It seems counter-intuitive. With a troubled economy, flight cuts and higher airline fees, many people are postponing trips to Europe or not taking them at all. But now may be just the right time to book a trip to Europe.During the shoulder and off-seasons, generally the fall and winter months when fewer people travel overseas, you will find more manageable crowds and fewer lines at even the the most popular tourist sights. Also, hotel costs drop during the off-season.
Follow these tips to get the best value on a trip to Europe this year:
Travel during the dead weeks
The travel industry calls the weeks before and after the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays "dead weeks". For the best value on a European trip, look for deals between the dates of November 10 and 17, December 8 and 15, or anytime in January.
Book a vacation package
With vacation packages, you can bundle extras such as sightseeing tours, even meals ahead of time to make the trip an all-inclusive. This way you lock in your costs and avoid having to face fluctuating currency rates. Vacation packages often allow you to pay for your trip through installment payments over many months rather than in one lump sum. Also, tour companies have begun to sweeten their vacation package deals with extra perks and companion discounts.
Consider a cruise
Similar to hotels, cruise demand has softened for some routes, leading many cruise lines to offer deep discounts. Taking a cruise can keep your travel costs down because it allows you to bundle entertainment and sightseeing excursion costs as well as all of your meals, paid in advance in US dollars. On a river cruise, you can see multiple European cities, without the hassle and cost of transportation between places, which is also a great value.
Work with a travel specialist
Travel specialists, offering the benefit of their connections with tour companies and hotels and experience, can help you plan your trip to Europe, suggest options you may not have considered or get you exclusive amenities and upgrades that are unavailable to the general public. The advice from an expert who knows your preferences is hard to beat when searching for deals online yourself. It may mean the difference between having a best trip to Europe as opposed to just an average one.
Know that "best value" does not always mean "lowest price"
When booking online or with a travel agent, be realistic about what's important to you. A deal for a $80-per-night room may sound good but add in a flight with three connections and it may not be worth it in the end.
Consider alternatives to hotels
Another idea for a great value in Europe is to forgo staying in a hotel entirely and rent an apartment or a house. Costs per night for a two-bedroom vacation rental can easily run lower than the cost of a double room in a hotel. You'll also save by taking advantage of the in-house kitchen, instead of eating out.
Stay in one place
It's tempting, when you have a limited number of vacation days, to hit as many cities as possible during one trip. But for your next vacation, try to spend a week in one place. You'll feel like more of a local than a tourist when you greet the same waiter at the same café everyday, leisurely visit the sights, absorb your surroundings, and have the opportunity to engage more with the local people. Staying in one place will also reduce your overall travel expenses as you won't have to tack on the added cost of high-speed rail, car rentals or flights between European cities.
Vacation in Small Towns
Use a small town as a base and day trip to the large cities. The costs of staying in smaller towns are lower, the evenings quieter and the experience of interacting with locals rewarding. Try Tuscany instead of Rome or Bruges instead of Amsterdam.
Where to Travel in Europe for the Best Value
In some European countries, your money will go further than others. Think Czech Republic, Portugal, and Poland.