Perhaps you made it a New Year’s resolution, or you’ve just always wanted to go, but visiting Europe is a popular travel destination for many people. More than 13 million Americans traveled to Europe in 2016, but the only problem is it can be expensive to vacation there.
According to Alpharooms, a discount holiday provider, the average cost of a three-day trip to a European capital is $1,013, not including flights. That’s not exactly budget friendly if you’re paying off student loans and covering daily living expenses. But not all hope is lost.
There are plenty of ways to save money on airfare, hotels, and transportation making it possible to plan a vacation to Europe for under $1,000 based on U.S. dollar to British pound currency exchange rates current as of January 2018. Here’s how to do it.
How to save money on flights
There are several ways to avoid spending as much money on your flight to Europe, especially if you have some flexibility in your schedule.
Book during the off-peak seasons
Airlines determine their ticket pricing based on how many people are searching for flights, according to flight search website Hopper. That, in turn, increases the demand and ticket prices go up by about 15 percent around a peak time such as the holidays, for example. Other peak seasons include spring and summer from mid-June through August.
The best way to save money is to not travel during peak periods and instead opt for low season (November through March) or shoulder season (April through mid-June).
“We booked roundtrip tickets on United Airlines from San Francisco to Lisbon at the end of
August for about $600 per person,” said Cliff Hsia, writer, and creator of LiveFamilyTravel.com, who traveled with his wife and two children for 75 days in Europe for $16,000. “In comparison, the same tickets booked in June or July were about $1,200 or more.”
According to CheapOair, roundtrip flights from New York to London range from $477 on off-peak days and seasons to $2,948 for peak travel times and seasons. That’s a difference of $2,471.
Travel on weekday flights
You should consider being flexible on your travel days to look for better-pricing, according to CheapOair flight expert Tom Spagnola. “Avoiding a Friday and Sunday will help bring pricing down as they are the peak days to travel,” he said. “Instead, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are the best days to fly. You can save an average of 10 to 20 percent.”
Book your tickets on a Sunday, three weeks out
According to Expedia’s “New Heights For Air Travel” study, buying your plane tickets on Sunday will give you the biggest savings. You’ll see about a 16 percent savings in flights to Europe if you book on that day.
To increase the savings, book about three weeks before your departure. “A recent fare search indicated that a ticket between Europe and the United States cost $1,962 when booked less than 21 days before departure,” reads the study. “But cost around $1,293 when booked more than three weeks in advance, saving $669.”
While Expedia’s example shows flight prices totaling over that $1,000 limit, the data is used to indicate the general benefit of booking your flight three weeks out. There are plenty of flights at off-peak times, as Hsia pointed out, that are less than half of the study’s example.
How to save money on accommodations
Don’t book a hotel
Booking an Airbnb instead of a traditional hotel can equal substantial cost savings. In London, for example, the average Airbnb rental is $144 per night compared to $252 in a hotel. That’s a $108 savings a night or a $756 for a seven-night stay.
To boost your savings, even more, Hsia suggested, stay at least seven days in one Airbnb to get a weekly discount. “Hosts normally offer discounts for longer stays, which hotels won’t do,” he said. “If they don’t, then ask them for one. I was able to keep my average per night cost to $71.”
Stay outside the main city
If you’re planning a trip to Europe, you’ll want to see the main attractions in the city. But that doesn’t mean you should stay in the heart of the popular metropolis. Alpharooms found that staying just outside of Europe’s big capital cities can save you a ton of money.
For example, if you’re headed to London, opt to stay in Windsor (30 to 50 minutes by train). Instead of paying an average about $168 a night for a three-star hotel, you’ll pay just $77 for the same level of accommodations. Even with a week pass into the heart of the city costing you $97, you’ll still save $358 for a five-night stay or $540 for a seven-night stay.
If you choose to only go into the heart of the city two days, you’ll pay about $33 roundtrip. For three days, it will cost about $50. That equates to an additional $47 to $64 savings in transportation during off-peak travel times.
How to save money on dining
Shop local for snacks
Instead of relying on the minibar or local restaurants to keep you satiated while you explore the city, head to a supermarket for snacks. “Shopping at local supermarkets is a great way to keep costs down, not be ravenous for main meals, and get an authentic sense of the culture,” said Hsia. “I was able to spend about $60 per day on food, or about $20 per meal, for my family of four.”
Cook breakfast and dinner
Another benefit to choosing accommodations such as Airbnb is that you could have access to a kitchen. If that’s the case, take advantage. “You’ll save a ton of money by eating out less and cooking your breakfast and dinners,” said Hsia. “If you want to try a restaurant, go out for lunch when prices are cheaper.”
On average, a week’s worth of groceries for two people in London will cost you about $113 ($16 a day) compared to one meal for two at a mid-priced restaurant, which will cost you $56. If you prepare your breakfast and dinner using groceries and choose a pub for lunch (around $22 for two), you’re looking at spending around $267 for a week’s stay. That cost would be eaten up in about five dinners alone.
How to save money on transportation
Book tickets early
“Book your train tickets early, up to three months in advance to get the best value and find the best discounts,” said Hsia. According to the Rail Europe website, some discounted tickets go on sale first and once those sell, the price increases up until the departure date.
A train from London to Amsterdam, for example, starts at $305 per person one way if booked just a few days out. That same route starts at $99 if booked three months in advance. That’s a $206 savings by planning. So, if you plan to visit multiple countries, secure your itinerary as early as possible to get the most significant savings.
Use public transportation
It might seem like a given, but using public transportation is cheaper than hiring a car or taxi. “Buses and subways in Europe go pretty far distances,” said Hsia. “Use them to explore the outskirts of the city and suburbs or to get across the city, then just walk anywhere that’s a shorter distance.”
The average subway ride in London costs $3.39 to about $10 per ride depending on the zone, whereas a taxi will run you about $7.14 a mile. But if you take a trip from the center of the city to the furthest zone, number nine, you’re looking at about a 30-mile trip or a $214 ride compared to just over $10 on the subway. Even if you had a family of four, that’s still $53 per person to take a taxi versus $40 total on the subway.
Buy a city pass
Many of the major European cities have a version of a tourist pass where you can pay a flat fee and get access to the major attractions and transportation starting for around $20. If you plan to visit a lot of the sights where you have to pay an entry fee and pay for transportation to get there, a city pass might be a more viable option.
A two-day London pass with transportation, for example, costs about $156. That gets you access to 80 attractions, the subway system, and a free bus tour of the city. If you visit just six attractions, you’ll save $106 on entrance fees alone. Upgrade to the six-day pass, and you’ll average about $30 a day on sightseeing, getting to see places like Westminster Abbey and Tower of London.
So, if you’re looking to book a vacation to Europe for under $1,000, it’s important to take all of these tips into consideration. Each hack might not seem like major savings alone, but they add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a vacation.
With this in mind, here’s how much money you’d spend in total visiting London, one of Europe’s most expensive cities.
|Flight from New York to London||$477 round trip per person|
|Accommodations outside the city for five nights||$325 total or $162.50 split between two people|
|Meal-prepping with lunch at pubs||$186 total or $93 per person|
|Visiting the heart of the city for two days||$54 round trip per person|
|Take six subway trips in the city||$16 per person|
|Total cost for a five-day trip to London||$802 per person|
Swap the subway cost and upgrade to the city pass with transportation and you still come in at $942 per person for a five-day trip to the home of Queen Elizabeth II. We hear London calling!
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