimes bottled water is almost the same as a beer. In Lisbon, we had a great dinner at a restaurant frequently mainly by locals and dined for about 6 euros each, with a beer costing one euro. Not so in Norway, where a beer can cost eight euros.

We frequently travel in April/May or September/October instead of the Summer and save on airfares. Also, we get sky miles on Delta and many of our flights are awards on the frequent flyer program.

Use Kayak, TripAdvisor and other such websites for research to save on hotels, airfares, rental cars, etc.

Posted by Kim
Paris
3588 posts

One small thing that adds up quickly, at least in France, are beverages, particularly sodas and bottled water. People probably know that you can get water for free at a restaurant by asking for a carafe d'eau, but almost all the time, you can also get a cup of water if you're at a sandwich shop where otherwise they would ask for 2 to 3 euros for a can of Coke or bottle of water. When they ask you if you want anything to drink, just ask for un verre d'eau. Usually they'll hand you a plastic goblet from behind the counter and indicate where you can fill it; sometimes they'll fill it themselves.

If a family can avoid buying sodas with their meals, they can save quite a little bundle. (I mean, not hundreds of dollars or anything, but over the course of a week or two, it will make a difference. Of course if you absolutely have to have a soda with your meal or your kids will be miserable, it's not worth it. But if you're picknicking, cheaper to buy a liter or half-liter bottle at the grocery store to share, than individual bottles at the sandwich shop.)

And yes it's true, it's often the case in France that the menu will show that wine is actually cheaper than soda . . .

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
10803 posts

Yes such an interesting topic..

Kim we had a one soda/juice a day rule when dining out in Paris.. but I always got hotels with mini fridges which I kept stocked with juices for the kids.. and we would pop into a grocers and grab cold drinks for 1-2 euros from the cold cases during the day.. The sodas and juices you get at cafes and restaurants are small ( often only 6-8 ozs and no refills) so the one drink rule was important .. as you say you can easily be charged 5 euros for those sodas etc.. the tap water is perfectly fine.. and the kids could have a hot chocolate in the morning.

I do not cook on vacation either.. but we often pop into grocers or delis for take away meals or snacks.
Getting a hotel with a mini fridge helps a lot.. can stock with yogurt , cheeses etc.

We dont need fancy North American style hotels.. we can take a few flights of stairs, and we dont need a big fancy room, we only sleep in it. .Our only must haves are a good location, clean and in summer.. we never skimp on getting AC.. even smaller family run hotels can be found that have it.. so I am happy to search for them.

We like going for about 4-5 weeks. Any longer than that I miss seeing my kids ( they are all young adults ) . I do get a bit tired of living out of my suitcase by then too..

I feel sorry for the folks that have 7 -10 days and a long wish list of destinations they want to visit .. and then are disappointed that most folks suggest they cut their stops down from 7 places to 2-3.. I consider europe a long way to fly ( we are west coast) for a week.. airfares being so pricey too.

We also save money by researching and prebooking inter europeon flights and train tickets months in advance.. we once got first class tickets from Paris to Nice for 40 euros.. and on talking to a couple in the same train car as us,, discovered they paid almost 200 euros for their last minute tickets.. ( they didn't believe our tickets were so cheap till I showed them the invoice.. lol)

I also do not use hotels I find in guide books generally , they tend to be pricier than I want to pay.. we find word of mouth, forums ( this and others) work well for hotel searches.. I spend hours finding what works for us..

Posted by Dale
Chicago
413 posts

A lot of good advice on this thread. I'll add a couple of suggestions.

  1. Research is your friend. In particular, does a tourist pass makes sense for what you want to do in a given city? It doesn't matter how much it includes, are they sights you want to see? Are you being realistic with how many you can see in a day? Remember, you'll need time to eat and to travel from one sight to another, often navigating unfamiliar transportation. There might be times when a pint of beer, a coffee, or a glass of wine is far more appealing than a trek across the city for yet one more museum or cathedral. Also, be prepared for that day when you wake up and your legs are still sore from that 20,000 step day yesterday.

  2. Kindness goes a long way. At a hotel, the staff can be a great help. I've gotten late check outs, free breakfasts, and great recommendations for pubs and restaurants simply by treating the staff as the hard working professionals they are. This advice applies everywhere. A few years ago, after a lot of cancelled flights in San Francisco, I was nice to both the airline employees who upgraded me to first class the following day, but also the hotel front desk employee gave me a free voucher for a San Francisco tour since I wasn't reminding him how important I am when checking in, unlike some of the other rude people who didn't like their flights cancelled.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2531 posts

Adding on to the discussions about apartments, which we stay in whenever possible so we can save on eating and drinking, spending a little more to have a location in a central place can end up saving money on public transit/food/drink because if it's easier to return to your apartment, the more likely you are to do so instead of eating out.

As to the cost of beverages, keep in mind that Europe often has much more relaxed laws on public drinking than the U.S. So buy a decent bottle of wine at the local shop for less than 10 euro, grab a couple plastic cups, some cheese and bread and plop yourself down in a park or on a riverbank and you have the loveliest little bar in the world. (But do check the laws/see if other people are doing this - no one wants to get a ticket!)

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1066 posts

We stay in hostels a lot. Hostels these days are 2 things - bunk rooms with multi-people (mixed gender) and single rooms. The single rooms are often very reasonable. The bunks, while we don't do this much (we are 65 and 68), it is OK now and then. You get to meet young folks. Hostels are near the action.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1066 posts

As to the river cruises, we have looked at those. The lifestyle looks luxurious. We aren't interested in sitting around and eating/drinking too much however. We like to walk. When we can no longer walk, and need to be carted around like luggage, we will take a river cruise. Until then, we go independently. That Viking Travel company spends a LOT on ads. Where does that come from?

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2646 posts

I will just concur to sound advice already given.

Staying longer in the same place is the most effective single decision to cut down travel cost, unless that place is a very expensive destination such as Gstaad.

I am one who does not like, at all, to travel and still have to cook and clean dishes. In larger cities, I prefer to sacrifice location in exchange for cheaper hotel fares. Depending on time of the year, there are good prices for hotels near convention centers when no conventions are going on, at bargain prices. Certain hotels near new university campuses or areas with big concentration of government offices are less busy during summer. I have slept in 4* business hotels with own bedroom and great facilities for the price of cramped B&Bs with shared bathrooms elsewhere without AC.

For those who want to try the strategy of staying at lesser locations in big cities/metros, my recommendations are to do your due diligence before hitting that reserve button and committing:

  • check public transportation connections between the hotel location and the places you will spend most of the day (all major public transportation agencies in big European cities have an English version of their website with some travel planner where you can simulate travel times, check the times of latest rides if so etc)

  • take your time and follow the route between the nearest train station/ subway stop/ tram halt to the door of the hotel on Google Street View. Is that just a place that is not in a touristic area, or is it a hotel that requires you to walk 600m across an industrial park that will be likely empety at night?

  • read with more attention than usual Booking and TripAdvisor reviews.

  • these hotels geared to the business travel market often make money of dining/room service, so make sure to have arrangements to circumvent that.

  • some business hotels come with mini-kitchens that you might use to heat pre-cooked meals you have brought from a supermarket, with the bonus that you do not need to do dishes or rearrange the kitchen, just leave it for maid service next day.

If you generally enjoy big city traveling, this strategy of spending hours combing through Booking, Expedia and other sites to find a good bargain might well pay off if you are staying 1 week or more in the same place. Cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid have enough interesting places to visit and activities to do to keep you busy for two full weeks if not more, without even accounting for relaxing, strolling and other fun stuff. For this reason, it usually pays off to stay more days in bigger cities enjoying what they can offer, and then taking advantage of things like weekly transportation/museum passes, or combined tickets.

In turn, this strategy of staying put allows you to pare down day trips that require more extensive and expensive out-of-town transportation (think Berlin-Dresden, London-Bath or Madrid-Cuenca), whose costs can pile up.

I will actually re-emphasize the point about relying on supermarkets that sell meals ready to eat, or pre-cooked (requiring just heating). If you go that route for one of your two meals, and do the same for alcohol, your food expenses can drop off quite quickly.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1973 posts

I do much of the above. I only travel to Europe during school breaks so no off peak travel.

I alternate apts/houses/cabins with points stays in chain hotels, usually 2 (sometimes 3!) rooms, so keeping hotels to a minimum is paramount.

Wash and dry one's own clothes.

I think shopping European supermarkets provides vivid memories. But eating out is always rather dull.

Plan and over plan, minimizing plane, train, airport shuttle fares.

Never take a tour or cruise.

Pair lodging location with airport so transport cheap and easy, eg Bankside and Gatwick.

Playing off what Agnes said, if the personal finances at home are in disarray the travel budget will likely be the same.

Posted by Kim
Paris
3588 posts

My husband works in an industry (or maybe it's just his particular bosses!! and I'm being too kind in imputing it to his entire industry) where it's hard for him to get approval far in advance for his leave, so while I KNOW that I need to purchase tickets far ahead to get the best prices -- and I'm watching them go up over the months that I'm thinking about the trip -- I'm often not able to do so.

For example, our 10th wedding anniversary is in a couple of weeks. We know we can't travel at that time, but had hoped to go in early October. I've had some dates set aside, and asked off of work. He finally was able to ask his boss, who doesn't like that week, but asks for another week. Yet more time is slipping away while the EasyJet prices climb and options for lodging diminish.

Sometimes I think: in my perfect world, I could plan trips in advance like I should. In my real world, it often ends up being left so late that we have no business going because the prices have gone up so much. We'll see what happens this time.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
2434 posts

We happily violate four of Laurel's seven standards. As for economizing to afford more travel, we do it via our lifestyle choices at home and being frugal while traveling while recognizing we are tending to spend more for and staying in nicer accommodations than many years ago.