9 Ways to Save Money on Your Trip to Europe

July 17, 2006

It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes when you think of the exchange rate for dollars to euros or dollars to pounds.

The dollar is weak right now. This means that if one night at a hotel is 100 euros, that will actually cost you about $132. Or that ₤40 shirt will show up as $62 on your credit card bill.

But you can still have an enjoyable trip to Europe, stay in nice hotels and eat well without taking out another mortgage. You just have to get a little creative with your trip planning in order to save money while traveling.


Use credit and debit cards

Traveler’s checks are becoming less common. But ATMs are ubiquitous in Europe. And just about every business takes Mastercard or Visa card, even in the small hill towns of Italy.

It’s easy to keep track of your spending with a credit card. Plus, you can dispute the charges later should there be a problem.

Before you leave on your trip to Europe, be sure to tell your credit card company and your bank that you will be traveling. This way, they won’t put a hold on your account for a suspicious charge coming from a little café in Paris.

It's also a good idea to carry some cash in dollars on the plane to exchange to euros, pounds or another currency when you arrive in Europe. After that, use credit and debit cards.


Know how much your bank charges

If you know how much your bank charges for overseas transactions, you won’t be surprised when you get your credit card bill. Choose which card you use accordingly.

There’s a fee for using an ATM that is not run by your bank. Each time you use an ATM, your own bank will charge a fee, sometimes as high as $15. Then there’s the transaction fee for converting dollars to euros or pounds. This also applies to credit cards.

While you are traveling in Europe, you may want to withdraw enough cash for about a week to save on ATM fees. You can pay for meals and incidentals like museum entrance fees with cash and pay for more expensive things like hotels and shopping with credit cards. You won’t need to carry a lot of cash or use the ATM too frequently.


Stay in smaller towns away from the main tourist areas

To save money while you're in Europe, try to get away from the tourists. Stay in Siena and take day trips to Florence. Or make Verona your base and take a day trip to Venice. Hotels are often cheaper in the smaller towns. And trains and buses make it easy to get in and out of the major cities.

The bus ride from Siena to Florence is only an hour and a half. It’s a nice ride through the countryside in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus.

You might also consider staying in a vacation rental instead of a hotel. Rentals such as an apartment in Paris or a villa in Tuscany offer more space than a hotel and a kitchen, which will allows you to save on dining costs as well. Plus they offer the opportunity for a more authentic travel experience.


Take public transportation

Unless you live on the East Coast, Chicago or San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine public transportation being convenient. But in the major cities of Europe, it is.

When you factor in the cost you would spend on car rentals, taxis, parking, and gas (which is $7+ per gallon in Europe), you save a lot of money by taking public transportation. The speed, convenience and ease of using the subways and buses make for enjoyable and stress-free sightseeing. You can buy a sightseeing pass for London or a pass for Paris in advance of a trip to save on transportation and entrance costs to the sights.


Buy theater tickets in advance

Wait too long to buy theater tickets and you may be stuck with whatever is left, often seats with obstruted views or the most expensive. Use our event search to book theater tickets in advance for shows that are playing during your stay.


Or buy same-day theater tickets

You could wait until the day of the performance and buy tickets at the door. You risk the show being sold out, but you may save as much as 50% on the price of the tickets.


Eat where the locals eat

Restaurants that cater to local people, rather than tourists, generally charge lower prices. Ask your hotel receptionist or concierge where he or she normally eats.  

Also, ethnic restaurants such as Thai, Ethiopian and Turkish places, are generally cheaper than restaurants that cater to tourists.


Eat on the run

Grabbing a baguette or a cornetto (croissant in Italian) from a corner bakery on the way to the museum is a good way to save money in Europe. You could also eat a quick sandwich in a bar for lunch and save the sit-down meal for the evening.

In Italian snack bars, you stand at, well, a bar and consume your coffee and pastry. These eateries charge more if you sit down. 

Also, in most places, a service charge is often added to most restaurant bills, so you generally tip only small change, if any.

Or, how about visiting the local grocer and buying some fruit and snacks for lunch? Have a picnic in a park instead of a meal at a restaurant.


Drink wine

It's suprising, but true. A half bottle of wine, which can be shared by two people, can cost less than a small can of Coke.

When you sit down for a meal, order a carafe of wine and some sparkling water, instead of a soft drink. The difference in price can be as much as $3 per person.


Final thoughts

Sometimes, when you go on vacation in Europe you just have to bite the bullet and spend the money. It’s a vacation after all? How often do you get to go to Europe? But with a little planning, you can stretch your dollars.

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